Thursday, July 7, 2011

The boat.

Friends, I will admit this was a tough one to write. I have been telling this story in my head for about 10 days and honestly, it was not easy to put into words. I believe we endure trials not only because it strengthens our character, but also because we can share the story with others...

Imagine, you are in a foreign country. You don’t really speak the language but the people are friendly and you are overcome with how beautiful it is. Pictures don’t do it justice.

In this foreign country the ocean is near. The Pacific. You feel your vacation doesn’t really start until your feet are touching the salty water.

In the morning you play on the beach. It is deserted. There are butterflies flitting over your head, the waves are crashing against your legs, your suit is full of sand and you can’t believe you are finally, after all this time, here.

In the evening you get on a boat. Sightseeing, of course, at sunset. You have to walk through the water to climb on, because there is no dock. After all, this is a foreign country and they do things differently here.

As the boat takes off you notice the waves are choppy. The boat rocks back and forth and it’s not as comfortable as you thought it would be. It is small. And, there is no upper deck like you had been told. You know things can get lost in translation so instead you focus on the green hills in the distance. They are beautiful.

After awhile you see something in the water. Sea turtles. They are mating. You can’t believe you are actually witnessing this, a miracle of nature that you only read about in the encyclopedia.

The men driving the boat stopped the motor so you wouldn’t disturb the turtles. After the boat is past the turtles, the motor won’t restart. So the boat drifts along, past a sandy beach and closer to some rocks. It is quiet except for tink, tink, tink, tink, tink as they try to get the motor going. You try to focus on the green hills in the distance, although you notice that the wind has picked up and the clouds are building over your head.

Time goes by. They drop the anchor to keep your boat from drifting too close to the rocks. Sprinkles of rain hit your knees and you wonder how long you will have to sit here before the motor will be fixed. You are nervous and try not to show it, though if someone looked at your face closely they would see the concern building in your eyes.

Things get more frantic. The boat is getting closer to the rocks and you can hear the waves crashing against them. It is not a gentle sound. The men on the boat are acting more frantically, too. They are trying to get the anchor set along the ocean floor to keep the boat away from the rocks. One is pulling with all of his might against the anchor’s line, the other dons snorkel gear. And then dives in.

He dives down, moves the anchor. He surfaces, and catches his breath. Then the other man pulls the rope taut and the boat shifts a few inches in the water. The rain is coming down harder now and you are wet. But you don’t notice, because you are too busy watching the men perform this back-and-forth dance, dive-surface-breathe-pull. Dive-surface-breathe-pull.

You look behind you and the rocks are so close. They are sharp and slick and would not be a forgiving surface, were the boat to come too close. You are scared but still try not to show it.

Now, imagine you are a child on this boat. You might be six, or nine, or eleven. You are so scared that you are crying. You hear one of the men ask your daddy to jump into the water, to help move the anchor. Dive-surface-breathe-pull. You are terrified that he will not surface if he helps. You cry out and say, no daddy, don’t help! Please stay in the boat!

Imagine you are the daddy. You have been asked to help save this boat from the rocks and you will do all you can to help your family. But when you hear the cries of your children, you stop and reconsider. You say no, please, the children are too afraid for me to go. You look back at the rocks and wonder how the boat is staying away in the wind, the rain, and the choppy darkening sea.

Imagine now you are the mother of this family in peril. Your grip tightens around your children. Fear can clearly be read in your eyes, in the furrows on your brow, in the thin tight line of your lips. You hear the cries of your children and you hear your husband be asked to jump into the water. You silently say, no, please, don’t get in the water. Stay in the boat with the rest of us because you are terrified that he might not surface.

As the mother, you have to say something and through it all you have tried to explain that the motor doesn’t work and the men are trying to pull the boat to safety. Your grip is a vice on their thin arms. You hear the men say, the radio no work. You understand they do not have a phone and you are acutely aware there are no houses, no boats nor people anywhere. You are desperately alone. Your children are crying in earnest and it is all you can do to keep from crying, too. They ask you, mommy, what can we do?

Good question.

You answer, pray.

Just pray.

Dear Jesus, save us.

Your stomach drops as one of the men begins to pull life jackets from a compartment on the boat. He pulls out one, two. No more. You are shaking as you pull it over one child’s head and have to tie the strap in a knot because there is no buckle. You put the second one over your smallest child’s head…that one has no strap at all. It is only foam hanging loosely around her neck. You hear the man say in broken words that there are no more life jackets. There are seven people on board, but only two jackets.

