Monday, August 27, 2012

God in the Undertow

When I was 10, my family vacationed on a beach near Panama City, FL. I loved going out and riding the waves in to shore with my Dad and brother; jumping and floating on top of the water until I got so close to shore that my belly was rubbing sand. Every day I looked forward to our time in the water. It was joy and freedom for me.

On our last day there my Dad and I were walking and paddling out to catch the last wave of our vacation when something unexpected happened. I put my feet down to walk, but almost immediately they were jerked out from under me.

Confused, I tried to put them back down, but the current beneath the surface not only pushed my legs off the bottom, it began dragging me away from shore.

Dad knew immediately what was happening. He grabbed my hands and said, “Hold on tight and don’t let go.” For the next 20 minutes, it was Daddy and me against the entire Gulf of Mexico. When a wave pulled us toward shore, I paddled and he held my arm and pushed toward shore. As soon as the current began to drag me back out to sea, he planted his feet firmly in the sand and held my hands tightly. I would bob wildly on the surface of the water like a fishing bobber. All I could do was stare into his face and watch his sternly-set jaw as he fought for our lives. I had never heard the word “undertow,” but I knew we were in trouble.
I was petrified, so I held on. Slowly, a step at a time, we made our way to shore. I’ve never forgotten the strength of the water that day, or my father’s determination to save us, or the relief when I finally fell down on the sand, safe once more.

I have felt similar forces in my life other times. These times it wasn’t an ocean of water pulling on me. At times life has reached out and tried its best to drag me under. Three months ago I lost my elderly mother to dementia and heart failure. Since May 17th the undertow has returned to drag on my soul. Learning how to live without her has been a tough struggle.

The pain and heartache of the first weeks hit me emotionally much as that undertow hit physically. Most days I’m OK; the waves of pain and of missing her just lap at my heart. Then, without warning, a wave of heartache, confusion, and devastation hits, and it becomes so hard to keep my feet grounded. All I can do is plant myself firmly in the God I can still feel and let the entire emotional ocean of force wash over me. Eventually it subsides, and I begin plodding through life’s waves again.

Life, I have decided, is like that. Sometimes you are strong and you make great strides against things that hold you back. Other times you just have to hang on. You stare with determination into the face of God and let Him hold you tightly. You bob wildly back and forth…just as I did that terrifying childhood day in the salty water off the coast of Florida. Eventually, you find yourself relaxing because the struggle has died down. The God that held you so faithfully during the storm is there, still loving you, and ready to walk with you once more.

May I never, ever face the forces of this world outside of His firm grasp.


  1. Carlene, thanks for sending the email about this post and thank you for sharing your heart and struggles. Sending a big hug your way and will keep you in my prayers.

  2. Hi sorry I was negligent with my blog and didn't see your comment until yesterday. Thank you so very much for your wonderful words, and for your prayers. They both made a huge difference...the prayers over the last 9 months and the words since last night and for a long time to come, I am sure.