River Lessons #2 or Why the crap didn’t we wear life vests?!

You would think by the time we pulled our butts up trees to keep from being swept away by the life-threatening river, we wouldn’t have risked it again the next day… And certainly not without life vests! Well, you would be wrong! In fact, still shivering from the cold, hearts just returning to a survivable pace and pieces of tree and brush still stuck in our hair, we were already talking about our second trip, considering, of course, the weather was good. We weren’t complete idiots, after all. Sunshine and no threat of rain was a must! Huh. Funny how safe that sounded then.

The next day we waited a little longer, watching the skies closely and looking forward to our long anticipated leisure ride down the river. I have since learned that there is no such thing as a leisure ride down the river when said river consists of rocks and trees and a current that has the power to completely sweep you away from all you might have considered safe and leisurely. No. There are no “leisure rapids;” that’s what we call an oxymoron! And, I moronically believed it was possible… It takes two misadventures to learn a lesson, apparently. Sadly, that is also often true in my life.

Again, we hadn’t gotten off good before chaos crept up, and again we were carelessly laughing when tragedy struck…in the form of a tree. To be honest, I’m still not 100% sure what happened. I was on the end of the lady line of inner tubes, splashing my duct-taped feet (my redneck rigged water shoes), and laughing as my sweet friends dodged limbs and ducked, completely oblivious to how quickly our outing would change, again. All I noticed was how rapidly the ropes slipped out of my hands and that one of the inner-tubes was stuck in the tree and flipped over with my fellow laughing friend gone. That immediately ceased to be funny. What also ceased to be funny was the realization that I was on my own, drifting down river, and my friends were not able to help. I remember looking back, taking in the upside down inner tube and knowing that there was no way I could fight the current to get back to them. I also knew what lay ahead, and for a moment I was terrified. So I yelled out, “Okay! It’s me and You, God! I trust you!” And I did. I had learned that much from the day before.

What happened next was simply amazing. In fact, the next ten minutes of my ride were nothing short of beautiful! How can I say that when I’m careening down a river without a life vest and headed toward certain danger? Well, I can say it with certainty. Just seconds after losing complete sight of my friends, I saw two deer crossing the river… The same roaring current that was projecting me forward was like nothing to their sure feet. It was peaceful. A moment of tranquility to interrupt the chaos and confusion, and I found myself weeping and thanking God for it – of course it might have sounded more like, “Thank you, Lord, for this beautiful scene before I die!” but it was sincere and I felt blessed. A few minutes later, looking around me, remembering the coming rapids and wondering if I had it in me to take on the next hour on my own, I saw this beautiful crane sweep over me, no less than 3 feet long, and close enough to touch! And I felt it; I was not alone. He was with me. The verse, “Though the waters rise, they will not overcome you,” filled my heart and mind and the fear of the unknown and the events of the day before and whether or not my friend was drowned was accompanied by peace. This is what they call “peace that passes understanding” I think. I might have been on my own, but I was not out of His sight. He would lead me on, safely, securely…as He would my friends. But I had to decide – Try to stop or keep going?

I was honestly willing to do either; at that point, I was convinced that no harm would befall me, but I also knew that I hadn’t yet hit the roughest rapids and still had 45 minutes of adventure to go. I called out to God for wisdom. This is important to note because just a few short weeks before, I found myself in a whole heap of trouble because I trusted my emotions instead of relying on His spiritual wisdom. I knew that was my downfall and, as much as my emotions and love for God told me I could make it, there was another voice that begged a listen. That’s when I saw the inlet. It was the only public inlet available to take, and it was on the left and I was in the middle; to get over would take considerable strength, strength I doubted I had. This, too, is important to note. You see, for years I believed that I wasn’t strong enough to say no, to walk away, to stand up for myself – for many, painful years, and for many painful years I never tried. But the voice of a dear friend of mine echoed in my heart, “Leslie, you’re stronger than you realize!” I’d laughed at him then, but I believed it now. God would give me strength to get out! I still find myself amazed at how quickly and swiftly I got over to the inlet. I am tempted to say it must have been a place in the river that was still and slower, but the sore, bruised muscles were testament to my exertion and to His provision.

Next, I sat on the shore and waited, watched a beautiful monarch butterfly light next to my foot, and waited. In that time I had serious moments of what I’ll call “spiritual ADD.” I jumped from praising God for helping me, to marveling at His creation, to praying for Him to protect and save my friends, to wondering if i could also crush the head of a snake should it appear, to remembering the beauty of the scenes around me, to feeling His love and delight while I popped in and out of random thoughts! I’m not sure how long all that lasted, but it soared to a crescendo when I heard a voice, a female voice that I recognized and loved! I felt like a kid at Christmas as I watched them approach. I clapped and praised and laughed and cried! I had been found! But, all that I saw were two – two of my four friends were missing. I quickly got the story that Becky wasn’t dead but that she and Lisa were across the river looking for a way to get home. I was relieved, and I was reunited with two of my favorite ladies; it would all be okay. I just knew it.

United, we continued on in our journey. Dodging rocks and maneuvering around rapids, we made our way back home. I even found a moment to enjoy the ride, and find some fun in the rapids. Then, almost before we knew it, we were at our stopping place. Thinking to stick my feet in the rocks (and thanking God for my redneck water shoes!) I tried to come to a stop, but either I weighed less than the day before (highly unlikely!), or I was too confident, or I didn’t plan it just right. Whatever the case, I found myself stuck and unable to move. Eventually, I found the strength to take myself out of the inner tube and throw it to shore, but about that time I heard a cry for help. My other two friends weren’t faring well, either; both were holding onto trees for dear life! I was determined to help out the closest one to me. So I stepped back into the river, raging current and all! I admit, it wasn’t the smartest, but I was very determined and again, confident in the One Who could keep my head above water!

As I waded back in I realized exactly how swift and sure the current was; the undertow was powerful and strong. I grabbed hold of what I thought was a tree and reached out to assist…only it wasn’t the tree I held but a limb, and I stared in horror as it tore loose from the ground and was freely in my hand. That was not good. Pushing hard against the current I tried once again for a better grip; I found it in the awkwardest of positions, one foot wedged between roots, butt in the air, and my face half planted in the rushing current! It was then that I thought of death. I pictured my girls, my husband, my friends, my family and I found myself wishing I’d been wiser. Luckily, in a flippant moment, my friend, Becky, had joked with our other friend, Susan, that she should have a life preserver waiting for us, and praise God, she did! With the help of two of my friends (one of which I had managed to help rescue even as I had struggled to survive!), they all three tugged and pulled me back into safety! I have to admit – that little stunt literally scared the pee out of me! That was the second time in as many days.

Eventually we found our poor, stranded, sunburnt, dehydrated friends, and we were all united once again, and Lisa and Becky have bonded for life… Must be something about staring down mean dogs, climbing through barbed wire fences, sucking the river water out of their swimsuits, and removing a ginormous bamboo shoot out of ones leg to have that affect on a friendship! And we all walked away from that retreat a little wiser, a little stronger, and a lot more appreciative of life vests … If we’d have ever thought to use them! But, we are assured of this: we would never have done that on our own, whether He provided peace or a friend to lean on in uncertainty, He had it covered. He was our ultimate Life Preserver – and He was there all the time! But, I think we’d all agree, at the very least, next year, we’re wearing life vests!

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