Faith General


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July 2015. Our daughter was engaged. Her fiance, Aaron had never been backpacking before; something my son and I enjoy.  We invited him to our family cottage near the infamous Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario Canada.  Algonquin is three times the size of the State of Rhode Island.  There are over 1500 kilometers of canoe routes and hiking trails. The backcountry has no cell service and no amenities except for well-groomed campsites; which have to be reserved well in advance of the summer adventure season. 

We set our sights on a backcountry hike near Achray. Gear was packed and the three of us ventured out on a 70-kilometer drive to the trailhead. Great weather, perfect Ontario summer day. Stopping along the trail for a light snack, we soon arrived at our designated campsite. It was on a gorgeous cove on the north shore of Stratton Lake.  The lake was calm, like glass. No wind. A large boulder peeked out of the water some 200 feet offshore. 

Stratton Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park

We set up our tents and hammocks. We pumped water out of the lake through our MSR filtration system to refill our Nalgenes. We got our Jetboil started and prepped for supper.  This was the life.  Our future son-in-law was excited for this new adventure; his first time in the great outdoors. 

After supper, Justin decided to shed his shirt and swim out to that boulder.  The shore was quite rocky with similar boulders. Aaron and I were sitting on the shore when I commented, (referring to Justin on the boulder),  “I can do that.”

Stepping into the cold lake water, I shivered some but proceeded to swim.  I’m not the greatest at breaststrokes, so halfway out to Justin I flipped over on my back and started to do backstrokes.  

Suddenly, I felt an extreme constriction in my back and lost all power. I was sinking fast!  I tried to call out Justin’s name but barely had enough voice. 

Quickly, the lake’s surface was at my lips. My mind was racing. I started to swallow water.

“This is it!” I thought.  “Lord Jesus, my life is about to see you!”

I was drowning.  There was nothing I could do.  My life was over.

Out of nowhere, I felt Justin grab me by my armpits and pull me onto the boulder he was sitting on. 

In my mind, I was a hundred feet away from the boulder he was on.

I was as limp as a rag on that rock. 

What just happened?

“Are you alright?”  Aaron yelled from shore.

The next part is a blur. Somehow I got to shore. Justin led me the entire way.  For the next couple of hours, I lie in my hammock and wondered if my life was about to end. 

I was scared. Would I even be able to hike out the next day?

The Cove Where It All Happened

We were too remote to hike out that night for help. In fact, with no cell service, our closest 9-1-1 access would be a 3-hour hike by daylight to the ranger’s station. In the dark, it would take longer. By the time help would arrive it would be sunrise.

We decided to lay low and see how I felt the next morning.

Sunrise in Algonquin is early; usually around 530 am.  I didn’t sleep well. More scared that my body would not handle the 3-hour return hike to the car.  Should they take me to the hospital in Pembroke?  Should we cut our vacation short and drive the 1500 miles back to Wichita?

The false self in me that plagued me since I was a boy was that I was an inconvenience to everyone.  This near-drowning incident would disappoint a lot of people.  

Before my swim

We took it slow hiking back.  It had rained overnight and my hiking boots were worn enough that they didn’t handle smooth wet surfaces well.  I slipped and fell on a log boardwalk. 

The lies spewed out.  “You imbecile, Dave!”  

“Are you ok?” The boys asked.  

For one of the first times I was honest.  “No, I’m not fine.”

Fast-forward. I took it easy the next several days, back at the cottage.  I felt better and we decided to stay the course with vacation at the cottage. 

Back home I saw a cardiologist who started me on months of testing.

In January 2016, three weeks after our daughter’s wedding, I went in for a cardiac catheterization procedure.  My doctor woke me up on the table. “We found the culprit! It’s the widow-maker!”  

My right coronary artery was 95% blocked. My 2mm diameter artery (unusually small due to hereditary), had a clear path of only 0.1mm to push the blood through. Within the week I had quadruple bypass surgery. Life just took a major shift!

My drowning experience in Stratton Lake was caused by the cold lake water affecting my blocked artery. 

Several takeaways from that crisis on Stratton Lake stick with me.

  1. Thankful for a then-future son-in-law who got Justin’s attention on the boulder.
  2. Thankful for my son who saved me from drowning.
  3. Thankful for the doctors who fixed my heart (that is a story for another post).
  4. Thankful for a sweet wife who patiently nursed me to health and walked with me through 2016; a year of struggle and depression.
  5. Thankful for God who held my life in his hands. My fragile life. The God who sustains me.
  6. That drowning incident spurred on a chain of events and a new path of life that led to not only further manhood identity discoveries but also the launch of Mentoring Warriors.
  7. My conversational relationship with Jesus continues to deepen.

I would NEVER wish drowning on anyone, but, frankly, many of us men need a wake-up call. Spiritually, many of us are drowning. We are up to our face in addictions of various kinds to enabling relationships; each a desperate cry for true meaning, true manhood. Without two men with me, I would have died in Stratton Lake. I could never have pulled myself out of that abyss. To think you can pull yourself out is a lie. You are deceiving yourself.

No man truly grows in his manhood journey without iron-sharpening-iron men around him. One of the bravest things you can do is to be courageously vulnerable and cry out for help.

July 25, 2015. The day I drowned but didn’t die. 

A few years later, Our family canoed past that very spot.  I saw the boulder, and the calm water in the cove. The memories of that fateful night.  How could a seemingly pristine lake nearly take my life?

“Jesus, I am alive today because of what you did through my son and son-in-law that summer of 2015.”

Jesus, be present with the men who are drowning right now. Pull them out of their abyss. You are truly our only hope. 

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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