This spring the men of the church planned a campout and a canoe trip for Fathers and sons. God has given me four sons. I didn’t want to leave any of them, but little Wes was far too small. Dan is six and he was eager to go. Chuck is twelve and Kyle is sixteen. We loaded our SUV with tent and gear and fell into the formation with the others guys from the church made the trip north through a beautiful stretch of National forest. It was a mellow spring evening and the dogwoods were in full bloom where the petals just lay open on each stem in brilliant white against the dark green of the pines. The deciduous trees were just starting to bud in pale green. With every mile I left behind more of what had burdened me throughout the day and by the time we were about thirty minutes north of town I was beginning to feel refreshment in my spirit.
We set up camp next the swift running Pine River. It was musical and relaxing especially after we had eaten and were all gathered around the fire. I played the guitar and led the men in some worship songs. The hearts of the men were open and a number of them spoke of the work of God in their lives and of their dreams and fears and their love for God. There was a nearly full moon overhead and you could see it through the branches of the tress. The setting was perfect for story telling. I wove a tale for the men and their sons that reminded them to never let anything come between them and their fathers or sons and never to allow anything to come between them and their heavenly Father. Then we all stared quietly into the fire for another hour or so.
We rolled out our beds and drifted off to sleep listening to the River rush by. I hoped that it wasn’t running too fast for the many inexperienced canoeists we had in our group.
We slept well and ate well and headed for our launch point. I loaned Kyle, our oldest to a friend who’s son was very young. Chuck and Dan and I shared a canoe. The morning was perfect, but the river was a challenge. It was still early in the spring and the water was running cold, deep and fast. There were many obstacles in the river, rocks and fallen logs. Some of the canoes were not on the water long before they failed to negotiate a turn and dumped their passengers and their contents into the cold water. We did what we could to help people salvage stray paddles and lunch. We laughed as we fished a large bag of Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos out of the stream.
I was glad I had some experience in a canoe. The water was cold and deep in places and Daniel didn’t swim. Just before we reached the lunch take out we were pulled into a submerged log and our boat flipped. We all plunged into ice-cold water. I grabbed little Danny and tried to hold him high. He was panicked. Chuck could take care of himself, he floated downstream a little ways and waded to shore. The Canoe upside down and caught in a swift current shot around a bend and out of site. We were stranded. We walked down-river a few hundred yards and saw our canoe lodged against a log on the other side. The water was too deep and the current far to fast to wade across especially with little Danny, but another canoeist saw our predicament and lashed our canoe to his and brought it across to us. About thirty minutes after we dumped we drifted up to our lunch point. The others in the party had grown concerned because they saw articles from our boat float past but we hadn’t surfaced yet.
We dried off in the sun and ate a good lunch. I was a little apprehensive about getting back on the river. I made up my mind to try to get in front so if we had trouble there would be others there to help us. As we passed others I keep count. There were about twelve canoes in our group and we passed eight of them before we capsized again.
This time we were in real trouble. I immediately realized the water was over my head. Chuck bobbed to the surface and began to scream, “Where’s Danny, Where’s Danny.” The Canoe flipped and Danny surfaced under the canoe. I had to swim hard to stay afloat. I was fully clothed with shoes on. I pulled Danny from under the canoe and clutched a log. The current thundered against me and I had to hang on with all my strength to keep from getting pulled into the river away from Danny. I held desperately on to Danny’s vest and threw him over the log. We were in the middle of the river.
Others saw our trouble and immediately came to help us. One man rescued Danny and put him in his canoe. I was relieved beyond words when I knew he was safe. I drifted with the canoe to a shallow spot and began to fight the current to empty the canoe of water and right it. I was shaken, but in my pride I didn’t want it to show. The whole party beached their canoes and helped us recover. One of the men took off his shirt and gave it to Danny who stood shivering on the bank. Another toweled him off and put a sweatshirt over that. He was warm and dry in minutes. I stood by and tried not to show how upset and insecure it made me feel. I didn’t look forward to getting back in the canoe. While I stood on the bank drying off in the sun, one of the men, Dave walked over and quietly patted me on the back a couple times. As much as I tried to hide it he could tell I was upset. His gesture warmed me more than the sun on my back. We finished the trip without any more trouble and I was relieved to get my boys safely out of the water.
When the trip was over and I had time to reflect, I wondered what would have happened if we had been alone on the river. Without help I doubt if we could have made it in. If we didn’t drown we would have had to hike out and get a ride back without our canoe or our gear. I wondered how I would have gotten Danny off the log in the middle of the river. It was so good to have good men there to help you when you were in danger. Experienced men. Kind men. Compassionate men. I’m so glad I’m not alone on the river of life. God, in His mercy, has placed others along the way to help me and me to help them.
Last night was cold and clear. I was driving alone through the night. Driving down an old familiar stretch of road I remembered a frigid morning along that same stretch of road a few years ago. I was driving a car that was new to me. It was very early in the morning and I was eager for the car to warm up and looking forward to wrapping my hands around the free cup of coffee they would give me when I gassed up out on the Interstate. It was unusually cold the kind of morning you feel like getting to work is a struggle for survival against the elements.
Suddenly the engine sputtered and died. Out of gas. “Deceptive gauge,” I thought. I coasted to the side of the read and braced myself for a very cold walk. I wished I had brought a warmer coat, hat and gloves. Then I smiled. My younger brothers, Kevin and Nathan commuted to work along this same stretch of road. They would have to pass this spot within fifteen minutes riding to work together. The thought warmed and relieved me.
In a few minutes their little car came purring down the road and I stuck out my thumb. They pulled alongside and rolled down the window. “Did you forget to buy gas,” Nate teased, “for twenty buck we’ll take you to get some.”
In a little while I waved good-bye to my dear little brothers and was warm and secure feeling the heart warm my feet, listening to news on the radio.
It’s nice to know that because of Jesus, no matter how dark and cold the night is, no matter how lonely or frightened or vulnerable we become, no matter what bad things happen to us, if we trust the Lord and wait patiently, help is on the way.
We have brothers out there somewhere in the darkness and we are travelling the same road. We have the same Father. That is a comforting thought.