In Deep Water…
As Christians, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are likely accustom to living lives filled with trials and challenges. Not that I would hope, although unavoidable, that we would specifically invite hardship and difficulty due to unwise actions taken on ourselves. Part of the process of following Christ, becoming more like Him, is to learn to endure, in at least some smallest fraction, what it was like for Him to sacrifice all on behalf of all.
I grew up in a family that enjoyed water and water sports. From my father and mother I learned to swim and to waterski at a very young age. I remember when I was very small that for safety reasons my mother took me to swimming lessons. From the first moment I jumped into the water the swimming teacher called me a fish, and then went on to work with all the other children in the class letting me free swim at every session.
One of my father’s favorite past times was driving our boat, waterskiing, and teaching us how to ski as kids. As a teen I enjoyed tubing regularly on the rapids of the Kings River just below Pine Flat Dam, taking groups of friends for fun and recreation. As adults, as soon as we had a driveway on which to park, when our oldest son was just a baby, Monica and I purchased a boat and we have been boaters and skiers ever since. About 20 years ago I took up kayaking, and now we are a kayaking family as well, enjoying some of those same runs on the Kings River and on rivers all over California. I just love whitewater.
As a boy of just 12 years old I had a very scary experience around water. It was not so much the water that was scary, but the danger in which a pair of older and larger teenage boys threatened me. They were very mischievous, frankly of a very cruel sort.
I was attending my first summer camp and we had little to no adult supervision. The camp sat on a beautiful lake, but it was a year of drought and the landscape between the camp areas and the actual lake was more desert-like than alpine. I will not revisit every detail of the events of that day. Suffice it to say, these teenagers from another campsite captured me alone, bound me with ropes, and committed some torturous acts of a very cruel nature. The acts against me began with a larger group of boys, but as the rest lost interest, the two boys decided that making me hop across the desert landscape to the lake would provide additional entertainment. It must have been a couple of hundred yards, or at least it seemed that far, from the tree-line to the water. They would force me to hop a few feet down the slope, and then with a long rope tied to my ankles pull my feet out from under me forcing me to fall on my face on the dry granite rocks and sand.
When I was about 50 feet from the water, the boys came up with an idea to find a big rock on which to tie the end of the rope and toss it in the lake to drown me. I was scared. Whether they would have really done that, I do not know for sure, but I believed it in that moment as sure is I am alive today. They released their hold on the rope for a moment to look for that big rock. I prayed for help. In an instant the rope that I had been unable to remove before was off and I was running, for the water. As they gave chase I hit the water at high speed, with all the energy I had, and swam in my clothes for deep water. They threw rocks trying to hit me to knock me out, as they exclaimed, so I swam deeper and further beyond the reach of their stones. They stood on the shore, I think for maybe a half an hour, trying to hit me, but my parents had taught me to swim well, and I did. I treaded water for a very long time, for my life. Finally, declaring boredom with the entire affair, the boys left the shore and returned to their camp. I was eventually safe to return to dry land, disheartened and afraid, but alive to live another day beyond the trial of that one.
When reflecting on this event, I have long found comfort in the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his own experience with perils in which he was placed during his short lifetime. “And as for the perils which I am called to pass through, they seem but a small thing to me, as the envy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life; and for what cause it seems mysterious,…. God knoweth all these things, whether it be good or bad. But nevertheless, deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation; for to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth; for behold, and lo, I shall triumph over all my enemies, for the Lord God hath spoken it” (Doctrine and Covenants 127:2).
“Deep water is what I am wont to swim in.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith
Yes, I too have felt that in deep water I have often been required to swim, yet I have not felt alone in these efforts to endure and survive. I have felt like others before me, for no good cause, persecuted for faith, for devotion, or just subject to abuse unwonted. My mother and father trained me to swim and survive in deep water, and so too has the Savior provided buoyancy in my times of need both great and small.
No type of abuse or persecution should ever be accepted, tolerated, or excused, but if we as followers of Christ, promoters of liberty, or protectors of the innocent, are going to stand up for great causes, do things that stir up dark waters, we can expect the need to swim hard and with all our might. The Savior in His pure example endured all things, and innocently so, His reward being the salvation of all men. We read, “And if they persecute you, so persecuted they the prophets and righteous men that were before you. For all this there is a reward in heaven” (Doctrine and Covenants 127:4).
