A few weeks ago, I had heard reports of shark attacks off the east coast. My heart just sank to think of the unsuspecting victims. Their families. And the pain they must be enduring. Knowing that we have been counting down until we go to the ocean this summer, I felt a new heightened level of caution. I knew better than to ask my husband in front of the kids if he had heard about it. But honestly, I thought Jack and Megan were well-occupied in the other room and wouldn’t hear.
“Babe, did you hear about those shark attacks?” I asked in hushed tones. “Off of Florida and North Carolina? They were in swarms, right off of the beach.”
I gave him a few more details since he hadn’t heard, moments before Jack came skipping into the room with a concerned look on his face. “Wait. What sharks? They attacked someone?”
You have no idea how many things I’ve had to explain to my six-year-old simply because he was within ear-shot. I swear, I’ll learn my lesson one of these days.
But the opportunity turned out to be a wonderfully teachable moment. We talked about how sharks come close to the beach to find food, when food in the ocean is scarce. And how they’re not looking to attack people, but for fish to eat. Jack asked if I knew anyone that had been attacked. My mind wandered to a news story I had seen the day before, the one that highlighted the birth of Bethany Hamilton’s newborn son, Tobias, who had been born just two weeks before. Remember Bethany? The professional surfer who lost her left arm in 2003 to a shark attack… but lived and continued to compete. She was only thirteen years old at the time. Her story was an amazing one of courage, strength and faith. Bethany wasn’t just an amazing surfer. She was a Christian, and relied on her faith – established long before tragedy struck – to get her through some of her darkest moments and biggest successes.
Jack soaked it all in. He asked to see her picture on my phone. Megan, too. We browsed through dozens of pictures of her newborn son, her husband, her missing left arm, and photos of her surfing before and after the accident. It was amazing.
“You know,” I told Jack, “they made a movie about her story. I think it’s called Soul Surfer. Maybe we can watch it this weekend!”
It never takes much to motivate my oldest into a movie night, so I was glad to see it was only rated PG, making it a safe choice for my little ones. Perhaps he was a little disappointed to see they didn’t show more of the actual attack (even though both of us shielded our eyes and Daddy fast-forwarded the part we knew would otherwise give us nightmares,) but it was just beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
Not to be a complete buzz kill, but Bethany was slotted to be one of the best professional surfers in Hawaii just before the tiger shark ripped her left arm off in the middle of the day. Out of nowhere. She struggled to see God in all of it. To understand why He would have allowed something so horrible to happen when she was destined for such greatness.
Andy and I were both in tears that night. When Bethany cried out to God, begging for a reason why He allowed this to happen. Her pure desire to know. To understand. She was a good person. A Jesus follower. Why her? The bitter tears and heated discussions the parents had together as they talked about how life would be so different for their family, especially for their talented daughter who had had such a bright future ahead of her. Sponsors. How they struggled to know what to do. How to handle it all. We’ve been there.
Those dip pits when you can’t see God’s hand. When you struggle to see your purpose, your reason for going on. And we cried with her. She tried to compete again, but was discouraged. Then she decided to go on a missions trip to minister to the people of Thailand after the tsunami tore apart their lives. There, she helped a boy get over his fear of the water, the monster that took his whole family. In the midst of her own pain. And there, she found healing. She got back up. Worked harder. Trained intensely. And allowed God to use her, just as she was. Even with her ‘handicap,’ she went on to win numerous competitions, with no special treatment.
Inspiring, to say the least.
Andy said it best. “I guess it felt good to see someone else who loves God in pain. And then watching them choose to move beyond it. To see how God sustained them too.”
We know some of the anguish and questioning that Bethany went through. And her parents. It’s not the same by any means. But the hurt feels similar. Something that comes up – without warning – and changes your life forever. To be able to share with Jack – my son who lost his twin – of another person in pain, choosing God. Even when they had every earthly excuse to just write Him off. They chose Him. And God was able to bring them to a place where they could be a blessing… and in turn, be blessed. Far more than they could have ever imagined.
I am so grateful that God invites us to come as we are, wherever we are, just as we are. And He welcomes us with open arms. Hurting, in pain, and imperfect. And if we are willing, He uses us to be an encouragement to other people. Even though our wounds are still raw. And somehow, it helps us heal, too. Gives us purpose. Perspective. Hope. As Bethany said later, “I could never have embraced this many people with two arms.”
I was just amazed at how God seemed to bring all of these ‘coincidences’ together for me and my family. The mention of sharks, the announcement of Bethany’s newborn son, the memory of a story twelve years old and a movie made more than four years ago, and at the perfect time in our journey of grief. These are not coincidences, there’s no such thing. They are Divine Appointments. Just another reminder of how my God thoughtfully brings situations together – at just the right time – to encourage us in our faith.
At the bottom of Bethany Hamilton’s website is this verse:
“Let all that I am praise the Lord, may I never forget the good things He does for me.” Psalm 103:2
Yes. That’s it.
Because even after sustaining a huge blow, like losing a child or a limb, we can look back and agree: God has been far better to us than we deserve.