On Friday my dad and I took my girls swimming. Grace is learning to swim, and fearless in a way that makes every adult around her nervous. Rebekah wears one of those swimsuits with the life vest installed in it (which she calls her chubby tummy) and is terrified of going under the water. Grace swam from me to my dad, and at the same time, Bekah had reached for dad and was crying because her face had gotten splashed. So dad is juggling two kids, one of which is screeching. We get Bekah situated, and I turn around to see that Grace has slipped under the water. Her head was about 2 inches under the water and she was looking at me with this look of panic but unable to get herself up to breathe. I grabbed her up, she coughed up some water, and within seconds she was raring to go again. But the image of my little girl, underwater and in such danger without making a sound, has rattled me for days. Although she was only under a few seconds, that image of her little face in the water has haunted me.
I used to work for a ministry who had Proverbs 24:11 as their theme verse. Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. It so impacted me because, especially when dealing with kids and teenagers, it perfectly defined the state of so many students. For years I have seen teenagers staggering toward slaughter. Pushing boundaries, making quick thoughtless decisions, damaging themselves in some attempt to impress others. And I have felt like my calling was to prayerfully help hold them back from destruction. To somehow restrain them just enough until they could come to know Christ or reach adulthood and begin to make wise decisions. Many of my students are now lovely and responsible adults living lives worthy of their calling (having kids themselves which makes me thrilled but also feel very old). Others have lost their life, and I have mourned their loss. They quietly slipped away and I long for the day when I will see them again so I can tell them that they were loved, despite how alone they felt. I pray they have found the acceptance they longed for in the arms of our perfect Savior. For years I wore around my neck the emblem of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, given that title because the legend behind his life is that he helped a child across a river swollen from rain, getting the child to safety. I saw that as my call long before I had children.
Then I became a mom. And this calling moved into my home in a literal way. Keeping my children safe became a daily, constant, intensely personal battle. They have choked on food and given themselves medicine and tried to pull away from me in a parking lot and fallen out of baby beds and just Friday, one of them quietly slipped under the water. And thank God so far we have been able to hold them back and protect them well, but it is hard work and we can seriously let fear rule our lives if we let it. I am thankful for the grace of a God who saves. I am grateful for every missed loss. I am aware of just how much we are blessed.
But still that image of the face underwater has made me pause this week, has made me grateful, and has made me more aware. We are constantly, as parents, in need of mercy and miracles when it comes to our kids and the task we have been given. We are constantly, as members of the body of Christ, in need of wisdom when dealing with children and teens. Because whether it is our own children, or the children around us in our churches and in our communities, we need to realize that their default condition is not stagnant, but is headed downstream toward destruction. We need to actively, vigilantly, and prayerfully, engage to be forces that turn children toward Christ and toward life and away from the destructive pull of this world.
Because when kids are in trouble it isn’t always loud and they don’t always call attention to themselves. Sometimes they are quietly drowning, and they need our intervention. They need us to see them and recognize their need. Then we can help. We can pull them up, help them get their breath, tell them we love them and we are rooting for them, and help them swim to safety. We can be instruments of change and of life in the lives of the kids around us. I am grateful God allows us to be a part of such a worthy mission. May He help us do this task well with wisdom and grace beyond ourselves.
*That call to carry children across danger is also why we support Compassion International and other ministries aimed at helping vulnerable children around the world. When there isn’t a parent around or able to do the work of protecting children, ministries like Compassion and World Vision step in to fill that role, and obey this command. There are forces in this world aimed at the destruction of children and families, and these ministries actively fight those forces with the love and life of Christ. So we give what we can because it is important and children need someone fighting for them, helping them before they are led away to death.