I have a pathological hatred of rollercoasters. Here’s why.
When I was 21 years old, I flew off a freeway bridge in a car and landed on a major road 40 feet below. [Spoiler!] I survived, but needless to say I have loathed rollercoasters ever since. That feeling of your stomach dropping away from you and your limbs going limp above an enormous drop is specifically mortal to me. I loathe it.
However, I’m a mother and my two kids love rollercoasters. So, a few years ago, I succumbed and took them for the day to Six Flags Magic Mountain. My son was 7 at the time and fairly nervous so I, of course, pretended to be extremely confident.
Since I don’t even take the mini ones calmly, when they asked if we could ride X2 (the one that truly looked like death on a rail) I inwardly balked. “Sure!” I replied. “But it’s near the end of the day so we’ll only be able to do it once, OK?”
As we approached the long line the children chatted excitedly while I drifted off into a catatonic reverie.
At the starting gate, my 9 year old daughter went with friends two rows behind me and my son.
“Just breathe,” I kept whispering to myself. My son looked as white as a sheet which was helpful so I concentrated on him instead.
“Look, G, it’s going to be really fun – and anyway very quick.”
“Really? Just very quick? Oh no!”
“No, no! Just the right amount of time really…”
We locked in. I always feel better in the ones that come down over your shoulders and not just over your legs to your waist. How can you not fall out of one of those? My knees press into the metal front as if somehow by force of will I can magnetize myself to the seat. But the ones with the shoulder bars coming down to lock over your chest do feel a lot safer. You can tell yourself there is no way you can fall out… you just have to hold on.
The cars started moving steadily up their long ascent: CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK. It was hideously slow, as if they were enjoying it. I distracted G by remarking on the loveliness of the weather and encouraging him to enjoy the incredible view we now got to see.
“Look, G!” I said, reassuring myself, “Look at that! We’d never have seen all this if we hadn’t…” and we were OFF.
At an insanely death-defying (one could only hope) speed, straight downhill, twisting around, hanging upside down, shooting to the sky, falling to earth, going through fire, misted by water, surrounded by screaming, over and over and over again.
As soon as it began I went from calm, maternal presence to screaming madwoman: “DON’T OPEN YOUR EYES, G!! DON’T OPEN YOUR EYES!! DON’T.OPEN.YOUR. EYYYYYYYYYYYYYYES!!!!” I was really saying this more to myself than to him but it sounds better if I say I was doing it for him.
When the ride ended four hours (probably about 300 seconds) later, I wanted to stay exceptionally still for a very long time. I had no voice from screeching, but I did have that feeling of having inhaled vast amounts of oxygen in a very short time.
I glanced over at my son who was all bright pink cheeks and sparkling eyes. “Mom!” he said. “That was AWESOME!!! Can we go again? Why did you keep screaming at me?”
Suffice to say they will never go on that ride again – with me.
I was reminded of this experience a couple of days ago when I was praying with a friend. I was processing how out of control my life feels at the moment (nearing the end of divorce proceedings, out of work, trying to spin all the plates) and she said that the Lord gave her a picture in prayer for me.
“It’s of a rollercoaster,” she said. “You are sitting on the rollercoaster with the kids beside you and you all have your arms in the air. The kids are having a fabulous time.”
“Well I absolutely hate rollercoasters, you know that right?”
“Oh no!” she laughed. “Well it’s probably not at all from the Lord then! Just forget it.”
But I said I’d think about it. And when I did, I realized it was absolutely a word from the Lord for me. As always, it was stunning in its specificity and knowingness.
Because what I received from Him was this: I am on a rollercoaster in this stage in my life. All the parts are constantly moving, twisting, hurtling me round, turning me upside down, spinning me, scorching me with fire and misting me with water. And I HATE IT. I absolutely hate it, and the Lord knows it.
It was as if He was saying to me:
“I know how much you hate this ride, Josie. I know how much, and specifically why you hate it. I know it all, and I’ve got you. You’re on it with the kids and – in spite of everything – they’re still having a good time. They’re largely able to enjoy it simply because you’re there with them and you’re telling them it’ll be OK. Which it will be. Because I’ve got you.
Stay the course, Josie. You don’t have to enjoy it, you just have to endure it. You are safely locked in – bottom and top – in my arms and I will never let you go.
You can never fall out of my arms, my Josie, or fall out of my purpose. My purposes will stand for your life, and for the children’s lives. I am the faithful God who has brought you through everything this far – even the thing that gave you your fear of rollercoasters – and I’m not going to change now.
You don’t have to put your arms in the air and you don’t have to pretend before me. But I’ll tell you this. Because you’re completely safe in the midst, perhaps you can put your arms in the air in praise. Because the outcome of this ride is sure, Josie. There will always be rides to go on in your life but this particular one, just like all the others, will end.
Keep focused on the finish line, even as the course swerves and hurtles and pivots and dives and spins about you. Keep focused on that moment which is surely coming when you will splash heavily down into that final stretch of water and glide to a stop. And I will have been with you all along.
You don’t have to enjoy it, my Josie, and maybe you can’t. But if you open your eyes occasionally to the bigger picture, you will get views you never could have seen if I didn’t have you where you are.
You can trust me. I’ve got you.”
I’ve thought about this picture constantly ever since. And you know what I realize? I realize that since I can’t get off the ride until it’s over, and since I can’t fall out and I know the end is sure, I can resolve to have an attitude of victory about it.
Even if I do need to keep my eyes tightly shut in the midst of it all.