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Friday, March 22, 2013

Crazy Carnival Rides


            To say that I don’t like going to amusement parks would be totally incorrect.  In my younger days I loved a good Topsy-turvy, world-spinning, near-vomit-inducing string of carnival rides as well as any kid who likes an exhilarating, gut-wrenching thrill.  I’ll admit that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve encountered a few problems with amusement park rides… mainly that they’ve lost most of their amusement.

            Physically, I don’t really fit well into rides which are designed to hold more “Average” sized people.  You know how they have the little signs at the entrance to the rides which read, “You must be at least this tall to go on this ride”.  Well, they should probably have one that also shows, “If your legs are longer than this point, you will suffer knee cap dislocation on the first turn,” or “If your torso is this Girthy you will suffer rib fractures & collapsed lungs in the first corkscrew,” or “If your waist size is bigger than this, the lap bar will crush your pelvis at the first drop off” and so forth.  But I’m sure some fear of lawsuit or discrimination prevents such warnings, which I feel would actually be quite beneficial for a guy of my… ample body build. 
            I remember being with my kids on what I think was called the “California Screamer” at one of the Disneyland locations.  Crammed into the average seat and harness with my knees already forming dents in the front of the seat well, I knew there might be trouble before the ride even started.  But I was trying to show my kids what a fun Dad I was, so you know, I was taking it for the team in order to create the memories.  When the ride suddenly went from a full stop to about a bazillion miles per hour and straight into two consecutive upside down loop-d-loops, my spine literally compressed and I felt my legs go numb!  I then knew where the “California Screamer” screams were coming from!

            When the ride came to a much welcomed stop, I ran through a quick physical assessment and was pleased to find that I could still feel and move my legs and was able to walk (albeit awkwardly) without having to call Mickey for an ambulance ride.  My “Common Sense” personality cried out to the “Cool Dad” personality and jolted into a memory a long ago carnival ride, which should have taught me my carnival ride lesson many years before.

            I was probably around 14 years old on that fateful day, and a youth group from our church had taken a trip from our Idaho home to a neighboring state to visit and amusement park for the day.  We arrived early as the gates were just opening, and rushed inside so as to not miss out on any fun, only to realize that many of the rides wouldn’t be open for riding until another hour or so.  With only a few of the smaller rides operating at the early hours, my friend Brad and I scoured of the map of the park, and finally decided to head towards a ride in which its early victims were emitting what sounded like screams of delight.

            It was a Ferris wheel design with about 7-8 egg-shaped metal cages which not only went up and down with the spinning of the wheel, but also contained a lever bar inside, which if you pulled would lock your cart in position and allow you to make the revolutions upside down.  If you were a real thrill seeker, you could both push and pull on the lever during the rotations and engage in a fully brain-rattling series of forward and backward spins as you attempted to defy the laws of gravity.  Being just 14, and with they day just starting, of course we fell into the “real thrill seeker” category.

            We eagerly and willingly submitted to allowing ourselves to be strapped and locked into the cage.  I remember the carnival worker slamming down a metal bar on the door, which meant it could only be opened from the outside when the ride was over.  Of course at the time, I wasn’t thinking about anything but the thrill of the next few moments.  Nothing else in the future or past seemed to matter.  All consciousness was focused on the present exhilaration as the wheel began to quickly pick up speed.  Our shouts of excitement mingled with the riders of the other cages as we spun willy-nilly through the air.  UNTIL….. a great shuddering brought the revolving metal wheel to an abrupt and unexpected stop!

            The thrill was instantly gone, as my friend and I found ourselves near the top of the ride… our cage inverted… fully upside down.  Our cries of joy quickly turned into shouts for help as the blood rushed to our hanging heads and the harness straps strained uncomfortably against the weight of our bodies.

            The carnival worker who had so eagerly invited us onto the terrible trap was helpless to provide aid, as he flipped the switches and pulled on the levers without result.  Our pleas for assistance fell on deaf ears.

            My head pounded from the strain as we hung for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably a matter of only ten to fifteen agonizing minutes.  The lever bar was locked in position and despite our straining; we could not release it to flip ourselves upright.  Even if we could have removed the restrictive harness, we were still helplessly trapped in a cage which could only be opened from the outside and which hung suspended at a height which would have caused significant, life changing injuries.  We were completely helpless and unable to change our condition.

            Finally, a concerned park manager heard our cries came running to the scene. With expert precision he inspected the motor box and mechanisms, and within a matter of minutes flipped some switches and returned us and the other riders safely to ground level.  I had never seen a more welcome sight or concerned face as he personally unlocked us from our temporary prison.  My pain and anger was superseded by the gratitude I felt for this savior who had come to our rescue.

            At the time, I failed to realize the great lesson these events would teach me.  But as I reflect on what happened, I cannot help but recognize the parallels to this mortal life we live and experience each day.

            The world about us is filled with enticements of momentary thrill, excitement, exhilaration and pleasure.  All we have to do is give up our freedom and allow ourselves to be restricted and bound to the actions.  Addictive drugs, alcoholism, pornography, and a host of other lures promise a temporary release from reality and a false sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.  But what we fail to realize is that we cannot control the results of these choices.

            The false and temporary thrill is soon gone and we find that we cannot control the consequences.  Broken hearts and homes, financial ruin, loss of employment and health are some of the unexpected results we do not think about or foresee when we are focused on the satisfaction of the moment.  Then, whether we would admit it or not, our lives are turned upside down, and we are trapped in a prison of our sin and behavior from which we cannot escape without help.

            Luckily for us, we have an expert who always hears our cries, and is willing and ready to answer our sincere, heartfelt calls for relief.  He is our Savior, Jesus Christ.

            Only He can fix what our errant choices have broken, turn upright what is upside down in our lives, and restore us to solid ground and offer release from the prison which can only be unlocked from His outside help.

            As previously mentioned, despite the difficulties of that day and what I suffered, I returned to other carnival rides throughout my life, and as I explained, they brought physical distress and emotional suffering. 

           Similarly in my life, at times, some of the choices I have made have not been wise.  Despite our attempts at perfection, all of us repeatedly fall prey to errant choices and mistakes to one degree or another.
           I am grateful for the One who has the compassion, understanding and love to come to our assistance when we realize our error and call to him for help.  And I know from experience that no matter what our condition or state of distress, He will always come if we turn to him.  That is why we call Him our Savior!