18, No Time to Waste
LAKE SHASTA LAY BEFORE US, blue and sparkling, like a diamond in the sun. We drove along the lake in excited anticipation of our week-long stay at a cabin on the waterfront.
"It's so big," the boys exclaimed. We weren't prepared for the expansiveness nor the beauty that surrounded the mountain lake. It was the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, and we were looking forward to the peace and quiet on Monday night after the holiday crowd would leave.
It was hot, but the air, after the heavy smog in the Los Angeles area, felt fresh and clear. Our three boys were already picturing themselves out on the lake in a boat, fishing reels in hand; Vern was dreaming of a day of waterskiing. I was silent!
Without telling the family, I was experiencing a deep depression. I was so happy about Kathi going to Missions Camp. Cindy and Don were on their vacation. All was well! Then why, on the long twelve-hour trip, did I feel a continual deepening dread?
Lying there in the boat, the sun shining so warmly, the water so cool and inviting, I felt that all should be well with my world. We swam in our own private cove, ate our lunch on the shore, and lay on our backs on the floating rafts looking up into the cloudless, blue skies. What could be more beautiful than a Northern California lake, surrounded by majestic mountains, and star-filled nights when we walked to the beach and sat hand in hand looking out across the water.
For Vern and the boys, each day was better than the day before. We ate delicious fresh fish; we visited our friends, Roy and Betty Ramsey, and had lunch with them, talking over old times; we spent one whole day on water skis with a high-powered boat. We lived in our bathing suits and shorts, and when the sun became too hot, we took refuge in our air-conditioned cabin and played games with the boys.
But each day I fought the panic I was feeling. There is no reason for it, I told myself, everything is all right. The girls were certainly having a good time. Although it was our first vacation without them, they were grown-up now and had their own lives to live. Now the feeling began to take the shape of some forthcoming dread. I tried to lose myself in reading the current best sellers I had brought along.
Once I passed a telephone booth and wondered if I should call Kathi at Camp Hammer. She would be so busy and having so much fun and besides, I had nothing on which to base my fears. But I found myself counting the days and then the hours until we would leave for Southern California and home.
At last it was Friday. Tomorrow we would take one last swim, pack the car, and head for home. I could hardly wait, and I didn't know why.
I sat on the bench at the water's edge Friday evening watching Vern and the boys fishing. It was nearly dusk. What was so breathtakingly beautiful during the daytime became eerie at night. Shadows were lengthening around the neighboring benches. It was turning cool.
I had loved having two girls, and now my house would be full of boys. Football, baseball, fishing, and camping would be the topics in our home.
Maybe that's what was wrong! I was just sad to be so far from Cindy and Kathi, even for a week.
After the fish were cleaned and eaten and we had put the boys to bed, Vern and I walked the short block to the coffee shop for dessert. We chatted with the waitress, talking about our children. I spoke of Kathi and said, "It looks as though we'll have a missionary daughter." It sounded incredulous, even to me.
My depression did not lift. I looked at the clock on the restaurant wall; it was 10:30 P.M. I will remember this night as long as I live, I thought, and then I wondered why.
We walked back to the cabin slowly; suddenly all the pent-up emotion broke loose. I began to sob convulsively, but I had no reason and could not explain why I was crying. Vern held me gently, but the more he tried to comfort me, the harder I cried. Some nameless fear was gripping me. Again I lifted my prayers to my Heavenly Father, always a comfort in time of need, but the prayers seemed to bounce off the wall.
Vern finally fell asleep, and I begged God to be near, to comfort me, for what I did not know. I held the pillow to me, rocking and crying. Finally, as I walked around the tiny cabin, I stopped as though a sudden pain hit me. I looked at my watch; it was exactly 12:30 P.M.
"Oh, Lord," I cried out, "why aren't you near me?" The only answer I had was the sudden pounding of my heart. Something deep within me was hurting; I felt as though part of me was being snuffed out.
I lay back on the bed, and as the tears ran down my cheeks, I turned my thoughts towards Kathi. Tomorrow they would be starting home. I smiled in the dark. I wondered if Jim and Ann Wallis in Brazil knew that Kathi had gone to camp with their boys. I began to write them a letter mentally:
Dear Ann and Jim . . . Isn't it wonderful that God has brought Kathi and John together. I hope you are as happy as I am . . . . I drifted off finally to the blessed relief of sleep.
Four o'clock! A knock at the door in the middle of the night. Something each parent has thought of and perhaps dreaded. For most it never comes. For us it did!
