Winnfield Native Sees Hand of God at Work in Family Rescue on Tennessee Lake

Calm before the storm on Douglas Lake

By Laura Holeman Trahan

The Hebrew word רוּחַ (ru-Akh) in the Bible is translated as wind, breath and spirit interchangeably. However one chooses to interpret it, God was undeniably hovering over our family this past Independence Day holiday in the form of רוּחַ. In humble awe, I reflect on how His firm hand guided us safely through the storm. 

In the hustle of church activities, work, summer sports, camps, trips, and more, summer in this season of life with two adolescent kids is not quite as free and easy as is often advertised. That said, this past 3rd and 4th of July came as a surprise to us as we realized that all four of us were free on the same day. Since this occurrence was nearly unprecedented, we had made no plans. Quickly brainstorming, we discussed that some of our best family memories have been formed while primitive camping on one of the many TVA-owned islands on Douglas Lake. Here, we are disconnected from electronics and the outside world, connected to each other, and surrounded by the beautiful works of God’s hands in the mountains, the water, the trees, sunrises and sunsets, and a blanket of stars at night. 

Excited by the possibility, with very little planning and a quick glance at the weather forecast to see all was fairly clear, we loaded our four kayaks with camping gear and put our boats in at the launch across the street from our house. 

After we had paddled about 100 feet from shore, the blue sky turned black, and a heavy downpour commenced for roughly five minutes. As we could not communicate in the storm, my husband and the kids continued to paddle forward while I turned back towards the shore, assuming the trip was over. When the rain stopped, the blue skies returned as if no storm had happened. In retrospect, this was likely God’s loud whisper nudging us to change our plans. Unfortunately, we four do not always respond obediently to subtlety. 

From the boat launch, I could see that the rest of my family had pulled their boats ashore on an island about a half-mile away. I joined them shortly and was informed excitedly that they had found a camping spot and still wanted to stay despite the recent shower. I paddled over, we hung out what needed to dry, set up camp and jumped in the lake for an afternoon of swimming and playing on our little island oasis. 

As the sun began to set, we ate a hearty campfire supper and were on our way for an evening swim when a boat pulled up next to our kayaks. We were puzzled as two game wardens stepped out of the boat and approached our campsite.  They informed us that although the lake has a multitude of islands where camping is allowed, we had unfortunately chosen the one island, a Wildlife refuge, where it is not. Since the inlet we had chosen was bereft of signage stating such, and we were clearly ignorant of our transgression until that moment, the agents benevolently did not ticket us. They did, however, inform us that our night would have to come to an end, and we would have to make our way home. They left us with a warning to watch out for other boats in the dark and made their way back out away from the island.

The sun had set by this point, so we packed up our campsite by flashlight illumination. We set out in our kayaks with makeshift navigation lights. Dad led the way with a cell phone flashlight app in one hand balancing a paddle in the other; 12-year-old sister followed with a small camping lantern between her knees; 10-year-old brother came next with a headlamp; and mom (me) trailed with a flashlight in my mouth. 

Once again, about 100 feet away from the island, the sky clouded over. Soon after, lightning began spiderwebbing across the sky and the wind began to pick up. About a quarter of our way into our journey, despite our lights, a large wake boat passed in front of us and almost clipped the front of my daughter’s boat. The wake that followed combined with the wind and pushed us off course nearly capsizing us all in the process. My husband and the boat owner exchanged some loud words concerning child safety as he passed further into the main channel. 

The kids were losing control of their boats and their emotions. As the wind picked up, neither were able to effectively paddle any longer. We were now widely separated and were being continually pushed further off course towards another shoreline. We considered towing the kids behind our own boats, however, at this point, the wind was making forward progress nearly impossible. Over the sound of our own distressed utterances, we heard voices coming from the shoreline where the wind had been pushing us: “Are you ok?” “Do you need help?” “Come over here!”

My husband and I communicated with a glance of relieved surrender. The wind guided us smoothly to the shore where about a dozen people from the permanent campground were waiting for us. There was no boat dock, only a sheer dirt and grass cliff face. Nevertheless, these selfless people first walked our kids up and held and comforted them in their emotional turmoil. Then, they helped us, piece by piece, unload our kayaks and made a ramp out of ladders to bring the boats up from the water. They then loaded my husband and kids into their truck to take them home. 

While I waited with the boats, the remaining campers took me under their porch covering as the skies finally opened with rain, wind, thunder and lightning that would continue for most of the night. When my husband returned, as their final act of kindness, they helped load all four boats on the trailer. 

We returned home minutes later to be greeted by two shaken kids looking for comfort and reassurance. Knowing that all of us have professed to serve a God who is sovereign over wind and waves and our household, we reflected on our last several hours and shared with them what God had revealed. 

First, we looked out the back door at the tremendous storm that had not been predicted but was currently happening outside. We agreed that camping that night would have been quite dangerous. Had we not been camping on the only prohibited island in the lake, no one would have come to tell us to leave. As it was, God sent word in the form of two Wildlife Resources Agents. 

Once we were on the water, the wind—the רוּחַ—increased just as the big boat passed a little too closely to our kayaks eliciting a verbal response. The wind carried our distressed voices in the dark across the water to the ears of our rescuers, turning their attention to our poorly lit, tiny vessels. 

Finally, I recalled when my daughter lamented to me that she could not paddle anymore because the wind was too strong. She said in a panicked voice, “What do I do?” I told her, “Stop paddling against the wind. Just let go and let the wind push you into the shore.” God took us from the middle of a storm and, through His wind, guided us safely home. 

Hearing this, the kids’ demeanor changed immediately from shaken and confused to excitement and awe. They were astounded to see an undeniable demonstration that the God of the universe, ruler of the land and the seas and all that is in them, is mindful of a meager family of four on a Tennessee lake. Our family has been camping many times and will be many more, but this camping trip that wasn’t will be one these two will always remember. 

Physically experiencing the pushing of the רוּחַ is something I will not soon forget either.  I often try to power through any struggle in life on my own strength and generally fall short. I would do well to take my own advice and remember who is in control: “Stop paddling against the wind. Just let go and let the wind push you into the shore.”

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” Zech 4:6

(Writer Laura Holeman Trahan is 1998 graduate of WSHS and received her doctorate of pharmacy degree from the University of Louisiana in Monroe.  She lives with her family in Dandridge, TN. Please don’t forget to click to the right of the photo below to see the full slideshow.)