When I was in elementary school, my dad was hired as our church youth pastor. I thought it was the best thing that could ever happen to a 4th grader because my sister and I got to go to all the youth group events: hay rack rides, roller skating nights, camp outs, and bon fires. On one of these summer events, we went tubing down the Apple River, splashing each other and flipping each other’s tubes as we floated down the lazy river.
The top end of the river had been dammed to make a small lake with an island in the center. It was a small dam because at its headwaters, the river is not much more than a creek. The small dam was sloped in a way that we could ride our inner tubes down it like a big water slide and at the end of the slide we were rolled and tumbled in the curl of water where the dam met the river. It was great fun!
While we were waiting our turns on the dam slide (haha, I just made myself giggle) we paddled around the little lake and explored the island. Some of us invented a sort of game where four of us would all sit on the sides of the same tube and on the count of three we’d all fall backwards into the lake. Over and over again we’d scramble back up the sides of the tube, laughing and splashing the whole time. It was great fun to be included in games with the teenagers!
I was having a blast until the very last moment. No one gave a single thought to the fact that this last load of kids on the inner tube was very mismatched in weight. We all counted to three and arched our backs to flop into the lake, but since I was the lightest in the group, the inner tube flipped over on top of me. Before I could get out from under it, the other kids were scrambling back on top of the tube, their feet kicking me as I was trapped under the now fully loaded tube.
I was running out of breath, but I decided that to get out from under their feet I needed to swim deeper and then to the right. Unfortunately when I sank deeper, my feet became tangled in the weeds at the bottom of the lake. That’s when I got scared. I could see the circle of sunlight in the center of the inner tube above me, legs dangling through the hole. I reached up my hand, but I couldn’t touch anyone.
My lungs were burning. I was scared. “This is it,” I thought sadly. “I’m going to drown within inches of the surface of the water.” I stretched my arm a little higher, praying that someone would see me.
Suddenly, one of the teenage boys plunged his hand into the water and grabbed my hand with a strong grip. He pulled me up hard. As I broke through the surface that had seemed so far out of my reach, I gasped for air. The boy didn’t say a word, but he draped my arms over the edge of the tube and began paddling towards the shore. Everyone else on the tube was giggling and splashing, completely unaware of the fact that I had just nearly drowned. The boy and I did not say a word to each other. When we got to the shore of the lake, he held me by the shoulders to steer me as I weakly staggered to a sitting position on the narrow strip of sand at the edge of the water. I sat there trembling. Then he ran back to join the others for more fun. I think he knew he had just saved my life, but it was too heavy of a thought to press into words.
I think about that incident when I read the Psalms. David often speaks of times of sorrow or trouble when the waters are over his head. He sings of how God lifted him up and put his feet on solid ground. That’s what God does when we call out to him. He reaches down and pulls us up.
“Save me O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help.” (Psalm 69:1-3)
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice, he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me. I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord, ‘O Lord, save me!’ The Lord is gracious and righteous, our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simple-hearted. When I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” (Psalm 116:1-6)