When you hit the Big Kahuna, Dig In, Paddle Harder

raft trip“When you hit the Big Kahuna, Dig In, Paddle Harder”

That is what Shane, our cute, shaggy-haired, sun-crusted adventure river guide screamed from the stern of our raft as we entered the Class 4 rapid called the Big Kahuna on the Snake River in Jackson Hole, Wyoming this summer. This was my first experience at white water rafting, and I was truly not prepared for my meeting with the infamous Big Kahuna. Before even stepping into the six person inflatable raft, our guide reviewed what we could expect over the next two hours on the river. He waxed on eloquently about the wildlife, the height, speed, and beauty of the river.  He checked that our life preservers were fastened properly and then while passing out starbursts to the kids, casually mentioned that strong paddling was our best bet for staying in the boat when the raft entered the rapids.

Have you ever paddled through Class 4 rapids?

We’ll, let me just tell you…the moment you look up and can only see a 10 foot wall of water on all sides and realize that this tiny rubber blow-up raft is perilously out-matched by the Almighty Kahuna, the last thing on your mind is to paddle harder. Rather, you turn to mouthing Hail Mary’s for mercy in between choking on gulps of  river water, or utilize the river as your Confessional and unburden your heart, or more than likely you freeze, lift your paddle out of the water, and scream in total fear, certain the River has got you beat.

I wonder if shaggy-haired Shane knew the life’s wisdom found in his calls from the stern of the raft, “Dig in, paddle harder.”

Life is beautifully river-like. The journey begins the moment you take that first breath and experience the oxygen fill those two miraculous pouches called lungs and then happily release a triumphant exhale to announce your place in the great story of life. Much like a river, life proves mightily unpredictable. For most, we leisurely float, learning little life lessons all along the way. We suffer bruises, a rock or a tree stump temporarily blocks our passage, or maybe the current takes us off in a direction we didn’t expect or desired. We fervently pray while keeping our fingers tightly crossed behind our backs that nothing too grave will come our way with the power to capsize the fragile raft of our humanity. Most of us do our very best to avoid the rapids-those wily waves that threaten our equilibrium in body or spirit and have the power to shake our faith. And yet we are human and unfortunately have no real control over the flow and direction of the river. What I mean is the rapids, Big Kahunas, are part of the story and experience of being human. And sometimes in life or on the river, you have to put your head down and jus keep paddling, believing in hope that smooth waters are ahead.

It wasn’t until I was 28 that I experienced my first taste of life’s rapids. I did all the wrong things at first. I panicked. I got angry. I yelled at God standing at the helm of my boat and fought like hell to paddle back, anything to return to my life BEFORE the rapids. The paddle in my right hand, my very faith, seemed inadequate at first to see me through. It was my mom who stood up in the center of my boat and volunteered to paddle for me, to carry my faith, until I was strong enough to paddle through the rapids on my own. It should be written in blood in the “River of Life’s Saftey Protocol, “River can be tumultuous, even scary. You can’t go it on your own!”

We need people on our right, our left, ahead of us and steely at the stern of our rafts to help us make it through the Big Kahunas in life. But we also have to dig in and discover our own courage, strength and resilience. Smooth waters are pleasant, but we only find out who we truly are and discover our destiny when we dig in and paddle through the rapids. You may not know it in those first couple of paddles in the Big Kahuna, but God made sure we would have everything we would need to survive, even excel, in the scary, challenging, often gut-wrenching rapids on the river of life. Just like Mad River Outfitters in Jackson Hole, God provides our life vest, paddle, and muscle. You know them as faith, hope, and love. All we have to do is keep paddling.

The greatest surprise on the River is when we look up, worn and weary from paddling through the rapids (survived the chemo, the divorce, the betrayals, the loss, life’s cuts and bruises), and realize we have made it through. We are in calm waters again. When we are inside the hole of the great Kahuna rapid we forget that joy only lasts for a moment but so does pain. It’s all part of the beautifully unpredictable and yet tremendously sacred story of the river!

My job affords me the opportunity, really the gift, to be in the center of many Big Kahunas alongside others. I get to witness how God’s magnificent creations of flesh, bone, and resilient spirits dig in and paddle harder through the rapids of life. I am constantly humbled by the degree of courage and faith that rises up and enables we humans to keep paddling through life’s curses and adversities. God did not make us to be delicate. He gave us the muscle to see us through the Kahunas of life. And I am not talking about Shane, our river guide’s, chiseled big guns, as he rowed us down the river. I am talking about the muscle of our hearts.

Dig In, Paddle Harder, BigKahunas are inevitable to the journey of the River, but God is at the helm, and smooth waters are always promised ahead!

Live in Hope,



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