My son got knocked off his feet by a wave today.
My wife and I were standing in the shallow, cool waters of the Gulf of Mexico watching our kids splash in the surf.
It was going great. None of the kids were being brave beyond their skills and they were all getting along.
And then it wasn’t.
The waves had been peaking around my knees when, without warning, a wave surged to waist height.
For most of us, it was a refreshing blast of cool water on a hot morning, but for our two-year-old son, it spelled trouble.
He was going to drown.
The surging waters lifted his life jacket up around his ears and pitched him forward. His little arms started to flail, looking unsuccessfully to find purchase in the waters. It carried him away from me a few more feet. The water started to ebb away from the shore leaving him on his hands and knees for a brief moment.
I knew that the next wave carried disaster.
I could picture him face-down as the next wave lifted and flipped him end over end. I could see him struggling to breathe in air and choking down salty water instead. This was coming, and I had to stop it.
I had been letting him fight the little waves all morning.
I wanted him to learn the rhythms of the ocean, how to move in the water, and to respect the water. He wasn’t ready for this wave.
As soon as the rogue wave passed me, I started to Hasselhoff toward my boy.
I got there just as the receding waters planted him. I plucked him out of the water like the last tortilla chip in the basket. Before the second wave could roll him up, he was in my arms. Surprise and relief washed over his little face, and he said, “Love you, daddy.”
I understood exactly how he felt.
For thirty-eight years, I had a dad that was ready to pluck me out of the crashing waves of life.
Sure, he let me struggle plenty.
He let me experience failure and rejection. Under his careful watch, I felt the searing pain of loss and regret. More than once I felt the quickening of panic followed by the relief of his presence.
When I started a project that I couldn’t finish.
He was there with the right tool and the right experience.
When I hadn’t managed my finances well and the lights got cut off.
He was there with a checkbook and a smile.
When I was disappointed with myself and feared that I would never be a good enough man for my wife.
He was there with a story of his own failure and the redeeming power of love.
Whenever I felt that I was just out of my depth.
He was there. And then he wasn’t.
My dad passed from this life to the next one last October. Since then, I have had a business partnership collapse, started a new job, totaled my car in a rollover accident, moved, and bought a house gutted after Hurricane Harvey.
It’s been a stressful few months.
The peak (at least I hope it was the peak) came a few weeks ago.
I had had a long and difficult day at work, I was having residual pain from the wreck, and I was walking around my gutted house. As I moved from room to room, I didn’t know where to start.
Despite having the experience, tools, and materials to do this job, I was overwhelmed.
Absentmindedly, I picked up my phone to call my dad.
I got to my favorites list then realized that I couldn’t call my dad.
That I would never again call him.
I realized that it was just me out here in this ocean.
As the tears started to flow, I heard a knock at the door.
I immediately stopped crying. I wiped my eyes and readied myself to put on a mask of congeniality and to blame my eyes on my allergies.
Scott, a man from my new church, was at the door.
He said, “Hey man, I wanted to come by and make a plan for how we’re going to get this house put back together.” For the next hour, he walked around and said what our first step needed to be in each room and who he knew that could come and help us.
And he kept saying it – us.
He talked about the things we would do and told me I could expect him back after work the next day.
I walked him out and said, “thanks,” and “good-bye.” I turned to go back inside.
He stopped halfway to his truck and said, “Hey.” I turned back to him.
And he said, “I want you to know that you’re not alone in this. I’m gonna be here to help you and other people are too. Don’t feel like you’re alone.”
And just like that- I didn’t feel so alone, because I wasn’t.
It takes almost no time and effort to tell someone that you are thinking, praying, pulling for them.
And that’s good because the sentiment is almost worthless.
Imagine how effective it would have been to send good vibes at my son while he struggled for breath being pummeled by the surf.
What is really meaningful is showing up.
Being connected to someone to the point that you know when they are struggling is what matters. You know they are drowning because you saw the wave and you know the panic is coming.
What helps is being beside them to show them that they are not alone.
This year will be my first Father’s Day without a father. People in your life will experience their first motherless Mother’s Day. There will be Thanksgivings stuffed with grief and solitary Christmas Eves. They will have dark nights of the soul in beds that feel too big and kids rooms that don’t smell like their little boy anymore.
People you know may be finding it hard to cope.
You might be their lifeline, but being there for them may actually require being there.
They may blame the red eyes on allergies.
They may tell you that they are fine.
You may feel like you’re being overbearing.
Lean into it.
Be more persistent than their protests.
Be there. Become part of their us.
Scott is a great dad, but he isn’t my dad.
No one will ever replace my dad, but having a friend like Scott makes the loss easier to bear.
Being a friend like that makes a world of difference in someone’s life.
I thank God for sending Scott to my house that day, and I pray that God will use you and me the same way. Let’s not just pray that God will send people hope. Let’s take the hope to them with love and kindness, cookies and help, ears to listen and arms to hug.