Not all trials or perils come at the hands of those seeking to harm. Tribulations come often as rushing currents and just happen as purpose, a part of our learning and growing process, a part of coming to know that we must at times swim in deep water. Nevertheless we can know also that He is in the current with us, guiding and protecting, adding buoyancy when we fear to slip away into the deep. He has trained us to swim as we have followed the patterns of His life of trial.
Two a half years ago I had another scary water experience. As I mentioned before, kayaking has become one of my favorite sports of the last 20 years. I especially love kayaking on class three whitewaters of rivers. I enjoy navigating between rocks, through eddies and down small falls. At my level I have become quite good at staying in the boat and not losing control. It is great and invigorating exercise, and quite exciting. I am very safety conscious, and I use all the correct and proper equipment to stay safe, and to keep those safe who are with me. One day on the Truckee River near Lake Tahoe my skill level became greatly challenged by unanticipated and changing circumstances on the river. I once again found myself in deep water, with unexpected undercurrents, and I thought I would drown.
I was on the last leg of a course that I had kayaked more than once before. With my kayak safety vest and helmet mounted GoPro recording, I excitedly shot down the rapids. There was a lot more water than normal and conditions were much different. A lot of the boulders, around which I previously navigated, were underwater and created new obstacles and perils. My kayak, which is kind of a semi-open canoe/kayak hybrid, took on much more water than normal, and with excessive water control is lost. When I hit the bottom of the run, my oldest son Danny just a short distance behind me, there was a hard left turn, then a right through an eddy, and that was it, the kayak rolled, trapping me momentarily underwater, upside down and in an undertow.
I know I was not underwater for very long, but it seemed like a very long time. I had not swamped a boat in 8 to 10 years, which probably made me overconfident. With all the safety gear in my kayak and on my lap, making the boat much heavier, and thus making the added water all the worse, when I was upside down underwater I had a difficult time escaping in the current. I can tell you it was quite disorienting and disturbing. I am sure I was only underwater for a couple of seconds but it seemed like a very long time, and when my head popped above the surface my heart was racing out of my chest. My lungs were seizing up with the cold water surrounding, and at high elevation, fear struck me on several levels. I was so tired, so quickly. I knew that I was not going to be able to help those kayaking with us if they became imperiled, and this nearly paralyzed me with fear. I have not experienced such a thing before. I knew I had to get control of the situation, but I became so tired that I felt like I was going to drown. I called out to Danny, who had just swamped his kayak as well, but closer to a sandbar so he managed to escape the eddy. “Help! Help!” I called several times. At last I said with what I thought was my last breath, “I am drowning!”
All at once in my despair I heard this calm voice, the sound of my son’s voice, speak out distinctly and still to me amidst the noise of rapid water, “You are not drowning.” Although my chest was as if a whale was sitting upon me, and I felt like I was going to sink into the depths of the water, I felt certain calm. I immediately realized I have a great life jacket on and if I just relax everything will be fine. I stopped fighting the current, I took careful deep breaths, and soon I was on the sandbar with Danny, near breathless, but safe.
Reflecting — when I felt like I was alone and about to give up for lack of air, I heard the sound of my son’s strengthening voice say to me, “You are not drowning.” I spoke to Danny about this afterwards telling him what strength he gave me with his words. He responded to me that he did not speak those words. Yet I heard it, and in his voice. Later I watched and listened to my GoPro recording of the entire incident, and neither his voice nor those words were recorded. Never-the-less, hearing the sound of his voice, or the voice of He who was with me even when I felt utterly lost and alone, gave me the ability to carry-on until I was safely standing on the sandbar. I indeed heard a voice, and although it had the same sound, it was not my son’s. The Lord protected me in spite of my lack of humility and my weakness. The voice I heard was the one I needed to comfort and preserve me in my hour of need, in another deep water moment.
If we are following the Savior, walking in His paths and ways, then as the Prophet Joseph Smith expressed, deep water is where we shall swim, but we can count on the Lord to lift us to safety, as He did Peter, even in his moment of doubt. This is a glorious work, a glorious life that we are meant to live, through hardship, tragedy and unspeakable joy, it is a wondrous journey we take. Let us rejoice and move forward with faith. “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:22).
I love the water. Though turbulent it might at times be, to teach me, to humble me, to deliver me, His almighty hand can stir and still the water for my good. It may be deep, but where He is with me I am safe from the depths, for alone I will never truly be. Let us swim if we must in the deep waters that give us strength to follow His paths, and with Him we shall breathe and live another day in the warmth of His love. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.