Ten seconds between life and death.
It’s not very long, yet I learned important life lessons from a sneaker wave on the Oregon coast recently.
Dan and I were visiting the beach to celebrate my birthday. The first morning, sunshine filtered through early morning mist on the beach. Sea gulls called their mournful cries over the sand, and the boom of the waves lured us to the water’s edge to see what we could see.
I couldn’t wait to wet my toes in the salty water and feel the sea breeze lift my hair. I didn’t know that God was going to teach me important life lessons from a sneaker wave.
I saw the ocean as a beautiful reminder of God’s greatness and love. I’ve been visiting the Oregon coast since I was five years old, and each time I am there, I feel uplifted, refreshed and happy. I love it for its vastness, for its power, its beauty.
There is great power in the water and on the Oregon coast, the undertow is strong.
Sneaker waves (watch the video for some real life action of a sneaker wave) catch you unawares the moment when you are not looking. They say that if the water is knee deep, you will fall. If the tide is going out or if you are standing in a riptide, you can lose your life.
I admit there was no fear for the waves in my heart that day.
Even though my dad always said to never turn your back to the ocean, I casually walked in the surf without regard for the unseen power lurking there. But I would soon learn some very important life lessons from a sneaker wave.
We gathered our supplies for the day and explored an area we had never visited before near Tillamook.
On the beach near Oceanside, a giant wave crashed on the shore. I watched it curl with its crest of white foam and green insides, rolling and crashing onto the beach with a roar. It splashed with abandon and ran forward along the sand. I laughed as it approached.
“This is a big one, Dan, run for it!”
He wasn’t barefoot like I was and moved away from the approaching water while I allowed it to wash my feet. It was higher than I thought and reached my knees with a power that surprised me.
I almost toppled forward and clutched my camera tightly.
We journeyed south to Cape Lookout.
We thought the tide was going out, but we were about 30 minutes off our figuring. It was still coming in, reaching higher and higher on the beach.
Dan paid the park fee while I flung a flannel shirt over my t-shirt. My shirt had these words on it:
I will choose to find JOY in the journey God has prepared for me.
Even my shirt was telling me something and would try my faith. I was going to learn some important life lessons from a sneaker wave in a few minutes.
I strapped on the harness that held my camera close to my body and fastened it securely. We started out on a little trail that led to the beach.
I’d heard about “sneaker” and “rip tide” waves all my life. I knew a person had to be careful while walking the beach. Yet I figured I was a safe distance from the waves.
We entered a little cove where a stream tumbled to the beach through some rocks. Driftwood had been swept up on the rocks, but we found little else there. Dan was focused on getting around the bend, wondering what was further down on the beach. I was focused on getting some good pictures.
As we progressed along the beach, I noticed a man standing on a high bluff above us, waving his arms. I glanced up at him, wondering what he was doing. In that split second, I got distracted and let my guard down.
Dan saw the monster wave coming. I didn’t.
In ten seconds, I learned important life lessons from a sneaker wave.
It hit me on the thighs, sideways. I went down immediately but held my camera up with my right hand. It’s almost new, and I didn’t want to lose it.
Dan leaped up on the rocks to avoid the water, never dreaming that I’d been caught in the wave and was in danger of losing my life.
All I remember of this was that I went under the water except for my right hand and my head. There was no thought of, “Oh, no! I’m going to die!” It happened too fast.
I was swept up on the rocks with tremendous force. My left hand took the brunt of the force as I hit the rocks. I banged up my knees, too. But I didn’t feel that. Not yet.
Floating on my back, I held the camera high. I remember seeing the same driftwood log I’d noticed before, only now I was next to it, some fifteen feet from where I’d been walking.
The undertow tugged on me. I realized I was going to be swept out to sea. For the first time, panic swept through my mind. I cried, “Help!” I had to grab something, but I couldn’t. My right hand was busy holding my camera, and I didn’t want to let it go.
I would have to let it go soon.
Like fast-forwarding a movie, I don’t remember what happened next. I believe that an angel held me in place in the water because I didn’t get swept out to sea despite the tremendous tug on my body. I floated in the same place, still holding my camera.
Suddenly Dan was there. I cried, “Take my camera!” I figured if I could get my hand free, I could hold onto something. As irrational as it was, he obeyed me and grabbed the camera. I felt the strong pull against it, thanks to the halter, as we fought with the undertow. He braced his feet and held on.
“Get up!” Dan hollered at me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was calf-deep in the water. He was afraid another wave would come any second. I couldn’t get up because he was pulling on me from the back, and I was lying in the water.
I rolled over onto my knees and clambered to my feet. With a disappointed “swish!” the water disappeared. It would not get its victim that day.
When Dan got the camera unattached from the halter, I said, “Dry it off!” He dutifully did, and I handed him my watch. He dried that, too, and stuck it in his pocket. We found a path that led up to a campground area.
It led over a creek. I hesitated because I didn’t want to get into the water again. He held out his hand, and I made it over the creek and up to the picnic tables.
The man who had been standing on the bluff arrived. The first words out of his mouth were, “You saved the camera!”
“I did!” I answered with a laugh.
He went on to tell us that he had witnessed the whole incident and was sure he was going to see me swept out to sea. I sat at the picnic table and cradled my hand. It was broken. I knew it.
