I can’t recall where he got the canoe, but he told me it would be safe, even fun. So one day in late summer/early autumn, just a few months after our marriage, we loaded up and headed for Saline River. I could not swim and I had never been in a canoe, or on a river, but Terry had been many times. As we made our way to the water, the sun shone around us as though it were being beamed through a strainer, specks and streams of sunlight dotting randomly through the tall oaks, pines, and sweet gums. Arkansas at its best.
He got the canoe into the water and told me where to sit. As I stepped into the wobbly canoe for the first time, my apprehension turned into full-fledged fear. My eyes grew wide and I gasped. “It’s okay,” he said calmly.
Of course it’s okay, he can swim! I thought.
We pushed off as I gripped the sides of the canoe for dear life. What had I gotten into?
“Just one thing you must remember,” he said.
“Whatever happens, don’t stand up.”
That sounded simple enough.
He did most of the rowing since I was an inexperienced “canoeist”. I did try it once and managed to get us going the wrong direction! He quickly took the oars and righted us while we both laughed at my efforts. Not being an outdoor girl, it was a great adventure to be so close squirrels, songbirds, and fish. I was still nervous, but as I observed my faithful “captain”, watched his confidence and ability, I felt my heartbeat return to normal.
Then a strange noise filled my ears. It sounded almost like rushing water, like maybe a waterfall? But, we didn’t have waterfalls. Did we? As we continued on, the sound only grew louder.
That’s when I screamed. And when I did, the birds for miles around flew up and away in one giant formation, red squirrels scurried into holes, and deer leapt over fences to get away.
“That sounds like a waterfall!”
“It’s okay, don’t worry.”
“No, Terry! I can’t swim! We can’t go down a waterfall!” In my panic, I started to stand up, the canoe lurched one way, then the other, and that’s when I saw fear grip his heart.
“Don’t stand up; it’s okay.” I could see the seriousness of the situation in his eyes. I halted and forced myself to stay put.
“Valerie, just listen to me,” he said from his end of the canoe, gripping me as hard as he could with his eyes since he couldn’t reach me with his arms. “We’re going to row over there,” he pointed to a rocky bank. “We’ll take the canoe up the bank and then let it down past the falls. It’ll be fine.” I could see he was more worried about what I was doing than anything else.
Okay. That sounded okay. I tried to calm down.
We soon learned that it wasn’t so easy to get to that bank. We kept trying, well, he kept trying, but we just kept getting closer and closer to the falls. Finally, he was able to grab an overhanging branch to stop us. He got out and waded to the bank, dragging me in the canoe along with him. The “waterfall” that sounded so deafening to my ears was only a short wall, about two feet high, just enough to make a loud sound, but not enough to kill anyone. I felt my face grow warm with embarrassment. I laughed and apologized, he laughed and said no big deal and that we probably couldn’t have gone over it anyway. I did feel terrible as I saw he was soaked from the waist down, and I was completely dry. I tried to help get the canoe back in the water and we continued on. The only thing I had done right was that I hadn’t stood up!
That trip was many years ago, before we had experienced any real sorrow. We hadn’t walked the valley of the shadow of death, started over in eight other new homes, or faced financial reversal hand in hand together. We hadn’t dealt with hatred from other Christians, watched friends walk out, or seen our children suffer sickness, surgery and stitches. All of that would come in time, and will come again, I’m sure. The strength and skill I’d witnessed that day on the river, would be apparent in real life, too. Through all of the trials and heartaches, through the valleys, and in the darkness, I’ve learned I can trust my husband. I can just stay seated because he knows what to do. I’ve seen him take the oars of our life and get us going in the right direction (usually after I’ve messed things up). I’ve seen him handle the ups and downs – and the waterfalls – with deftness.
Eighteen years ago today, he asked me to marry him, and obviously, I said yes. In those years, I’ve learned that he knows how to handle the river, and everything else, too.