32: Friends in Dark Times

32: Friends in Dark Times

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Friends in Dark Times

A friend knows the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.

~Donna Roberts

The call came at two in the morning. I hadn’t been sleeping well anyway. Something in my mother’s heart, something buried deep, had known trouble was coming.

It was my twenty-year-old son’s friend. “I need to tell you about Logan.” Her voice was steady but I could sense ripples of fear. “He’s stuck in a cave. He’s been there for a while. You need to come.”

My husband Lonny and I stood in the kitchen. He wrapped his arms around me and we rocked back and forth as we prayed. Our boy Logan had left earlier in the afternoon to go camping with friends. They were an hour away at a state park well known for its underground caves. My family had enjoyed spelunking through them since my son was small.

But tonight was different.

Tonight my son was trapped, head down, arms pinned, in a steep, narrow crevice in the cold, dark ground.

“I’ll get to the park,” my husband said. “You stay here with the other kids.” Our four other sons slept soundly in their beds.

And in a moment he was gone. It was just me. The ticking clock. A pounding heart. And fear.

I knew at once what I needed to do. I needed to call my friends.

“Logan is stuck in a cave in Maquoketa,” I whispered into the phone. “There are emergency crews. But they can’t get him out. I’m sorry to wake you. I need you to pray.”

I spoke the words. Over and over. A half dozen times or more. There was something about hearing those voices. Something about knowing my friends would be up, alone in quiet places, sitting in the dark, offering sweet whispers of prayer.

The minutes dragged slowly. I went outside for some air. The bricks were cold on my feet, and for a moment, I wanted to run. I wanted to run from the desperation of it all. But I went inside, started the teapot, more for something to do than for tea. If I didn’t do something I’d surely go mad.

“God help me. I can’t stand this. I don’t know how to push through these minutes. I need your grace,” I whispered at the kettle began to howl.

And that’s when I heard the knock. It was a gentle rap at the back door.

I knew at once who it was.

My girlfriends had come.

Sarah and Tammy came right in and held me tight. We sat together, praying, reading Scripture, talking, until a stripe of dawn broke the nighttime gray. When my veneer of calm gave way to panic, Sarah held my hand. When doubt and grave thoughts slipped around me like a cloak, Tammy would speak truth.

At about seven in the morning, my husband called. “It’s tough, Shawnelle,” he said. “There are crews working. But oxygen is a problem and the rescue workers can only stay in the depths of the cave for ten minutes at a time.”

I wanted to close my ears.

“They’ve dangled an oxygen mask down to him. But right now, he can’t put it on.”

Lonny shared more and while he talked I packed a few things. My dad had come in the night, and he and I were going to the park. I needed to be as close as possible to my boy. And even as I paced and packed and choked out words, my girlfriends made arrangements. When I got off the phone, Sarah spoke in clear, calm words.

“Tammy’s going with you two to the park. I’m going to stay here and take care of your other boys.”

And with that, we were off.

When we arrived at the park, the first thing I saw was a group of emergency vehicles. Eight or more. Then, coming down the hill that led to the cave entrance, came Lonny. His jaw was set hard and his eyes showed his worry. Together we traversed the hill, and with each step I wondered if I were standing above my trapped boy.

“We have to stay in this area, “ Lonny said. “There are picnic tables and a shelter. The entrance isn’t too far away, but we have to stay back and let the responders do their work.” Lonny held one of my hands, and Tammy held the other.

And then, up the hill, came my passel of friends. The ones I’d called in the night. The ones who had spent the last few hours with hands folded in prayer.

“We had to come,” Teresa said. “We want to be here for Logan. But we need to be here for you, too.”

I didn’t know when I’d been more grateful for the open arms of my friends.

Minutes somehow gave way to hours and the morning sun stretched high in the sky. My mom and sisters had arrived, and they joined the tight circle of my friends. We talked about Logan. We spoke of sweet memories of his growing-up years. We prayed. And once, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, a friend followed me as I got up and ran deep into the woods.

I’d fallen to my knees, desperate for my son.

And as I sobbed and begged and finally made peace with God, she held me tight and then helped me to my feet. Together she and I walked back to the shelter.

Later in the afternoon I began to hear whispers of the potential for rain. “The cave is a wash gulley,” I heard a rescue worker say. “We’ll have to close off the entrance to the cave.”

I knew that my son still couldn’t move. I knew that he couldn’t raise his head. He’d been there for almost twenty hours. I tried to push the panic away, but it moved around me like a damp, heavy fog.

And that’s when my friends began to sing.

It was one voice at first. Then another — “Amazing Grace.” I closed my eyes and listened to the sweet voices of my friends. Somehow their singing pushed away the fog. Somehow their voices allowed me to breathe.

It was late in the afternoon when we sat at those old, wooden tables and a rescue worker came near. He walked with authority. Tammy reached for my hand and held on tight.

Silence filled the shelter.

“We’re going to begin the process of getting your boy out of the cave,” he said. “He’s no longer lodged in. Your boy has come free.”

I would have fallen then, had my friends not held me up.

There was great rejoicing in the dear hearts of those who gathered under that shelter.

I don’t believe I would have made it without my girlfriends that day. I’d asked for grace, and God brought my friends.

I learned something precious, too, as we gathered that afternoon with tears running rivers. If a friend stands by you in the darkness, you can bet she’ll be there when you’re standing in the sun.

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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