Take an Active Role in Your Rescue

This is an excerpt from a piece I've been writing about my fears and anxieties leading up to my departure...

Take an active role in your rescue.

It’s tradition that, before our week at Montreat College’s Presbyterian Youth Conference, we spend the morning white water rafting. The past two years, we’ve gone to the Nantahala Nature Center and taken guided tours on the Nantahala River in North Carolina. While meant as a team-building exercise, this last trip was deceptively intellectually effecting. Particularly, I’m surprised at the lasting impression left by the pre-rafting safety video. Throughout the video, the narrator repeated the phrase “take an active role in your rescue.” I could not have anticipated the frequency with which this phrase resurfaced in my thoughts throughout the following week of faith exploration and doubt.

One of the ways that you might “take an active role” in regaining your position on the raft would be to simply float on your back and paddle toward it. It’s the responsibility of someone else on the raft to pull you back in by the straps of your lifevest. If you’ve ended up quite a long way away from your seat, someone else is supposed to throw you a rope and drag you back; your only tasks are to catch and hold. God forbid your boat is approaching Nantahala Falls and you’ve been cast out of the raft. Your best option in that situation would be to ball yourself up, knees to chest, and ride it out.

I thought, really? Close yourself off until the toughest part is over? That’s taking an “active” role? I still hardly know what to think.

Frankly, I’m between interpreting “taking an active role” in salvation as sometimes just waiting to be thrown a rope. I’d go so far as to say that, right now, I’m spiritually curling into myself, preparing to go over the falls. I’m trusting that, once I reach calmer waters, God will pull me back in as I’m gasping for air.

At the same time, I am certain that God’s already tossed me hundreds of lines. I’ve missed them. Nevertheless, God continues to try and save me from going under. Like a diligent and passionate raft guide, God persists with me, even as I float farther adrift.
On that day, we met Priscilla. She told us that it was her first season on the river as a guide and that she loved the outdoors. We asked her many questions about herself and the Nantahala, namely, how she got interested in guiding in the first place. She hadn’t always loved the outdoors, but got into camping and hiking, kayaking and the like through an ex-boyfriend, and carried on in her love of nature sports despite the end of that relationship.

Somewhere along the river, Priscilla mentioned that she is Filipino. “We’d visit my mom’s family in the summer after we got tired of going to the beach,” she told us. “It’s essentially camping,” she said with a laugh. I was obviously interested and wanted to know more. Upon further investigation, I discovered that her mom’s family is from Leyte, which is the same island that I will call home in a matter of weeks.

“What’s it like?” I asked.
“It’s so cool. It’s beautiful!” She replied, her face lighting up. “Everywhere you go, bring toilet paper.”

Oftentimes, it’s the little things that get me. This short conversation between two total strangers encouraged me more than she might ever realize. During that quick verbal exchange, Priscilla gifted me some very good, useful advice and even better, renewed confidence in my choice to leave the country. “It’s cool, it’s beautiful, bring toilet paper.”

I know now that my system of support is a bit larger, thanks to Priscilla. She and I exchanged instagram handles and she said she was excited to “follow me on my trip.” We may never speak again, though I hope that’s not the case. I am certain that she will think of me and our brief conversation about her home and mine when I post a picture. Moreover, I’m sure she would be happy to give me more advice, if I ever ask. Her ministry of presence affords me security, and I am thankful for her in my life.

It’s cool. It’s beautiful. Bring toilet paper.

In a way, Priscilla’s words of wisdom relate to taking an active role in my spiritual and physical rescue. Her multifaceted advice taught first to look beyond fear and appreciate beauty in all of its forms. Leyte is cool; it’s beautiful! In light of the recent earthquake in Kananga, I was beginning to think otherwise. My unfamiliarity with this kind of natural disaster, my fear of the unknown, was clouding my vision even before I arrive. I must take a step back to see the whole picture.

Secondly, Priscilla encouraged preparedness. It might be more difficult to see the wonderfulness that a place has to offer if I’m preoccupied and underprepared. Quite literally, I would have an incredibly hard time anywhere that I couldn’t comfortably poop, for whatever reason. Confidence comes with preparedness which extends from knowledge and effort. I would have never known to carry toilet paper with me, had I not engaged in conversation. Priscilla tossed me the rope, and all I have to do is hang on--and pack appropriately.

More to come,
Peace and Grace,
James and Me at lunch in Asheville, mid-Montreat


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