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LIFE ON THE EDGE
By JAMES DOBSON
Multnomah Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 1995 James Dobson, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBLAST OFF OR BLOW UP?
If you are between sixteen and twenty-six years of age, this book is written specifically for you. Others are welcome to read along with us, of course, but the ideas are aimed directly at those moving through what we will call the "critical decade."
Some of the most dramatic and permanent changes in life usually occur during those ten short years. A person is transformed from a kid who's still living at home and eating at the parents' table to a full-fledged adult who should be earning a living and taking complete charge of his or her life. Most of the decisions that will shape the next fifty years will be made in this era, including the choice of an occupation, perhaps the decision to marry, and the establishment of values and principles by which life will be governed.
What makes this period even more significant is the impact of early mistakes and errors in judgment. They can undermine all that is to follow. A bricklayer knows he must be very careful to get his foundation absolutely straight; any wobble in the bricks at the bottom will create an even greater tilt as the wall goes up. So it is in life.
This momentous journey through the critical decade reminds me of a trip our family took to Kenya and Tanzania years ago. Thehighlight of our tour was a visit to the Serengeti, a magnificent national park where legendary African animals roam wild and free. It had rained all day before we arrived, and the unpaved roads were extremely muddy. Before we had driven fifteen miles into the park, our car slid into a ditch and bogged down to the axles in thick, African mud. We would have certainly spent the night out there on the savanna if it had not been for a native in a doublewheeled truck who gave us a hand.
Later that afternoon we came to a stretch of road that was even more torn up and muddy. There it divided and ran parallel for several hundred yards before coming back together. It was obvious that drivers earlier that day had forged the new trail to get around a mudhole, but we had no way of knowing on which side it lay. We sat there for a moment trying to decide which road to take. If we made a mistake, we would probably get stuck again and have to sleep in the car-without dinner, toothbrushes, bathroom facilities, or even water to drink.
Our seventeen-year-old son, Ryan, then volunteered to help.
"I'll run ahead and look at the road," he said. "Then I'll wave to let you know which way to go."
The missionary who was with us said, "Uhm, Ryan, I don't think that is a very good idea. You just don't know what might be out there in the tall grass."
Eventually we chose what looked like the best road and were indeed able to get through. But when we reached the place where the two trails came back together, a surprise was waiting for us. A huge male lion was crouched in the grass off to one side. He rolled his big yellow eyes toward us and dared us to take him on. Large cats like that one consider humans to be just another easy dinner. They can cover one hundred yards in less than three seconds and wouldn't hesitate to devour any city dweller who was foolish enough to tempt them.
Ryan looked at the lion and agreed that he probably ought to stay in the car! In a manner of speaking, our experience on the Serengeti illustrates the passage from late adolescence to young adulthood. The journey goes smoothly and uneventfully for some individuals. They drive right through without a hitch. But a surprisingly large number of us encounter unexpected "mudholes" that trap and hold us at an immature stage of development. Still others are plagued by predators lurking in the tall grass. Among them are an addiction to alcohol or drugs, marriage to the wrong person, failure to achieve a coveted dream, suicide, homicide, or various criminal offenses. It is very easy to get off the trail and into the ditch in the morning of our lives.
Early mistakes and errors in judgment ... can undermine all that is to follow.
Permit me another illustration that comes to mind. I was once invited to take a three-day whitewater rafting trip down the Rogue River in Oregon. A friend and experienced rafter, Dr. Richard Hosley, said to me as we were preparing to launch the gear, "One thing you'll soon learn is that the river is always boss." I didn't know what he meant then, but three days later I understood that principle very clearly.
Rather than floating on the raft for fifty miles in relative serenity and safety, I chose to paddle along behind in a plastic eight-foot canoe. And on the second afternoon, I insisted on rowing this flimsy craft into the most treacherous part of the river. It was a bad decision.
Ahead lay a section of the river known as the "Coffeepot," so named because the narrowing of the rock-walled banks creates an unpredictable, bubbling current that has been known to suck small boats and their passengers below the surface without warning. Several men and women had drowned in that precise spot, one of them only the summer before. But ignorance is bliss, and blissful I was.
I seemed to be handling the task quite well for the first few minutes ... before everything came unraveled. Then I was caught in the current flowing around a large rock and capsized in the turbulent water. It seemed like an eternity before I came to the surface, only to find breathing impossible. A bandanna that had been around my neck was now plastered across my mouth and held there by my glasses, which were strapped to my head. Just as I clawed free and gasped for air, churning water hit me in the face and gurgled into my lungs. Again, I came up coughing and sputtering before taking another trip below the surface. By then I was desperate for air and keenly aware that the Coffeepot was only a hundred yards downstream.
A kind of panic gripped me that I had not experienced since childhood! I definitely considered the possibility that I was drowning. You see, I have a nagging little habit of breathing every few minutes and don't cope well when prevented from doing so. I knew that getting sucked under again at that moment might be the end of the line. My family and friends watched helplessly from the raft as I bobbed through the rapids and into the narrowest section of the river. They were unable to reach me because the current had carried them farther downstream.
It is very easy to get off the trail and into the ditch in the morning of our lives.
By using his incredible rafting skill, however, Dr. Hosley managed to "hold" the raft by maneuvering it to an eddy at the side of the river. There it spun until I caught up and grabbed the rope that rims the upper exterior structure. I could not pull myself into the craft because of the rapids, my soaked clothing, and the distance of the rope above my head. That's why I expected Dr. Hosley to help me aboard. Instead, I noticed that he was struggling with the oars and looking very concerned. I learned later what was worrying him. He feared that the large raft would be thrown against the vertical rock walls bordering the Coffeepot and that I would be crushed by its massive force.
