The Roller Coaster Ride of Life

I watched the roller coaster climb and couldn’t even bring myself to believe he was on it. Fighting my own nausea despite not even being on the ride, praying ceaselessly, and resisting panic, I mainly planted myself in denial. This could not be happening. How could I let myself believe that my petite-not-even-40-pounds-just-turned-7-year-old was slowing climbing up that coaster and would actually plunge back down? I was confident he wouldn’t reach the ride-with-an-adult height minimum. And he had. And how exactly would riding next to an adult help him? Let’s just get back to denial.

It was utter relief to have him smiling back on the ground, having had a great and safe time, and having him not even up-chuck his hot dog.

Thank goodness, that ride was over.

But there’s bigger roller coaster rides he’ll face in life, ones he already has, ones he will in the future, and these even more overwhelming for me to think about.

I don’t want him on those rides.

Last year, I remember, how many times did we use the phrase? This is such a roller coaster.

The peak of a positive pregnancy test, flying back down with drops of blood, back up with climbing HCG, back down with more blood. Repeat, ride, repeat. Over and over again.

Our extended family’s WhatsApp group, replete with the words “update” and “roller coaster”.

Before we even knew how wild the ride was going to get.

It was months of the up and down. The downward slams of losing the baby, the ectopic sac, the chemo treatments. The ups of thinking treatment was working, then the downward plunge with the first message about my mother-in-law. And down even more when hemorrhaging almost took my life.

Then up with good doctor reports, yet down again with more physical complications. Downward with my mother-in-law still being in the ICU with no answers; up again with her signs of progress, her back home, then ripped down again with her back in the hospital, back at square one, and then the diagnosis: ALS.

This endless good-news-bad-news and was the good news ever really good? This was a ride that kept sinking us lower into an abyss of darkness that threatened to overtake.

Life can be such a roller coaster.

That ride ended… some parts at highs and some at lows. My mother-in-law, praise God, still with us, but the battle of ALS continues on. My life spared, body healed, but my baby gone, womb gone, brain scarred.

Now we foster, and it’s another ride of good news/bad news, hope and hope deferred. The ups and downs of the process and the track seems to go all different ways. Reunification, adoption, relatives, visits, TPR, forward, backward, and the chain jerks you around.

Until you start to not even want to go up anymore.

Because it means you’ll be pulled back down.

I find myself preferring to just stay there- down.

Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low? Lauren Daigle’s song rings in my head.

More, isn’t that what we want? There to be more, more than this, more than the ride. More meaning, more purpose, more going on than just this endless cycle of highs and lows.

I look ahead and part of me wants nothing more than to stay on the ground and hold someone else’s purse while they ride. But with life, there’s no ticket window, no line to get in, no spectator’s deck.

And try as I can to create one, to make this safe, steady place of rhythms and routines, and to build the walls of my bubble, the reality is that I’ve seen how quickly the ground can drop beneath you and that reminder hits- I’m not at all in control of any of this.

When we drive now, my son loves to pretend he’s on a roller coaster, and he’ll toss his hands up in the air when we drive down a hill and his smile beams and I ache to know he won’t always be this free, this happy, when the real plunges hit.

I know he’s been there, already, riding up with us at the joy of news that a baby sibling was coming, then back down with us with baby gone. He slammed to the ground when he watched me lay in blood and for months he felt the downward jarring of mommy being unwell. He knows what it’s like to feel the plunge of almost losing Grandma and he aches with us all at her being sick.

One day driving home, he cries, and I don’t even know what the trigger was, but his words told me his heart: “I think I miss Ellis the most of all of us.” This little boy, who’s had to be a man, feels the ride of life with joyful highs and painful lows. He misses his two siblings, he feels the voids, he asks hard questions about ALS, and even in fostering, he knows- this is up and down.

I want to protect him from this ride. I shield my words to him, couch everything I say, and use countless “maybes”. But I know, and I reel, that I can’t keep him off the roller coaster his life will bring. And I can’t undo what he’s already ridden. I can’t take his trauma away, I can’t argue God into rewinding time and sparing him this ride.

But God’s truth comes back to me with comfort.

This isn’t a ride, but a journey.

When I remember this, and my mind shifts to truth, perspective brings peace. These happenings in life, though it feels like a roller coaster, it isn’t a ride. It’s a journey.

On a roller coaster, machines make mayhem, meaning is merely experience, and you end where you began.

But journeys- journeys take you somewhere else, there is purpose for the passengers and destination goals ahead. There is meaning in the process and the places.

And with God… we know this, the best part… that He is leading us along our journey, and He has already designed our days, and none of this is emotional happenstance.

We are going somewhere, and there is meaning in every step to get there. When I remind myself that the future is already written, I am just following the already-cleared path, I find calm.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be highs and lows- in fact, it guarantees it. But I will have a Shepherd leading me the whole way, and surely goodness and mercy will follow me all of my days. The up days and the down days, all goodness and mercy.

I thank God for the peace and purpose this brings. And while I’m still a trying-to-trust work-in-progress, I place my faith in Him for my sons’ journeys as well. While I may feel nauseous at their plunges and want to take them off the ride, while I may feel shock and outrage at their being permitted to be on it at all- I know ultimately their journey with Him is exactly the best place they can be. It can be frightening knowing their in the Master’s Hands, because no, He’s not always safe. But He is, oh, He is always good.

And so, I fight my nausea, pray ceaselessly, and resist panic. But I won’t plant myself in denial. It’s the truth that will set me free instead.

And at the end of our rides, at the end of our journeys- we will all be smiling, hands raised high, faces beaming.

What a glorious day that will be.

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