Amusement Park: Swinging Boat

Amusement Park: Swinging Boat

“Where do you want to sit,” Jesus asked Amalia.

“It doesn’t matter,” Amalia responded with a huge smile. “We’re on the boat. That’s all I care about.”

Jesus smiled back. “Just being on the boat might be enough for some. But I know you. Once we get moving, you’re going to start comparing. So you may as well do that now.”

Amalia looked at the rows of seats. Half were on her right, the other half were on her left. Both sides were facing each other. It looked like they would all get the same ride, swinging both frontwards and backwards. So what did Jesus mean about comparing them?

She imagined sitting in the first row on her right. She pictured the boat swinging forward as high as it could go, and where she would be at its greatest height. Then she pictured how high the last row would go. And she understood. That first row would not rise near as high in the sky as that last row. If she chose the first row, she would not experience as much of the swing as she would if she sat on the last row.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” she asked Jesus. “By choosing where I sit, I can control how much of the swing I experience.”

“Exactly. So, where do you want to sit?”

“I want to experience this ride to its fullest. I choose the back row!”

“I was hoping you would say that. Come on.”

Jesus led her past all the seats on the right side until they got to the last row. “Here you go. This is going to be great!”

Amalia’s anticipation increased as the boat began filling with people. Finally, the ride attendee announced the boat was full, and closed the gate with a clang. He pushed a button, and the boat began its first swing.

At first the swings were small, and Amalia could barely feel the gentle rise and fall. But the swings grew stronger and rose higher on every pass. Soon Amalia felt the need to hold on as her seat became perpendicular to the ground. The only thing keeping her from falling was her seatbelt.

It was exhilarating! The delicious anticipation as she climbed higher, the momentary lull at the very top, and then the stomach-dropping fall made this ride all that she hoped it would be. She laughed as she rose, and screamed in delightful fear at each free fall, knowing she was safe with Jesus.

After several swings, she noticed a difference. Being able to see the top of the rise, or the bottom of the fall, when she was moving forward made the gut-wrenching thrill easier to handle than when she rose or fell backwards. Not being able to see where she was going made it harder to tell when the rise would turn into a fall, or when a fall was finally over and she began to rise again. So even though she knew that she was secure in the boat, and that no fall would last indefinitely, she preferred the thrill of seeing over the alarm of not seeing.

“Just like when you’re walking with Me,” came the familiar soft whisper in her heart. “You love when you can see where you’re going, both when things are going well and you’re heading for great heights, as well as when things fall apart and you can see how much longer before you rise again. But you’re not so fond of experiencing the same things without the help of your sight. Being able to see the WHEN makes the WHAT easier. If you only faced one direction, you wouldn’t get the whole experience.  Just as this boat ride includes ups and downs in both directions, regardless of the seat you choose, your life also includes ups and downs with and without sight. Both the seeing and the not seeing builds your trust in different ways, making your faith complete in a way not possible with just one. And just as you are secure with Me on this boat, you are secure with Me in your life. Once you understand that, you can enjoy the walk with Me no matter which way you’re facing.”

Amanda nodded. This ride was turning out to be one of her favorites. But would it be if she didn’t have Jesus by her side? If she didn’t know He was keeping her safe through every move, both on this ride and in her life?

She was glad she would never have to find out.


James 1:2-4  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Philippians 4:11-12 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound, in any and every circumstance. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Amusement Park: Haunted House Ride, Seventh Room – Bumps

Amusement Park: Haunted House Ride, Seventh Room – Bumps

Amalia was pleasantly surprised to find herself in another beautiful room. The murals that were painted on the walls, ceiling, and floor were so realistic that she felt as if they were on a gently winding country road lined on both sides by trees, lush green fields full of colorful flowers, and, in the distance, glistening blue lakes. She could even hear the sounds of birds calling to each other, feel a breeze on her face, and, every now and then, she could hear the babbling of streams flowing over rocks. Amazing what technology could do. This room was more in line with what she expected a haunted house ride should be. Everything was explainable. She sighed. This is how a ride with Jesus should be.

