Riptide–Almost Died

Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world circle the continent of Australia like a gleaming, oblongish halo. Don’t be fooled. Those waters can be filled with dark, surging devils that form what they call a riptide. Only because God and man willed it have I lived to tell about them.

Only two days into a long-planned adventure with friends at “New South Wales Big Camp”—a spiritual festival organized by the Adventist Church in Oz—I finally got my body into the exhilarating surf. For a decent swimmer, the waves of Grassy Head Beach toss people about just enough to be fun but not so roughly as to cause any kind of fear.

Before I go any further, I should tell you a little about the trip. Days at Big Camp meant forays into the rugged natural surroundings, meals with friends, and lots of darting in and out of the cabin that housed two couples, three kids, and me. Come evening, we’d pilgrimage to the “Connections Tent” for meetings. I’d been asked by my friend David Asscherick to speak for about half hour each night. My friend Nathan Renner would follow with preaching, and live music would weave throughout the evening. I felt honored to be part of the experience, and doubly privileged to be blessed with “working” vacation time with fun people in the Oz rain forest near a glorious beach.

As a group of us walked the shore, David, Nathan and I decided to swim. Someone said something about the “swim between the flags rule,” but considering ourselves above such things, we left it unheeded. My ocean swimming experience in the states had acquainted me with undertow, which could be endured as long as a person could get back to shallow water to stand, which I did between waves to catch my breath. We dove deep under curled waves to slice down to placid water, making our way out to the cresting barrels we could body-surf back to shore. The ocean floor stabilized the whole experience, making it possible to stand, breathe, then return to the weaving, diving, and bobbing required to outsmart the ocean.

But we didn’t outsmart the ocean. The flip from wildly fun to insanely frightening came so suddenly I missed it. The only change I remember perceiving was that I couldn’t find the ocean floor. In reality, we’d been caught in a rip tide and swept out into deeper water than we’d bargained for. But the water was more than deep—it was going the wrong way. To grasp the horror of a rip tide, imagine the surge of water toward the shore suddenly reverting to push water back into the ocean, creating a hollow in the ocean floor in the process. Then add the fact that the surf pulls an oblivious swimmer sideways a couple feet every few seconds, and you have an ocean kidnapping from safe water into the demon domain of the riptide. A swimmer can be splashing happily one minute and fighting for her life the next.

In fact, I was.

My intense focus on surviving the next wave kept me from any awareness of my peril. The one evidence that registered in my consciousness was David shouting, “Jen! Just relax. Hold my hand.” I kept hoping he would pull me back to where I could stand and catch my breath, but in reality the riptide was dragging my very athletic friend further out too. David may have made it out if he’d been alone, but he wouldn’t leave me. As my strength drained away, I found it harder and harder to dive deep, placing me more and more at the whim of the surf. A double wave slapped me in the face; I took in water, started choking, lost my breath, and surrendered myself to the frothy, chaotic water as the possibility of death swelled before me like—well, like a wave.

David began to flail his arms and shout to the surf patrol lifeguards, who I learned later had the legal right to let us drown for our disobedience (Fortunately, kinder impulses prevailed.) A buff, beach-tanned girl appeared with a surf board, which I immediately draped with my exhausted body. A boy followed her with a board for David. The boards quickly sped us to shallow water where we could stand again, and terra firma has never felt so good. But the second I felt safe my mind raced to Nathan. Was he out there? Did we lose him?

David and Nathan are very special to me—like somewhat-aggravating but deeply-loved younger brothers. About 10 years ago I wrote a biography about their joint transition from punk culture to faith, called Twice Upon a Time. During that writing process we went cliff jumping in Northern California. We all love risk-taking, outdoor adventure, and life itself. We don’t talk often, but when we do, we pick up where we left off.

Thankfully, Nathan had made it to shore on his own, having felt the riptide before David and I, and having wisely moved parallel to the shore rather than perpendicular. I could never have forgiven myself for surviving if Nathan hadn’t.

