Welcome New Friend to the fire Haley Steinbauer. I met Haley via my son. They became friends their first day of their freshman year of college. I am deeply grateful for the wisdom shared by this young woman. May you be encouraged as you ride the waves of her personal journey to a closer walk with the Lord.
TO FORGET WOULD BE UNGRATEFUL
You know, I’ve been struggling to write about what happened on March 10th, 2020 for multiple reasons. For one, I don’t want to sound like I am boasting in my suffering.
Even calling it “suffering,” seems like an overreaction. I didn’t even die. No one died. It is painful to remember. It brings back feelings of fear, uncertainty, anxiousness, and hopelessness. Part of me wants to move on, not make a huge deal about it, and forget. But I’ve realized that I can’tforget, and I shouldn’t forget.
Alan Redpath in ‘Victorious Christian Living’ writes,
“Sometimes in the course of human experience it is good to sit down and reflect on what has been conquered by the grace of God. Not boastfully, but with a humble and grateful heart, to survey the years that have gone and to go over the pages of memory carefully to recall where the grace of God has triumphed, so that we will be able to look into His face and say,
“But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
God did something marvelous, extraordinary, and miraculous, and to forget would be ungrateful. I NEED and WANT to recognize his grace. For once in my life I have a memory where God screamed,
“I’ve got you my child. Trust me, Hayley. I am all-powerful and all-knowing.”
That is what I have always wanted – a sign, a mighty voice from above, anything that would show/prove to me that God is real. I have always struggled with trusting God in all areas of my life. I believe and I know that Jesus came, died, and rose for my sins (it’s been grilled into me my entire life), but I absolutely suck at trusting Him. I have come to realize that trust and faith are two sides of the same coin.
How can we have faith in something we don’t absolutely trust? How can I expect God to act in my life if I don’t trust Him?
I’m a thinker, so in my head I hand over my future, my relationships, and my worries into God’s care. But the moment doubt, feelings of insecurity, fear, or uncertainty creep in, I run away from the source of discomfort to a place where I can feel in control again. The problem with having faith in Jesus but no trust is you aren’t seeing His spirit at work and that means you aren’t growing. You are constantly wearing a mask to avoid fear. As Max Lucado says in his book Fearless,
“When fear fills our life, safety becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the risk-free life.” In the end, “The worship of safety emasculates greatness.” (p. 10).
It is when you believe that the King and Creator of the universe – the God who “shapes the future…and controls the sun, moon, and stars” – is for you, that fear loses (Isaiah 45:11-12).
To know Jesus, is to know the source of strength.
What happened over spring break opened my eyes to His power and showed me the importance of truly trusting in Him, even when fear strives to take me over. God is a Father who delivers, provides, and strengthens His children, especially in the deepest of waters. To forget is to let the devil win.
It was a day much like any other. I woke up, immediately
hit snooze, eventually dragged myself to breakfast and got
ready for the day. The plan was to take Jacob’s parents’
small, green jon-boat to the boat dock by St. Augustine; he
would go fishing while RJ and I read books. I was just
starting to read RJ’s book, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, and she
picked a juicy romance novel.
We drove to the marina, unloaded the boat, and
navigated the inlet until we found a bridge to anchor
ourselves under. For two hours I was in introvert heaven. It
was a cloudy day, but it was still warm with a slight breeze. I
was enjoying my book while eating Chex Mix and listening
to country music. It was everything I wanted for my spring
break – relaxation, time to read, and the ocean.
About two hours elapsed when Jacob saw two dolphins
poke above the water. We watched in wonder as they
rhythmically glided above the surface and then dived back
down into the dark blue water. RJ was in awe. Dolphins are
her favorite animal. We decided to try to get a closer look, so
we steered in their general direction. Having been satisfied
with our dolphin escapades, Jacob asked if we wanted to go
see the inlet. RJ and I replied,
“Sure. Sounds like fun.”
My hair was flowing in the wind, the air smelled like salt,
and the country music filled my ears. It was pure bliss. We
zoomed out into the wide expanse of the inlet, past the first
buoy, and towards the opening. The water started to get
rougher. Instead of a smooth glide over the water, our small
john-boat was smacking the waves. I remember thinking,
“Ok, it is a little rougher, but Jacob has got us. He has done this
before. Nothing could possibly go wrong.”
The waves grew higher and the wind blew stronger as
we drove farther and farther out of the inlet. My heart
started to quicken slightly, but I forced myself to trust Jacob.
Jacob turned the boat a little bit and a wave slapped against
the boat spilling some water onto RJ who was in the front..
She squealed and Jacob laughed.
