Friend to Friend

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“Friend to Friend,” Liahona, Feb. 1999, 2

Friend to Friend

In June 1972, Sister Nelson and I decided to take our family on a rafting trip down the Colorado River. We thought it would be fun to be together for a week, and we were told the water level was low, so we believed it would be safe. We had no idea how dangerous the trip would turn out to be!

Our youngest child was only four months old then, so we left him with relatives and went with our nine daughters and one son-in-law. On the second day of the trip, as we started to go over the Horn Creek rapids, we suddenly saw a drop ahead that seemed to be the depth of a several-story building. These precious people in my family were about to drop down a waterfall in a small rubber raft, and I was frightened! By instinct I let go of the rope in the raft and protectively put one arm around my wife and the other around our youngest daughter, Marjorie, who was not quite seven years old.

I was sitting in the back of the raft, and as we hit the rapids, I was thrown into the air. I landed in the water, and each time I tried to reach the surface, I found myself trapped underneath the raft. I was tossed about by the water like an egg in an eggbeater, and I had no air and nearly drowned. My family couldn’t see me, but I could hear them shouting, “Daddy! Daddy! Where’s Daddy?”

I finally came to the surface, and my family was able to drag me, exhausted, out of the water. They were relieved to see me—and I was certainly glad to see them!

The next several days we went over rapids that were much calmer. Then toward the end of the trip, we approached rapids that were much more difficult than any we had previously gone through.

We decided to have a family council, so we stopped the raft by the side of the river. We knew we had to have a plan if we were going to live through this experience. I was so worried about the safety of my family that if there had been a way to end the trip right then, I would have done it. But there was no other way to get to our destination or to return to where we had started.

I said to my family, “The only way we can make it through these rapids is to understand that the raft will make it through no matter what, because it will float. So if we hold on to the rope on the raft with all our strength, we will make it through the rapids. Even if the raft flips over, we will make it.”

I turned to my littlest daughter. “Marjorie,” I told her, “you will need to hold on to your daddy. Get behind me and put your arms around me and hold on tight!”

We went through the terrifying experience of going down those steep, rough rapids where, as we later learned, people had lost their lives in the past—and we made it.

A lesson we all learned from that trip is that we need to learn as much as we can before we begin new experiences. If they are dangerous—even life-threatening, as ours was—we should avoid them if possible. If avoiding a dangerous situation is not possible, we can be sure that we are prepared.

Another lesson we learned is that there is a right way and a wrong way to go through the dangerous rapids of life. The wrong way is to react by instinct and do what immediately comes to mind, like when I let go of the rope and was flipped out of the raft. The right way is for parents to cling to the iron rod of the gospel and for children to cling to their parents and their leadership, like Marjorie clung to me. Then they will all make it through the rough water.

My wife and I have tried to cling to the iron rod of the gospel and have taught our children to cling to us as they, too, learn to hold on to the iron rod. If you will hang on to the gospel and to the counsel of your righteous parents, you will make it through any trouble in life.

Above: Elder Nelson at age 2 and age 5. Right: Elder Nelson and his wife, Dantzel, on their wedding day.

Above: Elder and Sister Nelson with their nine daughters and one son.

Illustrated by Scott Greer