My Profound River Adventure
by Joy Martin, Set Me Free Ministries Co-founder
During the week of the Fourth of July, I traveled to Colorado with Zach's family for a relaxing family vacation. The seven of us stayed in a cabin up in the mountains, surrounded by majestic reminders of God's spectacular creation. We had a number of adventures throughout the week, including a white water rafting trip down the Colorado River that I won't soon forget.
I am not any sort of river rafting expert–not by any stretch of the imagination. However, I grew up vacationing in Colorado with my family, and white water rafting was one of our must-do activities every time we visited the mountains. If I had to guess, I'd say I've been on at least a half a dozen trips, if not more. And before each of these trips I have listened to essentially the same safety talk on the banks of the river.
Among the items covered during this safety crash course is what to do if you become an unwilling swimmer and fall into the river. So, for those of you who don't know, this is what you do: If possible, you want to grab onto the rope on the side of the raft and hang on–this obviously makes getting you back in the raft fairly simple. If that's not possible, however, you want to turn your body so that you are in a sitting position with your arms outstretched and your feet pointed downstream. This way, you can use your feet to push off of any objects you run into, such as large rocks or logs. Your goal is to then safely float down the river until you are able to rescued by a raft using a paddle or a rope. Of course, they also explain how to help a fellow rafter who has fallen into the river. Once you are properly schooled in rafting safety, you fasten up your life jacket, grab your paddle, and head for the river.
On this particular trip, we had eleven people on our raft–our group of seven, another family of three, and our guide. We learned early into our trip down the Colorado that the river was extremely low. So low, in fact, that many companies weren't even doing rafting trips. Because of this, the rapids weren't going to be very rough, and chances were we wouldn't even get wet. And so our adventure began.
The river was very peaceful that afternoon. It was actually quite relaxing, and I was enjoying taking in the scenery. I never get tired of the mountains, and I never get tired of white water rafting, no matter how rough or calm the waters are. And then our trip took an interesting turn.
I was on the right side of the raft, near the back. In front of me was the family of three, and behind me was my mother-in-law. Our side of the raft was facing downstream when we hit a rock that was big enough to jar us but not big enough to be seen. It all happened so quickly that it's a bit of blur, so I'm not sure exactly what happened. What I do know is that I suddenly found myself slipping backward and into the river. After that initial moment of shock, I looked over and realized both the little girl and her mother were in the river with me. All I could see was their faces and their arms flailing. They both looked panicky. In that moment, everything around me seemed to disappear.
Although I wasn't aware of it at the time, I later learned that my mother-in-law reached for me, but I was already too far away. She ended up falling into the water as well but managed to immediately grab onto the raft and was quickly pulled back in by our guide.
Me, on the other hand, well, that was a different story. One moment I was next to the raft, and the next moment I was what felt like miles away. When I realized that I wasn't within reach of the raft, I immediately recalled all of those safety talks I'd sat through over the years.
I stuck my arms out and pointed my feet downstream. I tried to put my feet down to see if the water was shallow enough to allow me to stand up and walk, but I quickly realized that wasn't going to be possible–the current was simply too strong. And so I sat, arms and legs out, and floated in the cold water. Although the temperature was in the 80s that day, the water temperature was in the 50s. It was cold enough to take my breath away as it splashed up to my shoulders and face. Oddly enough, I felt completely calm. The only moment of slight panic I had was when a wave splashed over my head and I swallowed a mouthful of the icy water. For a split second, I thought about how horrible it would be to go under, but in the next second I was fine.
At that point, all I could do was float. And so that's what I did. The entire experience was very surreal. During all of the rafting trips I'd been on over the years, I'd never even seen anyone go in the water. And yet, here I found myself being carried along by the river's current as I watched the others on my raft scrambling around in the distance. I couldn't hear anything but the water. It might have actually been a pleasant float down the river if it hadn't been for the several rocks that caught my posterior. My bruises are finally fading, eleven days later.
I have no idea how long the whole ordeal lasted, but at some point the raft had gotten to the side of the river and was stopped, which enabled me to catch up to them. The problem was that I was now floating down the middle of the river, and the raft was on the bank to my left–too far away to be reached by a paddle. The importance of that moment didn't actually occur to me until I saw everyone on my raft waving their arms, motioning me to try to make my way over to the raft. I quickly realized that if I didn't somehow guide myself over to the raft, I would pass them by. And so I once again tried planting my feet, only to be pushed over by the current. Time almost seemed to stop around me as I finally found a way to use my feet to push off of the rocks while simultaneously using my arms to pull me through the water. I fought against the current with every ounce of energy I had. And finally, I found myself within arm's reach of a paddle. The guide pulled me the rest of the way to the raft, and then I saw the strong arms of my husband reach down and grab me by the shoulder straps on my life jacket.
Finally, I was safely back in the raft.
While discussing my adventure down the river with the family later that day, my father-in-law noted that I did exactly what I was supposed to do. Hearing him say that made me smile, and then something quite profound hit me. He was right. I did everything I was supposed to do. And yet, that wasn't enough to save me.
There came a point in my journey down the river when I could have continued to do everything right, but I still would have missed the boat–quite literally in this case. Had I simply remained in that seated position with my feet ahead of me and my arms out to my sides, I would have floated right on by the raft and missed my chance to be saved. Although I'm sure I could have safely floated like that for quite some time, there would have come a point where danger, in one form or another, would become quite real. In order to make it safely to the raft, I had to be proactive. I had to work against the current, pushing through the pain of the rocks on my knees and hands and the chill of the water. I had to reach out and grab hold of the paddle and allow myself to be pulled within reach. And then I had to let someone else, someone much stronger than me, pull me into the boat from above.
Life is like my trip down the river that day. Sometimes you can do everything right–you can live a good life and follow all the rules–but you won't find eternal safety simply by doing what's right. There comes a point in life when you have to make a choice. Are you going to continue to float down the river and see where the current takes you? Or are you going to be proactive and make your way to the raft–to safety and salvation? The path may be difficult, even painful, at times. But just like I had my family and even some strangers encouraging me along my way, waving me ahead, calling me toward them, there is a community of believers ready to encourage you along your way. Just as my guide reached out to me with that paddle pulled me to the boat, Jesus has made a way for you through His death of the cross. And just like Zach reached down and pulled me to safety, at the end of the journey, we have a Heavenly Father with arms strong enough to pull you out of even the roughest waters.
Ephesians 2:8 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
Last November I wrote a blog titled The Gift (http://setmefreeministries.net/the-gift/) in which I outlined how to receive this gift. If your curious about salvation, take the time to read it. The team at Set Me Free Ministries is also available to answer questions, so feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My prayer is that no one is left to float along the river of life alone, wondering where the current will lead.