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In Deep Water With God

Sometimes, the answers we seek can’t be found on the shoreline.

Kimberly Coyle February 16, 2023

My Uncle Ted has a long history of exploits on wild waters. He currently runs rafting and jeep adventure tours in Utah, and when my family visited Moab one summer on vacation, we joined him for dinner. Over burgers, we sat mesmerized by his tales of weeks-long rafting trips among the gorges, canyons, and rapids of the Colorado River. And I was fully satisfied to live vicariously through his experience. However, my husband and our kids were not, so Ted convinced us to join a rafting trip on the Colorado River the following day. Suggesting we try the inflatable kayaks for fun and “a little more action,” he assured us the trip would be tame.

Illustration by Adam Cruft

I was dubious after being promised the same by my husband a few days prior—when we embarked on a terrifying 4x4 vehicle tour on the slick rock of Hell’s Revenge. But Ted said the water levels were low due to a local drought, and the rapids were truly tame. It stormed the night before our trip, so when we arrived at the water’s edge after a long bus ride, we found the churn of the river had filled the water with silt and storm residue. It was like floating in chocolate milk, thick with tiny sticks that found their way into every crevice of our bodies and clothing.

When we reached the exit point, we tipped ourselves fully into the water and dragged our rafts to the shoreline. And I remember seeing a small family of white-tailed deer drinking. Alerted by our chatter, they took leave, their white tails lifted in retreat when they saw our paddles slice through the water. The sight of the deer brought to mind Psalm 23:2-3 and the haven of quiet waters we all long for, the place where the psalmist says God will restore our soul.

A year later I was telling a spiritual mentor how I feel stuck in a number of areas of my life. I have nightmares of being rooted to the ground in emergency situations, of words caught in my throat, of standing on the quiet side of a damned-up river, unable to step into the flow.

I have nightmares of being rooted to the ground in emergency situations, of words caught in my throat.

“Will I stand beside the water forever, just waiting?” I asked her. 

“What if you left the shoreline and got into the water?” She responded.

I thought of our rafting trip and remembered the timidity of the deer on the shoreline and the sense of self-preservation that caused them to turn away. Yet despite my reservations, I had said yes to stepping into the waters of the Colorado rather than watch from the side. Yes, the swift storm water kept us moving at a fast pace, but there were moments where we rested our paddles across the kayak and floated past quiet canyon spaces that could be seen fully only from our vantage point on the water.

Since that conversation, I have been wading into deep waters in prayer. And I’m finding that as I reject past narratives, fears, and false beliefs, a new, refreshing stream of water flows in me. And the memory of that rafting trip has become my encouragement. Without getting into the water, we couldn’t experience the hidden beauty: a heron fishing, two industrious beavers rustling in the brush, the grace of those fleeing deer. There’s no other way to experience all God has for us. We have to be willing to wade into the currents—to get a little wet.

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