Growing up in the metropolitan Denver area meant that we had a choice between two amusement parks, Lakeside Amusement Park and the more well-known and much lauded Elitch Gardens, my personal favorite. I write of the original Elitch Gardens, complete with shaded boulevards, gorgeous flower gardens (hence the name) and well-shaded family picnic areas. (I've never dropped a dime at the "new" Elitch Gardens, though my children love it.)
Both parks featured unique roller coaster rides and in my youth I was easily convinced to ride them more than once. I actually enjoyed the rides, it was the anticipatory fear leading up to the ride that finally convinced me to give it up. Poor Patrick had to ride alone on our last visit to Elitch Gardens. The longer we stood in line (and the line was long) the more my dread increased until I finally stepped out of line, leaving Patrick to fend for himself. I guess I don't like roller coasters, at least not enough to endure debilitating pre-dread.
The 2011 file folder is nearly full. The calendar is open to its final page, and in three days, as long as things go according to plan, 2011 will come to a quiet close at our house, 2012 will dawn just as quietly, and we'll go about the business of living, one day at a time, just like everyone else inhabiting planet Earth. It's a good thing life happens just one day at a time. 2011 has been quite the roller coaster ride, with little time for anticipatory fear.
I've written before about the list Danny and I tried to compile of significant news events worldwide. It was an exercise in futility. We simply couldn't keep up.
According to some modern-day prophets, we came this close to the end of all things twice in 2011. This inspired more than one comment about those who seek to "name the day and the hour." Perhaps the cultural fascination with the "End of Days" will fade following what I predict will be another non-event on Dec. 21, 2012, the much publicized end of the Mayan calendar and presumably therefore the end for all of us. We'll have plenty of ups and downs and sharp turns to the right and to the left between now and then.
The darkness seems to be deepening with every passing year, with too many headlines bringing wholly man-made tragedies to light, most recently the "Santa" who gunned down family members Christmas morning in an apartment in Grapevine, Texas, before ending his own life. I think it is this growing lack of restraint that troubles me the most. It's almost as if a thought, any thought, no matter how dark, no matter how evil, becomes reality in an instant these days.
Things weren't much better on the local front. Tragedy came early in the year when Kailee Clapp was taken from us. Her untimely death inspired many a tear and more than a few words through the course of the year as we covered the murder, her funeral and more than one memorial event. We're still waiting for her accused killer to be brought to full justice, his story undoubtedly no less tragic than Kailee's.
After enduring the long, slow climb to dizzying heights, feeling your stomach lurch as the roller coaster car takes that first long downhill run with tears, screams and laughter simultaneously erupting, the twists and turns that constitute the main ride alternately terrify and inspire.
Our ride in 2011 was no different.
There were moments of pure joy: savoring the inaugural ride with Danny in the driver's seat, to the gas station, in his 69 Ford truck, following a three-year restoration project; packing Manna meals with my granddaughter, Harley at the Feed My Starving Children Mobile Pack in Imperial; and watching our Colorado girls at their first county fair; even comforting Maddy when she bit her lip at that same fair. She sobbed, "I wish my daddy was here" as I staunched the blood. I gently informed her that I knew all about making boo boos better -- my first lessons were learned comforting her dad when he was the one in tears.
There also have been moments of sheer terror. More than once I have woken in the dark watches of the night with sobs only the Lord can understand, mourning the extended, albeit voluntary, absence of one of life's greatest blessings as Danny and I experience the heartache known only to those who await a prodigal's return.
As the roller coaster continues to make its twists and turns, it slows, almost imperceptibly at first, and just this side of too soon you realize the ride is almost over. Life is like that, too. Just when you think you can't take one more steep decline, one more launch into what seems to be oblivion, the ride comes to a quiet, calm end, the operator lifts the bar and you make your way down the gangplank on shaky legs, back into another ordinary summer day.
2012 will likely be much the same. On any given day, we may find ourselves on yet another roller coaster ride as life, with all of its uncertainties, unfolds one day at a time.
And someday, perhaps just this side of too soon, the ride will end forever, when the roller coaster car coasts into the safe haven of eternity and Jesus lifts the bar and welcomes us to the place prepared for us. Until then, we'll hang on tight to all of his promises, alternately laughing and crying as his story and our part in it unfolds.
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:3 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.