Grateful for the chance to rest after the strenuous climb of the previous room, Amalia settled back in her seat. She closed her eyes, and let the vibration of the car running smoothly on the track lull her into a dream state. She heard Jesus’ voice a few times, but it seemed to be coming from so far away that she easily dismissed it in favor of her delicious drowsiness.

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The car gave a sudden lurch as if it had clattered across something in its path. Amalia opened one eye, but, not seeing anything to worry about, closed it again. Whatever the bump was, it wasn’t something to be concerned about. But then they went over another bump, and another. Each time the bump seem to be larger until Amalia was disturbed enough to open her eyes and sit up.

“Jesus, what’s going on?”

“Just some bumps.”

Amalia frowned. “Those bumps are messing up our ride.”

“Really?”

“Yes, they’re very uncomfortable. Can You make it stop?”

“What? The ride?”

Amalia stared at Him. “Jesus, You know what I mean. Make the bumps stop.”

“Why would I do that?”

“So they aren’t bothering us.”

“They aren’t bothering Me.”

“Fine. So that they’re aren’t bothering ME. Every time I start to fall asleep, we hit another bump, and I’m wide awake again.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Of course that’s a problem! I’m tired after the last room, and it felt good to close my eyes and let my mind drift. I can’t do that if we keep running into uncomfortable bumps. Will You do something?”

She watched, but nothing changed. The bumps were still there, and Jesus didn’t seem to do anything as they collided with yet another one. She turned back to Him. “If You’re not going to do anything, I will. I’ll go move those bumps myself.”

“You can if you really want to, but then you won’t be riding with Me.”

Amalia looked down at the bumpy track, then back at Jesus. She didn’t want to leave Him, but she also didn’t want to deal with a bumpy ride. “Why can’t You get rid of them?”

“I could if I wanted to, but it’s not necessary.”

“But…”

“Amalia, you have a choice. You could walk on your own, handling the bumps yourself, or stay with Me. The bumps are part of staying with Me.”

“But, riding with You should be easy and smooth. Why do we have to deal with these bothersome bumps?”

“Why do you think riding with Me is supposed to be smooth? I never told you that.”

“But, You’re God. You can easily make the way smooth. And You..  You…” Amalia thought hard. “You promised to always take care of me. Isn’t making my way smooth part of taking care of me? Besides, You love me. Don’t You want me to be happy?”

“Full of joy, yes. But happiness? That’s so conditional on circumstances. So no, some things are more important than your happiness.”

“What in the world are You talking about?”

“Exactly. You are in the world, and bumps – or problems – are part of that world. They are going to happen. I could remove them, but instead, I use them for your good. And sometimes I even put them there to slow you down, or to get your attention. What were you doing before we started hitting the bumps?”

“Um… I think I was falling asleep.”

“Were you thinking of Me? Talking to Me? Listening for My voice?”

“No, not really.”

“And what did you do as soon as you couldn’t ignore the bumps anymore?”

“I sat up, and asked You about them.”

“Right. You started interacting with Me again. So the bumps served to get your attention back on Me. Don’t get frustrated. Know that they are there for a reason.”

Amalia thought about that for a while. Then another thought came to her. “What if someone else put a bump there to hurt me?”

“It doesn’t matter. Whether I put the bumps there or someone else, I use them all for your good. You may not always understand their purposes, but you can trust Me and My love for you. I only want good for you even if it doesn’t always look that way to you. As you learn to accept the bumps, you will grow in patience and endurance. And you will learn to be full of joy no matter the circumstances. And that’s more precious to Me at this time than your comfort. So… you have a choice: you can handle them on your own, or trust Me to know what’s best for you.”

Put that way, Amalia resigned herself to a bumpy road. If Jesus wasn’t concerned the constant irritation of the bumps, she would try to accept it, too. This part of the ride wasn’t going to last forever. She wasn’t so sure of the joy part, but she could grit her teeth and be patient until they got to the next door.

