It was my birthday (yes, the actual day), my sister, her husband and their two grand-daughters had come for the day and planned to stay the night. The next day we would need to rise early to go on a waterfall tour. It started out as a great day. The weather was nice and the kids had gone for a hike when they first arrived. Our house was situated just a mile up the road from a state park with waterfalls. They were safe. They had their cell phones to stay in contact with us and there were five of them. At some point, Hannah sent me a text asking if we could drive up... "Gracie was getting tired and cranky." So Vicki and I drove up.
Although the park entrance was just a mile from our house, once you got in, the road to the welcome center was another 2 miles, give or take. We found the kids and they informed us that they had not even made it to the falls. They had been hiking for what seemed like forever (we figure they hiked about 8-9 miles total) and never even saw the falls. They had gone in the direction that the ranger had told them, but somehow had managed to miss a turn. We drove the way they were told and found the right trail. We all hiked back and found the 'look out' where we could barely catch a glimpse of the fall. The kids hiked off the path and Vicki and I waited. They found the base of the waterfall. I don't think that they felt it was as wondrous as they had hoped; especially after hiking for so long and not finding it. After that, we went back to the house and I started making dinner. I had planned tacos for the kids and Danny was going to grill steaks for the adults. After the kids were fed, Danny and Richard went out to fire up the grill and Hannah asked if she and McK could hike to 'the lake'. I told her NO, that was too far to go and she didn't need to be on the main road. She took off outside and I told Danny to make sure that she understood that she was not to go far.
Time passed and Danny finished up the steaks. We shared a wonderful meal and great company. Still a perfect day...
After sitting at the table and talking for a bit, I decided it was time to go out and check on the girls. I went out back and couldn't see them on the stream. I yelled a couple of times, fully expecting to hear a response...even from the distance...but nothing came. I waited a few minutes, and then yelled again. I am a fairly trusting mom. I have good kids. God has blessed me beyond what I deserve. After a few more minutes, I decided it was time to go in and get Danny involved. It was about 7:45 and nightfall would come around 9:00. Danny decided to get in the car and drive up the road. I had Gracie come out and tell me what she knew about the situation. She seemed to think that the girls had headed up the stream; said she had seen them enter through a path. I called Hannah's phone and headed into the house to make sure that she had not left it inside. Sure enough, I found the phone ringing in her room. I knew that Hannah had her suit on and the fact that she had left her phone, confirmed to me that she had probably planned to get wet, so the stream seemed like a good bet. Vicki and I decided to head up the stream. Richard played Boy Scout for a few minutes, trying to see if there was any indication of footprints or a break in the path. There was nothing to indicate which way the girls might have gone, so Vicki and I headed in the direction that Gracie had indicated and Richard headed into the house to pull up a Google image of the land and stream. Under the canopy of trees, it seemed dark. There were spiderwebs that needed to be broken down for us to proceed and we really couldn't see where we were stepping. At some points the water was thigh-high. I carried a stick and tried to poke my way through. Vicki held a flashlight and tried to light the way. We finally came to a point where there was just no logical way that the girls would have continued on that path. At this point, my mind was filled with so many thoughts, so many emotions. Were they lost and just staying put waiting for someone to find them? Were they hurt? My mind went to other thoughts also. Thoughts that perhaps someone had taken them. Thoughts that I did not want to entertain.
Time seemed to pass slowly and I knew that in situations like this, time is of the essence. Danny called me (Vicki and I were still deep in the stream) and said he was at the fire department and that no one was there, it must be a volunteer station, did I want him to call 911? I said, YES! I knew we needed help from people who knew the area and I was becoming very worried. Vicki and I had headed back and I took a moment to send out a text for prayer. It might seem strange to some that I would take the time to text in a moment like that, but I am a huge believer in the power of prayer, and I needed to know that there was someone else out there in unity with me and at that moment, I gave it all over to God. I thanked Him for keeping the girls safe and praised Him for being with them at that moment. And I moved forward...
I didn't cry (although I feel the emotion whirling up inside of me now). I was truly unsure how to feel. Part of me wanted to break down and cry and be afraid, but a bigger part of me was holding on to faith...a faith that I felt I had to hold true. If I was truly to believe that God was keeping the girls safe, then how could I give into fear? I felt that by allowing the fear into my heart, I was denying God. And so I kept breathing...and kept moving forward.
As Vicki and I stepped out from the stream, I could see lights coming into the driveway. It was Danny and he said that the Fire Dept. was on their way. It wasn't 10 minutes before they were pulling in the driveway. There were five of them, I think. Four men and one woman. They started asking the standard questions. How long had they been gone? What were they wearing? (I didn't know the answer to that question.) They asked if one of them was wearing hot pink. Vicki excitedly said "YES!". McK had been wearing a hot pink shirt. They had seen them on the road!!! Two of them left in the rescue truck and the others stayed behind. Within 10 minutes they radioed that they had the girls and that they were fine. When they arrived back, I was still holding the stick. The lady told Hannah that she hoped that wasn't for them. :) She told us that she hoped it was ok, but that she had given them a pretty stern lecture about being on that road. I hugged Hannah and she gave me that '13 year old look" of, "really?". I informed her that we had been afraid and that she might want to change her attitude and act like she had been afraid also or she might want to be afraid of me...or something like that. I sent the girls inside and we thanked the rescue team for being there. They tried to comfort us with the fact that if you don't know the area, it is easy to go down the wrong path and get turned around. It does seem that the girls knew where they were and that they were heading home. Hannah said that while they were under the trees, it was always dark and it wasn't until they broke from the path that they realized it had gotten so late and that they were, in fact, running home. She said that she never felt that they were lost.
For the rest of the evening, I still didn't know how to deal with the way that I was feeling. I couldn't look the girls in the eyes and chose to avoid them as much as possible. At one point, Hannah noticed that my shorts were wet and asked why. I informed her that her Aunt Vicki and I had been trudging through the stream looking for them. I sat outside alone and talked to God; trying to get a grip on things. After awhile, I went in and got cleaned up. Hannah came into my room and said she was 'sorry for ruining my birthday'. I replied, "You didn't ruin it, you came home" and as I type those words, I am filled with emotion again. I remember that on that night, in that moment, all I wanted to do was be grateful. It is difficult in times of fear or tragedy to give our trust fully over to God but it was what I held onto that night. I would be lying to you if I told you that it was easy. It was a deep, internal struggle from the moment I feared they were lost, until the moment that they were delivered safely home.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults, and with my song
I give thanks to him.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
...that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.