We initially thought to keep the event secret, returning to the meeting tent that night rather sheepish that the dumb Americans had underestimated the power of the Australian surf. But the first comment someone made about my downcast eyes—Matt Parra, a surfer himself—made the story tumble out. It was then that I realized that in order not to have a post traumatic response, we should process. And so we told our story. The matter swept through the camp, becoming part of the narrative of the event. I even shared it as a life lesson during one of my talks.

And this is what I said: Love is a wild surf. It will beckon you out, but given the wrong circumstances, drag you to your death. Love is simultaneously the most exhilarating and dangerous thing we do as human beings. But truth be told, many of our love-scars have come as the result of failing to swim between the flags. Should we stop swimming to stay safe? No, for living without love is the greatest peril of all. We should stay in the waves, but ride them out more wisely than before. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

The next day I swam again, determined to face and cast out my fears—this time between the flags.

25 thoughts on “Riptide–Almost Died

  1. Linda Spiva Scott Reply

    Wow! What an amazing experience! You had lots of human help, praise God! I dare say, there were other forces that did not want you to live through that and have such a powerful testimony that even though we don’t stay “between the flags” God can and most the time protects us until we learn or we just shut the Spirit out completely. So glad you learned quickly on that and lived to continue your powerful ministries! Hugs! And glad you are home safe and sound!
    Linda Spiva Scott

  2. Jasmin Reply

    Wow so glad you were not alone otherwise it may have ended differently.
    I hope that will not deter you from coming to Australia again.
    We have great nature here but the people are nice too. Too nice.
    That is why it is so hard to convert them they are all too nice and everybody helps
    everybody, yes there are some evil characters too of course this is not heaven.
    But for the most part people think they are descent.
    I hope you give a copy of your book to the life saver that saved you so that they
    may also have a chance to be saved in this sea of life where we have all been caught
    in a rip and need rescuing.
    Thanks for your story.
    – Jasmin

  3. Janet Libby Reply

    Dear Jen I am so thankful to God you are safe. That is quite an amazing story and quite a powerful object lesson to come out of it. God has much more for you to do. You are so adventurous. Love Janet

  4. Linda Thompson Reply

    I am so glad that you’re alive! What a traumatic event and story to tell. I’m thankful that David and Nathan are safe as well. That would have been a most tragic loss. God did not want the enemy of souls to get the glory. Praise His name for working through the lifeguards! He still needs you all in His Ministry to save souls. So many spiritual analogies to tell through your experience Jen. Yes, keep swimming indeed-on the safe side.

  5. Ella Charter Reply

    Thank you for your testimony. You have been such a blessing to us in the Chicago land area: Gospel Summit@ Elmhurst, La Grange and Southwest Churches as a small sample. Your message of reconciliation and restoration is what we need.

    Blessings to you and David and Nathan and may you all continue to be protected by Jesus Himself?

  6. Melinda Smith Reply

    You know you are very special and loved by God and what little love I have to offer to you. Thank you for sharing. In my opinion, all of you (David and Nathan) take too many risks. Can’t you just wait till we get to heaven to jump from planet to planet!

  7. Barbara Kay Reply

    Of course I’m thankful that you lived to share your experience! It is through life’s experiences, our mistakes and learning from them, that we can encourage each other. God needs you to continue sharing as His witness. David too. Waves and tides are powerful. Of greater power is the love of God–God Himself for he is LOVE.
    Have a beautiful and blessed day. With love, Barbara

  8. Maria Barnes Reply

    So glad God saved you and your friends! Praise the Lord the life guards heeded His prompting to rescue you. Grateful you allowed yourselves to process your stories, and that afterward you took action to over come the fear the next day. I’m so thankful to the Lord that you’ve allowed Him to guide your sharing of this story; it’s value to others you’ll not know this side of heaven.

    The scriptural principle of “sow besides all waters, for you do not know what shall profit, either this or that” comes to mind. I’m praising the Lord for saving you, and giving you a testimony to His mercy, kindness and great love.

