Spring was just getting underway, with trees starting to green, daffodils fluttering in a light breeze. The water seemed clear and certainly abundant after recent rains. As we floated away from shore, I remember thinking how very pleasant it all was, ideal. Everything seemed so beautiful, RIGHT WITH THE WORLD. The current moved us steadily but gently so we could take it all in, and bask in the loveliness of the moment. Almost imperceptibly at first, we moved along a bit faster, and then, from out of nowhere, we had entered white water. Up ahead I could see my dad and brother – they seemed to be working very hard at rowing. They went around a large knarled tree in the middle of the river, and then I could barely see them through the branches of the tree as it loomed larger in front of us.
My mom yelled to me to paddle hard on the left side, which I did as frantically as I could muster. In the meantime, she kept steering. She had shown me a few techniques of steering earlier, and I knew she must be doing all the right things. The problem was, the river was stronger. It seemed to know where it was going. It had a life and energy of its own – a wild, driven, relentless, insistent, consuming, supreme energy. I kept thinking that my mom’s steering and my paddling would somehow kick in – all our hard work I prayed would change the course of our canoe against the force of the current. But then came the moment when I knew, we would not be diverted from disaster. With me at the front of the canoe, we crashed violently into the center trunk of the tree. My mom would later say it was surreal, and she watched the water rise up on me to the top of my head, and then, the capsize.
Wearing a heavy coat, it took me a few seconds to emerge, then grasp onto a trunk of the tree. My mom had emerged first and there we were, in the frigid water, being continually battered into the tree trunk by the raging current. The canoe and paddles long gone, we clung to the tree and tried to figure out what to do. There were no other canoes out that day, and we were surprised to see my dad and brother appear on the shore. They had seen the canoe, surmised what had happened. Then ensued a brief discussion between mom and dad, shouting back and forth to be heard over the raging water. Dad wanted to jump in and get us. My mom said no, he would just get caught out there with us. He stood there, helpless. He knew she was right.
Then she turned to me and said something utterly preposterous. She said we needed to swim down, through the branches under the tree, and once we emerged, the river would carry us to the shore. I was shocked at the idea, doubted very much it would work, felt totally unprepared to do that – the cold was making it hard to move at all, the weight of my hair which I wore below my waist kept getting caught on the tree trunk, and the coat restricted movement. I was tired, and scared, and I couldn’t envision this thing my mom was proposing. I said, Mom, I don’t think I can do it. I can’t do it, I’ll get trapped down there. I can’t do it. You go, I’ll just wait here.”
Then she said with utter calm, and my mother was not a calm person, “It’s the only way. We’re going to be fine. I will hold your hand. We’ll go together the whole way.” “But mom,” I protested, “you know I can’t open my eyes under the water. I wouldn’t be able to see any opening, if there was one, to come up through!” Ignoring me, she tucked my hair in my coat, tied the hood, and said, “I’ll count to three. Take a deep breath on three and hold my hand.” With no time left it seemed, to argue, debate or delay, on three I took the deep breath and, letting go of the tree branch, the current pulled us down fast, into murky, icy darkness. There was no light, no warmth, nothing left, except her hand, tightly around mine, and the feeling of branches touching me all around. With my one hand and feet, I kept pushing through branches. And suddenly, we were moving upward. I could open my eyes with my head out of the water and take a gulp of air, as the current moved us beyond the tree, and we swam as the current carried us beyond that section of the river, finally delivering us to shore.
The path of life is full of twists and turns. Sometimes we’re in a patch that’s bright, serene, and oh, so pleasant. An oasis. We rejoice and savor these moments. In these moments we can see the light, feel the warmth and touch of God on our lives. Our senses are attuned to God all around us. Praise God for the many moments we have all experienced like this, when ALL IS WELL.
Because life can suddenly turn upside down and inside out, can’t it? A violent current may rise up, out of the blue and change everything. The people in Houston, TX know about that. Our own church and community know that, as we celebrated the life of Jeff Czapla in the midst of his sudden, unexpected, passing.
What if you come upon a patch in life where you have lost something, somebody, or maybe everything that is precious to you, you don’t understand why, and you know life will never be the same? What happens when you can’t think of any way to proceed that will work out? Or maybe the mere thought of any kind of action exhausts you. What if the vase of your life is not just broken. It is a pile of slivers? How do you piece that back together?
Isn’t it interesting that, in order to get to the safety of the shore, we may not get there directly. It may get darker, murkier, before it gets brighter. We may feel God doesn’t hear us, doesn’t care, when in fact, part of the journey to salvation, wholeness and newness of life takes us down under. This is never our preference of course – we think we know what we want to happen, how things can be redeemed and we pray for it. Yet God may have other plans. And if God does take us or allow the darkest path we can imagine to emerge, there may be no warmth, no light to be witnessed. It may be very dark and scary down there. It may even seem to be far away from God.
But here’s what I want you to know:
God has not deserted you. In these times, we choose to go, not by what we feel, but what we know. God is with us. God has a plan. We are not separated from God or God’s love. God’s love is as operative in our lives as the highest point in our lives when we never doubted it. God asks us to trust Him, to continue to express faith through praise, through words that we say to ourselves and to others about our situation.
Be encouraged. God is for you. Even if you come to a place where you think all is lost, and the stream of life has taken you down to the darkest depths. Hold onto God’s hand and don’t let go. God will lead you. God will carry you.
Remember the inspirational poem, Footprints:
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you."
So, whether your life is in a pleasant stretch, a ho-hum holding pattern, a desert that seems to have you going around in circles, or a great roaring rush of water that has swept you away and down under, God, and God’s unfailing love, is with you. God holds your hand and mine, and in the tumult God’s arms enfold us.
God our Heavenly Father, God our Heavenly Mother, can make a way through a wilderness, turn sorrow into joy, and turn doubt into fervent hope, and create a gorgeous vase from shreds and slivers. There is no circumstance, no situation that can crush you. We are children of God, formed from love and made to go through life with the Master of the Universe, who holds us in the palm of His hand. Knowing this, we can truly say, in all circumstances, now and forever, come what may, ALL IS WELL, WITH MY SOUL. Amen.