You are 15. This is the first hunting season you have been allowed in the woods by yourself. You know this is because you have shown your parents you are responsible, careful, resourceful, and have a respect for firearms. You are pleased that you are one step closer to manhood.
For the past 3 weeks, your buddies at school have either shot a deer or talked about the many, many deer they have seen. You have seen none. Except after dark when hunting is over. You believe the animals are taunting you.
It is the last day of hunting season. Your mom drops you off at your grandparents and you begin the walk out to “the big stand.” It’s cold, but you are prepared in your military long underwear, extra layers of warmth and, of course, blaze orange outerwear. You like walking in the woods. You enjoy the silence that you hope will be interrupted by the sound of a buck snorting or a doe tiptoeing her way through the dry leaves.
You think nothing of it when you come to the creek with the beaver dam. You have crossed dozens of uneventful times before. You can see the first stepping stone just below the water and you hop onto it. You can’t see the second or third or additional rocks, but you know they are there because you have done this before. So you take your next step. And that’s when you discover there either is no second stone or you have misjudged its location and you are in t-r-o-u-b-l-e.
Your feet swipe out from under you toward the sky, but like any good hunter you have the presence of mind to throw your rifle on the creek bank before the lower two-thirds of your body goes underwater. You freeze. Not quite literally, but the cold water sucks the possibility of moving out of you. But you have to move, so you make yourself. You slowly pull yourself out of the water.
Suddenly, 26 degrees doesn’t feel very temperate any more. Your feet feel like a thousand knives are stabbing up through their soles all the way to your armpits. You know you have to move, but you aren’t sure you can. You fire 3 shots into the air–a known signal for help. Then you remember no one you know is in the woods with you, but you hope someone else notices or that your mom and grandparents can hear the 3 shots in the house. After a few minutes you realize that no one is coming. You get up, shoulder your gun (of course), and try to start walking. But you can’t. Your boots are too heavy.
Somehow your frozen fingers manage to untie your cold, heavy boots, and you pull your sopping wet feet out of them. You have no choice but to start running. And so you do. In wet socks, pants, and jacket you run toward the house. Without the boot protection, the thousand knives in your feet are increasing. Every step drives another stick, another rock, or simply another piece of lumpy ground into your cold, cold feet.
Just as you wonder if you can make it all the way, you finally see the house. It’s been only 1/2 a mile or more but feels like you have run a nightmare marathon. You fling open the door, sit down on the bench, and unwanted tears drop from your eyes. Your mom asks what is wrong, but you can’t answer because you don’t have any breath or feeling left in your body. You can tell by her eyes that she thinks you have shot someone or that you yourself have been shot. You answer only, “I can’t feel my feet or legs.” This time when she asks if something happened with the gun, you are able to speak and say, “No I fell into the creek.” You can see she is relieved and she immediately enters into “mom mode” by turning on grandma’s shower and telling you to take off your wet things.
Later when you are warm and dry, she can see you are not yourself. When she asks you what is wrong, you tell her that you are only 15, you don’t even have your permit yet, and you could have died if things had turned out differently.
This is what happened at our house today. Cherished Middle Son went routinely into the woods and struggled to come out. We talked about how when bad things happen we have an opportunity to go deeper into our thankfulness. I could see the wheels ticking behind his eyeballs as he counted his blessings. Which I’m sure today includes dry socks. I’m pretty certain he has never had reason to be thankful for socks before.
He is also thankful he ran Cross Country this year. At the time, it was a hard decision to decide to run long distance instead of playing football. Today he is glad he did and credits his ability to make his freezing run in wet socks to his cross country training. He says he will thank his coach tomorrow.
As for me, I am so grateful that he knew what to do. I could not care less if his weapon hadn’t made it home today, although it did–safe and dry in fact. I don’t care that his soggy boots are still out by the beaver dam and I don’t care if they never come home. I wonder whether the removal of them was in fact the best course of action, but since he made it back to safety, I’m going with his decision to take them off as the right thing.
I share this story with you because I for one take the people in my life way too much for granted. Had Middle Son not made it back to the house at full dark, I am confident he would have been found, but I am not certain he wouldn’t have suffered frostbite or possibly worse.
You could question why a good God lets bad things happen, but I’d rather focus on the fact that Middle Son was in God’s hands today as he is every day and that provision for his well-being and safety was made ahead of time. Because he was prepared and protected, we have a happy ending.
Every Thanksgiving I reflect on my gratefulness for people, things, and circumstances. This year, the depth of feeling for the people in my life definitely goes deeper.