When we found out we were having a fourth baby, we heard this analogy from more than one person: “Having a fourth baby is like drowning in a swimming pool and then someone tosses you a baby.” I thought, “wow, that’s encouraging and a little dramatic.” Now that I’m in that season, truth be told there are days when I feel like I am not just in a swimming pool with a baby in tow anymore, but now I am in an icy ocean in the middle of the night not sure where the baby is, but hearing his cry in the distance. How’s that for dramatic?
Family Rehab has been my desire to find footing, or a life-preserver—not just for my own sake, but for the sake of my husband and children. During this process, I have written about change coming. I have blogged about the storm that’s brewing. I have testified that the power of God is doing something. I thought that this was change effecting life only within the four walls of our household, within the walls of the Goeke hearts. But God is doing so much more. He has taken us out of the swimming pool and tossed us overboard. We are in the process of change—continually. I worry about our daughters succeeding in academics while they learn to have me as their less-than-skilled teacher. Our four-year-old is struggling to obey and trust the truth. At every turn, our baby is finding something new and more deadly to put in his mouth. All these “season-of-life” things are occurring in the midst of possibly moving. Even considering the idea of leaving The Well—our other child—is a painful and sad process. The idea of moving away from Buda, from family and friends, is an uncomfortable one. At times, I wish I were only drowning in a swimming pool with a baby over my sinking head. That sounds easy. That sounds light. Now bear with me as I allow myself to get a little dramatic…
I feel as though I am lost at sea, waves crashing over my head. The saltiness of the tide mixed with my own tears burn my eyes. Each time I gasp for life-giving air, I inhale a fire ball of salt and foam. I just want to stop treading water. It’s midnight and the sky is pitch black as I look above me, struggling to keep my chin clear from the water’s breaking surface. My legs are tired. They ache. The tips of my toes cramp as they extend to their limits every time I pump my legs in hope to scrape the hidden sand below. My quads burn. My calves are tight and sluggish all at the same time. I swim. I paddle and tug to get somewhere—anywhere. I feel as though I should be moving towards the beach and closer to a rock or a sand bar. But, I get further and further from my intended destination and the undertow carries me away.
I’m cold. I feel alone. It’s dark.
Then I see some little lights in the distance. Maybe it’s the shore— some faint traffic lights swinging in the distance on a quiet, vacant street. Maybe it’s a rig out in the middle of the sea, uninhabited, burning the midnight oil. My mind wanders at the hopeful thought of what lies out there. I fantasize about the single aimless car roaming the still street. I imagine seagulls nestled under the warmth of the platform lights, shielded against the wind on a man-made island. I can see their wings tucked in, their beaks hiding beneath the folds of their white feathers. I can picture the fluffy chick-like downy feathers that surround their necks. I see the small clouds of white down dancing around their faces in the bitter wind.
[ gasp ] My head resurfaces and I spit a mouthful of water through my teeth. It runs out my nose and I wonder if the salty surge has gripped my heart. My lungs feel like they are on fire.
This has got to come to an end—this feeling that I am merely maintaining just past the point of survival.
I hear my baby’s cry in the distance. I know I’m not holding him because his sounds are too far away. It’s too dark to see him and a dense fog has now settled over the water-logged surroundings. I listen. I hold my breath so I can hear over my own panting but my heartbeat only grows louder in my head and I start to feel it pounding and racing in my inner ear. I try to slowly exhale and as I do, I hear other voices. Hope springs to the surface! Then I realize they are small child voices. They are scared and they are whimpering, crying, and murmuring fear. They are looking for me. My desperate and tired legs get a burst of energy. The adrenaline races through my body as I consider that the life in the balance is not just mine.
Warmth returns to my fingers and for the first time I sense that I have something in my right palm. I am holding it tightly. So tight that in my mind I can’t separate the feeling of my own hand’s skin from the object gripped in between its folds. I cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. And then I remember. It’s a rope. I feel the sea whipping it against my once numb legs. It scratches and I realize my whole outer right leg is raw from its abuse. And then I realize, it’s attached to something—something heavy. That’s why I am not making headway. That’s why I haven’t drowned.
Day is dawning. I see to one side of me the sun peeking over the waves. The light slowly bleeds into the black sky and things start to take shape in the dark blue-grey mist. I see it. It’s a boat. I can’t quite make out its size, but I can tell it’s floating and bobbing as the waves start to settle in the morning light. Hope is rising. The more light that creeps across the sky the less frightful the sounds and the less my body struggles. I turn toward the thick rope in my possession and start pulling myself towards the boat hand over hand on the tightly woven fibers. It reminds me of thickly braided hair like that of a horse. As I near the boat, I see four mounds gathered in it’s hull. They are still and quiet. I worry that I am too late.