They continue through that room, hitting bump after bump. Some Amalia could see coming, others took her by surprise. Eventually she began to learn to look to her Friend, trusting His wisdom each time they hit one, and, even more so, to enjoy the times between the bumps. She still didn’t like the bumps, but she didn’t let them destroy her enjoyment of the beauty of this room nor steal her joy of riding with Jesus.

And about the time she realized how much she had accepted the ride as it was and not as she wanted, they arrived at the next door.

She was at first blinded by the light that exploded around her as the door opened, and then realized it came from the sun. The real sun. And a fresh breeze caressing her skin. A real breeze, complete with the scents of heavy machinery, popcorn, and grilled burgers. They were outside!

When the car came to a stop, Jesus stood up, pulling Amalia up with Him. “So, what did you think?” He asked her as they climbed out.

“It was nothing like I thought it was going to be, but it was also way better than I thought it could be. You’re just full of surprises, aren’t You?”

“Always.” He smiled. “Ready for another ride?”

 

 

 

Scriptures

James 1:2-4  Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for hose who are called according to his purpose.

Philippians 4:11-13  Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. I how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and very circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Psalm 16:11 You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 2

Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 2

The climb was just hard as she has imagined it. The dangers were every bit as real, and the top of the mountain never seemed any closer. It felt like she was going to be climbing forever. Jesus was true to His word. He directed her along paths away from cliffs, showed her good plants to eat, gave her clean water from surprising sources when she was thirsty, chased away all the dangerous animals, and provided safe places to rest when she got too tired to move on. Sometimes He would disappear – preparing the way, He said – but was always within earshot. All she had to do was call, and He was back by her side.

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And yet, in between the hard places, there were times she was delightfully surprised at what she found. Refreshing streams bubbling over colorful pebbles and emptying into golden emerald ponds.  Birds singing to each other from the branches of the trees. A newborn fawn laying in the shadow of bushes loaded with berries. An unexpected clearing covered with a patch of soft grass. The powerful sound of the wind in the tall trees that surrounded her. The majestic view of the valley below her surrounded by even higher mountains. Abandoned cabins, still containing signs of the life it once held.

Her favorites, though, were the places where the water fell from great heights, bouncing over boulders of varying sizes, and splashing down into refreshing pools at the bottom. Her eyes traveled the path of the water droplets, letting the roar and splashing of the water fill her until she thought of nothing else. She tried to imagine what it would be like to be able to play with the waterfall like the birds did as they flew in and out of the mist created by the splashing water. Or what kinds of secret caves the falling water hid. The smaller waterfalls were just as intriguing. Sometimes the water looked like it was rushing to its destination, while the water in other waterfalls seemed to be enjoying a much slower pace. She couldn’t resist reaching out to touch the water, and marveled at the sensation of the icy coldness running over her hand. No matter how big or little the waterfall was, she wanted to spend hours at each. Sometimes Jesus let her, but other times He called her away to continue their walk.

Slowly, Amalia’s attitude began to change. Her trust in Jesus grew as He did what He said He would do, and she no longer feared what she might face. No matter how hard it got, knowing He was there made it all doable. She found her focus shifting from anticipating the unknown to finding joy in the moment. She didn’t have to worry about how to cross this mountain. She didn’t have to worry about how to deal with any problems or obstacles that might arise. That was Jesus’ job. All she had to do was follow His directions. With Him taking care of the big scary details, she was free to enjoy the small fun ones.

But then they entered a fog that grew thicker with each step. The swirling mist swallowed up everything around them until she could barely see the ground in front of her. She even lost sight of Jesus from time to time.

“Jesus? What is this?”

“Not to worry. This mountain is so tall that it goes up into the clouds. The fog around us, the clouds, shows us that we are nearing the top.”

“But I can’t see anything. How can I stay on the path when I can’t even see it?”

“It’s no different than before. I’m still with you. I’m still guiding, protecting, and providing for you.”

“I bet You can see through this… this… swirling mess. That’s why You can say it’s no different. But it IS different for me. I can’t see!”

“You don’t have to. You have Me.”

