A little girl's poem helps bring healing to family

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Editor's note: The following is a guest column submitted to the Southeast Missourian.

By Jack Knowlan, Jr.

Maj. Garrett Knowlan passed away on Oct. 11 while participating in a water survival training course in the ocean near Pensacola, Fla. After a funeral service in his hometown of Jackson, his family attended a memorial service at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. During the memorial service we were approached by the wife of a colonel who Garrett had worked with while stationed at Eglin. She shared an amazing story with the family that we believe needs to be shared.

The colonel's wife and her two daughters were returning from an afternoon trip to the swimming pool when her 11-year-old daughter, Grace, asked her mother for something to write on. Grace said a song or a poem had been coming to her while she was swimming, and she didn't want to lose it. Her mother found a piece of paper, and when they got home Grace showed her what she had written. The colonel's wife told Grace it was lovely and set it aside in her kitchen.

About an hour later the colonel called his wife and told her that Garrett had died during a water survival training accident. In the confusion that followed, the poem that Grace had written was forgotten. A few days later, the colonel's wife noticed the poem on a recipe holder where she had put it when they returned from the pool. She read the poem and realized that it was about a person talking to God as he struggled for life in the water. She checked the calendar and realized that Grace had written the poem the same afternoon that Garrett died.

With the poem in hand, she slowly walked to Grace and looked at her for a moment. She then said, "Do you realize you wrote this on the afternoon Mr. Garrett was dying, perhaps while he was dying? Grace, I think the Lord gave you this poem." Grace looked at her mother and said, "You know Mom, that's funny because that's how it felt when I wrote it. I didn't feel like I was writing it. I felt like it was being given to me. But I didn't want to say anything because I didn't know how that would sound."

Later, Grace asked her mother, "Mom, do you think the poem made God happy?" Her mother told Grace that she was sure that God was pleased with her, and Grace said, "Good, because I've been looking for a way I could be good."

At our request, the colonel's wife typed a brief summary of what happened and gave us the original poem that Grace had written.

I tried to calm the waves.

I did my very best.

The hurricane just changed

From one cat. to the next.

The shore was very close,

And life was very near.

And yet there was no hope –

I just couldn't get there.

I said, "God, I know you're watching

The sun set on my life.

If you really existed

There would be no pain or strife."

Then suddenly a bright light shone

On the thoughts in my brain.

I thought, "Maybe there's a reason for

Sadness, strife and pain."

I tried a different tack

On my boat and on my mind.

I said, "I know I can't turn back.

I know you're very kind."

"If it be your will to save me,

Please do so without delay.

If it's time for me to go,

No longer let me stay."

"Tell my family that I love them.

Tell my friends that it's alright.

Please give them eternal sunshine

If you wrap me up in night."

The sun rose up

And darkness went away.

Instead of an evil night

It became a lovely day.

The wind blew my boat

To a nearby land.

I knew I had been saved

By a loving hand.

I pulled my boat up on

To the sandy bank.

I said, "God, to you I offer

My most sincere thanks."

On the sky He drew a rainbow

Reminding me of the change of weather.

I gazed at the painted sky.

I think He meant it was His pleasure.

Shock, denial, questions, anger and terrible sadness -- that's what we have experienced. We have also been overwhelmed by love, prayers and support from family, friends and Garrett's Air Force family. Many have shared stories about Garrett that helped us realize that Garrett's life and death were part of something much bigger than our personal loss. Our faith has been tested, but in the end, we realized that you either "believe" and trust God or you don't. Long before we read Grace's poem, we chose to trust God and believe that Garrett was in heaven.

Garrett's wife, Meg, had been praying for God to show her something "big" or amazing. That is when we learned of Grace's poem. God used Grace to send us a message -- a message that only a child would accept and deliver without question or fear; a message that confirmed our faith; a message that Garrett loves us and is all right; and a message that he is with the Lord and we will see him again.

Stephen Curtis Chapman wrote an album titled "Beauty will Rise" after his 5-year-old daughter was killed in an accident. It has 12 amazing songs that we can now relate to and understand. Thanks in part to Grace's poem, we believe that out of these ashes, "Beauty will Rise;" we "See" that "God is in Control" and we "Trust Him;" we desperately want to see Garrett again, but "We Can Wait;" we know that "Jesus Will Meet us There" in our time of grief and sadness; and we also understand that "Spring is Coming."

Our family is very thankful for Grace's poem and Stephen Curtis Chapman's album. Please share this with friends and family. Our hope and prayer are that Garrett's life and death will comfort others and bring them closer to God.

P.S. Garrett's wife, Meg Knowlan, has started a blog at www.showersofgrace.com.

Jack Knowlan, Jr. is the father to Maj. Garrett Wayne Knowlan, who died in October during a water survival training exercise in Pensacola, Fla.

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