Dec 11, 2015 - Story of Miracles!
By Chuck and Pam Pierce
“I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places. . .”Isaiah 45:3
Whoever coined the term “youth retreat” was either not in his right mind or had never been with a group of young people on a bus. In my experience as a mother and a youth ministry worker, the only time youth retreat is when they go to sleep (usually well after midnight). With that knowledge realistically tucked away, I volunteered to accompany our church youth group on a “retreat” to the Texas Hill Country in the summer of 2003. A handful of college-aged and older adults would be driving for about six hours, one way, with approximately forty teenagers from Denton to Kerrville, Texas, where we would spend two days along the Guadalupe River at Kerrville-Schreiner Park.
Just north of Waco the caravan stopped in West, Texas, to fill up with gas and freshly-baked Czech pastries. Then it was on to Pedernales (pronounced Purr-DIN-alice by native Texans) Falls State Park for a picnic lunch and energy-expending activities along the river.
Pedernales Falls State Park, thirty-two miles west of Austin, is a 4,800-acre park where eight miles of the flint-strewn Pedernales River meander through the limestone Hill Country of the Edward’s Plateau. We picnicked near the Falls, a stretch of the river where water drops fifty feet over successive limestone layers via a series of cascades and pools. One of the adult volunteers had planned several “Survivor” challenges for the youth group teams which involved plenty of running and sweating. By the time we loaded everyone back into the vans, tired and re-hydrated, they were ready to finish the last leg of our trip to Kerrville.
As we unloaded supplies into the group cabin in Kerrville, my fourteen-year-old son, Isaac, found me in the kitchen.
“I can’t find my wallet,” he said. “It had my money, my friend’s money, my ID, my Six Flags season pass. . .” By this time, he was talking much faster than usual and looking a little frantic.
“Okay, okay,” I said, in my most soothing mother voice. “When do you remember having it last?”
“At the river, when we were playing in the water after lunch,” he said with certainty. “I put it inside my shoes on a rock."
I looked at his feet. The shoes were there.
“Have you checked the van and your backpack?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
Isaac rolled his eyes and said, “It’s not here anywhere. I know I left it at Pedernales. It must have fallen in the water when I picked up my shoes.”
“Well, we can’t go back and get it,” I said, anticipating his next idea. “If it fell in the river, we won’t be able to find it in the dark. All we can do is pray and ask the Lord to let a park ranger find it. When that happens, your ID has your name and address on it, and you’ll get it back.”
Isaac looked skeptical, but he agreed to pray about it. We put that concern aside and had a wonderful time.
Chuck was on one of his many trips while we were in the Hill Country. I think he had conveniently planned this one so he would not have to “rough it” with me and the youth. However, upon his return he wanted to know all the details of the trip. As I was telling him that the trip was wonderful and we had no major issues, Isaac walked into the kitchen. That’s when I remembered the wallet incident (I had done so many things since then I had actually forgotten that crisis). I said, “Isaac, tell Dad what happened to you.”
Isaac proceeded to tell his Dad about his loss. By this time, he had recovered from the shock. Since his Dad is a good father, he concluded by saying, “And Dad, my money was in there and my Six Flags season pass. You need to replace these because I want to go to Six Flags next week.”
Chuck is usually an easier mark than I am where the kids are concerned. However, he immediately said, “I could do that, but I’m not. We will just have to pray and ask the Lord to find the wallet if you want to go to Six Flags again.”
Chuck remembers the next part of the story this way:
“Isaac and I went to his room and we got down to pray. By this time, I really had lost that burst of faith and moment of grandeur that had occurred in the kitchen. However, since I am older and more spiritual, I told Isaac that I would pray first, then he could pray. I prayed a quick prayer, then waited for Isaac to pray. He proceeded by saying, “Lord, you are just going to have to help me find that wallet I lost in the river. It is red with Volcom emblem on it. And Lord, I have asked my Dad and He will not help me!”
Now usually, in the midst of prayer, I do not want to choke someone, but my thought was, “Why am I getting the blame over his mistake?”
Isaac continued to pray, “You know Lord, I feel you want me to go to Six Flags, so please help me since Dad isn’t. Amen!” I just looked at him and left the room, certain that we would never see the wallet again and that somehow I was now branded as a crummy Dad.
On my next trip to Minnesota, as I was speaking in front of a large group of people, my cell phone rang. I had forgotten to turn it off before the message. I noticed that it was “Home,” so I answered it from the pulpit. It was an excited Isaac. He said, “Dad, the park ranger found my wallet in the river! Can you believe that?”
I was in the pulpit, so I did not want to lie. I said, “No, that is hard to believe.” He then proceeded without a breath by asking, “Now, when are we going to Six Flags?”
After Chuck left the pulpit in Minnesota, he called home for details. That morning, before Isaac woke up, I received a call from a park ranger at Pedernales Falls.
“Does Isaac Pierce live there?” he asked.
“Yes, sir; I’m his mother.”
“Is he by any chance missing a red, Velcro wallet?”
“As a matter of fact, he is,” I answered. “Our youth group stopped at Pedernales on the way to Kerrville. Isaac was sure he lost it in the river. It contained some money, his ID, and a Six Flags season pass.”
“Sounds about right,” the ranger responded. “I don’t know how much money he had when he lost the wallet, but there’s about $50 here. If the address on the ID is correct, I’ll drop this in the mail tomorrow.”
After confirming the address, I had just one question.
“Could you tell me where the wallet was found?”
