Who knew a trip to the amusement park would hold a secret to victorious living?
We brought our son’s friend to Busch Gardens for the day, and when we got there, the two of them made a beeline for the biggest roller coaster they were tall enough to ride. It had never occurred to us that Sam’s little friend might have a problem. She comes from a family of big coaster enthusiasts. Her mom and I have even talked about the joy of doing an amusement park with coaster-friendly people. But the look on her face at the end of the ride made it clear she did not share her family’s amusement park tenacity. It turns out she was too little to ride the big coasters the last time they went. So no one in her family could guess that she wouldn’t love it.
Sam was so sad. He had been looking forward to spending this day with his best bud, and he couldn’t wait to experience all of his favorite rides with her. But after that first one, she couldn’t face the Scorpion – Sam’s absolute favorite coaster. So she stayed behind with one of the older teens and waved from the ground at our sad boy, who wasn’t sure how approach the rest of the day.
I felt the weight of Sam’s disappointment, but the look on his friend’s face was familiar — I knew exactly what she was feeling. When I was 11 years old, I went to Rye Playland with some friends, and just like Nawal, I was the roller coaster rookie that day. As soon as we arrived, we too headed for the biggest coaster. A hint of butterflies in my belly were more about excitement than fear. It hadn’t really occurred to me that I might not like the experience.
I still remember that first drop. I was totally unprepared for the intense feeling of losing my stomach, and my instincts led me to hold my breath and squeeze my belly tight – the worst thing you can do on a roller coaster. I don’t remember anything else about that day, but it was years before I got on another coaster. Then one day, at Six Flags Great Adventure, someone taught me the secret: at the top of a hill, just before the drop, take the deepest breath your lungs can hold, and let it all out in a giant scream on your way down. Coincidentally, my roller coaster victory happened on a ride called the American Scream Machine.
Knowing I had the secret that could transform her day, I didn’t want to see Nawal delay her victory for years like I had. If only I could find a tiny glimmer of courage in her little heart, I knew I could coach her through the Scorpion and turn a defeat into a triumph, saving the day for both her and Sam. So after a few successful rounds on River Rapids, I pulled her aside and squatted down for a serious girl-to-girl talk.
“Nawal, I know what happened on Gwazi. You went down the big hill, and it felt really bad, right?”
Her big brown eyes stared back at me, and slowly, she moved her head up and down.
“That happened to me once too. But then someone taught me a special trick, and from then on, the bad feeling never happened again. I could teach it to you, and if you do exactly what I show you, you’ll never be afraid of another roller coaster.”
I searched her sweet little face for that glimmer of courage, and even though her eyebrows were squeezed together in the middle and pulled up in distress, I sensed that she wanted victory.
“Nawal, if you come with me, I’ll sit right next to you, and I’ll show you exactly what to do, and it will be more fun than you could ever imagine. Do you think you could try?”
She was scared. It was written in her feet, crossed nervously (one on top of the other), and in her hands twisting together, and in her bottom lip, tucked awkwardly under a few of her front teeth. She sighed, processing my proposal, and then tentatively, she nodded and slipped her hand slowly into mine.
Sitting beside me in the car, the bar came down over her head and locked into place, and I began to describe exactly how it would go down, turn by turn.
“First we’re going to climb up this hill, and this is the time to relax and wave to the people down below. But when we reach the top, make sure you take the biggest, deepest breath your lungs can possibly hold, and then…as soon as we begin to drop…let it out in the loudest scream your voice can make.” I could tell she liked the idea of being allowed to scream as loud as she wanted, but the upside-down part was still freaking her out. “As soon as the drop is over, we’ll be in the loop before you even know it. It won’t feel at all scary – it will just be super fun!”
The ride happened exactly as I had said it would, and when we pulled in, every part of Nawal expressed triumph. She had faced her fear, followed my directions to the letter, and come out victorious. The ride was exciting, of course, but for Sam’s little friend, the greatest thrill came from knowing that she had chosen courage, and it paid off. The reward for bravery was confidence. She threw off the weight of fear and skipped through the rest of her day, knowing there was no roller coaster she couldn’t tackle – well, of those she’s tall enough to ride, that is.
On the way home, I thought about Nawal’s victory, and God showed me something. The Holy Spirit is our coach, and when He asks us to take His hand and face our fear, He promises to stay right by our side, directing us every step of the way. All we need to do is choose courage, and follow His lead. The victory for us will be just as sweet as Nawal’s roller coaster joy!
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” –2 Timothy 1:7