“But, how will I be able to follow You if I can’t see You?” Amalia stopped walking. “How do I know that the next step I take won’t lead me off a cliff?”

Jesus sighed. “Amalia, I thought you trusted Me.”

“I do, but this is different.”

“Why? Have I changed?”

“No.”

“Other than the fog, has the mountain changed?”

“No. I don’t think so, but then, how would I know if I can’t see it?”

“What if I told you that it hadn’t?”

“I guess I would believe You.”

“So, if I haven’t changed, and the mountain hasn’t changed, what changed?”

Amalia thought about that for a few minutes. And then she got it.

“My vision. What I can see changed.”

“Exactly. You trusted Me before, trust Me now. Instead of focusing on what you see, focus on what you hear.”

Amalia wasn’t happy about this turn of events. It wasn’t fair to expect her to continue walking a hard path without being able to enjoy the beauty along the way. And, being a visual learner, she had always done better using her sight than her hearing. Suddenly she wanted nothing else than to be on the other side of the mountain and in the car that was supposed to be waiting for them. “Okay, fine. Let’s go. The faster we do this, the faster we can get to the other side.”

If Jesus minded her tone, He didn’t show it. “That’s the spirit!” He said. “We’re not far from the top.”

At first Jesus stayed close by, telling her where to walk, encouraging each step she took, and letting her know if she wandered to the left or to the right of the path. It wasn’t as bad as walking completely blind because Amalia could still see the ground, but only enough of it to take one or two hesitant steps at a time. She missed using her sight, but slowly began to get better at using her ears. Through the fog she could hear the calls of the birds and imagine them flitting from branch to another. She could hear the roar of the waterfalls and imagine the crashing water. She could hear the mighty wind above her and imagine the leaves dancing in the trees . As she focused on the sounds around her, she realized that she could hear Jesus better also.

Slowly, as she grew comfortable following Jesus’ words instead of His body, she actually began to enjoy the walk, taking each step more confidently. She found a strange beauty in the fog that she had never noticed before. The fog’s muting of the birds, waterfalls, and wind was actually peaceful. Almost like being in the dark room with Jesus. She didn’t even mind when the dirt path became covered with snow, making the path even harder to walk. She trusted that Jesus would not let her wander into dangerous ground, and would be quick to correct her each time she drifted from the path He had her on. However, the increasing strength of the wind around her caused her some concern. Jesus had told her He would direct her steps, but what was going to keep her from blowing off the mountain? And where was He, by the way? It dawned on her that she hadn’t heard His voice for a while now. She stopped walking and listened harder. No Voice. Had she become overconfident and taken a wrong turn somewhere? Was she lost now?

“Jesus! Where are You?”

So soft, like a whisper just barely heard over the wind, came the words, “Remember what I told you.”

“That’s it? That’s all I get when I need You the most?”

“It’s enough.”

She wanted to scream in frustration. She had done everything He had asked her. She had trusted everything He said. And this is where it got her? Lost in the blinding fog and blown around by the gusty wind? She shivered as she realized she was also freezing. She stooped down, hugging her knees, in an effort to escape the harsh conditions around her. Feeling abandoned and alone and afraid, she faced her worse fear: she was going to die.

Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 1

Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 1

Still staring at her image, Amalia didn’t notice the car start up and push through the next door. Could this really be her? If Jesus said it was, then it had to be. But she couldn’t believe it. She knew herself better.  A warrior? She was so full of fears and insecurities that she doubted she could ever battle anything. Right now she was a nobody, not some great warrior. And she was hardly confident or joyful most days. If the mirror was showing what Jesus saw when He looked at her, like He said it did, then it must be how Jesus saw her as she would be one day when she got to heaven. Certainly not as she was right now.

Slowly the sounds of birds singing and leaves rustling in the wind penetrated her thoughts. She lowered the mirror and looked around with confused pleasure as the car came to another stop. They were at the edge of a grassy field, with colorful flowers dotting the ground for as far as she could see. Here and there large spreading trees were providing shade and protection to the birds that flew around their branches. But neither the flowers nor the trees compared to the majestic mountains she could see in the far distance.

