It never occurred to me that I would need help that Sunday. Dad had warned us to be wary of the fact that the bottom of Keystone Lake was rocky, uneven and also had sudden drop-offs, and therefore could prove dangerous. The lake itself was very shallow, and though the water was murky, he assured us it was still a reasonably safe place to have fun while he and Mom fished from the shore.
Billy and I were excited to be going to the lake instead of to the mountains. Usually Dad’s fishing trips meant long car rides through the Allegheny Mountains to a secluded spot along the Big Piney River in southwestern Pennsylvania. At first, these trips were exciting and my brother and I eagerly, though cautiously investigated the surrounding terrain with its towering mountain trees and damp woodsy smell, ever on the lookout for rattlesnakes and other wild creatures. Bitterly cold, but crystal clear, the Big Piney alternately rippled, bubbled or cascaded over pebbles, stones and rocks, coursing its way along the immense ice-age era boulders which defined its boundaries. Rainbow trout were especially challenging to fishermen for they hid within the deeper, darker, quiet little pools near the large rocks on the riverbed.
Only at the height of summer would my brother and I dare to take even tentative steps into the frigid water, ultimately deciding it was just too cold to enjoy. Keystone Lake, however, was serene and invitingly warm since its location was not in the higher mountainous altitude as that of Big Piney. Though frequently muddy in appearance, the water was usually still with the exception of swimmer’s ripples and splashes and the wakes left behind by motorboats. Neither my brother nor I knew how to swim, so of course, we never went deeper than “waist high” into the water. Knowing the bed of the lake was rocky, uneven and had sudden drops kept us close to shore and to our parents.
A stifling hot August afternoon, just two days before my eleventh birthday proved to be the last truly fun-filled day I would ever have in the water. It was the day the “bottom dropped off.”
My brother and I had walked about 30 feet or so from shore and were having a great time just splashing each other and throwing a plastic blue and white blow-up beach ball back and forth. Suddenly, there was nothing beneath my feet! The fear was immediate and intense. “I can’t feel the bottom”, I screamed to Billy, my feet paddling uselessly beneath me. “There’s no bottom! Call Daddy for help!” Billy was too far away for me to grab his hand and too afraid to come closer to the abyss into which I was about to founder. Within seconds, not only my feet, but also my legs were flailing about, running nowhere.
I knew I was going to drown in that murky water full of rocks and fish and bottomless pits. I yelled to Billy again to shout to Dad or anyone on shore for help, as I continued struggling to stay above the water. Visions of the blurred, clay-colored objects I would soon be seeing through eyes clouded by yellowish water entered my mind. That’s how I will die, I thought, sinking deeper and deeper into a bottomless hole filled with dirty, muddy water. I’ll never even live to be eleven years old.
Without warning, I saw a long tree branch just within my grasp. Gripping it with all my strength, coughing and sputtering on a mouthful of that awful water that tasted of dirt, I felt a strength coming from the other end of the branch. Looking quickly, I saw the source of strength and my help…it was my father coming toward me quickly and confidently. I knew I was safe, and indeed, within a few minutes, I was back on shore, still holding on to the branch…and to my Dad! My father later told me that he and Mom had been watching us play the entire time, and that he was in the water before I had even uttered that first cry for help!
What a wonderful picture of our Father in heaven this provides for me even to this day. God is continually watching over us, responding to our desperate cries for help before they are even uttered.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
Isaiah 65:24 (New International Version)
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