It’s been almost three weeks and I can just now sit down to put words to this story. Sometimes it takes time to digest something enough to put it to paper.
They bounded in the back door from camping, my three sons, the first Saturday in August. It had been quiet without their boisterous selves for nearly 24 hours. But they’d had a mission: Daddy Cousin Campout 2014. It was the third year running and not to be missed. The first night was all boys (our three and my sisters’ one) and the second was a trade, all the girls (our two and my sisters’ one).
The first words out of their mouth in the kitchen were loud and crashed over me. Something about a train and Caleb and running and Finn screaming. I told them that wasn’t funny, not to joke about it but they assured me it was no joke. I looked to the Daddy for confirmation that they were indeed serious and he nodded yes, that he had waited until they were home to tell me and that it wasn’t something to share over text or phone.
There was a flurry of activity and the girls were whisked away for their adventure and I was left with my boys. Tired and dirty and eager to tell the story. Over and over again. Like their little minds needed to say it out loud to process the reality of it. I sat down and gave them my full attention as they relayed the story.
They’d arrived at camp the night before. The two dads set up the tent and the boys asked for coins to put on the train tracks they’d discovered near their camp site. They said yes and the boys went to place the pennies on the tracks. While they were there, Caleb “looked up and saw three lights coming” so he hollered for them to run down the rocky slope to the trees. The train approach was around a bend, so the sound from afar to warn of its impending arrival was buffered until it was very close.
The three oldest boys ran down the slope away from the tracks. The conductor saw my children immediately and started blowing the whistle to clear the tracks, to run. Which they were doing, except for Finn. He was scared spitless. He was paralyzed with fear. He stood there screaming while the other three boys ran. When Caleb reached the bottom, he looked up to see his brother at the track. Without hesitation he ran back up the little hill and grabbed 37 pound three year old Finn and toted him down the rocks. He only made it halfway down before the train was upon them, so he stopped and they hid under a large rock until it passed. That’s when the daddies arrived. They’d come running in an instant when they heard the whistle.
But the stark clear reality was that if Caleb had not moved so swiftly, so bravely…the result could have been catastrophic.
As each day passed they processed a bit more, Caleb told me days later “You know what is so strange mom? When I picked up Finn, he felt light, like holding a baby. And usually he is so heavy we can barely lift him!”. I cried as I explained how God does that, gives strength or ability beyond explanation in certain situations.
Finn would wake up and go to sleep wanting to tell the story, the same succinct unchanging story each time. How Caleb saw him, how Caleb ran up the hill, how the train was so loud, how scared he was and how they hid under the rock.
Last week Caleb came down stairs well after bed time, to find me in the kitchen an hour after I’d gone to bed. He asked why I couldn’t sleep. I told him the honest truth that every night when I laid down I replayed the whole event in my mind and then it would take me hours to go to sleep. His lip quivered as he listened to me tell him again, “thank you for saving Finn”. And we stood in the kitchen wrapped up in a big hug weeping for a very long while.
I am proud of my son. The same son who a year ago nearly to the day made one poor judgment call and stabbed a steak knife into the grass after dinner just to see how far it would go. A decision that would cost him dearly. The tendon severed in his finger which would require hours of surgery to repair…“it’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube” the surgeon said. A cast from fingertip to shoulder for the last precious weeks of summer, including the state fair and the first month of school. It was months of a sort of sad frustration that he wore, knowing exactly how he’d wound up where he was. It was days of him getting the mail and seeing bill after bill and asking “is this from my surgery too?”. I can’t honestly put words to how it broke him, the whole thing. It was devastating and he felt the weight of it so deeply. It took a solid six months before he began to find his way forward.
The beautiful, stunning redemptive nature of it all was not lost on me. As I told the story to a friend and we choked tears through the phone she whispered it’s almost exactly a year after his surgery. And it was. We don’t get the luxury of being privy to the secret ways of God. We don’t get to know how he plans to work and shape and rescue us. We simply get a choice. To trust who he is and to believe he will work all things for good.
Like my mom did, when she heard our husbands were taking the kids camping at this particular campground. She and my dad had scoped it out three years ago for a potential family camping trip. They quickly deemed it unfit for a bunch of small kids. But we didn’t know that, we simply ended up camping elsewhere that year. So when she got word about the campground selection, she went to the Lord in prayer, asked him what to do before telling us it wasn’t a good choice. He simply directed her to pray. And pray she did. She prayed her grandma heart out as our kids headed out for their weekend. She prayed fervently for God’s protection and silently believed that the God she loved would watch over her precious grandchildren.
He did. And in so doing, he gave our son this story that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. A story of courage and bravery and heroism really, in my book at least. A story that I will not forget, nor will my children forget, ever.