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For Tanner Woods, that summer should have been the best ever. He was fifteen, tall and handsome, a standout football player at Thousand Oaks High School in Southern California. He was also an excellent student. Come fall, Tanner would have a dozen activities pulling at him. But it was July, and Tanner and his family were spending a month on the beach in the south of France. The days were long and carefree. In fact, there were no signs that something strange and miraculous was about to happen.
Something that would change Tanner's life forever.
Tanner's sister, Erin, was two years younger than him, but the two had always been buddies. Most days that summer, Tanner and Erin would play Frisbee on the beach and splash in the waves while their parents played tennis at the club or swam at the pool, some two hundred yards away. The Woods family had spent lots of time at the beach-both near their California home and on vacation. But still their parents urged them to be careful. "Watch for the riptides," Tanner's mother warned them each morning. "You kids are used to the ocean, but keep an eye on each other."
Tanner and Erin loved the freedom of staying at the beach by themselves all day. By midsummer they had each made several new friends along the shore. One afternoon just after lunchtime, a woman and two young blonde girls walked down the beach and set up not far from where Tanner and Erin had their towels. Tanner and Erin could tell by the family's fair coloring that they were from one of those Scandinavian countries like Sweden or Norway.
"Must be new," Tanner whispered to his sister. Erin nodded. Neither of them had seen the family before. The teens watched as the two little girls- who looked about seven and four years old- climbed into a rubber raft and set out into the water. "Wonder if they know about the riptides?" Erin asked.
Tanner narrowed his eyes, his heartbeat twice as fast as before. For the most part, the people playing in the surf had cleared out by then. Tanner studied the waves and immediately understood why. The riptides were back! They came up every day at about this time, but that afternoon they were stronger than Tanner had ever seen them. He glanced back at the rubber boat and his breath caught in his throat. The small craft was being sucked out to sea and the small girls were huddled at one end, their faces frantic.
"Look!" He nudged Erin and pointed at the little boat. "Those girls are gonna drown." He jumped up and raced toward the woman who had brought the young girls.
"Tanner!" Erin shouted after him. "Be careful." But Tanner barely heard his sister's warning. Fear welled up within him and he was breathless when he reached the woman. "Ma'am ... your girls!" He sucked in a quick breath. "They're in trouble!" He gestured out to the two little girls. Both were screaming, their voices lost on the pounding surf. Their small boat was twice as far out to sea as it had been before.
The woman was on her feet in an instant, panic written across her face. "Girls!" she screamed. "Someone, help!" Hysteria filled her voice and she shot a desperate look at Tanner. "I can't swim!" Across the beach, Erin was watching the drama unfold. Now she ran across the hot sand and caught up with Tanner just as he bolted for the water. "Tanner!" Her voice was a shriek. "You can't do this. You'll be killed!"
"I have to, Erin. Those girls don't have a chance." Tanner did not hesitate another moment. But as he sprinted for the shore, he turned back one last time. "Pray for me, Erin. Please pray." "No, Tanner ... don't go!"
In all her life, Erin had never been so scared. There were no adults around, no time to find her parents. By then a small crowd had gathered near the two girls' mother, comforting her, praying with her. Erin wanted to scream. What about my brother! What if he dies trying to save those girls! At that instant, Tanner ran through the surf and dove into the waves. In a matter of seconds he was caught in the same riptide as the children, his arms cutting powerful strokes into the water as he struggled to reach their rubber boat.
"Tanner!" Erin started to sob. "Don't drown, Tanner. Please!" Panic choked her and she grabbed fistfuls of her hair. Her brother would never make it out alive and all she could do was watch. Then she remembered Tanner's final words. Pray for me, Erin. Please pray. Still terrified, Erin fell to her knees and covered her face with her hands. "Please, God ... make a miracle happen for my brother and those girls. Please ..."
Meanwhile, some fifty yards offshore, Tanner was breathless at the strength of the current. He fought back the panic that splashed his face with every wave. Okay, God. I need your help here. Pausing a few precious seconds, Tanner yanked off his shirt, kicked off his sandals, and kept swimming. Never had the water tugged so desperately at his body. His heart raced and every few seconds he swallowed another mouthful of salt water.
