It started in early March of 1978 as most rains do, with a slow sprinkle, and then quickly built up to the ferociousness of a monsoon and lasted for weeks. For some it was a welcome break to the several years long drought California underwent in the 1970’s, but not so fortunate for those in the path of flash floods.
My husband Joseph and I, and our two-year-old daughter Teleia, were living in a small 2-bedroom house on the combination cattle-ranch-bean-farm flanked by the grass and chaparral covered Santa Ynez Mountains. Joseph was away working with a bridge crew in Northern California when the rains came, and not due to be back for at least three weeks. My son Hoyle, who turned 14 on his last birthday, was with his father with whom I shared custody. Teleia and I were alone.
The nearly quarter-mile long dirt drive that led to our house from Santa Rosa Road crossed the normally dry Santa Ynez riverbed. We had a few light rains since moving to the country, but the river flow never amounted to anything more than a trickling stream; easily passable in our rickety old Ford truck. Within days of the deluge the river began to rise as rainwater funneled in from the surrounding mountains, leaving pockets of quicksand along the sandy rim nearly impossible to detect. The water quickly became thigh-deep, far too dangerous to carry Teleia across on our daily trek to the main road to check the mailbox. I wasn’t too alarmed. The river had risen to this point one time before, but quickly drained once the rains ceased.
Teleia was fascinated with water, and not at all intimidated as we stood high on the banks watching the heavy current of the rising river pluck up young willow saplings like toothpicks and carry them away. “Swim Mommy?” she constantly asked in her cute toddler voice. Where we lived there was a lot of land for her inquisitive little self to wander off in, and with her determination to play in the river, I kept a sharp eye on her every minute.
I woke one morning with a raging fever. I knew the signs of strept throat; I’d had it twice before. Both times within hours of becoming infected I became too weak to move from the fever that soared over 106 degrees. If it had not been for others getting me help, I would have died each time. I retrieved my flashlight from the night table by my bed and went to the bathroom mirror. The back of my throat was covered with the familiar white pustules and already beginning to close. I had to get help.
I walked back to the bedroom and gazed upon my baby, snuggled warmly and sleeping soundly in my bed, and my heart began to pound with fearful concern for her. The river had taken out our phone service, and there was no way to cross. The water now covered our drive well over four feet deep. Except for the TV, we had no contact with the world on the other side of the river. My only hope was for God to heal me.
I prayed, “Lord, I guess your going to have to zap it to me,” an expression that carried over from my hippy days. I continued to pray the reason why, “Joseph is gone and won’t be home for weeks. I can’t call for help cause the phone is out. I don’t have a car, and couldn’t cross the river if I did. Nor do I have insurance or money to pay for a doctor even if I could get to town.”
“Zap it to me!” came the mocking voice of the Accuser. “How dare you talk to God with such disrespect! Now you’re going to die, and your daughter will fall into the river and drown, and I’m taking you to hell for your sacrilege!”
What had I done? I thought, as tears welled forth, clouding my vision, but not enough to take away the horrible mental picture of my daughter being swept away by the river. I cried from the depths of my heart, “Oh Lord, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”
Suddenly I felt a warm caress across my neck. I couldn’t see it, but I knew it was a hand as I felt its gentle and loving touch move across my swollen and aching throat. I began to tingle from my head to my feet as I was instantly healed. It was still pouring outside, but inside, the dismal grayness from the unrelenting rain dissipated into a bright warm glow lit by the joy within my heart as I realized that God really does love me JUST AS I AM!
Note from the Author:
As I write these stories I look for scriptures upon which to base each theme. I have matured enough to know that it is not our style of speech, our individual mannerisms, or clothing He looks at, but our hearts. Still, I know I will be held accountable for my every word one day, and want with all my heart to only give truth. I really struggled with this one, especially since I felt the Lord wanted me to title it JUST AS I AM, but I could find absolutely no scripture directly referencing this.
I did all sorts of word searches with my Bible software program and on the Internet. I could find nothing.
I went to several people who I knew were faithful to search the Word and submitted to them the question, “On what scripture do we base the term 'Just As I am" such as when giving an altar call and we tell people to come, just as they are, or that Jesus loves them just as they are?” I received many very good responses, but most did not fit in with this story.
I even downloaded the song, JUST AS I AM WITHOUT ONE PLEA, hoping to find a scriptural clue--nothing.
