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When You Pass Through the Waters, reprise

November 1, 2012
This is a story my heart has returned to often this week. Partly because it its the second anniversary. And partly because it is so perfectly suited to life right now. If I was writing a book chronicling God’s faithfulness to our family, this story would easily make the top five. Whether you’ve read it before or not, I hope you’ll find yourself as encouraged as I am.

But now thus says the Lord
he who created you, O Jacob, who formed you, O Israel
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters
I will be with you;
and through the rivers
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned
and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah 43:1-2

In October 2010, the girls and I were exploring the Korean Folk Village south of Suwon, South Korea, on a treasure hunt to spy a pawlonia tree in fall colors. (The photo in my banner on this blog is the pawlonia we were seeking, photographed three years before, dressed in spring green.)

Our wanderings took us up a path into a water garden rimmed by a boardwalk where the girls were stopped in their tracks by dozens of enormous dragonflies.

The dragonflies hovered over the pond. Faith and Hope were intent on catching them. Mercy, of course, was intent on counting them.

Perhaps scared by the sudden attention from humans, the cloud of dragonflies moved on. Faith and Hope followed the insects down the boardwalk. Mercy switched her attention to the lily pads in the pond and was musing aloud whether to count them by twos or by tens.

I crouched down on the boardwalk next to her. Framing up a shot of Mercy counting lily pads, I was relieved to see Faith and Hope re-enter my peripheral vision. I was feeling selfish: delighting in my child counting lily pads whose true number was known only to God. I was enjoying being in the moment with her after too many moments like it were lost while I worked on the book. I could tell from the spring in her step that Hope was enjoying the moment, too.

The next seconds unfolded in stop-motion. Full of dragonfly chasing exuberance, Hope impulsively launched herself at Mercy in a flying tackle hug –a leap through the air that lands Hope in a bear hug on the back of the unsuspecting person who has knelt down to tie a shoelace or to play on the floor with Joy.

To Hope’s credit, she realized at the last possible moment that the edge of a pond was not a good place for a tackle hug and pulled back in time to land on her bum on the boardwalk.

But not Mercy. I was twelve inches too far away to reach her as she stumbled forward into the pond, propelled by Hope’s momentum.

“Oh, Mommy,” Faith sighed, as I helped Mercy up out of the pond. The weariness in her tone said so much.

Mercy said nothing, standing there dripping, looking a little stunned.

Hope began crying hysterically, “I didn’t do it! I didn’t meant to do it! I didn’t push her in!”


Of course I had come to the Folk Village with a backpack fully stocked for Joy. But it has been years since I carried spare clothes for Mercy and Hope. We were two hours away from our hotel and Mercy was soaked in muddy pond water.

Grandma snapped this picture. We were walking toward the front of the Folk Village where, on a previous visit, I’d seen lots of t-shirts and the like for sale.

“Mom?” Mercy asked as we walked, her shoes squishing pond water with every step. “Know one good thing?”

“What one good thing, Honey?”

“The hair stick. God had us buy a hair stick because he knew I was going to fall into the pond. So my hair didn’t get wet, too.”

“You’re right,” I said. “God kept your hair dry.”

“And he didn’t let the water go in my eyes or my mouth. That would have been yucky.”

“Yes. I could have been a lot yuckier.”

“And you know what mom? God had you be right there to help me. Just like when I stepped on the alligators and the water went over my head and God put you right there to grab my hands and help me out.”

“The alligators” happened three years before, when Mercy was four. At a water park, Mercy had stepped out  onto the back of an alligator-shaped float, later explaining she thought she could cross the pool by hopping on the alligators like Dora the Explorer. I had been carrying Joy at the water park all afternoon and was just turning from putting her down when I saw Mercy step out onto an alligator and sink. I was barely two steps away and by the time Mercy’s floatation vest bobbed her back to the surface, I was right there to pull her out.

We must have rehearsed that story of God’s faithfulness a hundred times before Mercy’s heart finally declared “the alligators” case-closed and moved on.


God was not asleep the day Mercy stepped out onto an alligator’s back. He saw a day three years in her future at the edge of a pond in Korea.

And he saw a lifetime of relationship to her best friend, her sister Hope, whose hidden disabilities daily lap like waves at the shores of Mercy’s faith, threatening to erode the sense of order and justice and right-relationship Mercy’s own God-given personality imposes on the world.

God is near. Every moment. Everywhere.
I was caught unaware that morning five months ago half way around the world, as unaware as a dragonfly perched on the invisible finger of God.

At the gift shop we were able to replace everything but Mercy’s shoes and socks.

At the train station in Suwon we found socks. Back at the hotel, we had a spare set of dry shoes.


This is not an “all’s well that ends well” sort of story. Mercy’s silence after emerging from the pond had meaning. I could see it in her eyes.

And I understood it again a few minutes ago when Mercy declined to sit on my lap and preview this post. She glanced at the pictures and said, “Mom, I don’t want to think about that tonight.”

There is an awareness now in Mercy’s heart that didn’t exist before that day in Korea. She knows this is the way Hope is sometimes. And she knows that Hope can’t help it.

Mercy knows that God has ordained a way for our family through the waters. Not around them.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you,” God says. “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame will not consume you.”


Hold fast to God and to his promises, Mercy. It was not my idea to be at the edge of the alligator pool. Or the edge of the lily pond. God put me there because he wanted you to see hands reaching out to you in your distress.

They were God’s hands, not mine.

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