Part 2 - Bethany Hamilton Comes to Daybreak

The skies were still dark when we woke up on Easter Sunday. Mr. Jones had to be up in LA early for his next tour, so he was already in his uniform when I rolled out of bed to rouse the kids. It didn't take much to wake them. I just had to say, "Come on you guys... we need to get there before the crowd." 

We all knew the kind of crowd that gathers wherever Bethany Hamilton goes. We didn't want to miss out on seeing her again. I was still struggling with the request we got from our pastor. He asked regular attenders to park at the school down the street, go to the first or last service, and to sit in the overflow section in the loft. The parking and service times were not a big deal, but watching a live stream versus being in the sanctuary to see Bethany live... that was a tough one. 

Especially since we'd been waiting for Bethany for so long!

Mr. Jones' Uber car came to pick him up around 6:15. He kissed us goodbye as we all headed out the door; him to the train and us to church. Later at church, a friend would say, "But it's a holiday! Doesn't he get holidays?" I had to remind him that planes fly every day. Besides... we're used to it. Being married to a pilot means that we may not always get to spend the holidays together, but we got to see him for a moment before he left for the week.

Easter Sunrise 2015

We watched the sun rise as we drove up and over the hill towards the church. I still hadn't decided if we were going to ignore the request and go into the sanctuary. I expected to see tons of cars at the overflow parking lot, but we were one of the first ones to arrive.  On the shuttle bus that was to take us up to the church, I asked the other adults what they were going to do. They all said they'd be watching the live stream from the loft. 

Damn it. No enablers on the bus.

We got up to the church and saw that there was no line. There were only volunteers running around working. I found my friend that's in charge of the children's programs and asked how we could help before heading in to the service. While we filled snack cups with goldfish and put paint on paper plates, the crowd began to arrive. We watched them as they headed in; a trickle at first, and then a flood. We finished up helping to set up the classroom and went out to figure out where we'd be sitting. My daughter was pleading to go into the sanctuary. I hemmed and hawed and then finally said, "Okay, whatever... let's just go in." We walked up to the doors just as the Executive Pastor shut them and said, 

"The sanctuary is full."


So we walked up to the loft with the overflow crowed. I thought, well, maybe this is how it should go. We should let others go before us. We should be givers. We should, we should, we should... and then I just started regretting not going in. We sat at the front of the room where the live broadcast was. As expected, it wasn't the same.

I started overnoodling our situation. We had brunch reservations at 12:30, so if we were going to go to a later service to see Bethany live, we had to ignore not only one but TWO requests made of regulars. If we were going to go into the sanctuary, we'd have to go to one of the two middle services. After too much hand-wringing, I leaned over to my daughter and told my plan. She would leave half way through the live stream to get in line. I could leave during the final song, grab my son, and meet her in line. When it came time for her to leave, her anxiety took over for a second and she froze. CRAP! When this kid freezes, it's all over! I said,

"It's Bethany!"

She unfroze and made her way out to get in line. When it came my turn to leave, I had two thoughts: A) I hope she's not at the end of the two hour long line, and B) I hope our pastor doesn't see us.

When I walked out, I saw that she had somehow managed to get to the front door. There wasn't a line, but more of a mostly patient crowd gathered at the doors. Somehow, I managed to find my son without any trouble. He had just walked out of his class as I was walking down from the loft. We both met up with my daughter and found other regular attendees that were ignoring the polite requests of the staff, too.

Enablers, YAY!

The doors opened and after allowing the first service crowd to get out, my daughter and a couple of her girlfriends wiggled in and bolted straight to the front row. My son and I found a couple of seats right behind her. We sat just a few feet away from the stage where Bethany was going to be.

The sanctuary was buzzing with excitement.

Bethany Hamilton at Daybreak Church

We didn't get to meet her. She didn't autograph any pictures or books. We didn't get to take a selfie with her. But we did get to see her live and listen to her talk about overcoming the challenges of life. Her indomitable spirit is simply amazing. Who loses an arm to a shark attack and knows with all her being that it's for a higher purpose? I looked over at my daughter who was looking up at her in quiet admiration. It took a few years, but she got to see her role model in person.


