A rescue at sea

Recently I decided to take a solo kayaking paddle out on Puget Sound in the United States Pacific Northwest. The day’s paddling conditions looked perfect, with flat water reflecting the sunrise and clouds. I rode the outgoing tide into deeper water, joyfully paddling nearly five miles before arriving back near my launch point. I paused for a snack about two hundred yards from shore, tying up to some pilings. But the weather had changed, and the wind was picking up.

I sent a text message to my wife and told her I was trying to decide whether I should paddle back to shore or stay tied up until the wind died down. Realizing things were getting worse, I paddled purposefully toward shore. But within moments the wind and outgoing tide pushed me back past the pilings and away from shore.

I took out my phone to call for help but couldn’t get it to unlock, as the windblown spray had now soaked me, and my hands were cold. I stashed my phone in my chest pocket and kept paddling. 

The “still small voice” that Elijah heard after the storm, earthquake, and fire (see I Kings 19:11, 12) spoke gently to my thought with clear direction: “Call for help before you need it.” I got out my phone again but still couldn’t unlock it. I said, “Hey, Siri, call 911.” Nothing. I tried again and again. I stashed my phone again and paddled with all my strength to stay upright. 

For nearly thirty minutes, I fought against the wind and waves, which were now over my head. Fear started to creep in. My phone was still inoperable with my cold hands, and Siri (the phone’s digital “assistant”) wasn’t working.

I had learned in Christian Science Sunday School that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1). And I was reminded of many times when people in the Bible turned to God for safety and protection amid storms, including Jesus on the Sea of Galilee with his disciples (see Mark 4:37–39).

I thought, If Jesus could still the storm, why couldn’t I? Echoing our Master’s command, I prayed, “Peace, be still.” The waves only grew bigger, but I felt an immediate peace and calm in my thinking. At that point, I knew I would get through this unharmed. 

As I calmly took deliberate strokes, I followed each guiding thought that came to me. I realized that the rope I had tied my kayak up with was now tangled around my legs and ankles, and it was clear that I needed to gather this rope and get it out from around my legs in case I flipped over. Between strokes, I tidied up my kayak, and removed a piece of gear that had become waterlogged. If untended to, this would soon have flipped me over. About half an hour later I remembered the thought “Call for help before you need it” and realized that I had called for help—from God. I knew I would continue to be protected as long as I listened for and followed His directions. 

I pulled my phone out again and asked Siri to call 911. Surprisingly, the emergency services dispatcher picked up on the other end of the line; she informed me that they had already received a call about me and that the Coast Guard was on its way. I swelled with gratitude.

I continued paddling to stay upright but grew cold and soon began shivering uncontrollably. When I spotted a blinking light and the shape of what looked like a large boat, I became excited, and stopped paddling to give whistle blasts. I turned on my headlamp to flash and signal my location. But the boat didn’t come any closer, and I grew quite frustrated. 

I asked Siri to call my wife, and the call went through. My wife offered to read Bible verses to me. Hearing comforting words from the psalms brought back the peace I had experienced before, and the effects of mild hypothermia ceased. I then saw clearly that the “boat” whose arrival I had been anticipating was actually a lighthouse! But its appearance of permanence inspired me. It symbolized God’s constant direction, sending out the light of Truth, which cuts through the fog of material sense.

As my wife read to me, I saw the Coast Guard show up on the horizon, but they seemed to be looking in the wrong location, as I had drifted away from their search area faster than anticipated. 

As I continued to paddle hard to stay upright, I noticed a second vessel in the opposite direction that was slightly closer. I directed my light at them and blew several short whistle blasts, and they quickly approached me. They were fish and wildlife enforcement officers who had heard the radio chatter about a distressed kayaker. They knew the Coast Guard rescue mission could be up to an hour away and were confident that they could respond faster. 

After notifying the Coast Guard that I was “secured,” they conducted a quick medical assessment and were surprised to find me completely fine—alert and in good humor. “Somebody is definitely looking out for you,” one of them said, to which I nodded in affirmation. 

I am truly grateful for the spiritual truths proclaiming God’s loving protection that came to me as a “still small voice.” They are always at hand to instantly address fear, help us listen for and follow divine direction, and deliver us from any distress. 

Christian Hagenlocher
Burien, Washington, US

Testimony of Healing
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March 13, 2023

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