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This memory takes me back to Fraser Lake, lake of my childhood, lake of many campers, fifth-wheel trailers, motor homes and tents parked and pitched near the water. It was the lake through which we motored aboard The Lady of the Lake, a homemade houseboat that belonged to my father’s friend Bert. Summers, we spent nearly every weekend at this lake, cruising from beach to beach, waving hello to passing boaters and familiar faces, stopping at the small, forested islands that dot the lake.

At this island, I am 8, old enough to understand my father’s warning to stay out of the murky shallows that border the island. Bloodsuckers slurp through the muck, he said. Stand still too long in that stuff, and you’ll be sorry.

Fast-forward an hour. The sun dips lower in the sky; early evening comes on. The adults have pulled lawn chairs around a fire on the small-pebbled beach. Laughter and smoke mingle in the cool air. While my brother hunts for skipping stones further down the shore, I wade out into the water to look for minnows. I hike up my pant cuffs and peer through the murk, inspect green, slithering weeds and bugs that skim the surface like miniature water-skiers, and lose all sense of time while my feet sink into the soft, warm ooze of the lake bottom.

When I finally leave the water and head back to the fire, it’s my father who notices the long black slicks stuck to the backs of my calves, half a dozen leeches sawing their way through my skin for a warm drink. A wild frenzy ensues, and an embarrassing display of shrill girl-shriek accompanies. I run up and down the shore, flail my arms, kick my legs out in a fruitless attempt to ditch the bloodsuckers. But they’re hardcore cling-ons and won’t budge.

It’s my father who grabs me by the arms, sits me down on a piece of driftwood and tells me to calm down. He reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out his cigarette lighter, sparks a flame and brings it near my leg. I pull away, push his hand away, say, forget it, I’ll get them off myself. This method feels dangerous, too hot. But he persists, sparks the flame again and brings it close. This, I think, is the beginning of pain, the day I get my blood sucked out and my legs burned off.

Be still, he says, just for a moment.

As he holds the lighter’s flame close to the leech, it shrivels up and pulls away from my leg. It drops to the pebbles. Leech by leech, he burns me free, and where each one falls away, a thin trickle of red rolls down my skin—small evidence of the terror I’ve been through. After all the leeches have let go, he wets his thumb and wipes the blood away. And I’m clean. Free again.

We wade every day through the world, some of the waters clear and shimmering with beauty, others lurking with the slime and grime of earth. These are the waters of our living, part-paradise, part-leech-infested muck. Yes, God is everywhere, and the whole earth is full of His glory. Yes, be in the world, but not of it. But too often, we spend more time in the shallows than in the presence of the Father. Too often, we let ourselves be lured into places we should not go.

Maybe this place is a relationship with temptation below the surface. Maybe this place is a sinful habit that coaxes us to return for one last fling. Maybe this place is a lukewarm, apathetic spirituality that breeds nothing but stagnation in your walk with Jesus. Whatever our muddy shallows may be, God has warned us to stay out. Even when we are drawn to explore the dark and forbidden places, by His unfathomable grace God waits on shore for our return—patient Father to His wandering children.

Painful as it may be to come clean with God, hear His call to come out of the shallows and back to the Father. Make your way back to His healing presence, and sit humbly while with deep tenderness He burns away all of your life-suckers. Find Him always faithful to purify all your unrighteousness with a holy flame, and to un-leech and restore your humble and repentant heart.

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