I had never been so scared. We were on a small boat. My head hurt, my elbows and knees were turning deep shades of purple and yellow, my daughter’s lip was bleeding, and we were purposefully heading toward a storm.
Yet, just an hour or so before we had been having the time of our lives!
While on vacation in Florida, my family had rented a boat. We had spent the morning fishing, playing at a deserted beach, watching dolphins play and zooming up and down the inter-coastal waterways.
Our skin was sun-kissed, our hair wind-blown, our hearts full of joy. We love boat day!
Yet, this boat day would take a very different turn, a turn none of us saw coming:
“Mommy, come sit with me!” my daughter calls out over the noise of the engine.
My husband and son are at the wheel, my daughter at the bow. She says she feels like she’s flying when she sits at the front of the boat. I tuck myself into the little sitting area, our knees are touching.
She hands me a rope used to tie-up the boat, “Hold onto this mama, some of the waves make you feel like your gonna fall.”
I take the rope, turn my face to the wind and smile. It does feel like I’m flying! The air roars in my ears as we make our way up the inter-coastal. My hair whips around my face. I spot a dolphin surfacing just ahead. We wave at a boat as it approaches us, and then rock back and forth as we encounter its wake.
“Isn’t this fun?” My daughter asks, sheer joy radiating from her face.
“It’s awesome,” I shout with a smile.
Pelicans swoop and glide, inches from the water’s surface. A fish jumps. Another boat approaches.
The engine sputters. My husband turns his head toward the sound, just as the approaching boat passes.
We hit the wake—hard. My head bobbles and I tighten my grip on the rope.
“Wow, that was…” I start to comment to my daughter, but I am interrupted by another wave. A much harder wave.
A much harder hit. I am air-borne—for a second. And then….I hit. Hard. I know instantly that something is wrong. I feel pain. Dizziness. Nausea.
A cry breaks through my confusion.
“Mommy! It hurts, it hurts!!”
Blood is visible in my sweet girl’s mouth. My stomach turns. Please God, don’t let it be bad.
My husband steers the boat from the channel. My son throws out the anchor. I’m holding my little girl who now has ice in her mouth. My insides shake with fear that she will need stitches or that a tooth has come loose. It was a hard hit, I just know there will be significant injury.
Miraculously though, it is just a cut on her lip and gum. It stops bleeding within minutes.
As the reality of her not-serious injury washes over me, I start to cry. I am so relieved. Yet as the adrenaline wears off, I realize that I am also in pain. My elbows hurt, bad. They both have what looks like golf balls protruding from them. My knees are scratched and bleeding. But my head. My neck. Something’s not right.
My husband’s eyes meet mine—eyes so full of compassion and pain.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispers, although it in no way was his fault. “Let’s go back.”
I protest. We were on our way to a secluded restaurant, accessible only by boat. I don’t want to cut boat day short. And I really want to get off the boat for a bit. So, much to my husband’s consternation, we go. I’m dizzy, but being on land is nice. We eat, we laugh, my elbows no longer require ice. We buy a souvenir. The room stops spinning.
I find a treasure—Motrin!!
As I gulp the glorious pain-relievers down, my phone rings.
“Jen, a big storm is building at the end of the island. Have you guys checked the weather recently?” My mom’s voice is tense.
With all the drama, we had not paid attention to the weather. The sky is clear where we are. All seems well.
“Seems fine here, but thanks for the heads up,” I reply, glancing at the time on my phone. “Actually, our time’s about up so we will start heading back now.”
We get back on the boat. The Motrin is helping. My daughter and I choose to sit on the bench across from the bow. We ride down the water equivalent of a residential road before turning back into the open water of the inter-coastal.
That’s when we see it. A storm that would make even storm-hardened Floridians nervous.
The charcoal gray sky—illuminated every few seconds with stripes of lightening—roars its displeasure. White foam bobs in the distance.
Everything about the storm makes me want to flee in the opposite direction. And yet, the only way home is toward the storm.
Shallow water abounds in this bay, forcing us to follow the channel markers—markers which lead us due south before eventually turning us west.
South is the storm, west is safety.
I exchange a look with my serious-faced husband. He gives a decisive nod and we set our course toward the storm.
My daughter grabs my hand, “Mama, I’m scared.”
“Me too baby, me too.”
Never have I felt so vulnerable, so exposed. So out of control of my circumstances.
A dolphin surfaces just in front of our boat.
