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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Vallejo

The Waves of the Ocean

1 Thessalonians 5:14 “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted help the weak, be patient with them all. e that no one repay anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and everyone.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

When I was four years old my family and I were living near the coast of Virginia and would sometimes go spend the day at Virginia Beach. I remember beautiful blue skies and building sandcastles with moats fed by the water from the ocean. I would sit down in a spot where the waves met the sand and dig trenches from the water to my castle’s moats. Everything typically worked well until the water moved up too far and brought the whole thing down.

One day our family was at the beach with several family friends. It was the usual beach scene; lots of towels and blankets, coolers of food and bags of toys, kids and teenagers running around and having a blast. I was in my favorite spot with the waves lapping at my toes when, out of nowhere, comes a massive wave that covered my head and pulls me off my feet. I still remember the shock as my body spun under water while the wave picked me up and carried me away from my toys. My head popped up above the water as I flew by people trying to grab for me while my arms flailed. One teenage girl I remember having hold of me, and then I slipped right through her arms, and her horrified face watched me fly beyond her reach. Everything happened incredibly fast and was utterly terrifying.

I don’t know how far away from shore the waves carried me, in my little mind it felt like forever, but a family jumping around in the water was able to bring me to our friends who carried me screaming to my mom. My mom was holding my baby sister on the blanket several feet away and had entrusted me to friends to watch. It was a freak accident, something that happened so fast and caught everyone by surprise. Not one person was to blame. A freak wave when I was four changed something significant about me. It’s why I’m absolutely terrified of waves.

My family didn’t go back to the beach for a time. We moved to Dover, Delaware and were there for a few years before moving overseas. It was a while before I was around waves again. But from that time on, be it wave pool or beach, waves would bring about a powerful emotion in me. I still went on trips willingly, but if we were around waves I would feel moments of terror off and on for the entirety of my time spent in their proximity.

As it turns out the memories of that day in Virginia grew less clear over time, to the point where I rarely pictured what happened to my four-year old self on that beach trip. What did not dissipate was my fear. It got to the point where the fear became a part of who I am, it is there at the back of my mind sitting and waiting to appear whenever waves are in front of me. Lakes are fine. Pools are fine. Flat bodies of water are fine. So, this fear thing that became a part of me was just, well, FINE. I was living with it.

My mom and dad had no idea about my fear, to this day I don’t know why I didn’t tell them during my growing up years. I told my mom during a summer I was home from college - it came up in conversation like one discusses shopping for shoes, or what’s going on with friends, and “oh by the way, did you know I’m totally terrified of waves?” Mom connected the dots quickly to the Virginia Beach episode, so she wasn’t surprised, but she did wonder why it didn’t come up before. But, again, I’m living with it. And then… my husband and I have kids.

Children change everything.

Children put a mirror in front of us. Our fears and anxieties brew up and show their true faces when we have kids. I recognized the true significance of my issue the first time we went to Padre Island with our oldest two children, our son was three and our daughter was 18 months old. It’s not like I didn’t know I feared waves, it’s just that I was fine with it – until my children were playing near the ocean.

Houston, we have a problem.

Now I have a choice. I can either let my emotions govern my parenting, or I can face them and work on the necessary changes to combat the feelings that will rule my decisions if I'm not careful. Can I enjoy my time at the beach without allowing the stress of my fears cause me high levels of anxiety throughout the day? Or can I use my fear to acknowledge the reality of the danger the ocean presents, but handle it with balance so I can spend a day together with my family in joy?

Telling my husband of the significance of my fear was the hardest part, honestly. I don’t like admitting there is something that intimidates me, or that there is something I can’t conquer on my own. Jaime (my husband) is a rock. He has his own fears and anxieties, but he’s incredibly self-disciplined and works hard when there’s a gap that needs filling in our family. His efficiency is usually very comforting, but sometimes it’s intimidating. Because, you know, I have my pride.

But we are a team. Working together to cover each other’s weaknesses and learn to face our anxieties is part of what makes parenting a microcosm of the church. We learned together that when I yelled for Jaime when the waves started in the wave pool of a water park, it wasn’t because I thought he wasn’t a good dad, it was because the idea of my three children in a wave pool without reinforcements made me want to throw up. Jaime learned to gently accommodate my anxiety, and I learned every wave was not out to kill my kids.

Our families are places where sanctification happens. Where God grows us and shows us how our emotions are about the things we believe about the world. Part of healthy adulting is acknowledging the wrong beliefs that drive our decisions. My choice was to either avoid waves forever out of fear of hurting my kids, or to recognize there is legitimate danger within the world and we can mitigate those dangers, but we cannot avoid them altogether. I was able to manage the fear okay on my own but sharing the burden with my husband made it better.

I still fear waves, but the fear is at the back of my mind and doesn’t rule my emotions so much anymore. It’s more like a pesky fly I flick away when it buzzes in my face. It’s still there, it probably won’t ever go away completely until I’m in heaven, but sharing the burden with others definitely helps. The Church in action is an amazing thing.

Parenting is tricky. Relationships are tricky. Our fears and anxieties drive the decisions we make which in turn impact the relationships we build. Working alongside others in the Body of Christ makes the burden light – if we do it right.

Our podcast today is about building Connections. Helping our children connect with us in times of intense emotion, fear, and anxiety. How do we reflect Christ in our parenting and in our relationships? Even when it’s hard, Jesus gives us the capacity to create amazing things out of difficult circumstances. Because it's not about the immediate gratification of fixing a problem - it's about the long view of parenting.

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