Keep Your Head Up

Memorial Day Weekend brings many things to the Outer Banks: tourists, traffic, revenue, beautiful beach days, and good times. On the Friday prior, it brings something else: the return of the Life Guard Stands.

This acts as a catalyst for locals. When we see the stands coming out of storage from the beach houses and being erected, our pulse quickens. Summer is finally and officially here! Businesses prepare, restaurants shine up, rental agencies ready welcome packages, and I begin to pray.

The season we all depend on and wait all winter long to enjoy will bring another thing that we dread: ocean rescues. I used to get excited when I saw the Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead, until I realized they aren’t training…they are rescuing. I see the guard stands returning as a sure sign of summer, but now I see it with a sigh in my heart. Someone will lose his or her life here on our beach this summer.

The beach areas on the North Carolina coast are subject to undertows and rip tides that have a deadly force. Posted all along our beach accesses are signs with information on how to stay safe in the water. Unfortunately, many folks don’t read these as they trundle by with their arms laden with umbrellas, towels, shovels, and coolers. 80% of all ocean rescues involve getting swimmers out of rip tides.


1. Don’t panic. Rip Tides are only about 20-100 feet wide. You can swim out of one.

2. Don’t swim directly to shore. When you feel the undertow pulling you out to sea, the urge will be to swim straight to shore. That will result in your being pulled out to sea.

3. Swim parallel to the beach. This will enable you to swim out of the the current. Think of it like a treadmill that won’t turn off: you have to “step off the side” to get out of it.

4. If you are too exhausted, just relax and float. Tread water until the current dissipates, and then slowly make your way back, swimming parallel to the shore at an angle. Signal for help and wait for the Life Guard to come to you.

5. Learn how to spot rip tides. They look like disturbances in the wave line. They can be a flat and glossy break in the wave pattern, or a foamy one. While the waves come parallel to the shore line, rip currents run straight out to sea, cutting the wave in half.

We struggle with rip tides in life as well. There comes a time in everyone’s life when a rogue wave suddenly breaks on your shore, cuts you off at the knees, and threatens to sweep you out into the deep. Death, divorce, cancer, job loss, the discovery of a spouse’s betrayal…all the things that catch us off guard can feel like we are caught in an emotional current of foamy power, and we can’t even keep our heads up.

But just like a real rip tide, with God’s help you can swim out of yours. Even if all you can do is tread water and float until rescue arrives, you can survive. The trick is to keep your head up. Stay focused on God’s activity in the midst of your panic. Keep praying toward heaven for help until it arrives. Lift your eyes upon Jesus and don’t look down.

Isaiah 43:1-5

“Israel, the Lord who created you says,

    “Do not be afraid—I will save you.
    I have called you by name—you are mine.
When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you;
    your troubles will not overwhelm you.
When you pass through fire, you will not be burned;
    the hard trials that come will not hurt you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the holy God of Israel, who saves you.
I will give up Egypt to set you free;
    I will give up Ethiopia and Seba.
I will give up whole nations to save your life,
    because you are precious to me
    and because I love you and give you honor.
Do not be afraid—I am with you!

No matter what it is you are floating in, God is with you. As big and frightening as your troubles are, they will not overwhelm you. YOU belong to God.

Gracious and Loving God,

Save me today. My head is going under for the third time and I can’t breathe. The weight of this wave of despair holds me down and spins me senseless. Come into my troubled waters and save me. I am yours, and you are mine. I wait, and I watch. My deliverer comes! Help me in my waiting. AMEN

Be Safe by NOAA

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