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Today’s unforgettable and true dramatic story about personal revelation will inspire you to more fully follow President Nelson’s plea for us to make this a priority. On the beautiful Mekong River in Southeast Asia, a fun day trip on a boat loaded with 30 children turns into a nightmare as the young, solo captain struggles for his life. Melanie, the only adult on board and responsible for all the children, learned that she could truly trust the Spirit with unique inspiration meant just for her at as the clock ticked towards death and disaster. This life-changing, experience becomes rich fodder for understanding Heavenly Father’s plan for us to implement and understand boundaries for healthy human and family relationships
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Some stories are just too important and too good to keep to yourself! Today’s story, printed from the book Sacred Soul Space by Melanie Tidwell, is one that I personally cherish and have shared numerous times with friends and family. As President Nelson has asked us to hone our personal revelation skills to survive and thrive in the Latter Days, this story exemplifies how personal revelation may seem to be contrary, but is 100% heaven-sent direction for not just ourselves … but also for those we have responsibility for. The entire book is very special to me. Thank you, Melanie, for providing these experiences and perspectives for us all to learn from! It is available at Amazon or learn more by visiting Melanie’s website: melanietidwell.com.
Sacred Soul Space by Melanie Tidwell
Chapter 36: “Appropriate Boundaries Create Integrity” (Rae Shagalove)
From the grand view of the heavens I was just a microscopic speck sitting on a double-decker boat floating down the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. But God could see me and He taught me a profound lesson concerning a vital principle that has been emblazoned on my soul ever since. In March of 1999, I travelled to Cambodia with my husband and two young sons. I was taking them to meet the many incredible people I worked with regarding our humanitarian efforts there. One of our stops was a center for girls who had previously been at risk of being sold into prostitution and slavery but were rescued by the director, a feisty little French woman. The biological mother of one of the girls had recently died. Knowing that we had adopted our two sons, the director approached us and asked if we would be willing to adopt this 10-year-old girl. After prayerful deliberation, our family agreed we would be willing to invite this girl into our home via adoption. She had met me on a previous trip, but this was the first opportunity for her to get to know the rest of the family. We felt like we needed to spend as much time with her as possible so she could become more acquainted with us and make her own decision about joining our family. One day during our stay we hired a boat to take all of the girls on an outing.
With the help of the director who acted as a translator, we negotiated a price with the owner of the boat and then he and his 17-year-old son prepared the vessel for launching. The “dock” consisted of a narrow plank of wood embedded in the muddy bank. Many of the older girls made their perch on the upper level of the boat while the younger ones stayed on the main deck. As the current moved us toward our destination, the younger girls demonstrated their English skills by singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm and You Are My Sunshine. Everyone was energized and happy to be away from the confines of the center.
The Mekong River which extends over 2,700 miles is most unique because it actually reverses its course once a year. For most of the year the Tonle Sap, a combined lake and river system, empties into the Mekong River. However, during the rainy season in June, the Mekong rises reversing its flow and dumps water into the lake, increasing its size ten-fold. When the rainy season ends in November, the Mekong drops and the current resumes its original course emptying the excess waters of Tonle Sap Lake back into the river.90 This natural phenomenon is celebrated in Cambodia with a three-day Water Festival where parades, boat races, and fireworks are a part of the annual commemoration. I have been in Cambodia during the Water Festival and it is quite the spectacle. Although, the current of the river was not due to change the day we were on it, the direction of my perspective would take a dramatic turn through a life-altering piece of personal revelation.
We eventually stopped at an area where it would be safe for 30 children to swim. They had a delightful time cooling off from the Cambodian heat. During the swim break, I realized the owner of the boat was not with us. He had not boarded the vessel, but had turned total responsibility over to his teenage son. I became slightly nervous over this but figured if he got us this far, he could get us back to the starting point. When it was time to return to the dock, we discovered the boat had drifted into a sand bar and would not budge. After about 30 minutes of the boy starting the motor and giving it the gas, we all realized the engine did not have enough power to dislodge the boat from its trap. Eventually my husband, the director of the center, and six of the older teenage girls jumped into the river and lined up on the sandbar. With their combined strength, the boat was eventually freed and everyone cheered.
The young man started the motor and attempted to circle round to retrieve our waterlogged friends who were still in the river after pushing us free from the sandbar. Unfortunately, because of the wind, the current of the river, and the boy’s apprehension of steering the boat back into shallow waters, we were not able to get close enough to pick them up. At this point, the group in the water began to swim toward us. Soon it became apparent the girls were not able to keep up their endurance to span the distance to the boat. My husband and the director were having difficulty keeping them all afloat. Suddenly the cheers from the remaining children on the boat turned into hysterical screams. Some of them seeing their friends were in trouble, prepared to jump into the water to try and save them. Because I could not speak their language, it took all of the energy I had to convince them through the intensity and urgency in my voice things would only get worse if they entered the water.