"Girls!" He struggled for a breath of air. "I'm coming!" The water was choppy and only by straining with all his might could he see the rubber boat ahead of him. He fought toward the little craft, one stroke after another. The current was taking him straight for them. He could hear their little-girl screams, and he allowed them to drive him forward. Stroke after stroke. Don't let me drown, God. Those girls need me.
When he was ten feet away he silently thanked God. He was going to reach them! That was the good news. The bad news was something that made Tanner's heart race within him. His limbs were beginning to feel numb. He knew the reason why. He was running out of energy.
But somehow he held out. One minute led to two and finally Tanner was at their side. He clutched the edge of the boat and peered inside at the terrified, screaming children. "Girls. It's okay. We're going to be all right."
Tanner wasn't sure if the young Scandinavian girls would speak English, but they did. "Help us! Please!" The older of the two girls scrambled toward him, leaning the rubber boat too far to the side. Both girls screamed and grabbed the sides of the boat as water began pouring in. Tanner worked his way to the other side, desperate for a solution. Every second the riptide was pulling the boat farther out to sea. "Shh," Tanner told the girls. "Stop crying and stay still. We're going to be all right."
The girls' screams quieted to soft, frightened whimpers.
There was only one way they would make it back to shore. I've gotta' swim, God. Give me the strength. Give me a miracle. Tanner took a deep breath and stared at the cluster of people on the shoreline.
Somewhere Erin was watching him, praying for him. He summonsed the last of his strength, drew another breath, and with one hand still clutching the small boat, he began swimming toward shore. He was only a hundred yards from the beach, but the riptide was relentless. For three minutes he kicked and pushed against the current, but his efforts only worked to keep the boat in place. The older girl saw his difficulty and began to cry aloud once more. "We're going to drown!" she screamed.
"No we aren't!" Tanner craned his neck and stared at the child. His tone was calm, despite the panic welling within him. "Sit down next to your sister and be quiet." As the girl grew quiet once more, Tanner was able to focus all his attention on reaching the shore.
Minutes passed and yet it seemed they had barely moved five yards closer to shore. Tanner's legs were cramping, his energy drained. He thought about football and the training drills he'd been through with the team the previous summer. Tough it out, Tanner. Come on, you can do it! He could almost hear his coach talking to him over the waves. Or maybe it wasn't his coach.
God? Is that you? Help me! I can't do this! You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength, Tanner.. Don't give up.
This time Tanner was sure it wasn't his coach. He'd heard his favorite Bible verse. It was the same Bible verse that hung on the wall in his room. He'd always said he could do anything with God's help. Yes, that was it, wasn't it? Tanner kicked furiously, a new strength surging through him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the two girls, their white-blonde hair matted to their faces, their pale blue eyes wide with fright. He would not give up. If they drowned, then he would, too.
Tanner lunged forward with each stroke of his free hand and yanked the raft between strokes. The current was so strong he felt as if he were pulling the raft straight up a hill. Still he continued.
Back on the beach, Erin was still on her knees, still praying constantly for her brother. The crowd around the girls' mother was growing and everyone had left the water except for Tanner and the children. Come on, God. Get him back to shore. Please! Erin studied her brother, her body paralyzed by fear. Tanner was a brilliant swimmer. If it was taking him this long to pull the girls back to shore, something was terribly wrong. Erin had heard of currents that literally pulled people underwater to their deaths. She prayed that this was not the case as she kept her eyes riveted on her older brother.
There were no rescue boats, and although Erin had heard someone call for the local lifeguards, this was a private beach and none had arrived yet. In addition, among the few people who'd gathered, no one looked able to carry off a rescue. No one but Tanner.
"We need you, God. Give us a miracle." Erin's voice mingled with the wind as she once more began to pray.
Out in the water, Tanner knew he had long since run out of energy. His toes and calves cramped with every kick and he was barely able to keep his eyes open. Something besides the current tugged at him, urging him to drop the boat and let the waves have their way with him. But every time he began to sink, the salt water stung his lips and eyes and he fought for the surface once more.