He decided to turn the boat around toward the marina,
and we started to go towards the waves from our wake. A
wave from behind propelled us forward and a wave from
our wake started barreling toward us. I remember having to
hold onto my seat so I wouldn’t slide forward as the tip of
the boat went straight into the wave. The water
automatically filled our small boat, taking all our possessions
with it. RJ screamed and Jacob yelled that we needed to
jump. His face is printed in my memory. His frozen
expression resembled someone who was caught mid-sneeze
and was angry at the same time. I held back my desire to
laugh because I knew that it was an expression of fear.
Oddly, I wasn’t afraid. The cold water was a jolt, but I
managed to keep my book and phone above water. In my
mind, it wasn’t really happening. We capsized—no biggy.
I was a sailing counselor the summer before and we
capsized our boats for the fun of it. Sure, it was different this
time because none of us were wearing life jackets, RJ
couldn’t swim, and a lake is a little different from the ocean,
but everything would turn out just fine. I could figure it out;
I always have been able to figure out a conflict or problem
on my own.
Whenever I think about worst-case scenarios, I can trust
myself. Worst case scenario, if I flunk out of school, need a
break, or need time to explore my options; I have my lovely
family to support me. If my house burns down, we have
home insurance. No lives are lost, no biggy. But this time I
had no fallbacks, no long list of options to comfort me that
all would be fine. I had two options: swim or die. No other
options. No rescue boat or time to think and pick the next
best step. I had to fight the waves and the current or never
see my family again. Never graduate from college. Never kiss
a boy. Never tell people about Jesus.
So, I started to swim. I didn’t even think about trying to
flip the boat, staying with the boat, or trying to grab
lifejackets. It seems so foolish to me now. There probably
was a smarter option, but something inside of me said that I
needed to swim.
The first couple of minutes I struggled to make
headway. I felt the current quickly sucking me away from the
shoreline. Every free-style stroke seemed useless. I felt like I
was running on a treadmill, using all my energy and still
staying in the exact same spot.
I knew from stories that the best way to escape a current
was to swim parallel to shore, so I fought the waves and
started to propel myself forward. I looked back and could no
longer see the boat. I could see RJ struggling to keep her
head above water. I yelled to Jacob,
“Stay with RJ. I’m going
to swim to shore.” I knew that there was no way RJ would
make it to shore. We were so far out that you could see
figures on the shoreline but couldn’t distinguish if they were
male or female. I remember screaming for help, but I knew
it was a waste of time.
It’s interesting that in a boat or on the beach, waves
seem peaceful and benign, but when you are in the water
and the only way to keep from drowning is your legs and
arms, the waves take a different form. You are at the mercy
of the strong, powerful, menacing water, unable to see the
horizon or what is lurking under you. You feel small,
powerless, helpless and alone.
Long after tossing my book I eventually let go of my
phone. It was too much effort to hold onto. When all you
have set before you is life or death, there is no need for a
phone. When faced with what seems like an insurmountable,
terrifying situation, all you have is God. So I stripped my
flannel and tried to take off my heavy shoes.
I started to grasp the seriousness of my situation. I
wasn’t getting closer to shore. I was quickly getting sucked
out of the inlet. My arms and legs were tired. I wanted to
take a break, but I knew that I had no other option. The
shoreline was my lifeline. If I didn’t keep swimming, I would
just keep getting swept out until eventually there would be
no shoreline to swim towards. I had to save my friends. I
didn’t want to die, so I pleaded with God. I said,
“Lord, give me strength. I need your strength, because I am tired,
and I don’t know if I can keep going. I don’t want to die. I have
so much I still need to do. If you deliver me and I survive, I will do
whatever you want. I will change my major, hop on a plane and
become a missionary, marry a nice farm boy, whatever you want.
I’m done fighting. Help me. Help me.”
As I kept swimming, I started to imagine the worst-case
scenario. I thought about what would happen if I failed to
reach shore. I pictured myself spending my last moments
alive alone in the wide expanse of the dark ocean, unable to
see land, floating on my back until I got so exhausted that I
drowned. I pictured the phone call to my parents. I
envisioned RJ struggling to stay above water and eventually
failing. What would happen to Jacob and RJ’s families? I’ve
never had a situation where trusting in God was the only
This worse-case scenario was real and hopelessly
terrifying because it was completely in God’s hands. This is
what I struggle to put into words and explain to people. My
life was in His hands; it was completely out of my control. I had no
scapegoat, no second option where I could swoop in and
save myself. In complete and utter hopelessness, the only
thing I could do was turn to God and ask for help. It was
the first time I completely trusted in Him. All I could do was
pray and plead.
As time went by, God started to answer my prayer. I
escaped the current and swimming became four times easier.
The shoreline was within reach. The waves were still high
enough that I had to dive under each one to keep from
getting taken over, but I was just thankful that I was finally
moving. Just keep going. Just keep going. You can do it, I told myself.
