“God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to
die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8)
Todd and Katie were at a family church camp in Arkansas this summer when their son nearly died. Kevin was playing with his friend near a swiftly-flowing creek. His friend’s father, Neal, was watching them as they played. When he left them unattended for a moment, Kevin, who is a typical, fearless, energetic 8-year-old, grabbed his inflatable tube and jumped into the stream.
He enjoyed a great ride for a few seconds, but had no way of knowing that the creek had been reconstructed to run through a manmade drain. The force of the water pulled at him, trying to force him underwater, but he clung to the outside of the drain and screamed for his life.
In such a rural area, a child’s scream could easily go unheard, but at that very moment, two men happened to be driving nearby and heard Kevin’s desperate cry. They jumped out of their car and found Kevin caught in the drain, hanging on for his life and screaming for help. It took both of them, tugging and pulling for quite some time, to wrestle the boy free. An EMT later told Katie that rescuers are not advised to enter this type of situation, because they often drown trying to save someone else. Miraculously, nobody was hurt this time.
When Todd and Katie learned of the near-death experience of their little boy and the incredible circumstances that saved his life, they were overcome with the magnitude of it all. The two men who had rescued Kevin were shaken with emotion, too. They said there was no way a little boy could have held on against a current that strong; only God could have given him the strength.
Neal has participated in Todd and Katie’s small group but still, he seems to be distant and detached. After the incident, he approached Todd and tried to apologize. “Todd, I am so ashamed that I can’t even look you in the eye, but I want to tell you how sorry I am.”
Todd literally took the man’s face in his hands and said, “Look at me.” Neal looked up, the pain in his eyes clearly evident. “You are forgiven,” Todd declared. “I forgive you. Katie forgives you. Now forgive yourself.”
The outpouring of love, grace and understanding shown to Neal by not only Katie and Todd, but the entire camp group, broke through to him. It may be the first time this man has fully understood the extent of God’s forgiveness and grace as it was lavished on him through the forgiveness of his peers. The Lord was using this moment to draw everyone closer to Him, and they prayed that this man will continue to experience God’s love in a deeper way.
Todd, Katie and Kevin found themselves drawn in, too. With the simplicity only a young child can express, Kevin said, “I’m only eight, so I’m glad I didn’t die. But if I had, it would have been all right because I would be in heaven.”
Kevin is not yet in heaven, but heaven reached down to all of those involved in this near tragedy. Grace, compassion and the frailty of this life became real to dozens of people close to the family. But the most powerful glimpse into God’s nature came in the forgiveness that Todd offered, because it shadows a more powerful force: God’s forgiveness for mankind, even while we are sinners.
Todd’s son survived, but God’s son was crucified. Would Todd have been so quick to forgive if Kevin had died? Fortunately, we don’t know. But we do know that God still forgives our sins, even though they were the cause of His son’s brutal death. Yet Almighty God, the one the psalmist called “the lifter of my head,” holds us in his hands and says, “I forgive you.”
I pray that we will all learn how to accept God’s grace, learn to forgive ourselves and allow His kindness and mercy to draw us closer to Him. A rushing torrent of guilt, shame, inadequacy and other weights threaten to drown us, but God reaches out His hand to rescue us. We just need to take hold of Him, accept his love and learn to live again.
Forgive others, as God has forgiven you. Forgive yourself, too! Read Romans 5:1-11 and receive His word as truth in your life.
“Lord, thank you for sparing the life of that little boy so I could learn more about your forgiveness and grace. Draw me into a deeper walk with you.”
This story is true, but the names have been changed. The grandparents of “Kevin” are close friends of James and Betty.