The Labor Day the boat turned over


We always spent Christmas with Granny in Kissimmee, Florida. Easter, we always spent with Mamma's brother and sister in Okeechobee. And for some reason, we always spent Labor Day at cousin Jack's place on Lake Lotela in Avon Park. Everybody would bring some food, and Jack would pull whoever wanted to ski. He was the only person I knew who had an inboard motor on his boat. In those days, riding in a boat was a big deal. It was something that gave you status on the preschool playground.

One year, my cousin Ross brought his boat. Compared to Jack's, it was a sorry excuse for a boat. Nothing more than a souped-up jon boat, it had a tiny Evinrude outboard motor that looked and sounded like an electric mixer. Still, Ross spent the day riding kids around in his boat. We didn't care about the size; we were thrilled.

It got to be late in the day, and Mamma said we'd be leaving soon. My sister and brother begged Ross to take them for one more ride. There is nothing like the persistence of children to wear you down. Mamma said "yes," and off they went. I was told to play in the shallow water and not drown.

I couldn't have been more than four, but I remember looking at the boat as it left the dock with my brother Steve and sister Clemie Jo sticking their tongues out at me. Sometimes, it is sheer torture to be the youngest.

Ross knew how to make the ride exciting. He'd open the throttle on that glorified mixer and jump the wake left by Jack's ski boat. The kids would experience a micro-second of no gravity and squeal in delight. He'd cut the boat sharp and make everyone hold on for dear life. This is what we called "fun" before people thought you had to go to Disney World and pay hundreds of dollars to laugh and scream.

The old folks hollered at Ross to head in. Ross decided to give the kids one more thrill. He turned the boat sharply left and cut back across his own wake. The boat dipped toward the water, the kids slid, and then, the unthinkable happened. Ross mistimed his recovery. The turn was too sharp, and the boat flipped.

I still remember it. A second before, I could see Clemie Jo and Steve's heads; the next second, all I saw was the upside hull of Ross' boat. Then Ross' head bobbed up. The old folks on shore were hollering. What we couldn't see was that Steve and Clemie Jo had surfaced on the other side of the boat. Jack saw what happened, carefully maneuvered his boat closer and pulled everyone on board.

It all happened so fast, Mamma didn't even have time to cry, but I did. I started bawling with tears the size of thunderstorm raindrops. Naturally everyone thought I was upset about my brother and sister. I remember Aunt Iris, saying "Son, stop crying, it's all right. See, everybody is safe."

I blurted out through my tears, with my lip poked out, "It's not fair! I want to be in the boat when it turns over! Clemie Jo and Steve always get to have fun!"

Too many of us who follow Jesus pout because it looks like everyone else is having fun, even when their lives turn upside down. We fail to fully embrace the path of Jesus because we're afraid the best life is out there, living dangerously, oblivious.

I think Jesus would say to us, "Stop pouting. I've saved you for a better life. The greater joy is life with me."

And if you are in the middle of the lake and your adventure boat has turned over, I have good news for you. Jesus has come for you. His hand is stretched out, ready to pull you to the safety of his grace, to the future he has for you.

Stop pouting. Start following. An overturned boat in the middle of the lake is not God's plan for you.

Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church.