While I tried to keep order, the boy grabbed as many flotation devices as he could, jumped into the river and delivered them to the tired swimmers. He returned and collected the rest of the flotation devices except for a short styrofoam swim noodle and again transported them to the huddled mass of floating people. Then he immediately did an about-face and began swimming back. Feeling confident no one else was going to jump in, I had stationed myself at the rear of the boat to watch for the boy’s return. I was more than concerned at this point because it was beginning to get dark. As the boy got closer, my anxiety increased even more because I saw he had not kept a flotation device for himself. During the period of time it took to help those in the water, we had drifted even farther and I could tell he was overly fatigued and struggling to make it back safely. I immediately grabbed the miniature swim noodle and started waving it and calling out to him. I hoped he would at least see me and take courage that if he could get close enough, I could pull him in.
If this were a movie, everything at this point would switch to slow motion. The boy’s arms were like waterlogged weights making it nearly impossible for him to raise them above the water’s surface. As my mind raced to make a decision about what to do, I heard the quiet, yet urgent voice of the Spirit repeat over and over, “Stay on the boat.” With every few strokes the boy stopped to try and catch his breath; however, he breathed in more water than air.
“Stay on the boat,” the Spirit cautioned.
“But he’s swallowing water!” I argued.
“Stay on the boat.”
He was making painstakingly slow progress, and I began to doubt his ability to close the gap between himself and the boat before total exhaustion took over. The prompting got louder and more urgent, “Stay on the boat!
“But he is so tired!”I pleaded.
“Stay on the boat!” The Spirit warned.
In an effort to shorten the distance between us, I had anchored one foot on the edge of the boat leaving the other dangling over the water. One hand was gripping a bar and the other was extending the swim noodle—his lifeline if only he could get close enough to grab it. The more the boy struggled the less sense it made for me to stay where I was. As he battled for his life I was having my own internal conflict
“Stay on the boat. Do NOT get in the water!”
“I don’t think he is going to make it! Please dear God, I cannot witness this boy’s death and have the scenario play over and over in my mind for the rest of my life!”
“Stay on the boat. Do NOT get in the water!”
I became acutely aware of the fact I was the only adult left on deck with the remaining children which included my own two sons and our future daughter. Because of the increasing darkness, I could not tell how my husband and the others in the water were faring. I was reminded that I am not a strong swimmer myself and I knew if I were to let go of my hold, jump in, and go after the boy, he might panic even more and overpower me and then we would both be in trouble. So I continued to heed the prompting and strengthened my grip on the rail behind me.
Although the clock ticked off at its normal rate, I felt like I was stuck in an interminable time warp. Finally the boy made it within 10 feet of the swim noodle. I began to feel a sliver of relief. All he had to do was produce one last surge of energy, and then I could do the rest for him. It was at this moment he stopped, put his arms up in the air and quickly sank below the surface of the water. All I could see were bubbles rising to the top. I stopped breathing. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. He had almost made it. It was at this instant I thought, “I MUST jump in before he sinks too far below the surface otherwise he has no chance of surviving.” As I loosened my grip on the bar, the prompting came to me even stronger than before, “Stay on the boat!!! DO NOT GET IN THE WATER!” I could not ignore the urgency and intensity of this prompting. I knew if I did, I would be sorry. So instead of jumping into the river, I filled my lungs with air and began to scream and yell like I had never done before. “Don’t you give up now! Get back here! Don’t you dare do this to me!”
I don’t know if he could hear me below the surface, but somehow he had enough presence of mind to tap into his will to live. I believe a source of strength, divinely bestowed, gave the boy enough power to propel himself to the surface. As he emerged, he lunged toward the swim noodle, grabbed it, and I pulled him in. At this point I had so much adrenalin running through my system, I chased the poor kid up the stairs to the top deck and communicated to him in no uncertain terms he was to turn the boat around and go back for the others. Thankfully we found them, exhausted but safe. After we settled the children and helped two of the girls who had been in the water to stop hyperventilating, we silently made the voyage back to the dock. There was no singing on the return trip, although silent prayers of gratitude rose up from the mighty river that night.
I don’t know for sure what would have happened had I let the compelling nature of this emergency stifle the promptings I was given to stay out of the water. That is something I don’t like to think about. What I DO know for sure is I used my agency to obey the urgent instructions of the Spirit and I was preserved along with rest of our group.
