It was 10pm on Wednesday, July 11th; I felt Ruth’s hand tightly interlocked with mine as the large drops of rain drenched our bodies. My wet clothes weighed me down, and the coldness of the water made me shiver. I looked up at the gray clouds. A flash of lightning filled the sky, casting light on God’s creation and then returning it to darkness. The trees were rustling in the wind while we ran through the streets like crazy people, praying to God to spare his life. Suddenly I heard a crackle of thunder. The reverberations rippled through my body.
It had been a long two months as we worked at a Bible camp with our friend Cameron. The three of us have come every summer since we were little kids, this place has transformed us into who we are. Apparently, they did something right because now we work here. Late night conversations, powerful Jesus moments, happy cries, sad cries, you name it, it’s happened. We’re more than friends, we’re brothers and sisters in Christ who love to serve together. A few summers ago, the three of us were baptized in the beautiful lake just behind the chapel. The same lake that was now threatening to take Cam’s life.
He hadn’t been under the water for too long before our good friend, Tyler, dragged him out. He and a fellow staff member, Jonathan, began the chest compressions. I peered out of the big chapel window that overlooked the lake; the wooden raft, about 20 feet out, held all of the chaos. I watched as Tyler pushed down on his ribs, but then looked away, as to not alert my young campers to the scene. After minutes the ambulance arrived. “Phew,” I thought, “Help is here.” Because of the first responder’s swiftness, his odds of survival went up.
When I woke up at around seven o’clock that morning, I walked out of the cabin, my wild 10-year-old campers still sleeping peacefully in their beds. The rising sun was in perfect harmony with the lake, placid as could be. The air was hot. I swayed back and forth on the wooden bench swing that overlooked the water as I eased into the day; most people hated the creaking swing, but it was music to my ears, almost like white noise. I watched Cam from the porch where the swing rested, as he was tasked with renovating the boat house bright and early that day. This is where we keep the life jackets, paddles, water tubes, and everything in between.
At 1:30pm, I returned to the swing where I always do my daily devotional with God, well, when I’m able to get some time away from my girls, anyways. When I sat down, I saw that after nearly seven hours, Cam was still working on the shed. I couldn’t believe he had been renovating the shed for so long with the unforgiving rays of sunlight beaming down on him. I remember thinking about how he’s such a hard worker, which sometimes goes unnoticed. Looking back at this moment, I’m grasped by the thought of how quickly one’s life can change. He was fine one moment, and then he wasn’t.
Fast forward to 10:30pm, Ruth and I received a call from the camp director, putting a pause to our run down the watery streets. I clicked the green answer button and listened carefully, trying hard to block out the storm around us. “Hello?” we yelled into the phone with drops of rain travelling down my loose hairs and spilling onto the screen. We listened to what he had to say and then hung up. I looked into Ruth’s flooded eyes and we stood in silence for a second. “He’s going to be okay,” I whispered as I let the suppressed oxygen out of my lungs with one long exhale. I held the phone close to my chest watching a tear stream down her face, but it was interrupted by her upturned lips. We smiled as we cried, just as a rainbow does during a storm.
With praise for the Lord flowing through us, we walked back to our cabin that we were co-counseling in, and although the thunder was still raging, we felt okay. Ruth looked at me and said “Wow, 21 years old and he still can’t swim.” I grinned; he would never live this down. The three of us liked to have fun with each other; we teased one another as if it were a full-time job. Now that we knew he was going to be okay, we joked about this close call on our way back to the cabin, but our laughs were motivated mostly by joy that lifted worship and praise to the Lord. Finally, by 1am on July 12th, we were back in our beds, asleep.
That night I dreamt of the time that Cam lost his walkie-talkie. Camp tradition says that any staff member who loses their walkie talkie must run around the dining hall while we loudly sing a silly song, so we did just that. He ran faster than anyone before him ever has.
The next morning, I was awakened by the sound of Ruth’s sobs. She no longer had a smile like she did the night before. The camp director was leaning over her, trying to provide comfort. I jumped from the top bunk which startled them. Ruth’s red eyes peered into mine. She stayed silent until she finally said with a shaky voice, “He became unstable in the night an-” I didn’t let her finish. Tears immediately burst out of my eyes and slid down my hot cheeks as I yelled with desperation “no, no, no, no.”
In utter shock, I ran out of the cabin, the door slamming behind me. I’m sure the sound was loud enough to wake up my campers, but I didn’t care. Irresponsible, I know.
I ran to the waterfront and collapsed in front of the waves crashing on the shore. “Why, God? Why?” I yelled into the empty space over and over. I didn’t understand; he was okay the night before; I thought God had saved him. I was wrong. I shouted to the heavens; fury was written on my face. Suddenly everything I thought I knew came crumbling down. If God was so good, why would he do this?
I sobbed on the sand, the little pebbles imprinting on my knees. My fists were so tight that the tips of my fingers began to tingle. I cursed God for stealing my friend from me. I cursed him for being absent as he drowned at our Bible camp. The irony knocked me onto my side as I sobbed.
As I was slouched over in defeat, I felt a hand gently placed on my shoulder. I had no care to look at first, but when I did, no one was there. In fear, I looked around for an explanation. My steady tears had paused in my confusion. I noticed that the water had grown calm. I saw the sun peeking from behind the clouds.
Out of thin air I heard a voice, “He may not be with you anymore, but I still saved him.”
I was suddenly overcome by the same calmness that consumed the lake.