Thursday, August 7, 2008

Balancing Strength and Courage

The most poignant moment I observed during our recent family beach trip came on our last evening together. At sunset the family met at the water's edge to photograph the children. I watched happily as the seven cousins laughed and played in the surf, quietly capturing all the action with my camera. Through my lens I saw carefree giggles, tender moments and childhood exuberance. I caught peaceful moments of quiet introspection. I watched the children grow big as they chased seagulls and stood arm in arm together. And I saw them feel small as they paused before the vast ocean to look toward the horizon. But the moment of courage that stirred my emotions most came when we headed down the beach.

The children held hands as they strolled down the beach, then broke into a run when a large piece of driftwood came into view. The tree trunk had washed onto the shore days before, and it was a marvelous spot to explore! Just hours before my four and their cousins Hollis and Reese had enjoyed playing on it in their bathing suits.

When we returned to the tree at sunset, we discovered that in the hours since, other beach-goers had dug a tunnel under the trunk. Nine-year-old Carson immediately slid into the pit below the trunk so he could dig, while 6-year-olds Christian and Hollis climbed onto the trunk. The younger cousins soon followed suit, taking turns crossing the makeshift bridge. The older boys raced across, barely aware of the space below them, while 4-year-old Mary Ashley glided slowly across the beam with the grace of a gymnast. Three-year-old Reese and 2-year-old Emma were eager to join the big kids. First, they inched their way across, but soon they were handling the bridge with ease too.

Three-year-old Hans was the last of the cousins to cross the log. I have a tender spot for this nephew. I still remember when Joe's sister, Emily, told me over the phone that he was on the way. I was so taken by surprise I screamed into the mouthpiece! I prayed often for his safe arrival, and my heart broke when I learned that ultrasounds had revealed serious complications. His left arm had only partially formed, and possible causes could result in life-threatening defects. We were so relieved when Hans was born without the heart defects we had been warned about. Healthy and robust, he astonished the doctors who were on standby in case he needed surgery at birth. We were so thankful for this rosy, pink bundle, and hoped he had been given an extra measure of strength and courage to face the challenges that lay ahead.

At 3, Hans is adapting to life with one hand. Weekly in-home visits with physical and occupational therapists combine exercise and play to develop balance, skills and coordination. Advancements in prosthetics should give him more freedom as he matures. He is a bright and energetic little boy who relishes time with his cousins. He eagerly mimicked them throughout our beach vacation, joining with them to run, dance and play in the pool.

So after observing his cousins exploring the trunk on the beach, Hans gingerly climbed aboard too. He eyed the drop below the bridge cautiously and stood there for several seconds, wanting to cross but afraid he would fall. Emily said later that his short arm affects his balance in ways we will probably never know. Each developmental milestone is a victory, as each new achievement takes Hans one step further to independence.

As I watched Hans standing on the precipice of fear and bravery, I was reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis: "Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality."

Hans demonstrated a balance of strength and courage that day on the beach, as he took a deep breath and stepped out carefully. Slowly but surely he made his way across, aware of the hole below but focused on the goal.

Hans' journey across the bridge reminds me of the Christian life. Stepping out in faith can be difficult. It takes a balance of strength and courage to make the journey. Doubt, fear and temptation loom below, but God is with us. We need only to focus on Him. Deuteronomy 31:6 reminds us: "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble ..., for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."

Overcoming fear on our Christian walk is easier when we share the journey with Christian friends. Emily told me Hans never would have attempted this feat if he had not watched his cousins do it first. Eager to follow in their footsteps, he climbed onto the log. And he took his first tentative steps with cousin Hollis urging, "Come on, Hans. You can do it." We too gain inspiration from those around us. Godly companions can encourage us to stay on the path and motivate us to do better. First Thessalonians 5:11 urges, "Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing."

And when the journey seems too difficult, we can remember that all our struggles, trials and heartaches will be worth it in the end. Second Chronicles 15:7 reminds us, "But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work." Hans was triumphant, and he beamed as he reached the end of the bridge -- and his proud daddy. Victory can be ours too. If we keep our eyes focused on the goal, we will make it. And just like little Hans, we can step out in faith knowing that at the end of our journey, our Father will be there to meet us with open arms.

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