Last month, my friend and I took our children to Reed’s Gold Mine. We had just finished up the school year exploring the Gold Rush of the 1850’s. This triggered a memory of being shocked to learn years ago that the first gold ever to be found in the United States was discovered in my home state. Actually, about 20 miles from my back door. My friend and I packed everyone up for a teachable moment that for our family that would reach far beyond our school room.
The field trip would consist of a tour, an instructional video, and panning for gold. There were five kids in our group, and they stood in line eagerly awaiting their chance to find treasure in a pile of dirt. The woman at the front desk was less enthusiastic about their venture. She sees kids come through everyday who ask the same question. “Will we find gold!?” Our children were no exception, and she looked at them with her dead pan expression and answered, “Probably not, but you have a one and six chance.”
Our crew was not discouraged, except for my youngest. It was the pin that popped the balloon of her hope. She tends to be a glass half empty girl, and I admit that she comes by that honestly. I too have a pessimism astigmatism that blurs my vision.
I have to squint very hard and with great effort look at a situation to find its outer and inner form of beauty and value. Even though, I would love to just easily put in a corrective lens and be done with it, I am thankful that I have taken the time to train my misshaped eyes to see differently.
My girl’s eyes are still young and developing, and I am hoping to catch her impediment early enough so her compensation will not be as difficult when she grows older.
We took the long walk out to the panning site. Being a home-schooling mom who has discovered a deep love of history, I talked to my children about the men and women who left everything to head to California to strike it rich. It was like a cosmic “rapture.” Fields, homes, and towns mostly emptied over night as people abandoned their daily grind to find quick financial deliverance. “What would you have done?” I asked them. “Would you have risked everything for a chance to find gold?”
Their answers varied, but mostly they just try to humor me.
We gathered together and listened to a man demonstrate the panning process. He had a large, Abraham Lincoln beard and talked about the patience it was going to require because the gold would be small and hiding. More than likely, it would just be a fleck. In haste, you could overlook it because the water and sun love to play tricks on your eyes.
First, they pulled out the big stones and rocks. The obvious. Then, they began to add the water, and it was time to jar and shake the pan. It felt like rolling dice or scratching off numbers on a lottery ticket. I said this to a gentleman who reminded me of Johnny Appleseed. He adamantly responded quite the opposite. “Oh, no,” he said. “That’s just chance. This here has a good probability of finding something.” My daughter looked at me skeptically, already determined in her mind how this was going to play out.
I stood with her and listened as she shook the pan over and over again. “Mom, this is ridiculous. I’m never going to find anything.” Never. Such a dark, empty word, but one I understand well. It is so comforting to the discouraged heart because it slams the book shut. Sometimes, it’s just too difficult to wait for our own story to be written by the Author of Heaven, so we scribble an ending on the page ourselves.
I prayed quietly that the Lord would help my children and I have a heart that is not afraid to hope. Not to find a precious metal in a pan on a field trip. But, for the ability to wait for the uncovering of flecks of gold buried beneath years of rocks and dirt in our own lives. In the things that we do not like or understand.
We got to the bottom of her pan, and very little remained. Her resignation early on made me sad. But I had done all I could to convince her to wait it out till the end. Johnny Appleseed traveled around to all the children to scan their pans one last time. He came back to my girl. He swirled the last little bit a few times. Then he held it very still. And smiled.
I was confused. He grabbed a small vial out of his back pocket and began talking about how heavy gold was. Still, we did not understand, because we could not see. Then, he took his index finger, the tip of which was pointing to shiny, yellow fleck. He pressed into it, lifted it up, and scrapped it off into the vial filled with water. He looked at my girl, handed her the container, and said, “You found gold.”
Her eyes got very big as she held it up. There it was shining in the sunlight. He was right. Gold is heavy, and this small fleck became a family anchor.