I was the one who found the sandbar. A narrow sandy strip of shallow water that allowed us to wade out to the big waves. We merrily scooted past the signs warning us in both English and Spanish of the dangerously strong rip-currents. This section of beach was also farther from the hotel, most of the swimmers, and the lifeguards. I had convinced my family there was nothing to fear, the water never really got deeper than your waist, and so long as you stuck to the sandbar, you’d be fine. We stayed there for hours, as wave after wave came in allowed us to body surf and boogie board until the sun began to sink low in the Acapulco sky. We were in paradise! The temptation to have that luxury was too great to pass up.
We had just been discussing how we needed to head in, when suddenly a huge wave pummeled us. It was much larger than any of the others before it. With ferocious angry energy it slammed into us. I remember tumbling along the sandy ocean bottom much longer than usual. When I finally stood up, I immediately looked around to see how the rest of my family had fared against the watery behemoth. We had all been scattered due to the force and violence of the wave. Bruce, tethered to a Boogie Board a short distance away, was towing my older sister Kim in to shore. My future wife, Deanne, was climbing out of the ocean with my younger sister, Leah. But where was Dad? I saw some movement about 25 yards to my right, and I could see him, struggling to swim towards us as he was quickly being swept out by the undertow. I could see that he had been knocked off the sandbar and was no longer able to touch the bottom. Without thinking, I immediately jumped off the sandbar and swam in his direction. Within a few strokes I had reached him, but I could feel the incredible pull of the ocean on my body as we were rapidly sucked from shore.
I desperately clung to my father, trying my best to tread water for the both of us while the relentless waves buried us in the ocean again and again. I frantically scanned the horizon, hoping to see some sign of assistance or rescue, I knew the rest of my family had made it to shore, but I could no longer see them, or the beach. I could only see the top of the distant hotel, the gray waves in front of me, and the sky. The furious rip-tide had already sucked us out several hundred yards from shore, and my dad was tiring quickly.
The gravity of our situation began to sink in, and I tried to quell the panic building within me.
“I don’t think I can swim much longer Dan, my arms are like lead…” Dad choked out just before another breaker crashed down on us. I could feel his strength ebbing and his swimming motion slowing down. He was also beginning to swallow and cough on the water. I decided in that moment that regardless of the outcome, I would never leave my father. If we were going to drown, I was going to drown by his side. I tightened my grip around his waist and told him to stop fighting against the water.
“Dad, just ride the waves, stop trying to stay on top of them!” I shouted as another wave crested over us. “You are going to wear yourself out trying to swim back to shore. Lay back and let me hold you up!” Another wave crashed down on us, momentarily pushing us under. When we popped back up, my Dad began to cough all the more.
“God, help us!” I cried out in my mind. “Please tell me what to do. Please give Dad strength to hang in there! I can’t do this without you Lord! Please!” Yet another wave washed over us. Suddenly, I had the thought that I needed to time the waves, catching my breath in the trough and then dive down under my Dad, wrap my arms around his legs and push up off the ocean floor (which I estimate was about 8-9 feet deep) to allow him to stay on top of the wave. Within a couple of more waves, we developed a pattern. I would get a breath or two of air, dive down, grab his legs and push up when I could feel the wave swell above me. We kept up this pattern for what felt like hours, but I’m sure only lasted a couple of minutes, and quickly I began to exhaust my energy as well.
Cradling the weight of my father the best I could, I laid back with him in my one arm and looked heavenward at the blue sky above. I prayed, “God, if it’s your will that we be saved, it had better be soon – I don’t think I can do this much longer.” I cast one more glance back to shore, hoping to see some sign of rescue. At that moment I thought I saw a surfer, a couple of hundred yards away, and heading toward us. With renewed energy I tread water all the more energetically, raising my free hand as high as I could in the air and shouted “Help us! Please help us!” Thank God my eyes were not deceiving me; within moments two life-guards on surfboards pulled up along side us. I helped them load my weakened father onto one of the long-boards and then held onto the other one as these two heroes expertly and quickly guided us to shore.
Once back on the beach we both fell, crying into our family’s open arms. I sank to my knees in the warm sand and offered up a brief sincere prayer of thanks, but also of repentance. I had needlessly endangered my entire family, ignored obvious warning signs, and all in the name of fun. Why did I do that? Why did I so often think the rules don’t apply to me?
This experience, which by the grace of God ended well for my father and me, could very well have come to a tragic conclusion. Another minute or two in the churning sea and we may have both sunk to our deaths. Sometimes I look back on those moments and physically cringe at how close we were to that end.
Is this not life? Is this not the continual fight of our will against God’s commands? Our natural inclination is to seek for the sandbar. Some place we can “safely” navigate that is out of bounds, off limits or against the rules. We lull ourselves, or allow ourselves to be lulled into a sense of security. All is well! Look at me! The water is only up to my thighs, I can easily tread these waters! Until you can’t. Life will knock you off your feet with the strength of a tsunami. Satan will not be there to throw you a life-line or ensure your feet are back on solid ground. No, he will have shifted the sands, pulled the false foundation out from under you, and laugh as you get swept out to your doom.
In our moment of dire need, I cried out for deliverance. What if my regular prayers were as purposeful as that desperate moment? Perhaps if I were to pray to make decisions which would best protect me, assist me making sound decisions and encourage me to keep God’s commandments. What if my prayer were as powerful, not to deliver me from the danger, but to deliver me from myself, who is prone to dangerous/sinful behavior?
God gave us commandments out of love. He allows us to choose to break his commandments out of that same love. And it is not with smugness but with love that He watches us flounder, suffer, and struggle until we cry out “God save us!”. He allows others, acting as angels, to struggle with us, pray for us, and come to our rescue because we all need experiences like this and because He loves us! He gave us this earth, gave us life, and when our time comes, gave us death as a doorway back to His presence because he cherishes us as His children. But His greatest act of love, the event which caused Him, the very maker of Heaven, earth and all things which in them are, to tremble in agony, was the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ.
As I recall that near-tragic day in the Acapulco ocean, I feel God’s love. I have faith in Him. I know that it is He who reaches out to me when I am about to be buried in the angry sea. He is my life, my foundation, and the hand of rescue in all my moments of agony and fear. I KNOW He was with me and my father in those dark fearful moments in the Pacific. All glory to His name.
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