Monday, November 21, 2016

Paddle Back Out

I watched my daughter paddle surf for the first time the other day.

Yes, you read that correctly. My almost-nine-year old hopped on mom's 9'6" board with a paddle just her size and paddled straight out into the ocean, into the waves. All by herself.

Kinda. I helped her carry the board, pulling it in and out of the water as she needed. I paddled out with her in the beginning. Watching, waiting, coaching here and there. I was gauging her fear, her ability, her confidence, and her openness to correction. It was low tide. She was in three feet of water at its deepest. She's a strong swimmer. The waves were rolling soft, no more than a foot or two at their max, but they were strong enough for a 90lb independent little girl to surf.

And surf she did! And I'm not talking a little ways off shore. I'm talking she paddled 100-200+ yards off shore. After a few bursts of advice here and there (and fully understanding the dangers she might face), I left her to explore, to try, to experiment. To learn. To adventure.

I love the water. I love everything about it. I want to be in it, on it, by it for the rest of my life, but I also realize that my loves in life may never be hers. So I've watched her since she was a baby, never pushing more than was necessary, but never allowing her to fear the water either.

And when we moved to California, water safety became paramount. You don't kayak, paddle board, swim, boogie board, or snorkel without being wise and safe and prepared, both physically and mentally. So both my children are required to take swim lessons. I would hope they can both repeat what I believe is the number one rule on the water: Never panic.

We bought them wet suits, so they could swim year round. Boogie boards so they could learn and feel the power of the waves, how they move and push and pull. Kayaks so they could build muscle, feel comfortable on a large mass of water, understand how you can glide across the surface. Snorkeling gear so they could learn what's underneath them, a whole other world of life. All the while, educating and dispelling fears.

Maybe more importantly, she's watched me paddle surf for a year now. She's seen me paddle out into waves and fall, crash, smash, duck and dive in the surf. She's seen me climb back on that same board and try again and again and again. She's heard me talk about how scared I was at times, but it didn't stop me. She's seen the exhilaration on my face and in my voice when I catch one, the triumph, the victory, the sheer joy.

She road with me once on the front of my board. I was nervous because I didn't want to scare her. I didn't want us both to get thrown off the board, and I'd be the reason she never got back on. By God's grace we caught a wave and rode it all the way into shore, literally. I actually had to make her bail off at the last moment because in my nervousness I forgot how to make us stop before crashing into shore. So I told her to jump, and she did, and she was shaken, but the thrill of the ride had left its imprint.

Now three months later, the conditions being perfect, she asked to take my board out. And she took it, and paddled, and actually caught waves! The thrill on her face when she realized she could stop paddling and the wave would continue to carry her was priceless. She'd raise her paddle over her head with both hands high and look for me, to make sure I was watching from shore, and I'd raise my hands in celebration with her. Then she'd turn, and she'd paddle out again and again and again.

And as I sat on the shore watching her, I saw her fall. Many times. I held my breath, bit my lip, and stilled myself to burst into the water after her should she show signs of distress. But each time, she climbed back up on that board. She never gave up. She wisely came in for short breaks when she was tired, but then she'd go right back out. I watched the waves wash over her. Watched her lose her balance. Watched her face sets of waves as they rolled unrelenting at times.

And I've never been more proud of my little girl in her almost nine years of life than when she'd fall, pop out of the water smiling, climb back on that board, and paddle right back out into the waves. She never let her failures keep her from trying again and again.

And for as much as I enjoyed celebrating her success, part of me more deeply enjoyed watching her persevere in the face of her failure.

And I wondered if God doesn't feel the very same way about me, about you, as His child, His children.

I look back at the circumstances and events of my life, and I can see how the water in my life has gotten deeper. The waves I face higher and faster and more fierce. But God has been gracious to me. He didn't throw me in the deep water first. He's been preparing me since I was a child. Small waves in shallow water. Small failures and small successes. He being ever present, guiding, coaching, watching.

As I sat there on the shore intently watching my own daughter, I could see my heavenly Father in my mind's eye watching me as well. Ever present. Ever on the edge of His seat to snatch me from danger. Celebrating with me, but maybe more importantly allowing me to fail, so I could learn and grow stronger, and try again, and persevere.

I feel my Father's favor and know His pride when I choose to persevere and never give up. On Him or on myself. Perseverance, gumption, endurance, stick-to-it-ness--these are the hallmarks of the faithful--the Hebrews 11 crowd.

Friends, I want to surf the waves of life regardless of how hard I fall or fast I fly. I want to surf. Not duck and cover, not bob aimless in the swells. I may rightfully fear the wall of circumstances that rise up from the deep of life, but I pray it's a cold day in Hades when I give up and settle for a seat on the shoreline.

Which means I must choose to take up my paddle, climb back on that board, and paddle back out. The last wave might have taken me out, washed me clear off my board, broken my paddle, and left me with a bruised body from the fall, and maybe the next wave will do the same. But maybe, maybe I'll make some adjustments, shift my feet, lower my stance, and catch the next one. And fly.

One thing I know for sure--my Daddy will be watching. He sees me. He knows exactly where I am in the ocean of life, and when I look to Him, His eyes are always on me. When I raise my hands in victory and praise, He raises His hands in glorious acceptance and joy. When I fall and look to see if He's there, I see Him poised and ready--sometimes with a helping hand, sometimes with an encouraging thumbs up, and sometimes with a knowing stare that silently conveys, 'You can do this. Get up.'

"Therefore, I won't throw away my confidence, which has a great reward. 36 But I have need of endurance, so that when I have done the will of God, I may receive what is promised. 
37 For yet in a very little while, Jesus is coming, and will not delay38 But you (Jennifer), shall live by faith;And if you shrink back, Jesus has no pleasure with you.
39 But I am NOT one of those who shrinks back to destruction, but I am one of those who WILL have faith to the [l]preserving of my soul." 
(Hebrews 10:35-39 Jennifer standard version)

This has been my life verse since high school, my motto in life, the driving voice I hear in the back of my mind when the waves of enemy voices come crashing with their lies, threatening to drown my will, my belief, my faith. I've been floundering here lately. Closer to the edge of retiring my board than I like to admit, but my daughter needs to see me keep trying, and my Father is still there, always there willing me to get back on the board and surf.

It's really for my own good and enjoyment that I do so. He knows I will only be miserable and slowly rot in my own self-pity, fears, and anxieties if I don't paddle back out.

So I think I will.

What have you been on the verge of giving up? your faith? your family? a relationship? a calling? a mission? a goal? Have you been benched for a season, and waiting is too hard, so you're thinking about throwing in the towel all together? Stick with it! Endure! Persevere! You may have unbeknownst little eyes watching you, but more importantly, your Heavenly Father's eyes are most definitely watching you. Paddle back out with confidence, knowing you are watched and seen by the undistractable gaze of the Risen King, Commander of Sky and Sea, and He's proud of you whether you fall or surf. Maybe the most proud when you fall and refuse to give up.

So take a deep breath and paddle confident. Paddle seen and known. Paddle like you are fully loved and life abundant depends on that. Because the truth is--in Christ--you ARE. Confident, always seen, intimately known, and fully loved every second of every minute of every day for all eternity simply because you are His child and for no other reason.

So get up. Go. Have faith. Persevere. Paddle back out.

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