Time blurred as one yard at a time Tanner drew closer to shore. Adrenaline coursed through his body, forcing him forward, even if only a few inches at a time.
Please God, he prayed silently. Help me get these children back to shore.
If he gave in to the fatigue that racked his arms and legs, he and the girls would all drown. Even if they didn't, the progress he had made so far would be wiped out in the driving riptide. He pictured his bedroom back home. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. The verse ran through his mind again and again. He pursed his lips in determination and continued forward.
About that time, Erin heard footsteps behind her. She turned and saw her parents running across the beach.
"Where's Tanner?" her mother shouted from a distance. Her eyes were wide, terrified. "Is that him out there?" Her father pointed toward Tanner and the girls in the boat. "Oh, Mom ... Dad ... I'm so scared." Erin was in their arms before she had time to explain. "Tanner didn't want them to drown." "I'm going out, too." Her father took a few steps toward the shore.
"Dad, don't do it!" Erin shouted. "The current's too strong." "He's right," her mother came up alongside him. "Besides, Tanner's making progress. Don't go in unless he needs you."
For several more agonizing minutes, Erin and her parents waited and prayed, huddled a few yards from the crowd of people around the children's mother. Gradually, Tanner and the girls moved closer to shore. When they were only ten yards away. Tanner's father swam out and pulled the trio safely to the sand.
As the crowd surrounded them and the girls' mother swooped her daughters into a waiting towel, Tanner's father lifted him into his arms and took him onto the beach, where he set him gently in a chair.
"Thank God, you're okay!" Tanner's mother ran alongside them. There were tears of relief in her eyes and in Erin's as they gathered around him. Tanner's hands and legs were swollen and his face was grayish-white. He began to moan.
"Son!" His father wrapped a blanket around him. "Are you all right? Can you hear me?" Tanner could barely hear his dad's voice. He opened his eyes, but everything was blurred. "Water," he said. "I'll get it!"
Tanner thought the voice was Erin's, but he was too tired to care. He closed his eyes and slept until he felt his mother gently waking him. She held a bottle of water to his lips. "Here, son. Drink." After several sips Tanner sat up straighter and opened his eyes fully. He looked around, past his parents and brother toward the area where the little girls' mother had been. The sparse crowd including the girls and their family were already making their way up the beach.
Tanner blinked and shot a look at his parents and sister. "Were the girls okay?" "They were fine." Tanner's mother ran her hand over his forehead. "They should've at least stopped to thank you."
Tanner shrugged. "Oh, well. The probably wanted to get the girls indoors. They were pretty scared." He sank back in the beach chair and closed his eyes again. He was exhausted, but he had survived the ordeal and he was humbly thankful. God had pulled him through. Only he knew how close he'd come to giving up and letting his body sink beneath the waves.
Throughout the rest of the week the village people got word of Tanner's heroic rescue and began treating him like a celebrity. People pointed to him and talked in whispers, and several times people came up to him and congratulated him on saving the lives of the young girls.
Tanner learned from several of them that the girls' father was Peter Schilling, a very wealthy merchant in town. Apparently he didn't like Americans and had voiced that to others on more than one occasion. This puzzled Tanner-that the man would put his dislike of Americans over his daughters' rescue-but he tried not to think about it. The man had to have known where Tanner's family was staying, and yet he made no attempt to contact Tanner or to thank him in any way for saving his daughters' lives.
Finally the month drew to an end, and the Woods family packed their things and returned home to Southern California. As they boarded the airplane, Tanner glanced once more toward the airport. He had secretly hoped Mr. Schilling might choose this time to thank him in person for his rescue. But when he saw no one, he decided to put the incident out of his mind.
Fifteen years passed and Tanner finished school and college. His younger sister married and had two children, but Tanner became an attorney and remained single. He dated occasionally, but for one reason or another never wound up in a serious relationship. "It's time you find yourself a wife, brother," Erin joked once in awhile.
But Tanner would only shake his head. He was more serious than his sister and did not easily make close connections with people.
Excerpted from A Treasury of Miracles for Teens by Karen Kingsbury Copyright © 2003 by Karen Kingsbury
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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