With even more determination and fervency I struggle to pull myself to the boat. As I near I see that it is only a small fishing boat with little cover and protection from the elements. I let go of the rope and reach for the edge of the vessel, but my arms are stiff from exerting my muscles in the cold water. I only splash deep into the freezing salty depths below. Fear overcomes all fatigue and I pump my legs and arms all at once and rush back to the surface, jolting with such momentum that all but my waist and legs remain in the water. I throw my arms over the side of the boat in a sloppy display. I hang there for awhile, catching my breath with the edge of the boat digging into my armpits, the added weight of my wet clothes pushing me into it. As soon as I can feel the tips of my fingers again, I look past the boards under my chin and into the rest of the boat. I see the four blanket covered lumps at the opposite end and again feel another surge of adrenaline. I heave my tired and frigid body over the edge of the boat. My stomach collapses on the lip of the boat as I just roll and tumble onto the dry and hard deck. I feel like I might be sick, but I quickly make my way over to the blankets, crawling and shaking with every fragile movement. The boat rocks and it feels almost more unsafe than when I was in the water. I don’t want to end up back in the water. I slow my movements, not just to slow the rocking, but because I realize that what might be under those blankets could ruin me. With great trembling and hesitation I ease up to the small hills of blankets. I lift one corner and see him.
His little face, quietly and peacefully resting. His eyes closed, his lips pink and puckered. I lift the blanket higher and suddenly a rush of cold coastal wind soars under the blanket. His eyes and nose scrunch together and the corners of his mouth head south. Then he lets out a small cat-like cry. I sigh. He’s okay. Thank goodness, he’s okay. I tuck my head under the blanket creating a closed pocket of air around my head and his body. He settles in and falls back asleep. I watch him for awhile and take in his every facial feature. As the beams of light from the sunrise illuminate the blanket, I see the other three, all peacefully sleeping–dry and warm–huddled together like a den of bear cubs, curled on top of one another. I can see now the oldest’s arm around the baby, keeping him close like a mother hen guards her chicks under her wings. I savor the warmth of their bodies on my wet face. I inhale their musky scent. We are okay. My babies are all okay.
I slip out from underneath the blanket. The sky is now pink and orange and light blue and full of life. Seagulls fly above and I see a huge pelican dive in for its breakfast. I look to the left and right and still see no sign of land. Then I hear my name. Someone is calling my name from behind my shoulder. I quickly turn to see my husband on the shore of a sunny peach-colored beach. Under one arm he holds a stack of folded blankets, the other hand is cupped to his mouth, calling my name. Next to him is a fire burning with overwhelming heat and light. I call back awakening the children, who all sit up as sliding blankets reveal their groggy squinting eyes. They see him too and in an instant we are all calling his name. Then I see someone else on the beach standing with him. He is stoking the fire, cooking some fish, and even from a distance I can see His smile. It is so broad and welcoming that it looks as though He is even gently chuckling. He looks up and His eyes meet mine. I am instantly comforted. I am instantly warmed within. I am instantly at peace. The kids quiet and come and surround me, wrapping me in their presence and blankets. The waves gently move us toward the men. My husband runs toward us till he is chest deep and in reach of our small sea vessel. He smiles, grabs the rim of the boat and drags us ashore. Upon reaching the sand, the kids all run out and head for the warmth of the fire. My husband reaches in and lifts me, sweeping his arm under my knees and carries me to join the others.
This Family Rehab has been a tiring journey that at most times feels like I grabbed my kids, put them in a boat without preparation or supplies and just jumped into the great unknown sea of homeschool. When they have rough days, filled with insecurities and fears, it is usually because their wayward leader is missing in action. When we are lost in the sea of Family Rehab, I sometimes find myself still consumed by my own struggling heart that I have a hard time hearing their hearts in the midst of my panting and murmuring. I have to slow down, take a deep breath, and remember “God can do more in my waiting, than in my doing I can do”.
And then there are mornings, like today, when I snuggle under blankets with them and read them a book. There are the times that I pause and study their every feature and expression, taking them in and treasuring them in my heart. There are those mornings when together we look directly into the eyes of Jesus and see His love for us and experience His provision first hand. There are those mornings when I feel the support of my husband, calling me back to the Savior’s goodness and light. We usually haven’t drifted too far off the shore on those overwhelming days. But those days are usually void of the Light, and darkness overcomes us. It feels cold. It feels lonely. It feels dark. Little flickers of hope in things that won’t ultimately satisfy cause confusion and distraction, almost stealing the last breaths of life. We don’t see that the Savior has never left us and is still right there by our side. The darkness fools us into fear, fatigue, and a sense of failure.
It is only through experiencing the deep vastness of the ocean that I realize just how hungry and in need I am of Spiritual nutrition. Dining with the Savior and my family, seeing what we have been through together, developing hungry and thirsty souls together on the journey is what Family Rehab has done for us. It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be. This isn’t supposed to be a year of luxury and fine food. It’s seaside fish, with salt and sand still on our faces, looking into the fiery light of the Word, with the ocean in the background. The experience provides prospective after the struggle. The experience guides us into a more intimate setting with Jesus as a family. I know that as we consider moving and all the effects that may or may not have around us, we won’t be left alone. God has promised to never leave our side. He will always be stoking the fire and preparing provision. He’s keeping the blankets warm not just for me and my family but for all those around us who might get wet in the process of our journey. He is faithful. He is loving. Trusting him to guide and provide and to accept His invitation to sit by the light of His Word are the only parts we play in this journey. That sounds easy. That sounds light. And that sounds a lot less dramatic.