We've emptied the car into our room, taking just enough time to tuck away luggage, dig the swim clothes out of the bottoms of the bags, slip them on as quickly as they'll allow, and grab hats as we run out the door. We've finally arrived at our beach vacation, and we're all ready to run straight to the water.
As we crest the rise, we can see the ocean's vast greeny-blue stretched across the horizon. The sky reaches out to meet it, a pale blue in comparison to the sea. The waves are crashing in, white foam rushing onto the golden sands. Perfect.
My older girls stand nervously on the sand, getting just close enough to the water for the rushing waves to tickle their toes. That doesn't last long, though. In just a few minutes time, they are running and splashing in the ocean.
My younger two hang back. My littlest, Mackay, has very little fear, not even of things she should, but she usually takes a bit of time to inspect new things. She waits and watches, unsure of what to make of such a wide expanse of water.
My little Lili is a different story. She fears nothing smaller than her. Ants? No problem. She can watch their holes for hours, if I'll let her. Cockroaches ~ no fear. She just laughingly takes off her flip-flop and smashes them. Centipedes don't bother her either. And rolly-pollies? They are her absolute favorites. She holds them in her hands and rolls them into balls and collects bucket-fulls to keep as pets.
But anything bigger than her? Those things scare her.
Cats, dogs, goats, donkeys? These all make her extremely nervous.
And so it is with the sea.
It terrifies her.
When I ask her if she'd like to go in the water she giggles nervously, smiles slyly, and plops down to play in the sand at the top of the hill, as far as possible from the ocean.
Once or twice daddy and I pick her up and hold her in our arms as we walk in the ocean, because we firmly believe that all of us must learn to face our fears, but after a few minutes of Lili's death grip around our necks, we take her back to her spot where she happily digs in the sand.
I myself have felt a bit like Lili for the last few months.
I'm confronted by a lot of huge, overwhelming things that I don't know how to handle.
So I sit down in the proverbial sand and scoop dirt into my bucket.
Since December, God has asked some big things of our family. Some big things of me.
And I know I can't do them.
So I sit on the crest above that ocean, trembling in fear, trying to will myself into stepping into that water.
On some days I'm feeling braver than others, a bit more pulled together, and I start to walk toward that sea of responsibilities rushing towards me.
I get close to the water's edge, but now I feel both the push of the tide and the pull of the undertow.
As it threatens to sweep my feet from under me, I rush back to my spot of safety, knowing I'm unfit for what God has called me to do.
And so it goes. Every day I'm confronted with the enormity of what God is asking of me, but knowing I'm unable to do it, I shy away in fear.
Sure, I pray about it, but my prayers are weak, feeble.
"God help me to do all these things you're asking of me. I need help. Amen."
All day Monday Lili plays in the sand. She endures the few minutes we make her go in the water, but as soon as allowed, she slips back to her warm spot far away from the water to dig and scoop.
On Tuesday we eat breakfast on the beach and then run for the room to yank on our half-dry, sandy, grimy swim clothes. Hats are on, and we head to the water. Lili plops herself down in her spot with no intentions of going anywhere near the ocean.
Mid-morning some new friends come to join us for a day at the beach. They have little ones, even younger than ours, and their mama begins to scoop out a deep hole in the beach, just close enough for the ocean water to spill into it from time to time for the littlest ones to play in.
We bring Lili down to join us, but she is uncertain, giggling, fidgety, scared.
Every time a wave comes close, she scrambles away from the water, just like the ghost crabs that inhabit these beaches at night.
By noon the sun is blazing in the sky, and we need some shelter from the sun, but nobody wants to stop playing in the water.
The dads grab a couple of tables and beach umbrellas and rig up a sort of hut for us, just something to keep off the incessant, burning sun.
Now Lili is stuck. Our makeshift shelter is quite near the water's edge. She must stay in the shade so as not to get burnt, but the salty water is rushing into our hole every few waves. I pull her onto my lap and hold her tight.
As the waves rush toward us, I whisper truth in her ear and hug her close. The water covers our feet and legs, and slides up to our bellies and then runs back out to sea. As the water slips away, so does her tension.
Not unkindly, her daddy pulls her close and makes her stay in his lap, holding her near when the waves threaten. Slowly I can see the fear leaving her body.
The fears have been there, these last few months, dim, shadowy, impossible to grab a hold of.
I try to convince myself that I just need to try harder. Be braver. Be stronger. Stay up later. Get it done.
Until suddenly the roiling waves of life are too much. The tide is coming in, and I can't scramble away fast enough. I get sucked in, and I know I'm going to drown.
My darkest fears have come true. I'm not enough. I can't do what God has called me to do.
Exactly where God wants me.
As I'm swept out into that dark sea fearing my destruction, I'm suddenly overwhelmed by His presence. He's been waiting patiently for me to give up, give in, let go, and grab tightly to Him.
No, I cannot complete these immense tasks the Lord has set before me.
And at my lowest moment, when I'm paralyzed with terror, He pulls me tightly to His side and whispers truth into my heart.
When I am incapable,
the I AM is able.
When I am afraid,
the I AM is faithful.
When I am dying,
the I AM is life.
When I am helpless,
the I AM is strength.
Late lunch is over now, and the sun has lost a bit of its intensity. We head back to the water for a few more minutes before our friends need to pack up to head home.
The water is cool on our hot feet, and a storm is churning on the edge of the horizon.
Everyone is in the water, some jumping waves, others riding the body-board to shore.
Lili stands at water's edge and asks me to call for daddy. He scoops her up in his powerful arms and hugs her close to his chest as he wades out into the water.
She smiles over his shoulder at me. The shadowed look of worry is gone, and in its place is a spark of trust. She's learned that she has nothing to fear from the ocean when her daddy holds her tight.
We've said good-bye to the beach and are home now.
The waves of self-doubt dash at my feet from time to time.
I'm learning, though, that I have nothing to fear.
My father stands with me in this sea, always ready to lift me close and hold me tight,
like a child trusting in my daddy's strength, not my own.
* All pictures were taken at Brenu Beach Resort in Cape Coast, Ghana, where the Lord allowed us to stay for two wonderful days a few weeks ago.