Why do I share such a dramatic scene from my life? This experience taught me in no uncertain terms how vital it is to heed personal revelation. It tested and strengthened my faith in an all-knowing God who can see beyond the parameter of our mortal perceptions. I was coached to preserve and take care of myself so I could be of use in assisting others. I was tutored to make difficult decisions for the greater good in the face of the ultimate mortal consequence of death. Finally, I was guided to draw that boundary line of personal protection which I should not cross despite the decisions and behaviors of others and in the face of circumstances that are beyond my control.
In order to create and maintain healthy emotional space, sometimes it is necessary to set strong boundaries when dealing with toxic people, places, and things. If we don’t, we are at risk of losing our authentic selves and becoming what I call the doormat to the entryway of the world where others are allowed to walk all over us without regard to our own welfare. Nephi describes this unsavory condition where we basically give license to those who “afflict [us]; who have said to [our] soul[s]: Bow down, that we may go over—and thou hast laid thy body as the ground and as the street to them that went over” (2 Nephi 8:23). When we understand the importance of setting boundaries in these situations we are then able to “Awake… put on thy strength… Shake thyself from the dust; arise…loose thyself from the bands of thy neck…”(2 Nephi 8:24–25) and stand our ground to protect ourselves.
Because establishing boundaries can be a difficult endeavor, Heavenly Father has given examples to help us understand circumstances in which this is necessary. If we go back to the Garden of Eden we are reminded a boundary was placed regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Adam and Eve crossed the line by eating the forbidden fruit, another was set concerning the Tree of Life.
Then for the greater good of mankind, they were required to leave the garden and to respect the boundary declared on its border that they would not return for the duration of their mortal lives. As we consider the temples today, a similar boundary is set and unless we meet a certain standard of belief and behavior we are not invited in. Healthy boundaries require a level of respect for ourselves and others and lay the groundwork for loving and supportive relationships. Author Julia Cameron explains it this way:
Teaching those around us what our priorities are—and remembering them ourselves—makes for harmonious relationships. Clarifying ourselves to others brings honest connections that are grounded in mutual respect. Honesty starts with us. Identifying those who habitually abuse our time and energies is pivotal, but identifying them is only step one. Avoiding them is step two, and this is where a lot of us stumble. It is as if we doubt we have the right to tranquility, respect, and good humor. Shouldn’t we really suffer? Shouldn’t we find it more spiritual not to upset the status quo? Artificial acceptance of people and circumstances we resent make us ill tempered.91
In response to a letter she received, newspaper columnist Jeanne Phillips, also known as “Dear Abby” wrote,
“There is truth to the saying that ‘good fences make good neighbors,’ and the philosophy applies to many circumstances. Setting clear boundaries makes for healthier relationships.”
Whether we violate our own boundaries by
permitting toxic people to abuse us, or visit places in our hearts and minds
that sabotage righteous desires, or allow the things of the world to infiltrate
our lives through addictions and false beliefs, problems occur when boundaries
are compromised. The key to this dilemma is determining the optimal space to
put between us and those same people, places, and things. Sometimes that
requires a significantly large, unconventional distance. Throughout history
there are numerous examples of other individuals and communities that were
instructed by divine providence to establish and enforce tough boundaries. For
example, earlier in his life, the prophet Abraham lived with his extended
family in Egypt. Things were dangerous for him there because his father had
become involved in idolatry to the point of participating in human sacrifice.
He even tried to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice. The very first verse in the
book of Abraham says, “In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my
fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of
residence.” Because he was at risk, Abraham had to set a very strong boundary
Through personal revelation Heavenly Father confirmed the need for Abraham to set this boundary by saying, “. . . Abraham, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Abraham 2:3). In Romans we are instructed to “. . . mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). We can likewise advise ourselves to mark the toxic places in our minds and hearts and avoid them.
Just like the grand Mekong River, when the distresses of life swell and threaten to overtake us, one way we can reverse the flow of their effects and create healthy emotional space is to set boundaries. If we find ourselves drowning in the wake of toxic people, places, or things, we can prayerfully seek guidance to establish appropriate boundaries, even if it means we must painfully stand back and watch others swallow the consequences of their own choices. A healthy boundary can provide the optimal environment for us to do the work of forgiveness. It allows us to have the clarity of mind, spirit, and body to pray for divine intervention for ourselves and for those we care about but need protection from. Then if things improve, the boundary can be adjusted so the work of trust and reconciliation can commence.
Note From Carolyn: Thank you, Melanie, for sharing your wisdom and experiences!
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success –She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband Bob, now share My Miracle Detox , at Meridian Magazine on online. It is an herbal detox tonic in keeping with the Word of Wisdom, now used by Meridian readers and missionaries everywhere. CLICK HERE
She is mother of five and the grandmother of a growing number of delightful grandsons and granddaughters and lives with her husband, Bob, in Jackson Tennessee where she serves as an Activity Day leader.