Bethany's family was also in attendance. Seated just a few chairs over from us was her husband. The two have been married for just under two years and are expecting a baby in the next couple of months. They talked about how they met and how they respected each other's desire to remain pure before marriage. They also talked about their appearance on the Amazing Race and how they both loved on each other more on their tougher challenges. They have each other's backs in every way. 

Bethany Hamilton and husband Adam Dirks at Daybreak Church Carlsbad

It was a great message for my kids to hear and I think it had a greater impact because they got to see Bethany speak those words right in front of them. Before they left the stage, Pastor Jason prayed for them and the safety of their future child. I spent the rest of the service avoiding eye contact with him, which was hard to do, considering we were sitting RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. I was happy that my kids got to be there to see Bethany in the flesh... but I was still feeling guilty about ignoring the requests.

The things you do for your kids...

Daybreak Pastor Jason Graves with Bethany Hamilton and husband Adam Dirks Easter 2015

On our way out, my son said something I had been thinking: "All this time we've been chasing Bethany, and we ended up seeing her at our own church."  It's a lot like life, isn't it? You can go all over the world looking for something only to find it right back at home. My daughter got to meet her role model at the very same spot she first learned her story.

It was a great lesson for all of us. 

Oh! And we made it to brunch on time... just the three of us. I was bummed that Mr. Jones wasn't there and that my mom decided she still needed to do some more obsessive cleaning before her cousin came into town for vacation. But before we were even half way through our meal, my mom showed up to sit with us and say hi to the kids. Luckily, we had an extra seat. Then, out of nowhere, I see a man in a pilot's uniform that looked strikingly similar to Mr. Jones. It WAS Mr. Jones! He had flown into Carlsbad and had a few hours to spare before taking passengers on to the next city. We ended up with a crowded but cozy table filled with love and a great new tale to add to our family history.

It was pretty much one of the best Easter Sundays ever.


Waiting for Bethany - Part 1

We have waited to see Bethany Hamilton for countless hours over the last several years.

My daughter became a huge fan of Bethany's in the beginning of fifth grade when she read her story, Soul Surfer. Our church, Daybreak was going to be showing the movie, so in preparation, we bought the book for Hannah to read.

Bethany Hamilton, if you don't know who she is, was a young girl in Hawaii looking forward to a life as a pro surfer when she was attacked by a shark and lost her left arm. The movie shows news clips of her story that I clearly remembered seeing. At the time, I thought how great it was that this little girl's story was being told and how inspiring she was for people of all ages, but later, learning how she put her faith and trust in God, believing that even the shark attack had a greater purpose... well, that just blew me away.

How could anyone that young just know, I wondered. I still struggle to find purpose and meaning in everything in my life. Trying to tie up the loose ends with a neat bow of it-was-meant-to-be- or there-has-to-be-a-reason. The messiness and unpredictability of life leaves me feeling like a ping pong ball, bouncing between the hard paddles of surrender and control. I know I should live in surrender, but that can be a very scary place. Yet it's in the moments that I surrender control when all the good stuff happens. I know this... and still I struggle.

My daughter dove into the book with so much interest. She identified with young Bethany in the book as they had a few things in common (church, homeschool, living by the beach). Every few chapters, Hannah would pop out of her room or the big climbing tree in the yard to tell me about Bethany's attack, or her state of mind, or how her family was supporting her. When she finished reading her story, she came to me and said, 

"Bethany Hamilton is my role model." 

"Oh thank GOD," I thought.

My role models were drug-addicted, over-sexed rebels in music and film. The wilder, the better. But looking back at all I've gone through in life, I always hope and pray that my kids will choose better people to place on pedestals. I was more than relieved that Hannah chose someone so resilient and faithful as Bethany Hamilton to admire. 

I never thought meeting her would become our obsession.

