When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
We discovered the Elk River in southern Missouri on our last adventure. Beautiful, clear, and lazy, it is a popular place to take a float trip. How could we resist? The morning leading up to our trip was spent reassuring our seven-year-old granddaughter, Hero, that she would be perfectly safe. The water was only knee-deep in most places after all. She wanted to know whose knees—a kid’s or a grown-up’s. (Important to know when it comes to measuring.) We reminded her of the lesson she had learned in children’s church that week about “God does not give us a spirit of fear. . . but of power, love, and self-control. (Talk about a teachable moment.) She thought rivers were something you should have a good fear about. (Smart girl.) We told her if anything should happen and the canoe flipped over, Grandpa would be right there to save her. Not convinced she reluctantly strapped on her orange life vest and got in the boat.
It was a beautiful ride. The water was so clear you could see the bottom. There were fish everywhere. The surroundings were peaceful. There was a learning curve for us being beginning paddlers, but it didn’t take long to get the hang of it. Mostly the stream did the work and we just steered. It was fun, and we felt a bit like Pocahontas as we discovered places just around the river bend.
And then it happened.
That thing that wasn’t likely to go wrong did. Our canoe got caught in a current and pushed us up under a tree that was hanging over the bank. As we got closer to the tree, we all leaned away from it to avoid getting poked and scratched. As we leaned, the boat did too. We started taking on water and over we went. My husband grabbed Hero by the handle on the back of her life jacket and held her head out of the water. Arms and legs flailing and kicking, she was in a blind panic thinking she was surely going to drown. We told her to put her feet down on the bottom of the riverbed and stand up. Eventually, she calmed down enough to do what we asked. You should have seen the look on her face when she realized the water was not over her head as she feared. It barely came up to her thighs. She was wet and mad, but no worse for wear. By the end of the day, Hero was telling us how good it was to fall out of the canoe. It had cooled us off. Lol!
Life can have an uncanny resemblance to our little trip downstream. You start off on an adventure not knowing exactly what it will look like or where you’re going. You might step in the canoe with caution like Hero did. You have your life vest on, yet you’re not sure if it will be enough for all the ‘what ifs’ you’d imagined. After a while, you get the hang of it. The current isn’t so bad after all and you gain a little confidence in your navigation skills. You’ve got this! And then it happens. Something unexpected shows up and flips your life completely upside-down. The next thing you know, your gasping for air and struggling to keep from going under. But in your panic, you hear it. “I’m right here. Put your feet down and stand up.”
A few years ago, I was floating along through a great life. I was doing good things, having some successes, and enjoying a wonderful season with people I loved. Suddenly, it all came crashing down. Selfishness and Greed rocked the boat, dumped me out, ruining everything. The grief of losing what had been threatened to suck me under. I lost my footing, and since the pain came from something that happened at church involving church people, I wanted to quit. Forever.
God was having none of it.
He held the handle of my life vest, telling me to just put my feet down and stand up. I couldn’t. I didn’t know where to stand. I thrashed about, sinking deeper, but He didn’t let go. He sent in the troops, trusted friends who gently spoke truth into my life. He guided me back to His word and sat with me as I sobbed through its promises. Slowly, my flailing about stopped, and my feet touched solid ground. I realized the water had not been so deep after all, especially if I used God’s knees as a measure.
I’m happy to say that I am enjoying a relatively calm season in life. The lessons I learned from my experience overboard have proven to be valuable and my relationship with God is deeper and stronger. How will I respond next time I get tossed out of the boat? It’s hard to say until I find myself struggling again, but I do hope it won’t take so long to remember God has got His hold on me, put my feet down, and stand up.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.