Somehow that evening canoe ride made it all worthwhile.
I stood in the August evening air. It had been a scorcher. Now, as twilight softened everything into watery shades of blue-gray and the forest floor opened up her arms to release the pine-scented shade-cooled air, I stared at the blackening water of the lake and realized this good thing, this Grace, this cottage, this rest, was indeed all gift. And it was good.
I can’t wrap the events of the past few years into a tidy package. Sure, we can simply say that the accident of August 2011 changed everything, that we were struck by a drunk driver leaving this very lake and we are lucky, no, blessed, to be here. We can say that my injuries were life-threatening, that my recovery was long, that the community embraced and supported us, that my kids remarkably walked away from wreckage that could have easily killed them. That all fits into a hundred words or so, a paragraph, a span of thirty seconds.
And unless you see the path of my scars you wouldn’t realize the journey that I’ve made. I am healed.
I sighed. Am I ever really healed? Do I want to be?
During those first weeks at home from the hospital, the pain was acute, the demands on my body and mind unbearable, the swelling and the difficulty made my head throb. But I clung, in fact all six of us clung, to the joy, the hope, the mercies (new every morning, thank God) of our Savior. We were in a sweet-spot of faith, that undeniable place of needing God and knowing it, of walking in a grace that wasn’t about “the church” or denominations or anything human. We walked in faith in a divine way, a holy hush, like breathing pure air.
And now, now that it was all done, this accident, recovery, the ensuing legal implications, the incarceration of our assailant, the lawsuit, the insurance settlements….all behind us. All landmarks along the road we’d travelled. Life was moving on. We were moving on. University awaited our oldest, another of our kids was beginning middle school, another getting a driver’s license. We’d celebrated the first Christmas and birthdays and baseball games since the accident. I walk stairs and rarely limp. I have full use of all my organs, breathe puffy breaths through once-damaged lungs. Life is good and now and time is flying by as it should.
The lake house was Angelo’s idea. Or was it God’s? I’ll never know.
But now we drive regularly past the intersection where our reality, our broken and helpless reality, intersected with God’s power. I will never again read the scripture “God’s power is made perfect in my weakness” in the same old way again. It will always be sharpened by the reality that I was so weak that I was dying right there on that spot: Crawford Road and Highway 395. An intersection so notorious for catastrophe it had been nicknamed “Crawford’s Coffin”.
But Death did not win. Not that day.
And so it came to be that we would own property on the lake that held the final memories of our life “before the accident”. A bit of our history, a parcel of the past, a pile of memorial stones bears the name Grace Cottage. August 2013, I stood in the cooling August night and breathed again “thanks”. My oldest kids, teenagers, were slipping oars into still waters and sliding serpentine through the surface of Loon Lake. They were making new memories, finding the gift of joy after the storm that rocked our world. They were, without knowing it, celebrating life together, cupped in a fiberglass canoe, sung over by heaven’s own angels.
And I knew that the Promised Land is a real thing, the realest thing.
Just last week, under the cover of darkness, someone stole our canoe. They untied the knots in the rope and took it.
Who does that? Who steals a used canoe? Who takes what isn’t theirs?
Oh, we know, don’t we? The thief of all our joy.
He prowls about like a lion seeking ways to set in teeth, to wreak destruction, to steal our good gifts.
Yeah, him. Oh, I know it was probably a couple of kids, maybe a dare and certainly a petty theft. But the violation left a greater gap a cavernous rip in the fabric of joy. That was a canoe that held the metaphor. Sure, it can be replaced. It wasn’t expensive. But it was the canoe that held my kids in the dark on the August night I truly understood the power that healed me, sustains me, delights me and gives me new memories, new joy, new life. It was the canoe that gave me courage to embrace the gift of Grace Cottage. And now, the little vessel is gone.
And I ask, can our joy be stolen? Who steals our joy?
The punks that steal small boats or the drunks who carelessly drive headlong into families heading home after a day at the lake? Does the selfish boyfriend or the perverted uncle or the manipulative friend or the angry spouse? Oh, anyone can be the thief. But there is one mind, one thief behind it all, bent on our destruction.
He wants nothing more than for us to wallow, to befuddle us and turn our dreams, our hopes, into murk and mire us with pain and bad memories and bitterness. The unforgivable wounds are intended to take away what doesn’t belong to him: our joy.
But friend, the Joy of the Lord is My Strength. It is my muscle and ligament, my throbbing heart and my contracting diaphragm. The joy (all hope, all purpose, all mercy) is my life, even when I have absolutely no strength of my own. It is the skeleton of my faith and the skin of my hope. It is the realest reality I’ve ever known.
The canoe was metaphor, the cottage a symbol and the lake is an altar – only temporary images of the substance of the faith that enabled us to journey this far and the joy that carried us in powerful arms when we couldn’t walk upright from the wreckage of our lives.