LAST FALL AS MY CHILDREN AND I paddled our canoe down the rippling Harpeth River, we suddenly noticed that the river was not as quiet as it had been moments earlier. We heard rushing water but could not see around the bend. I warned my son and daughter that the river might get swift up ahead. Michael, age 11, perched in front steering the canoe. My ten-year-old daughter Lauren, sat in the middle paddling. As we rounded the bend, we saw white water created by a large fallen oak. The river, usually wide and shallow was being funneled through a six-foot opening; I quickly calculated we were not in position to get the nose of the canoe through the opening.
“Paddle on the left” I called, and we all furiously dug our paddles through the water with determination. Our canoe began to move toward the opening, and for a moment, I thought we might make it. Then, a cross current pushed the canoe into the left side of the tree, causing us to miss the opening. The rear of the canoe quickly slid sideways, leaving us broadside to the rushing water. The canoe flipped over, dumping everything—the paddles, the cooler containing our digital camera, my wallet and car keys, soft drinks, gummy bears, hot dogs, and us—into the swirling water.
For a moment, I was tossed beneath the water by the swift current. When my head broke the surface downstream, I turned and scanned the river for my kids. Michael had grabbed his and Lauren’s paddles and a seat cushion. His life jacket kept him afloat as he worked his way to shore. Lauren, however, was not with us. Her seat in the middle of the canoe positioned her directly under the arch of the fallen tree. When the canoe flipped, she grabbed hold. When I spotted her, she was about 20 feet from me, still clinging to a large limb. I told her to drop into the water and let the current take her to me.
With reluctant trust she let go of the limb. Bobbing along, she came right to me. Michael and I gathered the errant items minus a few stray cans of soda and a dozen packages of gummy bears that we recovered later on the trip.
After a quick recovery, we sat safely on shore recounting the chaotic events as if they were already folklore. I looked at the kids and said, “Well, let’s walk the canoe back up river about 50 yards and do it again.”
“NO WAY, DAD!” came the quick response.
The kids thought I was kidding until I grabbed the canoe and began to drag it along. Bewildered, Lauren asked, “Why are you going to make us tip over again?”
I replied, “I want to help you face other rapids more confidently. If we put in again now that we have seen the rapid, I think we can make it through together.”
With fear, trembling, and a good deal of grumbling, we made it through that narrow opening. For the rest of the day, the conversation revolved around how we did not let the river get the best of us. To hear my kids tell it now, the opening we navigated has shrunk to half its actual size, and the rapids would dwarf the ones athletes encountered on the Ocoee River during the ‘96 Olympic games!
Sometimes we face a “bend” in our lives, and we hear the dreaded sound of rapids or white water. Can we use these moments to strengthen our kids? I think so. Our children learn how to respond to life by how we handle difficulty.
Here are some suggestions you can use to strengthen your kids or grandkids:
Ask open-ended questions to get them talking.
Discuss the events of their day.
Ask what they are struggling with—schoolwork, a classmate, or their view of their place in the world.
Share one-on-one time as your child gets ready for bed.
Discuss the Sunday School lesson with your kids. Ask what they learned and how it applies to them.
Point out something you appreciated or were challenged by in the pastor’s sermon.
Pam and I constantly look for opportunities to build character, teach godly principles, and give instruction to our children. We try to give our kids Scripture verses—life jackets—to keep them afloat in a rushing world. When they face tough issues, we try to help them by reinforcing biblical direction and values. At times, we make them go back up the river and try it again so they learn from their mistakes. I am quick to tell them that Daddy does not always get to paddle smooth water and sometimes I am glad I have a life jacket as well.
Ron and Pam Hunter live in Nashville, TN, with their two children Michael and Lauren. Ron is general director of Randall House Publications. Both are graduates of Free Will Baptist Bible College.