Learning to See God's Grace

Kaye Kawahara reads one of the lessons at the Great Vigil of Easter.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Kaye Kawahara. I serve on the Vestry of St. Mark's and also on the Finance Committee. I’m a practicing oncologist - that is a cancer doctor.

I had been away from church for many years, and when I wanted to come back I looked at several parishes close to home. When I first came to St. Marks I saw Father Sasaki, who had baptized me and confirmed me into the Church when I was a student at ‘Iolani School. I saw Mr. Lee and Les Uyehara whom I had known since childhood. I saw Nanette Judd who I’d gotten to know while taking care of her mom, Violet. I met Father Paul who I thought was amazing, and I’ve been here ever since.

In my career I’ve been a scientist doing stem cell research and a physician. I see the wonder of God’s creation under the microscope, in the sequences of DNA I’ve studied, and in front of me in the form of my patients and their lives. I’ve witnessed amazing things and seen extraordinary lives unfold. I see the hand of God everywhere, in the earth and in our lives. I am able to agree with many of my patients that, yes, thanks be to God.

Usually I’m on the observation sides of things,  a spectator or witness if you may. Last June I was on the receiving side.

I was on my annual fishing trip to the Green River in Utah with a group of buddies. We had made this trip annually for the last 25 years, always fishing with the same guide, Pat, who had grown older with us and become a dear friend. We had seen some drama over the years, but mostly had uneventful floats down the river. This year was different. Because of a record snow pack, the river was running at 2 to 4 times its normal flow. It looked and fished like Niagara Falls-terrible! If we had been locals we would have packed up and gone home.

On the third day things got worse. I was fishing with my friend Jeff and our guide Pat. I was in the front and Jeff was in the back. We were about to enter a section of the river called Red Creek Rapids. It’s normally an exciting ride, but that day it was wild. As we entered the rapids a gust of wind blew us sideway into the path of a rock the size of a minivan. We grounded on the rock and eventually capsized from the back. I was launched from the front, and we all went in. After I came to the surface I saw the overturned boat, but not my friends. I was in the middle of the rapid and had no chance to reach shore. Just as I had resigned myself to having to ride it out to softer water or drown, a voice called out to me from my left: "grab my oar and I’ll take you to shore."  I knew that I was probably alive as Jesus would have told me to grab his hand. This was someone else-namely a kayaker. I held on to his stern hook, and he took me to shore. He told me that he was a roughwater rescuer here on a once a year certification course, and he thanked me for the opportunity to rescue me. On shore I was checked out by a paramedic from Spain also taking the course. She thanked me as well, and told me that this was to be their only day on this part of the river. Eventually Jeff and Pat joined me, and we all gave thanks for our survival. We were bruised and hypothermic, but otherwise fine.

Jeff broke down in tears. I asked him why, and he told me that he had thought that I had surely drowned. Pat had told him the instant I was launched that “Kaye’s gone.” Jeff  told me his story later that night. He had been dragged down with the boat and couldn’t get free because his leg had been entangled in the anchor rope. He had come to accept that this was to be his end. Just then the rope loosened and he bobbed to the surface. Jeff, a lifelong Methodist, had recently joined the Episcopal Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’m not saying this helped our cause, but it certainly didn’t hurt!

The three of us were recipients of God’s grace that day, and when you think about it, this is true every day of our lives. Being a part of St. Mark's helped me to see that grace, and for this I am very grateful for St. Mark's. It is here that I learn to see God at work in my life.

Kaye Kawahara