“I think I learned something today,” commented our oldest son, Adam. “And I figured it out when Liz went scooting right past me so many times.”

Adam spoke up as we climbed into our minivan yesterday, soaked but supremely happy after an afternoon spent tubing the Chatahoochee, a river in north Georgia not far from the mountain cabin where we’re staying near the Great Smokies. This is the final week of our shared sabbatical before I return to work next week, and we’ve eagerly anticipated spending these precious final days with our grown kids.

Adam and his wife, Liz, both 28, have joined us from their home in northern California where they both serve on the staff of a church. Amber, 26, flew in from Tacoma, and her Air Force pilot- husband Ben is due to arrive in Asheville tonight to start his leave after returning from a mission to the Middle East.  Our kids are our best friends, and to have the oldest four with us along with Jordan, 23, is the best gift we could have this summer.

“So what did you learn?” I asked, grabbing the back of a map to write on. We loved it when the kids shared teachable moments as they grew up, and it’s even more fun discovering them together now that they are young adults.

Adam thought a minute and said, “I kept trying to paddle my tube to get ahead, but it was totally pointless. I could never figure out in advance the best way to get around all the rocks. And then I’d see Liz just relax into her tube and let the river take her where it will, and she’d get there before I did!”

“So what advice would you give your junior highers from your time on the Chatahoochee?” Mike asked.

“The river is sort of like the stream of God’s will,” Adam said. “When I tried to steer my own tube, I ended up on the rocks. If you stay in the center and trust it, it will take you where you need to go.”

Jordan entered the conversation. “But sometimes you do have to paddle,” he observed, “and you better stay balanced on both sides or you’ll end up going around in circles.”

Gosh, been there, done that, I thought. And it wasn’t in an inner-tube either.

Now we were all talking at once.

Liz: “Remember when we got to the quiet place in the river where the water was deeper? The current was slow there and it didn’t feel like we were going anywhere, but we were still making progress.”

Mike: “And bigger is not necessarily better. Did you notice those guys who kept getting grounded? They were the ones carrying the extra weight and the poles.”

Amber: “The people who had the best trip downriver were the ones who did it together.  When you get stuck, a push from a friend helps.”

Liz again. “I’m glad we listened to the woman who sold us our tickets and we all bought water shoes. The people who entered the river unprepared or improperly equipped were the ones who cut their feet or lost their sandals.”

She was absolutely right. We had all noticed the huge tree along the riverbank with dozens of colorful flip-flops nailed to it with others hanging on a clothesline alongside. Someone with riverfront property was trying to be helpful. Or were they making a point with their Tree of Lost Soles?

“The Chattahoochee looks so safe and slow,” Jordan said, “but it’s moving faster than you think. When you lose something, you can’t go back to get it.”

Maybe the owner of the tree had a point after all.