How could this be? They were in a haunted house. A house with walls and a ceiling. And yet it appeared that they were now in an open field, maybe a valley, leading to some gorgeous mountains. Amalia frowned in concentration, trying to make sense of what she saw, heard, and felt. The mountains could just be an incredible painted mural, the breeze could be created by hidden fans, and the bird songs could be recordings. But those were real flowers, and they went on for what appeared to be miles. More mirrors? And what about the trees? They were huge, too big to fit in this building. But they were definitely real. The nearest one was so close she could make out the design of its bark.

“Jesus, where are we?”

“We are right where we’re supposed to be. Come on, from here we have to walk. The next door is over those mountains.”

Amalia sat, eyes moving over the landscape. Surely she had heard Him wrong. “We have to walk?”

He was already climbing out of the car. “Come on, let’s get started.”

She slowly climbed out, still looking around with wide eyes. Wherever they were, Jesus was enjoying it. Maybe she should quit trying to figure it out, and just enjoy it like He was. Besides, if they had to get out and walk in one of the rooms of this crazy house, this one was by far the best one.

As they walked, she couldn’t get enough of the beauty all around her. The deep green of the grass blades complemented the brilliant white of the clouds floating in a cobalt blue sky.  And those flowers! The soft, colorful petals, each so different and yet perfectly shaped! Bees buzzed in and around many of them, joining the soft sounds of bird calls and rustling leaves. Inhaling deeply, she sighed. This place was much better than anywhere else she could imagine. Not even those scary looking mountains could contain as much beauty as this place. Why did she have to climb them anyway? They looked way harder than anything she had ever done before. Why couldn’t Jesus just make an easier way to get to the car? Even better, why even get to the car at all? Why not stay here? It was so perfect here, with none of the problems and worries that seemed to fill the world outside this place.

She stopped, and turned to Jesus. “Can we just stay here? With You, I won’t need anything else.”

He chuckled. “Well, it’s true that with Me you have everything. But you weren’t made to stay here. We have a ride to finish, and the car is on the other side of those mountains.”

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He pointed to them with such great joy and excitement that Amalia wondered what He was seeing that she didn’t see. Didn’t He know how difficult this looked to her? Hadn’t He noticed how dubious she felt? If He would just tell her what He saw, she might feel better about the whole thing. And yet He didn’t. Sometimes He could be so frustrating. Sighing, she began walking.

At first it was easy, but the incline of the field grew steadily steeper, and soon she lost sight of the beauty of the place as she focused on her feet and on her breathing. The lush green grass had grown sparse in places, with patches of rocks and loose dirt that caused her feet to frequently stumble. She began to regret wearing sandals instead of hiking shoes. But then, how was she to know she would end up where she was?

“I’m here. Take My hand. I won’t let you fall,” she heard Jesus say when she had stumbled the first time. She did, and found that holding on to Him steadied her. But as they walked, she kept finding the need to use both hands to shake out small pebbles that got in her sandals, or to shade her eyes from the bright sun while she pushed the taller weeds out of her way. As the inclined steepened, she stumbled more frequently. Sometimes she remembered to grab His hand. Or His shoulder. Or His clothes. But other times, she was too busy flailing her arms in panic to think of Him, so He would reach out to her with His steadying arm.

Finally He told her, “Let’s sit down and rest for a few minutes.”

She sank down and closed her eyes in relief. Walking with Jesus in this room was a lot harder than it looked. She had thought it would be easy, surrounded by beauty all the way. But she hadn’t expected the increase in slope to make such a difference. It also seemed the harder the walk became, the harder it was to see the beauty. Well, she had to admit, the beauty was still there, but the more she focused on her feet, the less of the beauty she saw. Maybe, when they continued walking, she should try to keep her eyes looking upward instead of downward.

All too soon, Jesus pulled her up, and they continued their walk towards the mountains. As they walked, He told her of what to expect.

