Her son, trapped deep beneath the earth. Her faith, needing to go even deeper.
Jul 29, 2014
The phone rang at 2:30 in the morning. “Maybe that’s him,” my husband, Lonny, said. Our 20-year-old son, Logan, had gone caving with four friends from college in nearby Maquoketa Caves State Park, and he had promised that he would call. Logan always checked in.
Lonny pushed back the covers and I followed him to the kitchen. He grabbed the phone and I listened in at his side. It was one of Logan’s friends. I could hear every word: “Logan’s trapped in the cave. Rescue workers are here. But you need to come. He’s been in there for a while.”
An image exploded in my mind: Logan trapped in the dark, maybe unable to move, maybe worse. I put my hands over my ears—I couldn’t bear it—and bolted out the back door. The bricks in the patio were cold on my bare feet, but I had to get away from that phone.
Exploring caves is popular around here. Lonny first took Logan spelunking when he was just a boy. My son knew the caves, knew the narrow tunnels, the tight turns, the deepest caverns. Every year he went back with his friends to explore them.
Lonny came outside and put his arms around me. “I’ve got to go. Best you stay here with the kids until we know more,” he said. Our four younger boys were still sleeping. “I’ll keep you posted.” He handed me the phone and led me inside to the room where I’d homeschooled the kids.
Books were stacked on the table, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Wrinkle in Time. Gifts Logan had bought for his brothers years ago at the library’s used book sale.
There on the shelf was the pencil holder he’d made me when he was six, a tin can sponged with orange paint. And the antique Seth Thomas clock he wound every morning.
I looked at it and started to count the hours. How long had Logan been trapped? Six, seven hours already?
The news spread. Friends arrived. They sat with me, comforted me, prayed with me. Then came my dad. I fell into his arms. “Logan’s a good kid,” he said. “He’s got brains and faith. That’ll see him through.”
My Bible was on the table, open to the psalm I’d been studying the day before, Psalm 139.
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me. Your right hand will hold me fast.
If only I could hold on to that thought, if I could hold on to it for Logan and for me.
The teapot whistled, birds sang outside, morning broke. A serene blue sky promising a beautiful May day. The other children woke up and wandered in. I told them about their brother, doing all I could to hide my fears.
“I’m going to go there now,” I said. “I want to be there when Logan gets out.” But how soon would that be? And what kind of shape would he be in then? If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
Dad drove me to the park. We parked and walked to the cave. A command center had been set up, dozens of emergency vehicles. Ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, EMT trucks from all over the area. A steady stream of men and women came and went from the mouth of the cave.
I spotted Lonny at the top of a hill on a path that cut through the trees. I knew his gait, his baseball cap, but not the way he clenched his jaw.
I ran to him and he held me close for the second time in hours. “It’s going to be a while,” he said. “They’re using air chisels, but they can only go in one at a time. Twenty minutes a shift. There’s not enough oxygen for more.”
I stared down. Where was my son? Was he right beneath my feet? I was so close and yet I could do nothing.
“I can’t stand this, Lonny,” I said. “I feel like clawing the ground.”
“They caved all afternoon,” he explained. “At dinner a couple of the kids went to make a fire, but Logan and his friend Emma wanted to go to one more cave.”
He pulled off the baseball cap and ran his fingers through his hair. “Logan was in front. Emma was behind. She got stuck so Logan was trapped too.”
It had taken five hours for Emma to be rescued, Logan holding her hand and encouraging her all that time. He even gave her his shirt. But when he tried to follow the rescue workers out, he became stuck maneuvering over a crevice. He slipped down and got wedged in the crevice.
Now he was tired, hungry, oxygen-deprived. Facedown, his arms pinned. There was a solid rock ledge over him.
“Can they give him oxygen?”
“We got oxygen near him, but he’s too hard to reach.”
We found a shelter with picnic benches by the trees on the hill and waited there. Friends brought food. We talked about Logan’s growing-up years, what a smart, gentle, thoughtful kid he was, the perfect older brother.
Was this all it was for? Was this where it all ended? In a dark space between rocks in a cave?
God, I know you’re there with Logan. But why didn’t I feel God close by with me? Terrible things happened sometimes. Sons died and mothers stood by fresh graves even when they prayed. As sure as Logan was trapped, I was too.
A rescue worker rushed up to us with good news. “Your son has an arm free. He was actually close enough to touch my collar.” I wanted to reach out and touch the man’s collar myself. “We can get him a little oxygen now.”
Then I overheard Lonny say to another rescue worker in a low tone, “If he goes into shock or you think he’s not coming out, let me go down. I want to hold my boy’s hand.”
“What should we pray for?” I asked. “What do you need?”
The rescue worker paused. “Pray that Logan has the strength to help lift himself out,” he said. “That’s the only way.” Then he was gone.
I turned to my friend Teresa. “I can’t take it anymore. I feel like I’m going mad.” I couldn’t stop the dark thoughts, the terrible haunting notion that I would never see my son again.
“We should sing,” she said.
She nodded. All at once the tune of “Amazing Grace” sprang up around me, first a few voices, then more. I didn’t have the strength to sing myself, but I closed my eyes and listened to the words.
“Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. ’Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”
Something in me broke, the fear that had coiled around me loosened. I could feel God’s love at work around me, the friends singing, the family members praying, the rescue workers coming and going from the cave.
It might have been dark down there, but God wasn’t any less present than he was up here, above ground on a bright May day. He was in the very depths of the cave and the depths of my heart. God would find me wherever I was, even at my most hopeless. I would be held no matter what.
Suddenly I felt strong enough to lift my voice in song. “The Lord has promised good to me, his word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.”
The site began to buzz with activity. More rescuers moving to the mouth of the cave, EMTs rushing forward. I heard some shouts. A woman came running up to us on the hill. “He’s free of the crevice,” she said. Soon a man pulled us together and told us, “He’s coming out. He’s safe.”
He’s free! Never were there more welcome words. Never had I felt such a strong sense of God’s mercy or his hand at work. Logan had survived underground for 20 hours. I rode to the hospital with him in an ambulance. He was covered in dirt and bruises, nothing a mother’s love couldn’t treat.
“Mom, Dad,” he told us the next day, “you know what I did when I didn’t think I was going to last? I did just what you would have.”
What was that? “Sing, Mom. I sang and knew God was there with all of us.” He was. He held us fast in the depths.
Read Logan's account of his miraculous survival!
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