On a supremely, perfect, summer Saturday, I stood at Navy Pier, scanning west along Chicago’s skyline and east across the Lake. “If we swim about 70 miles that way,” I pointed the direction where water and sky blend on the horizon, “we’ll be home.” I informed my Syrian friends, now transplants to Michigan.
We’d driven away from Grand Rapids due southwest early that morning, all the way to the burbs where my biggest girl has her own address. Together, we boarded the train into the city, a first for my international buds. After that, we caught the water taxi downriver, skyscrapers imposing on every side. Then, we walked, and walked and walked because even with navigation, the city’s a maze to novices.
And there we were, staring up at the tallest ferris wheel I’d ever seen.
My friends, they’ve seen places and experienced things I’ve only imagined in my dreams, or my nightmares. And home for them, it’s really halfway around the world, except they can’t live there anymore. A little like Moses and the Israelites, they fled oppression posthaste and spent some years in the wilderness of waiting too. Then God brought them here to my little corner of the world and to me. And, on this day, we are living an adventure together in Chi-town.
I saw them gazing up at the Wheel, her wide eyed. He mumbled, “Wow,” excitedly. I couldn’t resist their contagious enthusiasm and before I knew what came over me, I asked “Do you want to ride?” She broke into a big smile and he said, “I’ll pay.” Already, he’s a generous gentleman at the tender age of 18.
I glanced over at my 20 something daughter who knows that included in my substantive list of fears, I’m terrified of heights. Something involuntary happens in my innards when my feet aren’t firmly planted on the ground. And my anxiety takes on its own independent identity.
So, I instinctively tried to dodge.
“Why don’t you ride with Angela?” I suggested. “I’ll wait down here.”
Then he looked at me and said, “If you don’t go, I won’t go.”
“That’s manipulation!” I responded half jokingly though I knew that word wasn’t in his vocabulary bank.
Meanwhile, I’m having an animated conversation with myself that nobody else can hear.
“This day is about them, right?” I inquire of me.
And, “how could you deny them this delight when life itself has denied them so many already?” I reprimand myself harshly.
So, I agreed to ride with a caveat, strategizing for a possible way of escape.
“OK,” I said. “How about if we ride so long as the line isn’t too long, not more than 20 minutes.” After all, we’re hungry, I reasoned.
We approached the ticket booth and I inquired about the queue. “It’s short. Maybe 10 minutes,” the employee responded.
There goes my out!
I took my ticket hesitantly and started to explain to my group that I might pray out loud the whole time, or vomit or both intermittently. It’s only fair to warn them, I thought.
Then my girl and I, we reminisced about the time her little sister convinced her to ride a roller coaster at Disney World in pitch black darkness. She spent the whole three minutes reciting the 23rd Psalm–loudly. It wasn’t funny at the time but it’s given us all some good laughs when we remember.
I’m wondering if this’ll be the next entertaining family vignette to tell around the dinner table—if I survive.
The closer we came to the circular monster, the higher it looked and the more petrified I felt. We inched our way to the front of the line and I stepped out into the great unknown. The car, fully encased in glass with cushioned bench seats, felt surprisingly secure as it locked behind us. It didn’t rock back and forth tipping precariously like the miniature versions I’ve ridden on before. As we started to ascend slowly, beauty trumped fear, anxiety diminished as surprise swelled and distress was swallowed up in wonder. I felt fine, excited even. God’s creative masterwork was jaw-dropping magnificent.
In the architectural genius of the design of the buildings that span the skyline,
In the color palette of the Lake painted all blues and greens,
In the engineering expertise that constructed this steel contraption,
Right down to all of the tiny people meandering along the pier,
Everywhere, I saw His signature.
We inched higher as the other cars filled with passengers, our cameras grasping to capture the moment.
They never do though, because image isn’t real.
The Wheel rotated slowly. My stomach didn’t even somersault on the descents. The ride, it reminded me of fine chocolate—classy and a bit addictive. We circled three times in all and when our car halted at the exit gate, I didn’t want it to be over. I wanted to live in the euphoria of courage and freedom longer.
I walked away, thinking how I might have missed this adventure because of fear.
And about all the adventures I have missed because of anxiety.
I’ll be honest, a lot of things set the wheels of worry in motion.
But not as many as before.
I am learning to take more risks, to jump off more cliffs…
If am telling myself more truth, practicing more control…
I am implementing new skills to self soothe and desensitize anxiety…
And I carry a small stash of Xanax in my purse for emergencies though I don’t use it anymore. It’s a security blanket, really.
A few years back, I rode a cable car up the side of the Great Smoky Mountains.
After that, I stood on the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado.
I board airplanes and travel back and forth to Dallas at least twice a year.
And in a couple of months, I’m puddle jumping over the Atlantic all the way to Europe with the same girl I rode the Ferris wheel with. Together we’ll admire art and architecture, gallivant to cathedrals and castles, hike the Scottish Highlands with friends.
And today, I’m driving to the beach with two of my faves, our orange and green floaties in the hatch.
We’re stoked for a different kind of adventure, riding the waves and toes in the sand.
One of my girls, she’s leaning her head out the window, breeze blowing her hair wild. The radio’s playing Jason Gray and he’s singing, “It’s Good to be Alive”:
I wanna live like there’s no tomorrow
Love like I’m on borrowed time
It’s good to be alive.
And I won’t take it for granted
I won’t waste another second
All I want is to give you
A life well lived, to say “thank you”.
I’m a few days away from celebrating 51 years of fresh new mercies, sufficient for every day’s adventure.
For this day’s adventure.
For last year’s adventure.
For next year’s adventure.
And for a lifetime of adventures.
And I feel incredibly grateful.