What’s Your Life Preserver Made of?

The Storms of Life

During our time on earth, all of us will suddenly be thrown into stormy emotional seas. As Christians, how do we keep our faith—and our sanity!—when the worst happens?

Stormy sea hitting a family's dock.Sometimes life confronts us with unexpected trauma or loss. A sudden cancer diagnosis. A bad car accident. Financial ruin. A parent’s growing dementia. A loved one’s suicide. A child’s drug addiction. When the waves of grief, anxiety, anger and guilt threaten to drown us, what keeps us afloat?

What is our “life preserver” made of?

A Brief History of Life Vests and Life Preservers

In ancient times, primitive floatation devices could be made out of inflated animal skins or hollow, sealed gourds. In the book of Acts, Paul tells the story of how everyone, including himself, survived a shipwreck.

41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

43 But the centurion…ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land.

44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.   Acts 27:41, 43-44 (NIV)

Near shore, a sailor’s odds of surviving a shipwreck were a little better.

Wine cork on wooden planking.History credits Norwegian seamen as the first to design primitive floatation devices consisting of cork or wood blocks. In 1854, Captain John Ward created the first modern life jacket—a cork vest—used by English lifeboat crews.

In 1928, an American named Peter Markus patented the first inflatable life preserver. An avid fisherman, he realized some of his fellow sportsmen refused to wear the bulky cork life vest because it restricted arm movement, only to drown during boating accidents. Markus invented a lightweight rubberized life preserver everyone would wear. Deflated, it weighed less than two pounds and lay almost flat against the chest. Two pull cords inflated the air pockets with carbon dioxide gas, giving a drowning person instant buoyancy. A Navy captain witnessed a demonstration at a sports equipment show and quickly realized how useful Markus’ invention could be to the military. A few years later, allied flight crews during World War II affectionately nicknamed their inflatable life preservers “Mae Wests.” Today, all commercial airlines carry inflatable vests, very similar to Markus’ original patent.

Our modern life preservers first appeared in the 1960s. Synthetic foam provided a lightweight, durable alternative to either cork or gas.

Criteria for a Good Personal Floatation Device

Regardless of what it’s made of, any floatation device has to do five things well:

  • Float on top of the water, even in the roughest seas.
  • Be waterproof—a life preserver or vest which loses its buoyancy is useless.
  • Keep the person’s head above the water, even when they’re unconscious.
  • Securely fasten to the person’s body,
  • Not ever leak or rupture.
A Christian’s Survival Gear in Stormy Emotional Seas

Little dog in yellow life vest coming out of the surf beside his master.When life suddenly pitches us into ‘turbulent seas’ of pain and desperation, Christians have several resources non-Christians don’t. One resource we sometimes undervalue is our local church fellowship.

We may start going to a church because of an interesting preacher or the great worship. But if our church experience only consists of Sunday morning, we are missing out on a wonderful Christian support system, which God meant us to have.

A good fellowship invites people to become part of a loving, generous, supportive church family. This happens when we become inner-connected in other people in the church.

Are you involved in:

  • Ministry opportunities?
  • Bible studies?
  • Fun social events?
  • Are some people within your fellowship starting to know you well?
  • Church retreats?
  • Outreaches?

A good church has a healthy amount of compassion flowing among all the Christian members.

My family recently started going to a new church and like so many Americans, we’re busy people. But my husband and I know the value of getting connected. We’ve started to weave ourselves into our new community by helping out, joining a small group, sharing our lives and ministering. We’re putting down roots in our new church home.

So What’s Your Life Preserver Made of?

So what’s your life preserver made of? You can fill it with anything you like.

For instance, you can fill your life preserver with iron determination and self-sufficiency.

A navy man on a scaffold painting a ship's anchor several times his size.

  • “I don’t have time to get involved in the church–I’m too busy.”
  • “We’re a strong, independent couple–we’ll supply everything our family needs.”
  • “I’m not much into all that mercy stuff–that’s not my gift.”

It’s easy to fill your life preserver with other things. But of course, then it’s not a life-preserver—it’s an anchor. And an anchor has never saved a drowning man yet.

All images are by Pixabay.com except the dog, which was from Morguefile.com.


Pieces of bark from the Cork Oak tree, displaying the inner layer of cork.The Cork Oak tree grows on Mediterranean Sea coasts and is the source of all our cork products, including wine corks. This specialized tree creates a cellular cork layer underneath the outer bark, which protects the delicate inner bark. The cork cells resist rot, fire and termites, are water resistant and float.

This image displays the thick cork layer beneath the outer bark. For more information about the Cork Oak, click here.

My historical information comes from three sources:

  • The Wikipedia entry, “Personal Flotation Device”. Click here to read the whole article.
  • A USA Today article titled “The History of Life Preservers.” Click here.
  • An America Comes Alive.com article called “Mae West Life Preserver: Countless Owe Lives to It.” Click here to read the whole story.

Author’s note: According to dictionary.com both “floatation” and “flotation” are correct spellings.


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