I was at Topsail Island, North Carolina last week. At the very last-minute, I came across a round, blue home that had not been booked the very week I needed it. The home was half price and right on the beach. It would be our last vacation before my oldest leaves for his freshman year in college and my youngest begins kindergarten. It will be an autumn of change and letting go, in varying degrees, for me.
Listening to the sound of the crashing waves and the ocean air puts my soul at rest like nothing else. I love being places where I can see with utmost clarity how small I really am. Standing at the shore gives me perspective, humility, and awe. It draws me closer to the One who created it.
On our first day here, my six-year-old Nathan was terrified of the waves. I’m sure to a little one they are overwhelmingly large and powerful. Indeed, when I crouched down to his size I could see how much larger the waves appeared. Fearful, he would not go in any further than his shins.
By the second day he went in further but had to be holding on to me the entire time. He wrapped his little arms around my neck as if his life depended on it. It was a balancing act that challenged these old bones but I managed to keep our heads above the water.
On the third day he became a little more brave. We went in where it was above his head and he let go of me but insisted I hold on to him. He began laughing and giggling as the waves crashed over us. Every once in a while he would check to be sure I was holding his life jacket. He felt safe because he knew I was there.
By the fourth day there my little guy found his courage. He began to swim away from me and tackle the waves on his own. For quite a while I stood behind him to be sure he would not get swept away. I watched with wonder as he figured out when to jump and when to dive. As we both gained confidence I could stop worrying that he would not be able to handle the waves. I even began jumping in with him. We laughed and played together. He would make sure I was alright when the waves overtook me. He even began to help me back up.
But the day will come all too soon when he, like his oldest brother Emerson who is in this picture, will face the waves without me. He will use what he has learned to, with daring, go in on his own.
Seemingly just yesterday this man would not let go of me. In 10 days I will take him to New York City to begin his freshman year at New York University. He will face unknown seas. He will push through anxiety and fear. He will learn and adjust. He will find his balance. He will stumble. He will excel. He will live life in a way, up until this point, he has not known.
He is a strong swimmer. He will never give up. I just pray he has the wisdom to know when to jump over, into, under and with the waves. He faces them now with me on the shore, still watching and cheering him on but no longer right at his side. I am close enough to help if he needs but far enough for him to find his own rhythm. He will likely experiment in finding his own way but I know the foundation of what has been taught. I know his muscle memory will carry him even if he doesn’t know it.
As he ventures in, some of the waves will catch him and pull him under but he will stand back up. Life taught him well. He has the strength and endurance because at such a tender age the waves of suicide and grief came crashing in and could have overtaken him but God would not allow it. Though at times we fought what felt like tsunamis, his arms were around me as mine were around our Father’s neck.
So go forth with boldness, my sweet son. Dive deep. Float on your back. Soak in the sun and dance in the rain. Know how and when to conquer your waves. If you are going to be tossed in them, you might as well smile. Choose joy. Choose love. Choose well.
Breathe deeply. Let your heart be soft. Fall madly in love but always come home for Thanksgiving. Be careful with other people’s hearts. Hold them tenderly. Look for those who might need help as they are caught in waves. Take their hands and swim with them. Help them stand. Let them see the hope that they too can be unconquerable.
Be brave. Find your own stride. Make mistakes but learn from them. Everything is redeemable and nothing is wasted. I could never love you less. Come home and rest. Run home for refuge. You are not alone. You are my heart and the bond that was forged before you even knew air shall never ever waver.
To use your own words:
“The life we anticipated wasn’t the one we got, and for a while we were at sea, enduring tempests of abandonment and loss. It is easy to look at us – a widow, a divorced grandmother, three fatherless sons and say we don’t have a home. But we do. We have the same scars, same fears, and the same hopes because we’ve been battered by the same storms, and we all sail on the same tattered but triumphant ship… Home is imperfect people challenging each other’s imperfections because beyond the scars and gnarls and twists, they see something true and beautiful in each other, something beyond what the world has done to them, something that can never be taken away. Home is the shelter of the human soul. We all want to go home.”
You will find other homes. My prayer is that you find your description of home many times in many people. But know, dear son, that my heart is a steadfast home for you. It is tattered but triumphant. It is worn but soft. It is strong. It is your always home until I draw my last breath.
If anyone was ever ready to swim alone, it is you. The world awaits. The world needs you so desperately. Swim, my son. Swim with all your heart and as if you have nothing to prove and nothing to lose.
For even the wind and waves know His Name. And He knows yours. He knows it well.