Updated: Jul 23
Life stunk. Every area of my life was in upheaval and it had been a long, difficult summer.
My parents were in a hard season and I had to walk on eggshells. No matter what I did, it was always wrong. My hormone-influenced friendships were turbulent and fickle. And no guy had expressed any interest in me. My diary entries documented my despair: I was unloved and unloveable; I would be better off dead.
To escape, I spent my days at the beach. One August morning, I put on my swimsuit, slipped on my flip-flops, and grabbed my towel, suntan lotion and transistor radio. As I opened the back door, my mother stopped me.
“If the water’s rough, don’t go in.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I closed the door behind me.
The beach was two blocks away and, instead of following the sidewalk, I took a shortcut through the yards of the cookie-cutter military houses. When I reached the beach access, I stood at the top of the stairs.
The ocean was dotted with surfers. The waves were big, thundering loudly as they broke. Whitewater churned as the waves came ashore in quick succession. The sea spray was thick. The scent of saltwater tickled my nose.
I spotted my friend in our usual spot and hurried down the steps, holding tight to the rusty handrail. The tropical sun was beating down on my shoulders. At the bottom of the stairs, I tossed my beach towel over my shoulder, kicked off my flip-flops and walked along the water’s edge, pausing as the water rushed over my feet and shot up my calves. As the surf receded, it sucked the sand away from my feet; I shifted to maintain my balance. I continued my trek and, once I reached my friend, spread out my beach towel, took off my shorts and plopped on my towel.
When conversation waned, I turned on the radio, slathered myself in coconut-scented lotion and laid back to soak up the sun rays. Eventually the pleasant warmth gave way to radiating heat. I sat up and wiped sweat from my brow.
“Wanna cool off?” my friend asked.
I glanced at the surf and, dismissing my mother’s instructions, went in the water. I navigated around the rust-colored submerged reef, stopping short of where the waves were breaking. The water tugged at my legs. I was — I reminded myself — a good swimmer.
A big wave approached, and like I had done a hundred times before, caught my breath and crouched low to let it go over me. As I surfaced, my feet were swept out from under me. I attempted to regain my footing when the strong receding waters sucked me under. I fought to surface, but the force of the next wave hurled me forward into the jagged reef. My scraped knees and palms stung from the salt water. The ebbing current dragged me back across the reef. I tumbled in the churning water.
I was tugged backward, tossed forward and rolled violently in the surf again and again and again. The pounding waves were relentless. I had no concept of time, only of stinging flesh, extreme fatigue and lost hope. Exhausted, I stopped fighting.
It was eerily quiet underwater. For a moment, I could see the sun shining brilliantly through the water. My tears mixed with the salt water; I regretted my disobedience. I was agonizingly remorseful for the pain my decision was going to cause my family.
Lord, is this what it feels like to die? I don’t want to die! I’m only 15!
I struggled to keep my eyes open against the sting of the salt water. I needed to see the sun…I HAD to focus on the sun. My lungs were burning. I felt weightless.
How much longer will this take, Lord?
I closed my eyes.
Suddenly, excruciating pain racked my body. It felt like every hair on my head was being snatched from my scalp. I was jerked upward.
I sputtered and gulped precious air. I looked into the face of a stranger.
“Take a deep breath. We need to go underwater and ride the surf over the reef.”
Another big wave was rapidly approaching.
Panicked, I try to pull out of his grasp. He slapped my cheek. Surprised, I gasped and, in one swift movement, he circled my waist and plunged us under the wave. He held tight as the wave propelled us over the reef into calm water.
“Can you make it from here?”
I nodded and struggled to stand in knee-deep water. My legs buckled. He helped me up and walked me to the water’s edge. Before I could speak, he ran back to the water and dove in the surf.
I collapsed on my towel, sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. Gradually, I regained my composure and began to process what had happened.
Who was he? Where did he come from? No one was near me, so how did he know I had gone under? How did he find me in the churning whitewash?
I scanned the water but couldn’t distinguish my rescuer from the dozens of others in the water.
I need to find him! I need to thank him for saving my life!
A short time later, he emerged from the surf and walked toward me.
I nodded, suddenly overwhelmed and unable to speak. He gave me a thumbs-up and jogged down the beach toward the main beach access.
I watched intently, my teenaged-thoughts perplexed by this stranger.
I’ve never seen him before. Is he new to the base? Did he come alone? Because he hasn’t stopped to talk with any of the other Marines.
He jogged past the path to the parking lot.
Where’s he going? Doesn’t he know that path is the only way to get off the beach? He’s running toward the restricted area of the beach! And I just realized he didn’t stop to pick up any belongings! Who comes to the beach without a towel or shoes? Everyone knows there are sandspurs on the beach path and the parking lot is paved with crushed oyster shells…
I watched him until he became a speck in the distance and disappeared from sight.
Somehow I knew I would never see him again, at least not this side of heaven. I also knew I would never forget my encounter with the stranger who appeared out of nowhere and saved my life.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.
~ Psalm 37:4