Isaiah 43:2a “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…”
There are songs and poems about fear. There are stories and movies too. But no song, poem, story, or movie can make you feel the gut-wrenching emotion that is true, unmitigated, abject fear. Intellectually, I know that God is with me no matter what happens, but in the middle of such a shocking experience, my brain can only call out to God in terror. If everything could stop for just a moment, I would be able to breathe and think and I would remember that the Bible addresses our fears and reassures us in Isaiah 41:13. God says to us: “For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do Not Fear, I will help you.'”
My greatest and probably completely irrational fear is dying a horrifyingly painful death in a sudden violent occurrence. Knowing that my time has come, and it is going to be ugly, and it is going to hurt. Strange as this may seem, there are several times in my life when I was in a situation so terrifying and overwhelming that I thought I was going to die.
One such time was on a white-water rafting excursion. It was early spring, and the rivers and the snowmelt made for what we thought would be ideal conditions. We had a group of foreign exchange students visiting us. We wanted to provide them with a unique, exciting adventure. Little did we know just how exciting this would be.
We piled in the cars and headed to a place just outside Marysvale, UT where we could access the Sevier River. We had our rafts, our oars, our wetsuits, and life jackets. We thought we were thoroughly prepared. What we didn’t know was that the river was running too fast and the National Parks people had not yet opened it up for rafting because it was too dangerous. Ignorance was not bliss in this situation.
We split up between the two rafts, 3 of the kids and I were in the first one, the others followed in the second. It didn’t take long to realize we could not control the rafts and we were hanging on for dear life. I was horrified that I had put these teenagers into such a dangerous position and if anything happened to them it would be on my head. Little did I know what was in store for me.
Suddenly the raft hit a large rock and I went flying forward out of it and into the freezing waters of the Sevier. I couldn’t breathe, the water was carrying me downstream beating my body against the rocks. In just minutes I could no longer feel my legs. I knew I was going to drown in this icy cold river, but not before my body would be beaten to a pulp. At just that moment, the raft caught up to me and I tried to grab hold of the side. Unfortunately, the raft ran over me and I got caught underneath. I don’t think I have ever been as scared as I was right at that moment. Hands (God’s hands?) reached into the water and grabbed my arms and I came up with my head out of the water and able to grab hold of the side of the raft.
However, the cold water was doing its job and my whole body was becoming numb. I knew I could not hold on much longer. I told the kids in the raft I was going to let go I couldn’t hold on any longer, I was no longer afraid. I had reached a point in this near-drowning that I knew I would be with the Lord, and I was sure that it wouldn’t be long before the cold took over and I would no longer feel the pain of death. With strength only granted by the grace of God, these kids pulled me into the raft. I was out of the water, but we had lost our oars. I had no idea how we would ever navigate to a safe place.
The promise that God made in the Isaiah 43:2 verse held true because within minutes the raft grounded on an outcropping on the far side of the river. One of the kids and I got out, my leg was gashed and bleeding. Before the other two could get out, the raft, without the extra weight, took off. The two young girls alone in the raft. Again, by the grace of God the raft ran by some branches from a bush sticking out into the river. They grabbed the branches and got out of the raft on the opposite side of the river from where I was.
Before long the other raft came by and saw what had happened. They had to go almost all the way down the river before they could find a place to get out, hike back to the vehicles, and rescue us. By the time we got to the hospital in Marysvale, my leg was bleeding profusely (it had to warm up enough to really bleed) and I was battered and bruised and had several broken bones in one foot.
Psalm 46:1-3 says it beautifully, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters rage and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” I thank God for his miraculous rescue of us all from the raging, foaming waters. Without his divine providence, I would have died that day.
I guess God just wasn’t finished with me yet. After all, if I had not survived and was not here, who would write this blog?
(PS I have never again gone white water rafting since that incident.)