Shaken yet thankful to be alive, we returned to Tillamook and went to Urgent Care. The x-ray showed that my initial assessment was correct. A small bone on the left hand was broken. But it was a clean break and aligned perfectly, so no surgery was needed. My knees were bruised but not badly injured.
What you should do if you are caught in a riptide? Remember these:
- Don’t panic or try to fight the current. Float or tread water.
- If you aren’t a good swimmer, call for help.
- Swim parallel to the shore. The width of the riptide is very narrow. Swim out of it.
- Once you are out of it, swim toward shore.
Here are 7 important life lessons I learned in a sneaker wave:
1. Important life lesson I learned #1: FEAR OCEAN WAVES and other things that will kill you.
Fear is healthy. We teach our babies not to touch the hot stove. Not to walk too close to the cliff. Not to feed the bears at Yellowstone. We teach them to fear.
I don’t mean the kind of fear that paralyzes and brings torment. I mean a healthy respect for the creatures and forces God has built into the world. Fear saves lives.
II Tim. 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity (cowardice or fear), but of power and love and discipline.”
2. Important life lesson I learned #2: FEAR GOD.
When a person fears God, they give Him honor, respect and obedience. They give Him first place in their lives. They honor Him by reading, studying and memorizing the Word of God so they can make wise decisions and not be caught in a tidal wave of sin and the consequences sin brings.
I have held God in high regard and reverence for most of my life. But I didn’t realize how disastrous a couple of seconds of inattention could be. Ten seconds. It can mean life or death. Fear God. Always. With every breath.
Don’t get sidetracked or lose your focus on Him and His Word. This is probably the most important life lesson I learned from a sneaker wave.
3. Important life lesson I learned #3: God IS ABLE TO SAVE YOU WHEN YOU CRY OUT TO HIM FOR HELP.
Angels are real supernatural beings of great power and wisdom who are sent to give help and aid to us poor weak humans here on earth. That day in the water, an angel came to give me help when I cried out to God.
We don’t worship angels. They are created beings like us. Yet we can trust God to give us aid through them when we need it. See my post Out of Control about how an angel rescued my aunt and uncle from certain death.
4. Important life lesson I learned #4: HOLD ON.
With everything you have. It means your life. When waves of doubt or fear sweep over you because of the circumstances of life, hold on to God and His Word. When you are tempted to turn from your faith, hold on. When you fight depression, pain, discouragement or fatigue, hold on. He will save you.
He is holding onto you. Accept His help. Heb. 12:1 tells us to do that. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Some people claim that as Christians we will never suffer harm or bad things, and if we do, we must be sinning. I disagree with that theology. Jesus leads us through tough times to help us grow our faith. He never promised us a bed of roses. He did promise that He would walk each mile with us and give us strength and comfort. Listen to this song by some of my favorite singers, The Martins. The Promise.
Against the power of that wave, Dan held on and it was enough.
5. Important life lessons I learned #5: REGAIN YOUR STANDING.
When an ocean wave of life’s troubles hits you and bowls you over, get up as soon as you can. Get up from your despair. Read the Bible. Fellowship with other Christians. Get involved in a ministry. And never give up or throw in the towel.
I tell people, “Do the next thing.” Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself. If I had given up there on the beach, I bet another wave would have found me and taken me out to sea.
We have to stand in our position of blood-bought children of God. Don’t let the devil defeat you with fear, doubt or recriminations about what you have done in the past. If those things are forgiven, then stand up and get busy.
6. Important life lessons I learned #6: TELL OTHERS ABOUT IT.
I told many others about what happened to me in that sneaker wave. I told them about the life lessons I learned from a sneaker wave.
We were told that a woman had been killed on that beach just a few days before we came and two others were swept out and had to be rescued. Another person was killed just north of us a few weeks previously. My escape from the sneaker wave was a miracle.
Without exception, all who heard it accepted my testimony and rejoiced with me, whether they believe in God or not.
Teach your children to tell others about God and what He has done for them. Give them a good example by letting them hear and see you do it. Even if there is opposition or a negative response, give glory to God for your rescue, for your blessings, for your joy.
7. Important life lesson I learned #7: FEAR and hate SIN.
Sneaker waves are like temptations to sin. They sneak up on you when you are at your lowest ebb and sweep you out into the depths. You will be caught before you realize what is happening.
Watch out for little things like harboring grudges and anger, leaving arguments go without finding a resolution, the way you talk and think. Keep every word you speak honoring to God. Be careful about the things you watch on TV or the computer. Forgive others and yourself.
When we let little sins into our lives, they become big sins that are like that ocean wave that knocked me flat and tried to take my life.
I Jn. 1:9, “If we confess our sin, He is able and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
I survived a sneaker wave by the grace of God.
Some of the people we talked to, who have lived beside the ocean all their lives, told us that even those who know the ocean and are extremely careful can be caught and dragged away with a sneaker wave in an undertow.
Ocean waves are not to be trifled with. Neither is sin.
But God is faithful. He loves us more than we can imagine. “When we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7)
The next time you see an ocean wave rolling into shore, remember the important life lessons I learned from a sneaker wave.
Be careful about the little sins that can sweep you away.
Fear God and trust Him with all your heart, soul and mind.
Teach your children these life lessons.
It may save a life. A heart. A soul.