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Life (and death) on the river

Our Evan Daniel drowned in a river. I wasn’t there to save him. God didn’t save Evan from drowning either.

For more than 50 years I cherished a passage from the prophet Isaiah (chapter 43) which I’d committed to memory as a teen. Here is part of it: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. . ."

When my kids were little, I wouldn’t leave them to play in the bathwater without an adult present for fear one of them would drown in the tub.

Each spring at the start of swimming season when I’d have nightmares that one or more of our children had drowned in a pool I turned to the Isaiah passage for consolation. God would not, I told myself, let my children drown.

But as my children grew, other fears clamored and I questioned. Would Evan’s service in the army demand the ultimate sacrifice? Why, I wondered, should God protect my son when moms on the other side of battles were praying for their sons to be spared, too? Does God take sides in our wars?

Evan came home from war alive, but not unscathed. Our once idealistic youngest son was barely holding on and I had no idea how to help him.

When he discovered whitewater rafting, the light returned to his eyes, there was a livelier tone to his voice. He found an outdoor job which took skill and courage, and he encountered all kinds of interesting people. When I asked about the dangers, he told me.

“Mom, staying in bed is dangerous too. I’d rather take some risks, than die of depression. At least if I die on the river, I will have lived.”

Once more, I returned to the Isaiah passage. God would, I trusted, keep him safe.

The night we got the call that he’d been missing on the river for six hours, my questions were all worst-case-scenario panic. What if they didn’t find him? What if they found him too late? How could we get through it? Doug took me in his arms and reminded me of another passage of scripture, singing it to me softly: “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day” (from 1 Timothy 1:12). Miraculously, amidst the chaos and clamoring of the unknown, remembering that for 39 years we had entrusted Evan to God was enough to calm me and I slept.

Still, two years later, I cannot read either passage without tears. I believe God’s promises, but I do not presume to know what His loving care will or will not allow. His mercy encompasses more . . . much more than saving my son from drowning or keeping him safe in war. God is with Evan, ever so close, just as He is with each of us every moment. We do not have to carry the enormous burden of grief alone. God didn’t save my son from drowning, but neither did He abandon him. He knows him and each of us by name; we belong to Him.

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