As in the above story, my only hope was through the Lord, so I went to my knees, and this is what He gave me:
Heb 4:15,16 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
What love, what favor, what grace!
My Very Present Help In Time of Need
Great care had to be taken when walking through the bean fields that surrounded our little house in the country. The land was full of holes dug by ground squirrels and it was easy to sprain an ankle. They were attracted to the beans that grew in the rancher-farmer's lush fields. The average person would never know how bad the chronic infestation was… unless they approached our house along the 1/4-mile drive leading from the main road on the other side of the river. The sheer cliffs along the riverbank were so riddled with underground tunnels dug by the little critters that in places they looked like Swiss cheese.
It seemed the rains would never end that season when the Lord healed me of strept throat. The endless deluge saturated the waterlogged land—and the river kept rising—leaving Teleia and I hopelessly cut off from the only way out.
It wasn’t long before I realized how the heavy river current moving against the cliff banks weakened by the numerous underground tunnels was a bad mix. An acre of land had stood between the house and the river. Now, with each day’s passing I noticed a little more of the land between our house and the river eroding away. Our living room and bedroom windows faced toward the river. I looked out the living room window one morning to see all the willow trees that had lined along the cliff were gone, leaving less than half an acre of land between the back of our house and the river. Nature was literally rerouting the course of the river, and the greatest point of change was right where we lived.
My husband had been gone over three weeks by the time the local TV news said Lake Cachuma had reached its limit, and if the rains didn’t stop soon they would have to open the floodgates on Bradbury Dam. The last time I knew that to happen a good part of the little town nearest to us was flooded within a half-mile of the Santa Ynez River. However, Lompoc was 12 miles away downriver. We’d see the worst of it long before they did.
And then suddenly the rain stopped, but my joy over its cessation was short lived. The local news said another storm front was fast moving in. “Lord, please bring Joseph home soon,” was now my constant prayer.
Sound carries far out in the country. At sunset, Teleia and I were standing near the riverbank, when I heard the sound of someone calling my name. It came from the direction of the mountains bordering the largest part of the farmland surrounding us. I turned to see Joseph coming down from the mountain carrying what appeared to be a huge sack over his shoulders. I hiked Teleia up onto my hip as I offered up a quick, “Thank you Lord,” and ran out to meet him.
There was no keeping up with him. His voice was strained when he told me, “I can’t stop; this bag weighs close to a 100 pounds, and I’d never be able to get going again.”
And with that Joseph soon out distanced us on his way to our little house carrying the bulging gunnysack full of food he anticipated that we’d desperately need by then. He was about 50 feet ahead of us when Teleia said, “Look Mommy, a kitty,” and I froze in my tracks.
“Sh-h-h,” I whispered, and then quietly prayed, “Lord, don’t let him look back.”
Coming up swiftly behind my husband was a skunk. My next thought was to mentally assess how many cans of tomato sauce I had on hand—the only skunk deodorizer I knew of— and which I fast concluded I would not have near enough of.
The Lord heard my prayer. The polecat turned back the way it came, and disappeared into the bean field… leaving my husband completely unaware it had been right behind him, sniffing at his mud caked boots.
Once he was rested, Joseph told me he’d tried to get through to us the normal route and found the river impassible. The only other way in to us was from our landlord’s house, five miles away, and across the mountains. After hours of getting stuck in the water-logged soil, our landlord brought him to within a mile of our house; as far as he dared to drive his tractor. My husband hiked the rest of the way in through knee-deep mud.
I was just grateful he was home. We’d been through a lot, he and I, and I felt there was nothing we couldn't handle as long as we had the Lord and were together.
And then came the news announcement that the water level at Lake Cachuma was above capacity. Even though the rain had stopped the lake was still filling from the watershed off the surrounding mountains. They were opening the floodgates at Bradbury dam.
Never had I heard anything like the powerful roaring river as it rose far beyond what I’d ever seen as they released the overflow from Lake Cachuma. Up until then the strong current uprooted mostly young willow saplings. Now huge trees, telephone poles, farm equipment, and vehicles swept past us as we watched the mounting river rise.
I prayed all along for our safety as the river washed away the land between our house and the swiftly changing riverbank. When it got close enough to see huge chunks of land break off into the river I was seriously concerned. There were still several hours to go before the river crested.
