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.
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!"
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.
BETHANY HAMILTON WOULD BE COMING TO DAYBREAK CHURCH.
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.