The motor is broken. The radio is dead. The boat is barely anchored only yards away from slippery, sharp rocks that would surely cause damage to the boat, to bodies. There are not enough life jackets, and then one of the men says something that causes you to say oh, dear God.

He says to your husband, I’m sorry sir, but we’re going to have to swim.

As in, swim the children one by one through the open water and onto the slippery, sharp rocks. Swim you onto the rocks next. Then, if he's not too tired, get himself onto the rocks too. Then what? You don’t believe your children could navigate those rocks on foot. And even if they could, where would you go?

Your children continue to cry. They say they don’t want to die. They don’t want you or their daddy to die. They want to go home. And you wonder what it might be like to have a child drown. You try desperately not to cry. So you tell them, just pray.

You have them bow their head and fold their hands. You pray to Jesus. Please send help. Please save us. Please keep daddy safe and help these men and keep the boat away from the rocks and let it stop raining.

Please save us.

Your husband takes off his hat and shoes and begins to don snorkel gear and flippers. He will save his family.

But the fear can be read in his eyes, too.

Then, in the rain and the wind and over the crashing of the waves the Lord begins to answer your prayer. He whispers in your husband’s ear, have them test it first.

So your husband tells the men to go test the waters. Swim to the rocks and see if it would be safe before any children get pulled into the darkening sea.

One of the men listens, and swims to the rocks. He looks so small in the water. He comes back, breathless, and talks to the other man in a language you can’t understand.

The Lord is still working. His hand is in the middle of this and you know that but it is so hard because you are so scared. He whispers again to your husband, ask them to go for help. In his broken language he tells the Lord’s message to the men, get help. You swim to shore and get help. We will stay safe on the boat and wait.

The man agrees. It is so hard to watch him swim to shore and know that he is safe and you are not. You see him skim across the rocks in his bare feet. He is so good at it and he goes so quickly. Your husband sees him running farther up the shoreline, then out of sight.

It is dusk and the rain is now a downpour. You are soaked, and chilled, and trembling. You have not released your grip on your children who continue to cry. The other man, the one on the boat, finds a tarp and covers the children with it. Small mercies.

You all shift your positions a few times to shelter from the rain. You are thankful for hats that can shield your face. You pray silently in your head, please save us. Please save us. Please. Save. Us.

You look back and you see that the boat is farther away from the rocks. It’s like Jesus is in the water, guiding the boat with his hands. And He’s holding it steady, away from danger. You know Jesus is near you because you have no other hope but in Him.

Time goes by. The rain continues but you are used to it by now and you know it is one of your lesser concerns. You watch the horizon, where the sun is setting behind a haze of clouds, and wonder if a boat will come. You think you see something but you don’t. You shift around again and wonder when the nightmare will end.

Your prayer to Jesus is a mantra in your head. You know He is holding the boat away from the rocks and you know that he is the Savior not only of the dead, but of the living as well. Your hope in Him is the only light you can see by.

And then. A boat! The promise of safety! It is a small blur on the horizon that grows larger in the darkening night. Slowly, so slowly. But it is coming and you thank Jesus, thank you, for the man who went for help and sent a boat. Thank you for saving us.

You help your children climb into the new boat and help them stay safe among the knives and heavy anchors rattling on the floor and the dark men that all speak a language you don’t understand. You hope they know Jesus, too. You endure the ride back to shore while thinking this isn’t over until it’s over.

Finally, land. Your children are lifted onto shore by the dark men and you are helped, stumbling, through the water and onto the rocks where you climb, still trembling, to the van with blazing lights that is waiting to drive you away from this place.

In the van you weep. It is your turn now. Your hand clutches your husband’s hand. You can tell he wondered about the same things you did while on the boat. You are grateful that he was so willing to get in the water. You are grateful that his prayers echoed yours. You are grateful for your Savior, who heard your cries and came to your rescue.

Falling on my knees in worship
Giving all I am to seek your face
Lord all I am is yours
My whole life
I place in your hands
God of Mercy
Humbled I bow down
In your presence at your throne
I called you answered
And you came to my rescue and I
I want to be where you are
In my life be lifted high
In our world be lifted high
In our love be lifted high


Sherilyn said...

So glad the Lord kept you all safe. I can't even imagine how terrifying that must have been. You have written the story so eloquently I feel like I was almost there.....almost!!

Nicole Crawford said...

Jenny you have turned a horrifying experience into a beautiful testimony of your faith. I don't know how people navigate through this world without it. Thanks for sharing.

Sonya said...

Thank you for sharing your story and your family is amazing and brave!