My family absolutely loves nature and the great outdoors. That is, we’ve seen just about every show that NatGeo Wild has to offer. We like watching God’s critters in their natural habitats from the squishy cushions of our sofa as long as the AC is set to a comfortable temperature and the snacks are tasty.
We will, from time to time, venture to a zoo or wildlife preserve to meet these critters. We love to hold them and love them and snuggle them. As long as they are creatures not slathered in self-generating slime, covered in scales, have more than four legs, and don’t smell bad. Essentially, we like mammals. Specifically, some dogs and cats. Stuffed animals are our favorite.
So when my brother invited my family out to spend a day kayaking and fishing on Tampa Bay, I enthusiastically said yes. We love nature! We love to stretch our boundaries of comfort, seize new adventures, and learn valuable life skills. Especially if that means we get to buy new shoes suitable for the excursion. My kiddos really liked picking out Jibbitz for their new Crocs.
The day of the kayaking adventure arrived. My two girls weren’t overly enthused about a day of fishing, but they were mildly amused at wearing new shoes and choosing the color kayak they would be riding in. My two boys entertained themselves on the shore hunting for clams, hermit crabs, and other miscellaneous items that would be sure to weird out their sisters when shoved close to their faces.
Properly loaded with snacks, drinks, and fishing gear, the kayaks were ready to host the young adventurers. Half-strangled in ill-fitted life vests that did not coordinate well with anyone’s outfit, we proudly splashed our paddles in the water hoping the current would direct our haphazard fleet to the awaiting sandbar in Tampa Bay. This sandbar promised us (and I quote) a “fun place for the kids to play and explore” while my brother and husband would take the kids out one at a time to fish in the bay.
When I heard “sandbar,” I envisioned a dry sandy beach area rising seductively from the ocean to welcome me to its paradise. My sister-in-law and I would be able to sit, stretch out, and soak in some rays while the kids dashed in and out of the water looking for shells and splashing in the water. The drinks and snacks would be conveniently within arm’s reach to meet the tummy needs of any child at any moment. Smiles, fun, and good conversation were on the menu at the sandbar.
So with enthusiasm, I encouraged my kayak through the mangrove-lined channel snaking its way toward Tampa Bay. Even the stench of slimy algae and sounds of complaining daughters could not dampen my hope. Soon and very soon we would leave the swampy terrain and break into paradise. Under a final bridge and around a final bend there it was – the quiet beauty of Tampa Bay where the water touched the sky.
We continued to paddle our kayaks through water no more than a foot deep. This really worked in our favor because now there was less actual paddling and more pushing the boats along off the sandy ocean floor. Sea grass tickled the underbelly of the kayaks. Our hosts would point out various fish and crabs that could be seen in the shallow water. The kids were captivated with nature so close.
And then my spirits sank. Hope was drug into the dark pit of reality just like the anchor my brother dropped down to hold the kayaks in place. This was the sandbar. This water-covered grassland with scaly, slimy critters was where the kids and I were going to hang until the men folk finished fishing out in the bay. My mama-heart knew this was not going to end well. This was not going to be time sitting on a dry beach; this was going to be time hanging out in a swamp.
With surprisingly adventurous spirits, my four children scrambled out of their kayaks to explore the shallow water. The oldest two took off right away to hunt up crabs, shells, and other creepy crawlies. As the younger two disembarked their vessels, the real drama began.
A foot of water is not terribly daunting for full-grown people; but for my youngest two children whose little legs still aren’t long enough to help them reach all the shelves in the refrigerator, that much water with a mild current made them stagger around like the obnoxious uncle at an open bar. Then the tipping over and grabbing the kayaks began followed by screams so loud the sea slugs were jamming sand fleas into their ear holes to block the sound. Unfortunately for my youngest daughter, as she latched onto a kayak to regain her balance, the kayak did what boats do best: drift. So there she is. A little girl standing on unstable, sandy ground losing her balance trying to stay upright by grabbing onto the most solid thing she can see – a kayak that drifts away from her the harder she clings to it. Soon she is bent over double, desperately clinging to a boat with her feet sinking deeper into the sandy ocean floor. Oh, gracious! The panic was thicker than the slimy algae wrapped around my oar.
Like thunder breaking overhead, my husband’s voice broke through shrieking panic. “Hold onto me! I will not move.”
There stood strong, steady daddy: arm outstretched with a hand ready to hold my little girl. There was my little girl: screaming, crying, scared to let go of the kayak even though the kayak was failing her.
Then God took the story unfolding before my eyes and sent a message straight to my heart. “Hold onto me. I will not move.” How many times do I hold onto things that are as unsteady as a kayak drifting in open water? How many “drifting kayaks” do I grab onto to find security? If my husband makes enough money, we won’t struggle. If I can hang onto my youth and slim figure, I will secure happiness and confidence. If I feed my children all the right foods, they will never get sick. If I can be a perfect mother, I will grow up perfectly wonderful children. Right?
Life promises us nothing. Children eating gluten-free, organic, vegan diets sometimes get cancer. Awesome parenting does not always prevent rebellious teenagers. Pretty faces and flat stomachs do not guarantee self-satisfaction and loyal husbands. Financial wealth does not push back loneliness and unhappiness. These “kayaks” in life are unsteady.
I have found that God often uses this journey of motherhood to breathe life into the black and white words I read in my Bible. It is a constant, refining process. So on a day that I was expecting to relax on white sand and enjoy watching my children explore nature, my Heavenly Father thought it best to challenge me amidst the smelly chaos in a swamp. God reminded me, through the example of my husband and daughter, to hold onto him no matter how unsteady life gets. After all, God will not move.