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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Salvation, not Tragedy (but almost)

An instant is all it takes to radically change the course of a life, or lives. A nanosecond. One slip.

How will I sleep tonight? The world has not stopped rocking since 2:00pm this afternoon, when everything slid sideways and almost slipped away. This was almost a story of tragedy. I cannot even get my mind to wrap around how tragic it almost was, and if I venture there at all, I am still, almost eight hours later, overcome by trembling that comes from inside somewhere I can't identify. Everything hurts as a result--my head, my jaws, my biceps. Too tightly clenched to keep out the possibility of the reality that almost was.

And yet, this is a story of salvation, not tragedy. I must get that reality to latch on. It wasn't what it could have been.

I cannot bear to relive it all right now to tell it, but compiled here is the content of two email conversations and a face-to-face conversation with one person who was able to rush to me in person and catch me before I blew apart. All happened this afternoon, one with my pastor and the final with another friend who knows well how to bear burden with genuine empathy.

Dear Pastor D:
I am home right now with all four girls, and we are safe and sound. But we had a near tragedy today, and by God's mercy (and I'm not even exactly sure how) we are alive and no one is physically hurt.

My phone is dead from being submerged, so email is the only way I have to communicate right now.

It was interesting that you talked about hikes and waterfalls today. Just this week, Jill (the littlest girl) told me she wanted to see waterfalls. I had not taken them hiking at all this summer, so we planned to go to Dupont after church today. We also had two of Emma's friends from her cross country team with us, Brittainy and Emily.

We talked about your sermon while we had a really quick picnic in the pavilion area at church and then went out to Dupont. When Jill saw Triple Falls, she was ecstatic and even more excited about the people walking around on the big, flat rock area at the midpoint. She wanted to go there. I was likewise excited about her excitement, so we all went down the many steps and out onto the open rock area.

We read the sign that said "no swimming or wading," and everyone understood it. But even so, in just an instant, Jill, the baby, went to sit down on the rock near the water--not even at the edge. The water must have been higher very recently, because the rock was slimy and wet and she immediately slid INTO the water. I was only an arm length's from her, but the water took her too fast for me to grab her. I had to jump in. I managed to grab her and literally hurl her back toward the rock plateau where the four bigger girls (Brittainy, Emma, Jane, and Emily) had already gotten down flat on their stomachs and were reaching for her. Emily was able to reach Jill's hand and pull her out, but I couldn't get back. The water was pulling me away and though it wasn't deep, it was slightly inclined and completely slimy and slippery. I honestly thought I was going to die with my girls' hands outstretched trying to reach me.

But Emma and Brittainy made a chain and Brittainy came in after me. She was able to grab my jacket sleeve and pull that much into Emma's reach. Emma held us both until a woman we didn't know appeared and pulled me in, so Emma could get Britt back up.

The girls all seem to be doing OK. We are all alive and lost only a phone and have some skinned knees. But I am shaken to the core and can't yet even grasp how close it was, nor shake the image of my baby with one arm out to me, crying, "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" while being pulled out of reach.

Brittainy's mom met us back at the church parking lot to pick her up. I was honestly praying that maybe somebody would be there then, somebody I could just share the experience with, but no one was. I did tell Britt's mom, and she was wonderful and prayed with us all and even said she was glad Britt was there to help because my little ones would not have been able to make and hold the chain to get me out.

I don't know what we need, if anything really, other than prayer to settle us again, for us to see God's provision and rescue and not just the horror and fear. I just really needed to have the story told, I guess. I still feel like I might break apart into a million pieces, thinking how close we were to losing that little girl, and how close it was for me, and how at risk Brittainy was, and the other girls trying to reach me but not sure whether I was going to be OK. 

My friend said to try to focus on the image of God pulling us from the water, and I am trying. But the whole thing is too vivid, and this existence too precarious. When I sit still, the trembling begins again. My friend says it won't always be this vivid. I hope that is correct, except that then, am I walking blindly again into purposeful obliviousness about this unsettled peril of living? Annie Dillard said that if we could even begin to grasp who God really is, then we should never enter his presence without crash helmets on.

How will I sleep tonight? When I try, in a few moments, I will go get the little one and bring her in with me. Just the last hour apart from her has been almost more than I can bear.

When each girl was a newborn, I sticky-tacked an index card to the wall next to the head of my bed with Psalm 4: 8 on it: I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, cause me to dwell in safety.

Tonight I am not sure what that peace is, exactly. But I know it is true that You Alone, O LORD, cause me to dwell in safety. I can do no thing at all to contribute to this, it seems.

And I am staggered by the weight of that truth and that mercy.