I heard through the grogginess of a deep sleep the voice of Roy Ramsey calling Vern. "Vern, could you come to the office? There's a telephone call for you."
I jumped from bed and the words came tumbling from my lips, "It's Kathi."
Vern left to answer the phone; suddenly, I knew why I had been depressed all week. I was being prepared for this moment. I sat on the edge of the bed, knowing I must get dressed and join Vern in the office, but I had something to do first. I had to talk to the Lord. And then so suddenly and so sweetly His presence was there. His peace came to me so quickly, I can only describe it as overwhelmingly real.
When I walked into the office, I saw the stricken faces of Roy and Betty and Vern in tears.
"Tell me, honey," I begged. "What happened? Who is it?" But, of course, I knew when I heard him saying, "A head-on collision."
"Tell me, tell me," I insisted.
When he hung up the phone and turned to me, he said quietly, "Kathi, Mike, and John have been killed. Dave is in the hospital in Salinas and is not expected to live. It happened about 12:30. Apparently the kids decided to head for home."
Midnight! I saw myself standing in the middle of the cabin looking at my watch and feeling the sudden pounding of my heart. A tiny part of me had been snuffed out at that moment when Kathi lay dying in faraway King City.
Immediately my thoughts were in Brazil with Ann and Jim Wallis. I remembered Jim standing in the pulpit and asking that the people of our church care for their precious children. Now their handsome son John was gone and Dave was critically injured.
"Oh, God," I prayed, "let Dave live."
My thoughts went racing to Canoga Park and to Joe and Veda Quatro. Their second son, Mike, was such an appealing, dedicated boy. The pain seemed tripled!
And just like that, a well-known, underlined verse in my Bible popped out at me. "Absent from the body, present with the Lord."
"How close they must have been to the Lord," I said aloud. "Just leaving Missions Camp, they were probably bubbling over with happiness."
"I must call Cindy." Vern dialed her apartment in Garden Grove. He said only a few words before they both broke down.
"You know the camp Kathi was going to?" he said. . . . I took the phone and sobbed, "Go home, sweetheart. Be home when we get there."
We called our parents, and then I thought of Felicia alone in their new apartment expecting Kathi to arrive that day.
"I must tell Felicia."
"Who's Felicia?" Betty wanted to know.
What could I say? Who is Felicia? Felicia's my best friend, mom, I could hear Kathi saying. I love Felicia.
Her best friend whom I resented so bitterly. Now I wanted to see her, to ask her forgiveness, to hold her as though it were Kathi herself.
Roy called Pastor Royal Blue and asked him to drive down from Redding before we left. Pastor Blue had been a camp counselor at many junior high camps Kathi had attended. She loved him and so did we. He arrived in a short time and opened the Bible to the Psalms.
Rich, Dave, and Danny stood numbly by us, hardly believing their so alive sister was gone. We held hands and prayed for the grace of God to be our portion; we prayed for His peace, and how sweetly He provided it. We prayed for Dave Wallis, fighting for his life; and we prayed for Ann and Jim they they might be able to come home; we prayed for Joe and Veda.
Dawn was filtering through the windows when we said our good-bys to the Ramseys and Pastor Blue. Lake Shasta lay behind us, cold and uninviting.
Vern drove in silence, heading for Salinas to identify our daughter. The boys sat quietly in the back, while I leaned my head on the seat and thought of the past few weeks.
I remembered a day not long ago when Kathi had stood in our den and looked at her brothers.
"Yes," she said, nodding, "you have raised good boys. You have a nice family."
A cold chill had passed over me. "Why, Kathi," I said, "what a thing to say. You are part of this family."
She had turned away. What kind of premonitions had Kathi been having the past months. Now I remembered what she had told a friend, "I dreamt I was on my way to a wedding, on the freeway, and I fell asleep and woke up in heaven."
As we rode along in silence, I thought of my baby, my little girl, who had at last grown into a young woman my daughter whom I had never really understood. I would never see her laughing face again, never hear her bright, "Hi, mom."
"Now I really understand what the finished work of Jesus Christ means." I broke the silence and looked at Vern. "It means the door to heaven is open to all who believe."
The sustaining grace of God was our anchor; we felt His hand every mile of that long, hot journey.
Finally we had to stop and get the boys some breakfast. When the small, dark-haired waitress poured our coffee, I remembered that night at Norm's Coffee Shop when we had celebrated Vern's birthday. Kathi had been walking on air, smiling, chatting, and laughing. I pushed my cup aside and sobbed openly and unashamedly.
But in spite of all the pain, never once did I have to ask "Why?" I was to know the answer before the week was over.
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