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The Potentially Most Tragic Day of My Life

by Lisa Manning on June 22, 2014

I have wanted to write this post for a week an yet, it has taken me this long to do so. Despite the passing of time, my emotions are still swirling. Perhaps that is by design as I never want to forget the events of that Sunday afternoon.

When my husband and I had children, we made an agreement. He would be able to sleep in on Saturday mornings and I would still continue my almost life-long habit of taking a Sunday afternoon nap. I snuggled in with the cat curled comfortably around my legs and dozed in the quiet. One of our kids was at a neighbors home and the other was playing outside in the yard with a friend. I didn’t sleep long and when I awoke, I decided to read instead of getting up. I listened for our kids to “check-in” as is our rule. My Mama Bear instinct kicked in soon thereafter because I hadn’t heard them. I asked my husband and he said they had checked in and told me of their whereabouts. I proceeded up to my office to work but the nagging feeling that something wasn’t right still lingered. My desk is positioned in the office so that I can see out our front window. It is perfect for keeping my eye on the kids. I can see them in the neighbors yards, riding their bikes and listen as they are playing below the window. After 15 or 20 minutes, there was still no sign of our 6 year old. I went back downstairs and my husband assured me they were with an older, responsible friend and not to worry.

Shortly thereafter, the little one came running into the house soaking wet and covered with dirt and sand. She was excited to tell us that one of her friends almost drowned at the beach. We live about 15 miles from the ocean and do go to the beach but I was confused. I began to question how she went to the beach, thinking I had misunderstood my husband and that he had allowed her to go to the beach with neighbors. Yes, she had gone with a neighbor and no, the parent didn’t go. They walked. Now, I was really baffled. I laced up my sneakers, called my husband and asked my 6 year old daughter to walk us to her “beach.”

Natalies June 2014 adventure BBehind our home is a small section of woods. The girls are allowed to go into the woods just enough that we can still see them. We began walking past that point and deeper into the woods. After 15 minutes, we came to a big expanse of land that was open but separated by a small ditch. Jokingly, my husband asked her where her “Bridge to Tarabithia” was. If you haven’t seen that movie, it is about 2 junior high kids who create an imaginary land called, Tarabithia, in the woods. To get there, they use a rope swing across a ravine. The end of the movie ends with one of the children dying as the rope breaks. My stomach was in knots by this point because I knew our little field trip wasn’t going to be pleasing. We climbed on a pallet that took us over the ditch and into what now seemed like desert land. There were patches of trees along with barren dirt and piles of felled timbers from construction. We kept walking. The longer we walked, the more upset my stomach got and the more quiet I became.

About 5 minutes later, we were coming upon another section of woods when one of the other children and his parents came out of the woods. Our 2 children kept excitedly telling us their adventures as he shook his head. “You have no idea what you are about to see.”  They told us they had swam across the water at least 4 times until one of the kids almost drowned and they got scared and came home.

Natalies June 2014 adventure copy

The #1 Lake

“No, Daddy. We went swimming in the number 4 lake.”

The children had climbed down that first bank and walked along the edges to the last very big body of water. We didn’t go the way they did because we didn’t want to fall in the water or get muddy. We stayed on the top and walked around. As we neared the last body of water, there was a huge sand embankment. As we went to climb down, the sand gave way and I fell.  Grateful to have caught myself and not been buried in sand, I kept going.  

We live in the south where alligators live free. They are in most lagoons and big bodies of water in our area and we often see them sunning themselves on the banks. We also have lots of snakes; copperheads, rattle snakes & cotton mouths. I am not kidding when I say my stomach was so upset I was trying not to vomit. My mind was “swimming” (pardon the pun!) with the many things that could have happened to those 4 kids.

Ready to see where the kids went swimming? 

Natalies June 2014 adventure C edited

I drove around and found the entrance to a construction site and sure enough, this was the spot.  We had no idea it was there. We have no idea what gave the kids the bright idea to go back there or even think it was okay. My kids aren’t even allowed off of our very short block, let alone over the river and through the woods to the “beach.” I am typically diligent about knowing their every move. Now, even more so.  The construction workers told me that in this particular lake, there are many alligators but 2 main ones.  One is very aggressive and chases the construction workers and the other one is extremely large.  They also told me they kill 1-2 poisonous snakes just about every day they work.  

As we walked the 35 minutes back to our house and in the days following, I  have thanked God hundreds of times that my daughter and those children were safe. I know that there are parents everywhere that do not have the same outcome we did and grieve for their little ones. I cannot begin to comprehend their pain. I have reflected back dozens of times thinking about what we could have done differently. Again this morning, I was talking to God about it and He gently reminded me that the many prayers that have gone before that day about keeping my children safe did not go unheard. He also showed me that during the moments I was feeling the Mama Bear instinct, I prayed several times that she would be safe. I will be forever grateful that those prayers were answered.  One of my readers so aptly reminded me that my “Mama Bear” instinct was really the Holy Spirit.  She is so right!  🙂

Ultimately, my children are God’s children first. I can only trust Him to keep them safe and then do my very best as a parent to guide them and guard them from harm.  Thank you God for answered prayer!

Please understand that this story involves a deep transparency.  Please refrain from negativity.  I have certainly beat myself up more than anyone else could.  God reminded me that Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus once (Luke 2:41-52) so I am certainly not alone.  ~ Lisa




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