I try to smile at the creature I absolutely adore.
The sky quickly fades to gray, the sun blocked from view by rapidly building thunderheads. The water morphs to a fearfully beautiful greenish-gray. Thunder shakes the heavens. My little girl squeezes my hand.
“Mama,” she whispers, her lips quivering.
Another dolphin surfaces to our right. Its presence somehow comforting.
The boat engine roars, yet an eery quiet permeates the air.
White caps rock our boat. Lightening splits the sky.
“Hey, there’s a shark! I just saw a shark!” My son exclaims, overjoyed with his discovery.
My heart drops as my blood pressure rises with this new information.
“Dear Lord,” I whisper, my prayer snatched away with a gust of wind.
Rain drops begin to pelt our boat’s canopy. We are so close to the storm that I can smell the rain, almost feel the pressure change.
Another dolphin makes itself known.
A fierce clap of thunder brings tears to my daughter’s eyes, “I want to get off this boat!” she cries.
My head begins to throb. Fear grips my heart.
“Hey sweet girl,” I say forcing a lightness to my voice, “Remember the story about Jesus sleeping on the boat during a storm,” I ask.
“Where do you think He would be sleeping if he was in our boat right now?”
Tears swim in her eyes as she points to the bow.
(I seem to remember that He was in the stern, but I think He will forgive a little creative license in this case!;)
“Can you picture Him there now?” I ask, my own voice choking with emotion.
“What did He do when they woke Him up?” I ask her, desperate to hear the answer myself.
“He said ‘Peace,’ she answers.
The word passes from her salty lips straight to my heart.
“Baby,” I begin, pulling her closer to me as our boat begins to rock in earnest, “Let’s pray, but let’s look right where we imagine Jesus would be, ok?”
“OK,” she mouths.
I pray, out loud. I talk to Jesus as if He was right there (for I truly believe He was).
Lord, we are so scared. This storm is bad and it is so close. Jesus, would you please see us safely through this storm. Would you say ‘Peace’ to this storm and to our hearts. Lord, we need you. Hold us and let us know You are with us.
As I begin to sing every worship song I can think of, two dolphins leap from the water—as if in a Sea World show! My jaw (which I discover hurts) drops. One of the dolphins jumps again as we make a sharp turn west.
The storm now to our left, is rapidly growing. Yet, I am no longer nervous. Anxious to be done with this adventure, but no longer terrified. I continue to sing, but this time from a place of true worship. For I know that my family is not alone on that boat. Jesus is there with us as much as He was with His disciples so many years ago.
And He made His presence—His power—known to me by the creatures I love so much. It was as if the dolphins were escorting us home. A reminder of God’s sovereignty and love.
He knows how much I adore dolphins. He knows what comforts my heart, and He provided—yet I had to look for them.
Had my eyes been squeezed shut, had I hidden from the storm, I would have missed the dolphins. I would have missed God’s provision in the storm.
After what felt like an eternity we docked and could not scramble from that boat fast enough.
My girl and I headed for the car while the boys paid our bill.
We were both quiet for several minutes as the heavens opened, drenching our car.
“You ok baby?” I ask her.
“I’m ok. Are you?” she replies.
“I am,” I assure her, “But I think I’m gonna be pretty sore tomorrow.”
I rub the back of my neck.
Silence reigns again as we are both lost in our thoughts.
“Hey mama,” she says breaking the reverent silence. “That was really scary.”
“It sure was baby girl.”
Tears pool in her ocean blue eyes, “But it was kinda cool too.”
I smile. It was not what I would have ever chosen, but she is right, it was kinda cool.
“Mama,” her sweet voice again calls out, “I feel….different.”
“How so baby?”
She begins to cry. Tears flee my own eyes.
“I just…He was…He was there. Jesus was with us!” Her voice raises an octave, “And did you see all the dolphins?! Did He send those???”
“Mama,” she pauses, “Do you think God let that storm happen so we could feel Him close like that?”
I nod. I have no words.
A determined look—a courageous look—furrows her brow.
“If so, then the storm was worth it!”
We drive back to the condo where ice and whiplash recovery will begin.
I look out the window at the suddenly clear sky and can’t help but repeat my girl’s words,
“Lord, if I get more of You, then the storms are worth it!”
Look for your dolphins today as you face your storm! (And if you are willing to share a “Dolphin Moment” you have experienced I would love to hear about it!)