    Appreciate your vulnerability in tranparently sharing this humbling story. Thanks Jennifer–


  9. Paula Roeloffs Reply

    Well Jen, when I saw the title of your post, my heart went racing. Yes, I am so glad you are alive! I think we have a lot more life to live and learn, and I learn a lot from you. I value our friendship and am not ready to have to wait for heaven.

    I’m at Marco Island right now enjoying some sun and surf myself.

  10. Sara Fudge Reply

    Incredible story of survival, wonderfully written and generously shared. Praise God for your rescue! God still has more in store for you!

  11. Bill Warcholik Reply

    Been there, done that, about ten years ago, in
    Cancun, after a mission trip in Mexican mountains ?. Survived only by the grace of God after ignoring the red flags, being confident of my swimming ability. No one was watching, God saved me by pausing the pounding waves dragging me under and away just long enough for me to get to beach. Thank you for sharing. Hopefully others will heed the message of the flags… and the Three Angels.

  12. April Worf Reply

    Losing a warrior of the Cross is NEVER time for rejoicing, except it be that we will see them again.

    Praising God you all got out safe.

    Love your thoughts about the riptides of love. I also think that life is riddled with riptides, and, except we keep on fellowship with Jesus, we are in constant risk of going under.

  13. Matthew Healy Reply

    I’m glad you are alive! The Lord uses you guys in very powerful ways! Shelly (my wife) uses your children’s stories and songs cd in her pre-school while the kids sit and eat lunch. It reminds me of when our girls were little and they would listen to that cd.

  14. Katrina Hasman Reply

    Wow! Sending hugs your way!!!
    So very glad you are alive!
    And that David was there to help you and that Nathan was safe too.
    Praise the Lord the surf guards had a soft spot and helped you!
    And praise the Lord you could use your experience to help others!
    I personally am thankful for your ministry Jennifer and for David’s and Nathan’s as well.
    May God continue to shine in and through you in your ministry for Him.

  15. Jon Reply

    I am glad you are alive to share this incredible story. To use it as an illustration on love, not to fear love but to operate between the “flags”. No one else I know would have been able to make that connection. It applies to me because I have stopped loving out of fear, because I thought, more like didn’t know how, to love between the flags. This encourages me to perhaps swim again.
    I’m in Australia now with James and have enjoyed the ocean swims and slight pummeling of the waves immensely. I’ve been wary of the riptides but want to play unhindered by fear. So your story is relevant and timely.

  16. Anna McBeth Reply

    I just read your story and it reminded of the same experience I and my mom went through here in Nova Scotia.
    It happened exactly the same way. I could see than my mom depended on me to get us out of the rip tide. Luckily we could still touch the bottom but the water was up to our chins. It was terrifying, I prayed and God gave me strength to pull us out of it. When we came back home, on the local news we found out that a man at the same time as us, drowned in the same riptide at that beach. We never went back to swim there.

  17. Roberta Tatman. Reply

    Love! Quick into reading your story my eyes began to well-up with tears, just thinking about the amazing love that God has for you, for us. Just to know that God spared your lives despite you not staying within the parameters of safety makes me glad. What a loving, caring and merciful God we serve.

    As I continued to read I began to think of a very frightening experience that took place many years ago in Wildwood, NJ when I was a really young person. I remember vividly how I got caught up in a riptide, a current, or something, and how it literally through me to the bottom of where I was. I Will Never Forget!

    I also know personally, what it is like to not stay within the flag, to not stay within the perimeters of love which can cost us our lives, it can be deadly, it can cost us everything; which could of turned out with a tragic ending, but praise be to God we’re still here.

    It is my hope that by God’s Amazing Grace that we will always try our very best to remain within the parameters of the flags of His Love His Law: that we will be obedient to the laws of life, nature, and land. That’s where we’ll find safety!