When the news said helicopters were being dispatched to search for stranded people, I prayed they would fly over us and recognize our plight. But none came. As far as I knew, no one but our landlord knew we were trapped on the wrong side of the river, and even he was unaware of the danger we were in.
Joseph was a bit more optimistic than I. When it was announced that the river finally crested he thought the river would stop where it was, about 15-yards from the house. I felt differently. When my husband and I went to bed that night, I prayed, “Lord, please keep us safe. Don’t let the river come any closer than to the edge of the house.”
Before I went to sleep that night, I tried to comfort myself with remembering how the Lord had protected us a few months before when our hot water tank went out. The tank sat in a far corner of the covered porch entrance to the house. I was in the kitchen cooking dinner while my husband and our landlord were working on converting a new gas hot water tank over to propane. When the men went to the outside of the house to open the gas line leading into the porch from the propane tank, they were completely unaware that the gas pipe leading into the hot water tank was loose.
Suddenly came a big explosion followed by the sound of shattered glass, and I turned my head to see a huge blue wave of fire sweep into the kitchen from the porch entrance. It came right up to where I stood stirring our dinner on the electric stove. It went up and then down me, and then up and down the kitchen walls and cabinets, and then on into the living room where Teleia lay napping on the couch. I had time only to call out “JESUS!” as the tidal wave of fire went up over my sleeping baby, and then back out the door.
It was as if it had tasted us, and yet, incredibly not a hair on either Teleia's or my own head had been singed. Nor had anything else caught on fire. The only damage was to the kitchen window that blew out into the yard.
As I lay in bed that night praying, a great peace came over me as I reflected on His word from Isaiah 43:2: When thou pass through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walk through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
And I knew without a doubt the Lord had even this raging river under control.
The next morning when I woke up the first thing I did was to look out the bedroom window. I immediately shook my husband awake, saying, “Joseph, get up. The river is just outside the house!” And then we were both looking out the window straight into the raging river as it now flowed within inches of the foundation of the house.
About 200 yards from the house was the barn where our landlord stored his farm equipment. Joseph hurriedly put on his clothes and said, “Get Teleia up and gather some things together. I am going to hike out of here for help. If you have to, take Teleia and go down to the barn and wait until I get back.”
And then he was gone again.
The river took no more of the land once it reached the house. I felt sure the Lord had answered my prayer as the floodwaters finally began to cease its mighty roaring, and slowly began to abate. Now my greatest concern was for my husband. I prayed he would not get lost while trying to find his way over the mountains.
I deeply regretted having to leave, as I gathered up the things we would need to take with us once help arrived, but there no longer was a dirt road entrance to us from Santa Rosa Road. The floodwaters had washed it away, leaving a sharp 20-foot cliff in its place. And then came an event that removed any doubt that is was time to go.
A few days had passed since my husband left when the earthquake hit. I was standing in our living room wondering why our landlord’s cattle grazing on the lower hills appeared so restless when the ground underneath the house began to violently shift in every direction at once, and snapping and breaking sounds came from everywhere. I watched in horror out the living room window as the house dipped down into the river, and then back up, and down again. It felt like the house was going to slide into the river. The fiercely quaking structure had come back up, and was on its way down again when I snatched Teleia up in my arms, and ran out the door and as far away from the house as I could get, while stumbling along the trembling and lurching ground.
And then it was over, and the house was still there. The news reported a level 5.1 earthquake with its epicenter within 20 miles of us at Goleta. But if they’d asked me I would have told them it was right there where we were!
Our landlord could still come no closer over the mountains than within a mile of our house on his tractor, when he came to rescue us. He was pulling a small equipment trailer. He trudged right along with my husband, slipping and sliding down the hill to help us with what meager possessions we could carry.
I would truly miss the kind man we knew as our landlord. Even more so, I would miss living in the little house we rented from him out in the beautiful countryside. I thought of it as my own little piece of heaven, it was so beautiful to behold with its chaparral and manzanita-covered mountains, and the flowing farmland spread across the base of the lower hills and its fenced off fields of hay that fed the cattle grazing lazily beyond. Many had been the time when, in the early hours of the morning, a small herd of deer could be seen grazing through the bean fields. But one thing I would always take with me was the firm belief I had gained in God’s word while living there:
…God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea… Psalm 46:1-2
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