My husband and I took a little jaunt across the country this summer to spend some time at Disneyland. For us East Coast folks, it was exciting to see the original Disney amusement park and enjoy an experience that we know will likely not happen again any time soon. We were determined to go on every single ride, which included a Ferris wheel called “Mickey’s Fun Wheel” at California Adventure.
If you’ve been to California Adventure, you know that this is no ordinary Ferris wheel. Riders sit in a fully enclosed gondola that accommodates up to six people. Some of the gondolas stay stationary on the frame of the wheel, but most of them hang from oblong tracks that allow the gondola to move and sway as the ride circles. You should know that I studied this ride before we got on. I knew that our gondola would sway and I knew that I would not be able to see the track to which the gondola was connected because we would be below that track. I knew exactly what was coming and I was fully prepared. Or, at least, I thought I was fully prepared.
To keep the lines moving, Disney combines smaller parties to ride together on the same gondola. We were paired with two sisters who looked to be in their 20’s, one of whom was riding with her 2-year-old son. We chatted politely as our gondola moved higher, chuckling as it swayed just a bit and commenting on the fantastic view of the park. All was fun and smiles until the gondola started the descent back down. It was on this back side of the ride that the oblong track became almost vertical, sending our gondola moving rather quickly downward and then causing it to sway a lot as it came to a resting spot…only to move again and sway even more when the ride advanced. One of the sisters was not at all fond of this part of the ride, and she handed her son to her sister while she grabbed on for dear life and recited over and over, “I don’t like it! I don’t like it!” She begged her sister to take care of her son; her sister obliged in holding the child, but also laughed heartily. The young boy was having a fantastic time, giggling and smiling the whole way. We finally arrived at the bottom and this young mother opened her eyes in relief to see that she and her son had survived the ordeal…just in time for the ride to head back around again! Lest you think that I tell this story with any criticism of our fun wheel companions, you should know that I survived the ride myself by grabbing tightly to my husband’s knee and keeping my eyes focused carefully on that smiling little boy. I didn’t like it any more than she did.
An hour or so later, I found myself in a position to watch Mickey’s Fun Wheel yet again. I studied it just as I had before we got on the ride. “It’s really not that bad,” I said to myself. That’s exactly what I thought before I got on the ride too. It’s clear when you watch the ride at a distance that the track is strong and steady and will hold the gondola. The swaying doesn’t look that fast from a distance. It really does look like a fun ride when you’re watching from the ground. What makes the experience on the ride so different? My theory is that when you watch from a distance, you can see the track that holds the gondola. When you are actually on the ride, however, you can’t see the track at all. You just know that your gondola is moving quickly and seems to be swaying out of control; that track is nowhere in sight because the gondola rides below the track. Without being able to see the track, the ride has a definite element of adventure.
As I pondered the mechanics of this ride, it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks – this is a great analogy for students and parents in the midst of college research and applications. The two experiences (riding the fun wheel and applying to college) have parallel lessons:
- No matter how much you study and prepare for what’s coming, the ride eventually moves so fast that you feel out of control. You know things are going to get fast at some point, but you can’t predict the exact moment it’s going to feel out of control. This is true in the college process too. No matter how much research you do, eventually you move beyond college fairs and campus visits. Applications are submitted and the waiting begins, which is a common time to feel out of control. Then decisions arrive, a college is selected, and a roommate match is made. Before you know it, the van is packed with a dorm room full of belongings and life is changing in a big way. The ride starts to move pretty fast and control might be hard to come by.
- You’re not actually out of control. You can’t see it, but there’s a strong and sturdy track holding on to your fully enclosed gondola. You guessed it – the strong and sturdy track is great symbolism for God. Riding in a fully enclosed gondola is like riding through life in the palm of God’s hand. Knowing that we take every step with God walking beside us, holding on tightly when things move fast and feel out of control, is one of the most fantastic promises God made to His people. No matter how fast or out of control things may seem, your gondola is always attached to the strong and sturdy track. Your life is always attached to God.
- When you’re studying it all from a distance, it’s a lot easier to see the safety in your strong and sturdy track than it is when you’re actually on the ride. Isn’t this so true in life too? So many times in my life, God was at work in a big way and I didn’t realize the extent of his involvement until afterwards. I look back on those times and wonder how I missed the obvious help, comfort or direction from God. Somehow it was harder to see it clearly when I was in the moment. As you take steps through this process of researching options, applying for admission and choosing a college, you might find it helpful to reflect on times in your life that God was caring for you. Reflect on what you know to be true about God. He is stronger and sturdier than any track Disney can build.
- The ride is much more pleasant if you focus on the laughing child in front of you. Pay attention to all of the positive things. Reflect on past times when God worked in your life. Try to enjoy every experience of this last half of high school, especially all of those “last times” that seem to happen every other day in the senior year. Focus on the people whose relationships mean the most to you, and most of all focus on God’s hand at work in your life. Paying attention to the positive makes it a lot harder to feel anxious or out of control.
All those lessons from one simple Ferris wheel! My prayer is that you and your family will grow deeper in relationship with each other and especially with God as you ride the fun wheel of college admissions.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10