When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. When life is bitter, say thank you and grow.” That’s what my favorite author, Shauna Niequist, has been known to say. Her words brought what I was trying to make sense of to life after a weekend at the lake.

The sun glistened off the water of Big Mac and loons dived underneath our Jet Ski’s waves. My girls laughed and shouted for me to go faster and faster, despite the butterflies in their stomachs. We crashed over waves and briefly took flight before splashing back into the water.

The girls’ faces were all smiles and their hearts were free because they trusted their captain. They knew I would keep them safe. I was in control, their trust was completely in me.

Undaunted by the rough waters, they took in the wonder of the great expanse. They shouted, “Best day ever,” with their hands reaching for the sky, free and safe.

It was a different story when it was my son’s turn on the Jet Ski.

Elijah’s faith in me wavered as we headed for open water. He clung to me and begged for the shore. I felt disappointed and bewildered about my boy as I turned around.

But then I stopped. I thought that maybe, if he was in control, it would change his mind. We stopped in the middle of the lake and I pulled him to the front of the Jet Ski. I moved to the passenger seat. Speaking in hushed tones, I put his hand on the gas and showed him how to steer. We slowly floated over the waves before he got up the nerve to squeeze the throttle.

He steered for the shore, where he thought he wanted to be, and I took the girls out for another ride.

He watched us on the water for hours, walking up and down the beach, skipping rocks and fishing off the dock. As the sun set, the waves grew larger and tossed our Jet Ski like a toddler’s boat in the bathtub. Cautiously he asked for a ride. His eyes met mine and I pulled him on board. His head rested on my back as we sliced through the waves.

When life is sweet, we breathe deeply the trust of our Captain. But when the waves crash over our heads, life feels uncertain, too fast and painfully out of control. We plead with the Captain, sometimes paralyzed and frozen. We beg for the shore, scrambling for a safe place to land.

Here’s what I’m learning, pain and fear and the mess are part of the waves we sail through. The part that gets us into trouble is when we take our eyes off the Captain, swallowing gallons of salty bitterness. We can’t head for safety on shore every time the waters swamp our boat. Like my son, I white knuckle life, too afraid to put myself in the Captain’s hands. Afraid, I bring him my very best and destroy myself for my failings, instead of finding a way to grow.

I pray, “I’m sorry I did this, I’m sorry I made this mistake, I’m sorry I chose not to trust.”

Like my son I’m relearning to trust God, the Captain. But here’s the thing, He’s a gentleman calling to me from the boat as the waves splash against my legs. It’s up to me to climb in and thank Him as He takes the wheel.

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