“It’s quite high so we will have to go slower. There are paths in some areas, but in others, we will have to make our own way. There are dangers everywhere: animals, poisonous plants, cliffs, and sudden storms. You will get tired. You will get hungry. You will want to quit. But be assured that I am with You. I can keep you safe from every danger, as long as you do as I say.”

“If it’s that hard, why do we have to climb it? You can do anything, so why can’t You just make this mountain disappear?”

“Sometimes a mountain can be moved, but others, like this one, must be climbed. It’s for your good.”

“Well, if I have to go over it, can You at least carry me?”

“Sure, I can carry you from time to time.  But I can’t climb this whole mountain for you. You need the strength and wisdom you will gain from climbing it. “

Amalia looked doubtfully at the mountains that seemed to be approaching quickly. “I don’t think I want to go any further. I’m not ready.”

“Yes, you are, or I wouldn’t have brought you here.”

“But I don’t have any climbing gear. I don’t have any food or water or first aid supplies. I don’t have the knowledge to differentiate between good plants from poisonous ones. And I don’t have a weapon to fight off wild animals. I have nothing. Not even hiking boots.”

“You have everything you need. You have Me.”

“But You don’t have a back pack either. What if my sandal strap breaks and I have to travel barefooted. I’ll get blisters, which will probably get infected, and with no medicine, I’ll probably end up losing my feet. Let’s just go back. There must be another way.”

He laughed. “You won’t lose your feet. I am your healer.”

“But what if an animal attacks me while You’re not looking? I have nothing to defend myself with. I don’t want to get hurt. Even though You can heal me, it will surely delay our journey. Let’s go back to the safety of the field.”

“You won’t be hurt as long as you stay near Me. I am your protector.”

Amalia looked at Jesus’ empty hands. Did He have a knife hidden up His sleeve? Or maybe He was planning on finding some sturdy branches to use? “But You don’t have anything, either.”

She thought of another reason not to keep going. “I don’t have any water. And without water purification tablets, I can’t drink the water in any streams we find. I’m going to get dehydrated. And then I’ll get dizzy and weak and confused. I’ll be too sick to go on and end up dying on this mountain.”

He reached for and squeezed her hand. “You won’t die of thirst. I am your provider.”

But what if I’m walking along a path and suddenly find myself on a cliff? My balance is not all that great now. I know I will fall! Can’t we get to the door by going through the field, and completely avoid these mountains?”

He smiled and shook His head. “You will not fall. I am your guide and will keep you away from cliffs.”

No matter what objections Amalia came up with, Jesus seemed amused and had an answer. Evidently He wanted her up that mountain whether she wanted to or not, but that didn’t stop her from trying to talk Him out of it with new reasons as they came to her. She was increasingly dismayed to see that the closer they got to the mountains, the higher and harder and scarier they looked. In fact, she couldn’t even see the tops of the higher ones.

“Don’t worry,” Jesus told her, seeing the worry on her face. “The way is hard, but the reward is more than you can imagine. When we get to the top, you will be so grateful to have made the climb. I can’t wait to celebrate up there with you! However, there is one thing you need to do before we begin.”

“Run the other way?” she asked, looking behind her as if the car would suddenly appear. “This is just a joke, right?”

“Nope, no joke.” He spoke seriously now. “Before we start, you’ll need to make a commitment to follow Me no matter how rough it gets, or how long it takes. That commitment will help you when you think you can’t go on. Do you trust Me? Will you make that commitment?”

Amalia thought about it. She looked up at the mountain, and then down the way they had come. “What if I decide not to go?”

“It’s your choice. Just know this: if you go back, you will never know what you’ll have missed. And since the car is on the other side of this mountain, you will not be able to progress through this haunted house. You will be stuck in that field. As beautiful as it is, do you really want to be stuck there… or go back to the room with the mirrors… or the floorless room… or…”

“Okay, I get the point. It’s go forwards or go nowhere. You did this to me on purpose, didn’t You? You knew before we even entered this haunted house that I would be faced with this decision.”

Jesus winked at her. “And I even know what you’re going to decide.”

Sighing, she resigned herself to her fate. “Okay, if we’re going to die, let’s get it over with.”