“Are you excited about Kauai?”, my sister asked me, as a we chatted on the phone. My husband Vinh and I were going to Kauai with our three youngest children for Easter break. I should have been, but I was worried. One could never predict how Peter would do with new situations and a long plane ride, my high schooler was getting into a moody and defensive stage, and my seven year old was a perennial tester, with a mercurial temper. As Peter gets anxious in unfamiliar restaurants, we had rented a house, and were planning to cook all our own meals. Between the planning, rearranging schedules, packing, and prospects of cooking and cleaning while having to keep an eye on Peter at all times, and keeping all the children entertained, emotionally regulated, and safe, I was more bracing myself than looking forward to our adventure in Kauai.
But I needn’t have been concerned. Peter was so excited about going to Hawaii that he jumped out of bed the morning we left and laughed joyfully. He patiently waited through the airport lines, and I taught him some foxtrot steps (he likes ballroom dancing) as we waited at the gate. On the plane, he loved looking through the window as he learned about coastlines, and what farmlands, beach, mountains, ocean, and sky looked like from the air. He did lots of word problems as we counted, added, and subtracted rice cracker snacks. Peter read a goofy little book about a boy named Ben who helped a wet hen, and we made pipe cleaner figures of them and acted out the story. We played modified card games. Peter loves to learn, so his scholarly proclivities made the 5 1/2 hr. plane ride pass remarkably quickly.
The beaches around Poipu where we stayed were beautiful. Peter was anxious the first day as the surf was loud, but by the second day, he was able to take off his headphones; he started having fun running in and out with the waves, albeit with his fingers in his ears. The third day on the beach was my birthday, and I was determined to have some fun. I checked in the other two boys into surfing clinic (they loved surfing!), and told Peter, “Come on, let’s go for a walk!” After about a mile, I found what I was looking for. Groups of parents standing tall like signposts, pointing out fish to their children in the shallow waters. I put on my snorkel and found myself in heaven. Beautiful tropical fish, all different shapes and colors, weaving in and out and all around the people as we floated above the coral reef. I coaxed Peter in. He wasn’t willing to try the snorkel, but finally accepted his familiar swim goggles. Then the miracle happened. I pointed out a fish to Peter, he put his head in and caught a glimpse of it, and he was hooked! He laughed with delight and clapped his hands! I was so excited, we were looking at the same fish together! We moved to another spot, and I gestured again for him to look. Uh-oh. Problem. No swim goggles. Peter must have dropped them in his excitement somewhere along the way.
I am really bad at finding things. Vinh tells me I have no peripheral vision. The water was full of coral and fish, and the swim goggles were clear. I prayed my most frequent ejaculatory prayer, “Holy Spirit, it’s you or nothing!” I prayed to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost articles, and put on my snorkel on the hopeless quest of finding those goggles. I just couldn’t believe it- there they were in the sand underwater! I recovered my heavenly birthday present, put those goggles on Peter, and we spent the rest of the morning delightedly exploring the reef and admiring the amazing, beautiful fish. Peter was so excited that he forgot his fear of the sea and went swimming off into the deep with that powerful kick of his; thank the Lord, he did look back to check on me, I gestured for him to return, and he did. We continued our underwater expedition. Schools of striped tang swarmed around us like escaped convicts. Brilliantly colored wrasse, royal blue needlefish who looked like living swim trunk cord ties wiggled away in the water. A queenly, serene opal rose colored female parrotfish swam serenely by, followed by several eager, bright blue, green, and orange suitors. It was heavenly, and I sighed with contentment and joy. What a birthday present from our Lord- a morning of sharing something so breathtakingly beautiful with my Peter!
But that wasn’t all the Lord had in stall. I had had a passing thought in the morning- I wish I might see a whale. But I knew that was not likely- it was the very end of the whale migration, and even the dolphins usually inhabited the shallower coastal waters only much earlier in the day. But that afternoon, viewing the dramatic, unique cliffs and mountains along the coast of Na’pali, a large pod of dolphins came swimming up and around our catamaran. Then we saw a mother and baby humpback emerge out of the water and a huge tail splash down on the other side of the boat. Another beautiful gift!
The last day of our trip, I signed us up for a crazy adventure, kayaking and ziplining. To my relief, Peter readily got into the kayak, and Papa faithfully as ever paddled him two miles up river. After a short trek in the jungle, we arrived at the ziplining site. Peter saw the other eighteen members of our group get into their harness gear, and to my grateful delight, stepped into his gear readily. He saw Luke and Teddy eagerly zip off the platform, and climbed up the ladder after them. Though he readily got into position to launch, then he balked and anxiously turned away to exit. The attendant had me zip away to encourage Peter to follow. After landing, I turned anxiously on the platform to wait for Peter. After a long pause, I spied Peter jump off the platform. And then another beautiful miracle. A roar of voices cheering spontaneously in unison floated across the canyon from a thousand feet away. That’s how Peter got off the platform. It was love. Loving encouragement from a crowd of people who didn’t even know us, and could have been irritated and impatient, but chose to teach him instead how fun it is to be brave.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit kept pouring out upon us. Stationed at the end of the second even longer zipline was the most energetic, positive little gal who worked all the equipment, delivered individual landing instructions to all the zipliners, and moved a heavy 11 foot ladder back and forth along the platform. She was all cheerful encouragement, and truly seemed to love her work. She was amazing with Peter. You would never detect a shred of concern or stress, except that we noticed she did something completely different with Peter’s landing and made sure to ascend the ladder herself to catch Peter. Then on the boat ride back, a guide was playing a game tossing boxes of cookies to the kids who could answer his trivia questions about Hawaii. When he was down to the second to last box, a father sitting near us shouted out the answer and was tossed a box. He then handed the box to Peter! At that point, I was ready to cry- that father wanted to make sure my Peter got a box of cookies like the other kids.
For that father with the cookies and the zipliners who stirred the crowd to start cheering for Peter, I am so grateful. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.” (Mt 13:33) I hope my children will learn to take the lead and initiative in loving and serving too someday, just like you.
There are always at least two stories going on in every occasion. One story is the outside story about a boy and his family who had a lot of fun in Hawaii. The other story is the inside story, in this case about how the Spirit led the way, made straight the paths, and provided the people, opportunities, and love to create a beautiful memory for a special child and his worried mom who didn’t need to worry.
“I trust in the steadfast love of God for ever and ever.
I will thank thee forever,
because thou hast done it.” Psalm 52:8,9