It was a glorious day at the beach, on the first day of our family vacation. My in-laws were there, as well as sister- and brother-in-law, nephews, niece. Our three daughters were in heaven as they played in the sand and surf with their beloved cousins, their collective ages between 4 and 10.
All was well with the world. The kids were playing in the sand right down in front of us, and walking back and forth to the water to fill up their buckets. They were all together, and directly in front of us, right? So we didn’t worry. We thought we were watching closely enough.
I can’t remember who said it, but the next sentence stopped us all in our tracks and set off three minutes of pure panic, that felt like an hour.
“Where’s Little Pea?”
And there was at least 3 hours of silence as we looked. OK, 3 seconds, but it sure felt like hours! And then the panic set in. The adults and older kids spread out on the beach looking for her, and it took every ounce of strength inside me to keep breathing.
So many things went through my mind in those long minutes. I saw her face that morning as she climbed into bed with me to snuggle, as we usually do. I heard her sweet voice, with the slightly mispronounced Rs. I saw her joyful eyes, and remembered her tiny baby-frame in my arms 4 years ago. Her whole life was flashing before my eyes. “Is this what happens when you lose someone?” I thought.
Then I saw the future without her. I really did. In my heart, I was pondering how I would live without her… if she was gone.
I looked at the water, and asked God if she was under there. I looked at the others on the beach, and thought that maybe one of them had snatched her. And all I could do was pray.
Actually, I couldn’t even pray. All I could say was, “My God!” over and over again. No, not saying His name in vain, but crying out to Him. I tried to keep myself under control as I asked fellow beach goers if they had seen her- glad I had payed attention to which bathing suit she wore that day.
The beach seemed like it was a million miles long at that point, how could we cover it all?
And then, I saw her. She was about 25 feet away, crying, looking for us. Among the many tan beach tents out there, she had gone to the wrong one. I wished I could just teleport over to her and not have to make the walk, I wanted her in my arms NOW!
My heart was pounding and tears were streaming as I gathered Little Pea up in my arms and smelled her. Yes, I breathed in every bit of her that I could at that moment. I thought I would never put her down. I went through a range of emotions:
Guilt at not keeping more vigilant watch.
Anger at the older kids for not staying closer to her. (Really, how could I expect them to? They’re kids.)
Gratitude to God for keeping her safe, when I couldn’t.
Deep, profound sadness for parents whose stories don’t end like mine. Even now, as I write this, I am weeping for them.
But now, I try to remember this moment when they wake me up at 3AM, when they fight with each other, when they want to help cook dinner and spew flour all over the kitchen. I realize now, that I am not fully in control of my life, or theirs. I want to drink in every moment that the Lord allows me with these beautiful girls and loving husband.
And trust Him… which is hard sometimes.