“I was being drug through partially submerged treetops and cart wheeling underwater like being tossed under the power of a huge wave.”
In the spring of 2003, I was with a friend fishing on Elk Creek, one of Pennsylvania’s premier trout streams.There are sections of Elk Creek that have high cliff walls cut through stone that call out to the masculine soul as it snakes its way through the hills of PA. It’s a real hotspot, especially for fly fishermen as it has crystal clear water, and heartily stocked with brown and steelhead trout each year.
I’d never fished this particular stream before, but it quickly became one of my favorites and my friend and I both limited out in under an hour. He knew this creek well, and had taken me to his honey hole where two streams converged into one larger stream creating a nice 8 foot hole as the water flowed around a sharp bend. That hole was loaded with trout just waiting for a worm, salmon egg, or fly to drift within reach of their open jaws. Trout have small teeth, not only lining their mouth, but also on their tongue to help them hold and swallow prey. When you’re removing the hook from their mouth, you’d better be careful or you’ll quickly find they can draw blood faster than your local doctor’s office!
When I arrived home with the trout, my seven year old son was already asking when I would take him fishing. For the next three days, our area had torrential rains that were followed by a cold front. The only day I could take him fishing was going to be barely above freezing, and a day most fishermen would gladly pass up. I had a seven year old who wouldn’t take no for an answer, so we pack our lunches, hot chocolate, poles, and tackle boxes and off we went for this great adventure! It was about a 50 minute drive from the house, and just enough time for him to catch up on a little lost sleep from being awake early with excitement.
When we arrived at the location, things looked different. There weren’t any cars parked in the area, and the path leading to the stream was almost flooded over from all the rain that had fallen. As we neared the water, it even sounded different. It was much louder. The sun was now coming up revealing that the crystal clear stream waters were no longer clear, but resembled something more like my son’s chocolate milk from breakfast. The current was definitely stronger, but hey, I was there to take my son fishing. I wasn’t about to let a little detail like loud dirty water keep us from this father and son adventure! And besides, just several days before I’d found a small gravel island in the middle of the stream just in front of the honey hole. It was the perfect place to lay all of our gear, and the ideal spot to cast upstream to let our bait drift through the deeper water. All we needed to do was get there.
Putting my son on my back, I began wading out into the normally knee deep water. I was only about ten feet out into the stream and the water was already topping my hip-waders. Things were going south quickly. Bone chilling water began pouring in soaking my jeans, long johns, and wool socks. I should have turned around and headed back, but I was determined to take my son fishing. If you’ve ever waded across a loose rock bottom stream in a strong current, you take one step forward, get knocked downstream four steps. It’s a balancing act just trying to maintain your balance and not to fall into the freezing fast moving water.
When I finally reached the location I’d stood sever days prior, the gravel island was almost totally submerged. What had once been large enough to hold four fishermen comfortably, now had only about six feet of gravel still above water. Knowing we couldn’t stay there long, I came up with a plan to leave my son on the rocks, move upstream to the upper side of the deep water, find a safe passage back across the water where the stream divided in two, then return to get my son and cross the shallower waters together. Just above us, that once 8 foot deep hole was now a much deeper swirling pool of muddy water filled with branches and logs that had gotten lodged as the stream rounded a sharp bend at this location. My thinking was to get above the deep swirling water as two streams should be shallower than one. As I moved just above the churning whirlpool, I took one step forward. When I set my foot down, it landed on a moss covered rock beneath the chocolate waters. Instantly my foot slipped and was swept out from underneath me. On the count of one I was pulled into the revolving current of the whirlpool, not realizing this would become a fight for my life.
I was now being sucked to the bottom. I was being drug through partially submerged treetops and cart wheeling underwater like being tossed under the power of a huge wave. I couldn’t tell which way was up. Suddenly, my body slammed up against a large object at the bottom of the deep hole and I was finally able to plant my feet against something solid…and pushed off.
When my face broke the surface I backstroked as hard as I could to the spot where my son was now standing. The two of us began yelling at the top of our lungs for help. Within ten minutes, two teenage boys and their father, who just happened to be the local fish commissioner who’d come to check and see if there was anyone stupid enough to fish there on a day like this, were there to help us across to safety. They broke long branches off a nearby tree and made a human chain across the waters to get us to safety. When we arrived back at the truck, my son began praying out loud giving God thanks for sending us those three “Guardian Angels”. He affectionately called them the “Navy SEALS of the universe!”
I’d told that story countless times, and was about to put it in a book I was working on thinking God sending those three men was the point of the story. After telling the story to a man who’d been mentoring me for several years, he asked one simple question.
“Brent, was it a good thing or a bad thing you hit bottom?”
At first I thought he was crazy. I said; “Weren’t you listening? It was horrible! I almost drowned!”
Then he said; “You said the water in the whirlpool was way over your head. So what would have happened if you’d only been sucked down to twelve feet, six feet, or just one foot in that whirlpool?”
I thought for a moment and then said; “I’d have drowned.”
He asked me again. “So, was it a good thing or a bad thing you hit bottom?”
Sometimes, we don’t see the much deeper lesson in what God’s wants us to understand. We tend to look at difficult circumstances as bad things. But, if we are willing to wade into God’s Word, we will sometimes discover that what we thought was a challenge was actually a gift.
“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” (Ephesians 5:13 NIV)
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Where in my life is this verse connecting right now, and what is the Holy Spirit showing me through it?