Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sarah's Story

Sarah, a sophomore at Wheaton College, is my guest today.  I thought you might be encouraged to read her talk at high school graduation on courage.  Sarah will be going into her third year as a river and backpacking guide next summer.

"Peace Like A River"

Graduates, friends. My name is Sarah Neff, and I have this thing for rivers. Yesterday morning, actually, I woke up in Colorado, where I have spent every day of the last two weeks on a river, training to be a whitewater rafting guide.

Does anyone remember the old hymn “It is Well With My Soul”? It begins:

"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul."

If I have learned anything in the last two weeks, I have learned that rivers aren't peaceful. Tuesday, I had to swim a class III rapid called Last Chance. I am one of the smallest in my guide class, and swimming rapids is really hard for me. When I jumped in, I missed the eddy at the top of the rapid, which meant I went down without a rest or a breathe, about 20 feet too close to the giant rock in the center of the rapid. I cannot remember ever being so afraid. All of the dangers I had learned about—hydrolics, suckholes, strainers, foot entrapments, hypothermia (If I name anything else, my mom won't let me go back)--all these things suddenly made complete sense and were completely eclipsed by this new, undefinable, tangible, cold, wet fear.

And peace? Peace like a river? After Tuesday, that phrase didn't make sense. And yet, when I was in the middle of that rapid, with waves breaking over me, running out of breath, there was this one, still moment, when I crested a wave and looked downriver. And I knew where I was going. That's the safe thing about rivers. You're always headed downstream. Rivers have this beautiful constancy of motion, this assurance that whatever rock, whatever obstacle, is in the way, the water is going to keep flowing, is going to make it past whatever rapid you're in, all the way to the sea.

My favorite poet, this crazy German monk named Rainer Maria Rilke, said something I like a lot. In a poem written to God, he speaks of the future as it flows forward:

"Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing to you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea."

From this point onward, we, class of 2009, will be streaming through widening channels. There will be swelling and ebbing currents; there will be deepening tides. There will be moments of calm, yes, but there will also be rapids. We might,as I already have, miss eddies. We might get worked by some hydrolics; we will flip boats and run into rocks. But we can have peace—peace that's like a river. Hear me: It's not a peace that comes with the expectation of an easy journey, but rather a peace that comes with a sure destination. Guys, He who began a good work in us is going to carry it on to completion, until the day of Jesus Christ! We're going to make it to the ocean, if we stay in the current of his will. And what joy, what an adventure. The real danger in these widening channels makes room for real courage.

And so, class of 09, to lend a bit of courage, I could think of no better words than those my rafting instructor prayed over me before I swam Last Chance on Tuesday. This comes from Isaiah 43:

"But now, this is what the Lord says—
'Fear not, for I have redeemed you,
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.' "

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