One of the sweetest pleasures of my summer is to paddle down the Braden River in our double kayak with my girls Laurel and Lea.
Laurel, 7, rides in the front and paddles occasionally, while 5-year-old Lea sits with me in the back. We watch for an osprey, dolphin, or manatee and enjoy the breeze. We drift so silently past great blue herons perched on mangrove trees that they ignore us. But sometimes the girls giggle and splash, and I breathe in these precious moments.
Last summer we tried several times to plan a kayak trip, but each time we gathered our gear a thunderstorm rumbled in. Finally one afternoon we hauled the kayak down to the boat ramp on our farm. “Wow, Mom, we’re pretty smart women, aren’t we?” Lea said. No storm in sight.
Suited in life preservers and flip-flops, we climbed in and prepared to push off. The kayak teetered in that moment between solid ground and easy drifting; Lea’s confidence evaporated. She clenched her jaw, “This kayak is too wobbly!” Then she shouted with both fists in the air, “I don’t want to do this! I’ll go back to shore by myself.” Barely taking a breath she continued to holler, “This water is too dark! I wanted to do this with my Mommy, but I do not want to do it anymore!”
“Oh, no,” I thought. Lea had always loved to be on the water. “I’m sorry you feel scared, Lea,” I said. “We’re going to try this for a few more minutes. If you are still upset, I’ll take you to Oma’s [Grandma’s] house, just upstream.”
Laurel sat quietly as I kept paddling, but Lea muttered under her breath about unfairness. Then she scrunched up her shoulders, bowed her head low under her big yellow visor, clasped her hands, and shut her eyes tightly. She eventually looked up again, but her brow was still furrowed. It seemed unlikely she would enjoy the ride. But when we approached a low, flat stretch of the bank where horses sometimes wade and hungry raccoons and head-bobbing herons hunt, the girls said together, “Let’s stop at the beach!” Lea was accidentally almost excited.
We glided to the muddy shore. The girls explored under the sprawling oaks and watched fiddler crabs scurry to their hiding places. Splashing and hopping, they made their own slurpy footprints alongside those of the creatures.
Content after our break, we settled back into the kayak. Lea looked around at the quiet river edged by marsh grass and interrupted by mangrove islands. “Mommy, I have to tell you something,” she whispered seriously, looking down, “. . . in private.”
“OK,” I whispered back, “maybe Laurel won’t listen; but we’re in the kayak.”
Lea admitted then, “I got so ferusterated back there that I just had to talk with God.” She paused. “Do you know what he said? He got ferusterated too when he was a little boy, even when he went kayaking.” Long pause. I waited, sensing there was more. “Do you know what else he said?”
“What?” I whispered reverently. Still looking down at the orange life-preserver cushion in the bottom of the kayak, she said, almost in a trance, “‘I will be with you wherever you go.’”
Quiet awe rushed over me. She said it the way our church’s storytellers in children’s worship so frequently and reassuringly portray that common-thread line throughout the Bible. God told Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and all the others, I will be with you wherever you go. Lea had absorbed it into her own story.
“God said he would be with me even while we’re kayaking.”
“Oh, Lea,” was all I could say, humbled and awed by such wisdom sitting in front of me in miniature flip-flops. “Thank you for telling me. God is always with us, isn’t he, even when we’re scared or upset or mad about kayaking.” I paused, attempting to be right there with her and with God. “Should I move my big muddy feet so the two of you will have more room? Are you squished?”
She finally looked up at me, cocked her head slightly, and smiled. With one hand on her hip and a downward wave of the other she said, “Oh, it’s OK, Mom,” and laughed a little. “We’re not squished. I’m sittin’ in his lap.”