Eventually, I swam until I realized that I could touch the
bottom. I was dazed, unable to be relieved until I knew my
friends were also safe. So, the instant I stood up, I tried to
run. I needed to find help. It felt like I had been swimming
for a long time and I knew RJ would not be able to last for
much longer. The water was about at my hips. I felt
lightheaded, and my legs felt like Jell-O. I fell over in the
water and had to catch myself. I ran onto the beach and
looked in both directions to find the nearest person. The
current carried me to the very end of the beachy peninsula
and there were very few people in site.
Then, I noticed people to my right. I started to run in
that direction as I saw a rescue boat come flying from the
mouth of the inlet. They glided across the water out towards
the last buoy in the inlet. For a moment the boat began to
search with little luck. I started to cry because I thought my
friends had drowned. I had failed. I was picturing what life
would be like without my hilariously joyful best friend and
roommate by my side and without my frustratingly, caring,
and stubborn friend Jacob. I cried out loud to God, Please,
Lord. Please, Lord. They can’t be dead. No, Lord.
The moment I stopped my prayer, the boat stopped. I
couldn’t see anyone getting on or off the boat, so I was
uncertain if they were found dead or alive.
I noticed a four-wheeler with four Coast Guard workers
only a couple of meters away. I took off my clunky shoes
and ran over to them. I was sobbing and asking if they had
found my friends. They told me my friends were safe and
asked if I was the third person. A wave of relief flowed over
They set me down in the four-wheeler with a blanket
and Gatorade, and I sobbed. I rarely cry in front of people,
but I couldn’t hold it in. I cried so hard I was shaking
(actually, the shaking could have been from the fact that the water was
60 degrees or that I swam for 25-30 minutes, but even so I was shaken
I couldn’t stop smiling. All my anxiety, fear, and worry
were replaced with gratefulness, don’t-care-who-knows-it
joy. I was laughing and crying and praising God. I’ve never
been more joyful in my life. We were all alive. They put me in
an SUV with a nice man who drove me back to the marina.
As we made the 25-minute drive, the entire experience
started to feel surreal. Did it actually happen? I was just
fighting for my life in the ocean and now I am sitting in this
warm car learning about this nice Coast Guard’s family
history. I couldn’t help but feel like I was a completely
different person from the girl that was gawking at dolphins
an hour earlier. I wanted so desperately to cry and call my
parents to tell them I loved them. I wanted to process the
experience and figure out how I could uphold the promise I
made to God in the water: I will do whatever you want, if you help
me. But I chose to put on a brave face and be strong. I
decided to process later once I had the time, space, and
THE CURRENT OF GOD’S GRACE
When we met at the marina, I hugged Jacob and RJ and
we drove back home. We processed the rest of the day and,
to be perfectly honest, I am still processing.
I want to remember that hopelessness and how God
delivered us along with the joy that followed. I want to
remember how my relationship with God matters above all
earthly possessions and how I need to trust him with the
little and big things.
The experience has taught me to be brave and has
inspired me to live more courageously. Fear no longer is a
major roadblock because I have experienced the power of
God. I know what real fear looks like and how MY God can
overcome it. If I can survive that fear, nothing should stop
me from doing His will. I think this is true for everyone.
We shouldn’t just trust him when we have no other
options. Even when everyday life is uncertain and small fears
swarm us, we have a God who is unstirred by the waves for,
“If He is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). And, boy,
is God for us! He is given to us. He took on our flesh and
blood to die for us and so to save us. And as He died to save
us, so He lives to provide for us.
I am just extremely grateful and in awe of how God
provided for us on March 10th. We didn’t get eaten by sharks
or sucked down into an even stronger rip current. I was in
great shape because of my half-marathon training, and RJ
was in good shape because she had started lifting three
months prior. Even so, if Jacob and I had switched roles, RJ
may not have survived because I wouldn’t have been able to
give her breaks with my body size.
If a couple on the shore hadn’t seen us swimming, the
rescue boats may have been dispatched too late to rescue
Jacob and RJ. If the waves had been higher or wilder, I don’t
know if I would have survived. All in all His goodness is
shown through his providence that day.
His grace abounds in the deepest of waters.
This experience has taught me to live more courageously. That’s why I support ATLAS; a ministry helping people meet their emotional and spiritual needs whilst finding joy in the journey of discovering their unique potential in Christ. ATLAS is a mentor based, prayer driven personal development service whose goal is to help individuals and families attain truth, love, and self-control through the power and love of Jesus Christ. ATLAS is a free, safe, and confidential place wherepeople can be heard, encouraged and prayed over.
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“Hayley’s Swim” by Hayley Steinbauer
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