“I can’t see KJ!”
Moments before, we had arrived at the beach and gotten settled. I remember Ginnette saying, “the water looks rough today.” I grunted, not actually listening to her words, only the sound of her voice. I was already on my second page.
But now her words lifted my head. She was standing, and when she touched my shoulder, I put the book down and glanced out across the sand, and into the surging tide.
He had vanished.
“I saw him just a moment ago.” Her voice rose, a panic deepening with each scan of the waves. I immediately ran to the water’s edge, where surf crushed the sand. Nothing. No blond toe head, no boogie board, just surging foam, violent turbulence, and a knot in my throat. I swallowed, but it didn’t go away. We both waded into the water, our eyes darting in every direction.
“Did you see a little blond haired boy on a boogie board?” We asked everyone in our surroundings, but no one had. The more time went on, the more surreal it became. My initial thought was, God how could you heal his heart at birth, only to let this happen? People say their entire life passes before them in life threatening moments, but for me my entire future grew larger, a future without my son. My heart raced, and into my emotions came dread, the impossible possibility that he was somewhere under the water around me. Ginnette had gone for the life guard, who to our surprise walked calmly into the surf. “What do we do? “ I asked, the serious edge to my voice could not be missed. “Nothing, right now,” he said, glancing at his watch. “He’s got to be missing 15 minutes before we call the paramedics.” My mind raced. If KJ was under the water…
Others around us continued their beach fun. It struck Ginnette and me how disinterested they were, content to watch us splash around the water, hoping to bump into a son who was on the verge of drowning. Finally, one man spoke up. “The tide is strong today going north, I would look that way, because chances are he drifted.” So, Ginnette, the lifeguard, and I began walking down the beach. He kept repeating, not until fifteen minutes. It had been almost that long, and our hearts were sinking into despair. That’s when I started to run…
I ran because that’s what I do, and have always done. At a young age, like the wind, winning nearly every time I stepped on the track. But this was different. I felt helpless, nearly hopeless for my son. I ran, because I wanted to be away from the only person who should have been skimming across the water in search, but was blithely watching his watch for the time to send for help.
I ran. Hard. That run down the beach was unlike any jaunt I had ever taken. Adrenaline dripped out of my pores, that nervous energy that dissipates after the start of a race. This kind of adrenaline pumped my arms and legs at a violent pace, and never waned. It was different for one other reason. My eyes were filled with tears. Trying to weave in and out of beach goers while scanning the water, I didn’t care what was in front of me, yet somehow I didn’t collide with anyone.
But then I spotted it; a blond crew cut toe head, big for the body. It was crawling out from the foamy waves. My eyes wanted to will it so. My body had no feeling, as though I glided across the sand, feeling nothing, thinking only one thing, could this be him, could this be him, O God in heaven, could this be him…?
To this day, 20 years later, KJ can still recall our collision. I didn’t slow down much before I crushed him with a hug so strong he said he couldn’t breathe. I was bawling now, full throttle stuff, not caring if anyone noticed. I kept a strong embrace, whispering into his ear, ‘you’re ok, you’re ok. We thought we lost you…’
Then he told us what happened. How he had lost track of time, and was having fun drifting along on the boogie board. He said, he finally looked up, and didn’t see us, and so decided to turn back the direction he had come. I found him a quarter mile from our original spot on the beach.
In that moment, the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 came to my mind. The father had seen his own son far away, had gathered up his cloak, not caring about dignity, blinded by tears, and had used the adrenaline inside to cause him to run the race of his life. Theologians tell us that Jesus told that story in order to teach his disciples something about the nature of God. I’m glad he did, and I’m glad that on a windy day in the summer of 1995, my own son drifted from our sight, which led to me learning a deeper truth. Call me heretical, but I’ve walked with God long enough to know at least one thing. The adrenaline in Him pumps at a ferocious pace, pushing him toward us, ever toward us, in an unrelenting run for the ages. Because even the slightest hint of our drifting has him on His feet, with nothing in His way to stop Him. When we make a decisive turn around, almost immediately we feel his embrace; it’s called repentance, to taste in his kiss the salty tears, and hear him whisper, ‘you’re home, you’re home, my sweet son, my sweet daughter, you’re ok…we thought we lost you.’