The first time we waited to see her was in 2011 at a church about two hours away from home. Hannah had subscribed to Bethany's email list that gave updates on where she would be speaking and possibly signing autographs. We got an early start and headed to the church thinking we'd have plenty of time to park and get a seat to see Bethany speak. We drove up to a two mile long line of people waiting to see her.

After a couple of hours of waiting, we got to the church entrance and were told that they had just filled up, but we could watch the service on monitors set up outside. My daughter was crushed. We tried our best to watch outside, but the glare of the sun on the screens and the lack of sound made it nearly impossible. Then, a man opened the doors to the church lobby and said they had room for a few more. I remember shoving my daughter in. She looked so scared, but I just reassured her that she would be okay on her own. Besides, she was going to see Bethany! The gentleman letting everyone in looked at me and said something to the effect of "We'll let you both squeeze in."

WE WERE SO EXCITED... until we saw that he was only letting us in to see the live broadcast on the monitors in the lobby. It was an improvement, but it was still not Bethany in the flesh. Still... her message was uplifiting and at least we got THAT close.

The next time we went to see Bethany was at the 2013 Super Girl Surf Pro at the Oceanside Pier. Although we lived in Oceanside before and do again, at the time, we were living in Mexico. We still made the trek up to try to meet Bethany. We got to see her surf and got to a spot close to where she entered the water. It was pretty exciting, but not as exciting, we thought, as meeting her later that day at her autograph signing. 

If you squint really hard, you can see Bethany getting up on her board at the crest of the wave.

If you squint really hard, you can see Bethany getting up on her board at the crest of the wave.

We remembered the church line, so we got there a couple of hours before she was supposed to start her meet-and-greet. I figured that would be plenty of time. What I didn't factor in was how much Bethany had grown in popularity and how many more young girls had made her their role model. The line went from her booth on the sand, down the strand a few yards, then up both ramps of the pier entrance, and down the street. A friend of ours was walking past us with her daughters who had just met her and taken pictures with her. The mom was thrilled, but told us they lined up first thing in the morning. She got crazy eyes when she said, "We waited EIGHT HOURS!"

Holy schmitt...

We tried not to lose heart and were lifted up with a little Shave Ice from Mr. Jones and The Boy.

 And then the line started moving... WOO HOO!!! We didn't realize it was because people were being given the sad news. Eventually, one of the organizers came up to us and told us the sad truth. There was no way we were going to get to see her that day. Standing in line was futile. Again, my daughter was crushed. We went back down to the sand to see if we could catch a glimpse of her as she walked away. We found a little spot that was roped off. In the blink of an eye, she walked out of the tent and breezed past us to an awaiting car. It wasn't much, but it was the closest we'd been to her yet.

Then there was the time Bethany was in town for a Cobian event at a local surf shop. We drove by, saw the line, and knew. We weren't going to see Bethany then either.

A few weeks ago at church, our pastor made an announcement I never thought I'd hear. We were going to be starting a new series on Easter called Unbroken. They would be inviting a special guest to kick off the series. My mind went straight to someone in the military, probably because of the movie of the same name. But then he started describing a female who had survived an attack. I started making some excited OH OH OH sounds. My friend Marlena looked up from the stage and started giggling at me. Then he said it.


I started clapping and shaking and trying really hard not to scream! I couldn't believe it! ALL THIS TIME and we were finally going to see her at OUR church! I looked over and saw my daughter walking in to be baptized. She saw me in the stands and we both gave each other a huge smile that we both knew to mean: "Can you believe it?" It was an exciting moment.

But that excitement gave way to something even better. I ran down to the front of the service and luckily found a free seat in the front to watch my daughter declare her belief in Jesus Christ. As she entered the water, I began shaking and crying. I was just barely able to capture the moment, but I did.

I'm so glad my little Hannah is making good life decisions at such a young age. She has chosen good people to model her life after and is, except for her taste in music and comedy, nothing like her mother was at that age. She's bound to become a role model to other girls someday.


Part 2 - Bethany Hamilton Comes to Daybreak