  18. Mitchell Nicholaide Reply

    Thank God, you’re alive. May Michael give you a wonderful
    welcome when you get home. And thanks for the paragraph on
    the danger and exhilaration of love. It reminded me of these
    words from yesterday’s Sabbath School’s Teachers’ Comments:

    “God is a risk taker. He…created free moral agents with the
    potential of loving Him or wanting nothing to do with Him. In a
    sense, God lost His own wager. His universe rebelled. He lost
    …angels…humans. Worst of all, His own Son was murdered…
    Yet, for God, it was all worth it–for the sake of having a family.
    “…the family…can provide the apex of security and love…[or]
    can breed the deepest pain and resentment… When we start
    our own families, we participate in the divine risk of creating
    relationships…” [by Joseph Olstad; italics in the original]

    Comments in the [adult] students’ lesson for April 28 had
    stated: “The powerful attraction of illicit love must be weighed
    against the horrific consequences…” We were called to “A
    firm commitment to the divine design for…marriage…” Yes,
    as your story illustrates, “swim between [God’s] flags.”
    –Mitchell Nicholaides

  19. K. J. Reply

    I am glad! Love prevailed! BUT… I am also jealous/coveting you, because in 2013 I was in Oregon, and visited “Arise,” hoping to sit and talk with David Assherick. Luis/Jeroen even spent a Sabbath with David. But, I go to “Arise,” and David wasn’t there, none of them were. I was in Oregon for a MONTH! Then he moved to Australia. Gone was my chance. Now you share you were even in Australia…where I just hoped for some hours, you spent “DAYS!” David and I even share the same birthday; though I have possessed it longer.

    Recently, I have been diagnosed with lung cancer, having been exposed, at Camp LeJeune, to contaminated water with toxic chemicals, sewage, and NUCLEAR WASTE. We drank it, showered, and had our food cooked in it. They informed me at the Veterans Administration Hospital that I am STAGE 6: AGENT ORANGE. I asked, “How can I have Agent Orange, I put in for VIETNAM three times with my buddies and I was deployed to Morocco?” He replied, “You were exposed to far worse than Agent Orange.” “Well, what does that mean?” “You should die from any or all of ten cancers (now, fifteen).” Out of four of my fellow Marines, three of us have lung cancer. We are all non-smokers (swimming within the flags), yet, the riptides can still find victims, with me even being a vegan.

    Having spent a year and a half, with a Pentacostal Minister, Air Force Veteran, with A.L.S.; reading to him three hours on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 10:00 (19:00 to 22:00) major Adventist books of miraculous testimonies, while having to wipe him after bowel movements, feed him, give him water, wipe his nose, put drops in his eyes, etc, which by doing so gave his caregiver a much needed reprieve. A month before he died, he came in through profession of faith. Despite anointing him and laying siege on heaven to restore him, he went to sleep in Jesus. I miss him, as I do many of my Saint brethren, who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

    So, I told the Lord, in January, that I have always been delivered from the riptides of my life: growing up in Chicago, the Marines, great DNA for health, but I was never tested with a disease that is a living hell, like A.L.S. or Parkinson’s, where the body’s tremors prevent sleep; like my deceased brothers in Christ. So, in early March, I was diagnosed with lung cancer (coughing and raspy voice). No fear, just honored. My straying SIBLINGS, God has given me their undivided attention. I watched my friends bear up with fruit that showed their characters in the EXTREME FIRES OF AFFLICTION. I have great peace. No fear. What a blessing. “I CAN ONLY IMAGINE” (like the song) what peace John the Revelator must have had when they threw him into the cauldron of boiling oil. Clear conscience, now that is real FREEDOM.

    So, David Assherick is still on my “BUCKET LIST.” Australia is probably out, but I pray he and I could FaceTime, someday. I am happy for you, and that the Lord didn’t allow a tragedy to disrupt God’s meeting. Thank You, and Praise You, Lord!

    Meanwhile, we are blessed to be back in California, from NEW HAMPSHIRE. Loved the experience, miss the saints (Paula, etc.), but NOT the winters.

