“It really is a lot harder than it looks,” she tells me, this world traveler sister of mine. The call between Australia and North Carolina was exceptionally clear. She was telling me about her experiences of learning to surf, in small intervals between heavy study loads and school requirements… Fantastic beaches with promising waves are in abundance over there, as are the sharks and such. But she assures me, “Oh they have shark nets and coast guards on jet skis and helicopters.” What is intended to reassure me rather convinces me there is a genuine cause for concern.
But she laughs me off.
“You spend a lot of time on your board, paddling and watching…”
She told me how you paddle out the canal, which sometimes has a strong undercurrent, and then you peel off to the side and try to catch a wave. Lots of paddling, waiting, seeing the beginning of the right wave and digging your arms deep into the water. Eyes glued on the wave as it rises higher and higher and you try to reach it before it breaks. “Paddle harder!” her friend would yell, coaching her as she dove towards the rising swell.
Sometimes it catches you too soon and you are pounded by the waves, shoved under the swirling water and battered by the surf. “It was easier when I learned to let go and stop fighting the waves. I’m actually quite calm now when I get shoved under. Eventually it will pass and I know I’ll surface again.”
When I think of surfing, I think of those snapshots of guys balanced in the emerald blue water, crouched on their board as the wave curls just above their sun bleached hair. That moment in time looks epic, timeless, exhilarating.
But now I know the back story. The sweat and sunburn. The big bruise on her calf left by the fin on her board when a wave caught her off guard.
“I’m kinda proud of it, actually,” she laughed. She has always been determined. But now she is stronger, tanned and muscled in a new way. While she won’t ever compete in a surfing competition, she has forged the deep waters of her own fear and caught the waves.
Don’t underestimate the courage it takes to face the deep when you have lost your brother to drowning. But she has, and faced it squarely. And then she pushed past in and met the waves.
I close my eyes, and even though I’ve never ridden a wave atop a surf board, I feel it. My current season of life is a lot like surfing. Lots of paddling, digging in deep and reaching forward. Sometimes instead of sliding into the crest of a wave and getting to my feet, I spend the day getting clobbered by wave after wave. Some days I feel like I got stranded in a tide pool, going in circles on my board in stagnant water surrounded by broken coral. The sun is hot and my skin is burning. The Scotch Irish freckles pop but even that is not enough to keep my pale skin from blistering red.
I’m surrounded by four amazing and hilarious kiddos that keep me laughing and thrown to my knees in deep need. I feel guilty admitting it, but sometimes I look in the bathroom mirror and just pause. I stare deep into the eyes in the reflection and I see exhaustion. There is discouragement and fear. The shame of my failure today, of losing my patience, the devastation in seeing in my child’s eyes that I failed, again.
Mothering is hard. While the moments of snuggling with newborns are timeless, the reality of attitudes and growing pains as they near my height catches my breath. I envisioned motherhood as delightful – picnics in the yard and hours of reading books aloud on the couch with sweet smelling children clustered all around. I forgot about multiplication tables and dirty laundry and closets jammed with hidden messes.
But I reach for my Bible and my unspoken prayer, “Something practical, Lord. A clue, a tip, a step by step for tomorrow when Monday hits full force.” And I find it in sacrifice. Not where I was expecting it.
“I appeal to you mothers, by God’s mercy, that you view your bodies as a gift of sacrifice in the little moments. In the daily living, that you choose to give. To trust God. That you embrace the hardness, knowing that God sees the offering and the pain, and sees value. Live these moments in holiness, knowing that you are accepted. When you live like this, you are living out worship to your Maker.”
All the giving and doing and washing and folding becomes transformed into moments of deep and eternal meaning. The choosing a smile and calm voice in the face of an angry child or tantrum throwing toddler isn’t just the right thing, it becomes the active way I say, “Yes, God, I honor you, here in my battle. Here where I want to be angry, I choose Your attitude. I choose peace. I choose joy.”
He says, “Paddle hard! Dig deep, press in. Not for the immediate reward, and gratification of now, but knowing that your offering is a gift of worship. And whether you catch that next wave and ride it high, or get clobbered and knocked off your board, I love you. I see your sacrifice. I notice your exhaustion, and I accept you. In your failures, in your successes. Your muscles are growing. You are gaining valuable experience. Your character is exploding out there on the breakers…”
The ebb and flow of the waves are like the emotion of the moment, always moving, never the same. But God is always on the board beside me, coaching me, cheering me on. This is about my journey with Him. Your board and mine may hit different waves, we make get pommeled at different times, but we are all in this together. Today you might catch your first break, I may have to paddle a few more waves to finally get a good one. Judgement and comparison melt out here in the waves. We are all in the water together.
The Scotch Irish burn slowly gives way to a subtle tan. And I learn to paddle, not because I know I will be successful on the next one, but because my life is an offering. Each moment is an invitation to worship through my life. Offerings and worship involve gifts that are given, not held onto. Release, and transferring ownership. This is my life, but I’m giving it away.
Some days it is just about claiming a promise when the feelings are lost at sea. When the dishes pile high and the children’s needs even higher. “Paddle harder,” whispers in my ear. Not because he demands it, but he lures me out of my exhaustion into deeper strength and character, into His realm and out from mine.
It is out of my comfort zone that growth happens, that praise rises from the deep.
Photo credits entirely due to the amazing Gretta at grettagraphy.com