Indeed, the raft was thrown against the wall, but I saw it coming. Using all of the strength left within me, I pulled my feet up and sprang off the rock, propelling myself high enough on the raft to scramble on board. I then collapsed in the bottom of the craft and stayed there sucking air for about thirty minutes.
The only casualty from the experience is a matter of collegiate pride. Dr. Hosley was wearing a shirt with his beloved Stanford University named across the front. It survived the trip. But somewhere on the bottom of the Rogue River in dishonor lies a water-soaked hat bearing the logo of the University of Southern California. It was a sad moment in the historic rivalry of the two schools. At least I didn't wind up lying on the rocky bottom clutching my USC banner!
You can probably see how this story relates to our theme. Life is like the beautiful Rogue River in some ways. There are long stretches when the water is calm and serene. You can see your reflection as you lean out of the raft. The scenery is gorgeous, and the river carries you peacefully downstream. Then without warning you are propelled into the white water. Suddenly, you're gasping for air and struggling to keep your head above water. At the moment when you think you might be drowning, you float right into the turmoil of the Coffeepot.
Please understand that this WILL happen to you sooner or later. No one travels down the river of life without encountering turbulence. You might as well brace yourself for it. There will be moments of serenity and beauty when you lean back and take in the wonder. But there will also be times of sheer terror when you'll be tossed out of the boat and at the mercy of the good Lord. It's all part of the ride. That's why it is necessary before those crises arrive to get yourself stabilized-to figure out who you are and what you will do when the pressure is on.
No one travels down the river of life without encountering turbulence.
THEY CALL IT THE "CRITICAL DECADE"
Your next ten years will pose hundreds of important questions for which secure answers may be slow in coming. I struggled with many of them when I was in college, such as, What will I do with my life? What kind of woman should I marry? Where will I find her? Will our love last a lifetime? What are my strengths and weaknesses? Should I plan to attend graduate school? Can I qualify for admission? Am I talented enough to make it professionally? And what about God? Where does He fit into my plans, and how can I know His will? I recall pondering these questions and thinking how helpful it would be to talk with someone who had a few answers-someone who understood what I was facing. But like most of my friends, I never asked for help. The years rolled on, and I gradually bobbed and weaved my way through the white water.
Of course, it was easier to go it alone when I was young. The river was less turbulent in those years. I grew up in the "Happy Days" of the fifties, when life was not as complicated. There were no drugs in my racially mixed public high school. Can you believe it? Not once did I hear of anyone selling or using illegal substances while I was a student there. And very little alcohol was consumed by today's standards. None of my friends made a habit of drinking. In fact, I went to parties every Friday night after football games and rarely saw booze being consumed. It happened, I'm sure, but primarily among those who had a reputation for being on the wild side. There were no punkers, no skinheads, no neo-Nazis, no freaks, no witches, and no gay or lesbian activists in those days. And the music of that era was pretty tame by comparison.
No doubt, some of my classmates lost their virginity during their school years. Sex is not a recent discovery, and it was certainly on our minds in those bygone days. Obviously, some students did more than think about it. Every now and then, a girl came up pregnant (it was called being "in trouble" then), and she was immediately packed off to some secret location. I never knew where she went. Still, the idea of saving oneself for marriage made a lot of sense. Morality was fashionable. Students who slept around were disrespected by their peers. Promiscuous girls were called "sluts," and promiscuous boys were said to be "on the make." Couples living together out of wedlock were "living in sin" or "shacking up." It never occurred to us that virginity was a curse to be gotten rid of or that adults expected us to copulate like animals in heat. That wicked notion would come along in the modern era, when everyone from the school nurse to a misguided surgeon general seemed to be chanting, "Do it often. Do it right. Use a condom every night."
Your next ten years will pose hundreds of important questions.
Finally, and most importantly, students in the fifties were often receptive to spiritual influences. They were not all Christians of course, but many of us were. Our faith shaped the way we behaved, too. For example, God's name was rarely used profanely. The punctuation of speech with vulgarity and irreverence did not become fashionable for most teenagers until the late sixties, when it was popularized by decadent film and television industries. They also taught many members of your parents' generation to engage in casual sex and to disregard the commandments of God. Many revolutionary changes occurred during the late sixties, when that generation of young adults suddenly went a little crazy. They've paid a big price for it, too.
My point is that the world in which you live has become much more immoral than it was just a few decades ago. It is not uncommon now for twelve-year-olds to have babies and fifteen-year-olds to shoot each other and seventeen-year-olds to be addicted to hard drugs and eighteen-year-olds to be infected with the AIDS virus. And violence has become a way of life-especially for kids living in the inner city. A child in the United States is fifteen times more likely to be killed by gunfire than a kid growing up in Northern Ireland, which has a long history of violence. Some children have to sleep in bathtubs at night just to be protected from drive-by shootings. Yes, our culture has gone into a kind of moral free fall that has implications for everyone who is young. Consequently, you are forced to deal with pressures and temptations that previous generations did not have to face.
One of the most important decisions to be made in the next few years will focus on a life's work-an occupation-or a skill you hope to develop. That choice is often extremely difficult. How can you predict what you'll want to be doing when you're forty or fifty or sixty years old? You're obligated to guess, based on very limited information. You may not even know what the work is really like, yet you enroll yourself in a lengthy academic program to train for it.
Our culture has gone into a kind of moral free fall.
The decisions you make under those circumstances may lock you into something you will later hate. And there are social pressures that influence your choices. For example, many young women secretly want to be wives and mothers, but are afraid to admit it in today's "liberated" society.
Excerpted from LIFE ON THE EDGE by JAMES DOBSON Copyright © 1995 by James Dobson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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