  20. Marilyn Ravina Reply

    Wow, what an experience. I am so glad you survived this rip tide. My heart would deeply grieve if you were lost in a rip tide or in any sudden death like this. I hope you live to share Jesus in the vital way that you always do. I have precious memories of earlier days with you and am joyful to see how much insight and ministry you continue to walk in. I pray you will live long to witness…and that I may even have the privilege of seeing you again and joining you in a ministry in some way. I hope you don’t mind if I mention my own experiences briefly. I will avoid greater detail and let the lesson itself sink in.

    All my experiences at sea have taught me well…I am careful and cautious from my many dangerous times in the ocean. Usually it was in a sailboat. I was in a storm where we lost our captain overboard, and he drowned even though we tried to save him. I don’t know if I told you that story, but one day twenty years later, I was on a plane going to sing at Carol Marno’s wedding (Van Horn now)–and I met a man who spoke about the wonderful sailor from Australia who was a legend to all. They never knew what happened to him–and the name he gave me was the same name as our captain. We had nick named him Captain Kangaroo. I told my seat mate what truly happened since they had made up many stories about him. Later I called my dad to confirm it was the same name, the same man. Apparently he was also a famous local tennis player, as well as one of the best sailors. I met him after he had finished sailing in the SORC (Southern Ocean Racing Circuit). I was there to help sail the boat back to New York from Florida.

    How strange life is when it brings us lessons that come up again and again–and how grateful we are to have survived them.
    I am no longer a risk taker but pray that my courage in times of danger will remain strong. Somehow I think people who enjoy risk are trying to test their courage and discover it again to feel more alive. For me the greatest dangers I seem to face are driving to Rhode Island with all the aggressive cowboy drivers out there. I can’t speed up to 80 the way they do and that makes them mad since I am only going 75! I often need courage for that journey…I long for the peace and civility that drivers should have. I guess what I’m saying is that danger finds us no matter what–we don’t need to look for it in this world since it can come in so many unexpected forms…fires, storms like the tornadoes we keep getting, ticks with life altering diseases, car accidents, shootings…need I continue? You are alive and I am too by the wonderful intervention of others, and the grace of God. Our lives are saved for a purpose.

    Back to your experience…rip tides are so dangerous. I can’t believe that the life guards would actually ignore a person drowning in one. Is that really true? Or, is that tongue and cheek way of saying this to the foolish ones who dare to ignore the warnings. At any rate, I am glad you all were saved. I didn’t realize you were such a dare devil. LOL! I do recall how strong you are however. You used to carry a huge water container for your house system over your shoulder even when you were pregnant. That impressed me.
    What would we do without our Jennifer? I couldn’t process that very well–for it would never make sense to the woman who has brought so much help and grace to others.

    I pray we see each other again soon–in this life. I hope in some way I can be part of the ministry you are called into and support or uplift it. Meanwhile, I also pray for all that I can do here and now to raise hopes and bring healing–so many suffering today.

  21. Christie Decker Reply

    Well, Jennifer, I am glad you are still alive! Why? Because I believe the Lord has, is and will continue to use you to help people heal to find Jesus. Your music, your Abide ministry, and whatever other ministries God leads you to, are helping us find and love Jesus in ways we didn’t realize we could, let alone desire…God isn’t finished with you yet, my Dear…Thankfully, God isn’t finished with you yet!

  22. Anonymous Reply

    Hi! Praise God for His watchcare over you and David!!! He’s one of my favorite preachers – despite his young age, lol!

    I’m glad you’re alive – selfishly – because our counseling sessions made such a difference to me! And I’m also glad you’re alive – more altruistically now – because you are letting God use you for such a necessary ministry.

    “Keep on keeping on”! May God continue to bless you. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Ricky Kearns Reply

    Thanks for the heart-rending story. I am grateful that you, David and Nathan survived. Reminds me of the words “Master the tempest is raging the billows are tossing high”.

  24. Adrian Webster Reply

    Wow… so very grateful to the Lord that all of you managed to escape the riptide! Always amazed how God can turn our worst experiences into object lessons for our growth and the blessing of others.

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