Ann Marie pushes toward me in the pool, life jacket holding her up in the water. “Papa Doc! Watch me!” Even though it’s barely three feet deep here, that’s deeper than is comfortable for her. When her hair isn’t drenched by pool water, it’s blond and curly, accenting eyes that shimmer with excitement, mischievousness and a constant preoccupation with how to avoid doing whatever it is that she’s just been told to do. Or to continue doing what she’s been told to quit.
Aside from that element derived from at least three generations of paternal genetic predisposition, she is basically adorable. Cute, active, alert and imaginative.
At the present moment, that imagination has been over-stimulated by watching her older brother, Reese, jump off my shoulders into the deep water. It has her thinking she wants me to pitch her up in the air in the shallow end. “Pick me up, Papa Doc. Throw me in the water.”
“Okay,” I agree, “but let’s step out where it’s just a little deeper.” She grins and nods her head, “But not too deep.”
I take two steps toward the deep end and she kicks her way toward me. I lift her up to my chest, then toss her up a couple of feet into the air. She splashes down beneath the surface then bobs up to the top, arms flailing and feet kicking. Her mouth is shut tight and her eyes are huge. Even someone as dense as I am can see that this is no expression of delight; she is somewhere between startled and terrified.
I lift her up out of the water, “Hey, are you okay?”
Her eyelids move back down from her forehead and she nods her head, “I’m okay,” but there’s something in her voice that suggests she is being less than totally honest. Even small kids have egos and they sometimes don’t like to admit they’re scared. In this case, another generational trait, I suppose, with perhaps a double dose of genetics.
“Do it again,” Ann Marie says. I look at her suspiciously, “Are you sure?” Then, with an uncharacteristic bit of insight and intuition, I ask her, “Do you want me to catch you this time?” Instantly, she nods her head enthusiastically, “Yes, catch me!”
So, I pitch her up into the air and catch her with a sliding motion that lets most of her body dip into the pool but keeps her face out of the water. She laughs and uses that one word that forever signifies approval, delight and insistence: “Again!”
In that sort of trust, we step out into the pool, into the deeper water, trusting in the arm of Papa God to lift us up above the waves. Sometimes, he allows us to sink a bit deeper than we had expected. Sometimes, the taste of salt burns in our mouth and stings in our eyes but we find ourselves always rising above the splashing and churning. His hand always reaches to us, even in our greatest fears. Always.