“One of our rangers found it just downstream from the Falls, wedged between some rocks. A bright red wallet kind of stands out in the river, you know.”
I hung up the phone and turned to my sixteen-year-old son, John, who had been listening to my side of the conversation.
“You want to go tell Isaac they found his wallet?” I said.
“Dude, no way,” said John, rushing to Isaac’s bedroom with the news.
Moments later, Isaac stumbled to the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“They found my wallet?” he asked, groggy and disbelieving.
“A park ranger found it in the river, just downstream from the Falls,” I said. “They’re putting it in the mail tomorrow.”
“I never thought. . .” Isaac started. “Was everything still in it?”
“Everything, including the money,” I said. “You want to call Dad?”
The unexpected restoration of lost possessions is an amazing feeling. Even though Isaac and I had prayed for the wallet’s return, we were both surprised by the ranger’s telephone call. His Dad was overcome by the return. When the wallet arrived a few days later, still full of money, ID, season pass, and damp movie ticket stubs, it was much more than a wallet to Isaac and to us.
It was a miracle!
Expecting the miraculous is one of the childlike characteristics that have to be cultivated and protected in a world full of cynicism and disappointment. Whether the miracle comes in the form of a water-logged wallet or a restored inheritance makes no difference.
In my case, the lost item was a collection of old black-and-white photographs in a plastic pencil pouch. My early childhood was not exactly idyllic, but I didn’t really pay that much attention to how dysfunctional things were around our house. In fact, by the time we moved from California to Houston, Texas, in 1964, I had grown accustomed to lots of freedom and very little parental involvement. My sister and I learned to navigate our way around the city by bus with our two best friends, Vicki and Terri. I was the official photographer and documented all of our adventures with my trusty Instamatic camera. By the time my sister and I left Texas in 1964 to live with our aunt and uncle in New Hampshire, I had a plastic pencil pouch full of black-and-white memories to take with me.
Over the years, I added a few special photographs to the pouch. Eventually, some color began to appear in the photographs, but most of them were still black-and-white. When I got married and moved into an apartment at Texas A&M University in College Station, the pouch went with me. When my husband, Chuck, graduated and accepted a job in Houston, I put a bank check bearing our College Station address in the pouch as a souvenir of our first residence as a married couple. Then I slipped the pouch in the last box, loaded it into Chuck’s uncle’s truck, and we were off to a new life.
Unpacking is much more fun than packing, especially when you don’t own very much. Within a few days, all of our worldly possessions were stowed in our new apartment, with one glaring exception: the plastic pencil pouch of photographs. I went back through every box and every scrap of packing paper, but no matter where or how thoroughly I searched, I couldn’t find it. The photographs were gone. Somewhere between College Station and Houston, my pouch full of memories had been lost.
For the next thirteen years I kept expecting to find those pictures every time we moved into a new house. Surely I had just overlooked the pouch somewhere along the way and they would turn up the next time I unpacked. Everything else in that last box packed in College Station survived the trip. Why not the photographs?
Meanwhile, our family of two had turned into a family of six. By March of 1988, we were living in a little gray house on a hill in Denton, Texas. Winter was fading slowly and spring was fighting valiantly to take its rightful place, but it was a hard battle that year in many ways. In February, we had lost identical twin boys shortly after birth. Within a few weeks of their deaths, we received news that a friend of ours had died with AIDS. A week later, the kids’ favorite goldfish was discovered floating, belly up, on the surface of the aquarium after a visiting child scraped most of the scales from his body. Then, to finish off the month of March, pill bugs chewed up every petunia I had planted in the garden overnight. Sometimes, when it rains it really does pour. I just sat down in the yard and had a good cry over everything.
That afternoon, when I walked to the street to pick up the mail, there was a manila envelope in the mailbox bearing a College Station post office stamp. The name in the return address field was Pierce, but I was sure we didn’t know any Pierces in College Station. The envelope was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pierce, so I sat down on the front steps and opened it. Inside was a white envelope addressed to C. Pierce of Bryan, Texas, from someone named Horne in Marshall, Texas. Along with the white envelope was a slip of yellow paper containing this message:
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Pierce,
These pictures were found in a truck belonging to a Mr. Horne and mailed to me by mistake thinking I was Charles Pierce. I then called the Former Students’ Association and got your address in Denton—I do truly hope these are yours!
The bank check bearing our address in College Station was folded inside the slip of yellow paper. My hands shook as I tilted the white envelope and watched my dog-eared collection of photographs spill into my lap.
Timing is everything. The pouch full of photographs had escaped the moving box in 1975 and fallen, unnoticed, behind the truck seat. For years those pictures had lain hidden, but safe, while the truck changed owners. Finally, when the time was right, someone named Horne decided to seriously clean out his truck. Mr. Horne could have taken one look at that packet of photographs and tossed them in the trash can, but he didn’t. He pursued the only lead he had: an old bank check from College Station, Texas. When C. Pierce in Bryan, Texas, received the packet of photographs, she took the time to track down the current address of a former Texas A&M Aggie named Charles Pierce. She repacked the envelope containing the photographs and the bank check and sent them on the last leg of the journey so that the package arrived just in time.
I had to buy a new pencil pouch at Wal-Mart to replace the old one, but those photographs have been in my underwear drawer ever since. That seemed like the best place to put them, since I would see the pencil pouch every day. Those recovered photos are a constant, tangible reminder of one very important fact: God knows where I am and just what I need at all times. Expect the miraculous. His timing is perfect.