Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Yesterday, I took the kids fishing at Watertown Lake. Like all the lakes here in north Florida its waters are dark as molasses. They say it’s from all of the tannic acid in the oaks. I think it’s beautiful- like a tea that has been steeping for a thousand years. The lake has a long, L-shaped fishing pier that goes out beyond its weedy fringes into deeper water, and after the kids spilled out of the van, Bowden led the charge, clomping out over its rough wooden boards. He ran the length of the pier, with his younger siblings trailing out behind him like a sled dog team.

I watched as he baited his hook and expertly cast a line into the water. His younger siblings also watched, and then they came running back to me clamoring for their own rods, which I had been carrying for them. I had set up shop near the middle of the pier. Lucy moved a few yards off to my left and gave her new fishing rod, a Christmas gift, its inaugural cast.  I was busy untangling Jack and Miles’ fishing rods and baiting their hooks while they peered over the side of the dock looking for “alligator bubbles.” Going fishing with small children requires a lot of patience. Their lines are forever getting tangled, and they can't bait a hook or cast or wait patiently. Basically, they can't fish. Fishing with little kids is really more of an investment in the future. The hope is that they will grow up loving fishing with Dad and that when they are older it will become something for me to do with them. Perhaps one day fishing will provide us with regular opportunities to talk in an unforced and natural way. I am already strategically approaching their teenage years. I had finally gotten their lines untangled and was busily baiting their hooks when I heard our littlest, Miles (4 years old), say something about “bubbles.” I looked up just in time to see him slip head-first off the side of the pier into 10 feet of coffee-black water.

Jack instantly began shrieking at the top of his lungs, “He fell in! He fell in!” while jumping up and down in a tearful frenzy of fear and desperation. Lucy dropped her rod and yelled, “Daddy! Daddy!” A woman, who was also fishing just a few yards to my left and who had also seen Miles fall in, cried out “O, dear Lord, have mercy.” The black water suddenly looked sinister as it swallowed Miles up. As quick as you can say “take your I-phone out of your pocket,” I jumped into the lake after him. As I cleared the side of the dock I caught a glimpse of Miles struggling near the surface. The adrenaline took over completely. I didn’t feel the cold of the water or the weight of my clothes. In that moment I existed for just one purpose. I found him in the water and lifted him up to the waiting arms of the woman who was reaching over the edge of the dock 3 feet above me. With the help of another man who had also been fishing nearby they hefted Miles back up onto the fishing pier. By the time I had regained the pier myself, Sarah had already whisked Miles away to the van where he was being dried off and wrapped in a blanket. A toothless man congratulated me on having the presence of mind to take my I-phone out of my pocket before jumping in. My heart threatened to beat right out of my chest. I went back to fishing.
But later that night, after I had put the kids to bed, I opened the book I was reading and found a bookmark that Miles had made for me earlier that morning. He had drawn a cross on a piece of paper and had proudly presented it to me. “The cross stands for Jesus,” he had explained. “You can use it for a bookmark if you want.” My heart ached as my mind filled with dread at the thought of what could have been. Then it flooded with relief that Miles was tucked safely into his bed down the hall. It felt like when you wake up from a nightmare and for a few moments you are not sure which world is real.

What if he had died? What if I had been on another part of the pier? What if nobody had seen him fall in? What if? That was too terrible a thought to entertain, and too ugly to look at for long. If Miles had died yesterday I’m not sure I would have had it in me to come back to the house. I would have wanted to seal the place off and never go there again. I can’t imagine the pain of seeing his bath toys gathered quietly near the drain, or his pajamas hanging out of the side of the hamper, or the spot near the front door where he had scribbled on the wall, or that bookmark he had given me. My life came all too close to being divided into before and after we went to that lake. Fragile.
On Sunday, a friend of mine lost his 23 year old son who died unexpectedly following an accident. I called him this morning to see how he was doing, and he said “About like you would imagine.” Even if I could imagine I'm not sure I wanted to. That reality is too horrible to look at for long. I thought of Miles. Today my friend was planning to drive over to his son’s apartment to go through his belongings and start cleaning the place out. Before hanging up I promised to pray for him. As I did I couldn’t help crying for my friend and his horrible loss. His task today was going to take a lot of strength. “Lord, surprise him with the goodness of your presence," I prayed, "For Your glory and for Your name’s sake work this for good.”  

The Lord has promised a day when there will be no more crying or pain, no more death. He always keeps his promises. Sometimes we grow too fond of this world. Our eyes grow too accustomed to the dark, but today I lived and walked in the hope of His return. O, Lord, come!


Steve said...

Fantastic post. Thanks for it.

Michael Jordan said...

a Houghton student died in December, a Roman Catholic student. I was talking with the person who heads up the Catholic campus ministry, and I said essentially what you did, that I couldn't imagine such pain, that it would be too much for me. She said, "That's why you have to give them up in prayer every day. They're not really yours." I think she was right but I'm too afraid to think about it closely.