I have had a favorite family story on my mind all weekend. Maybe it is because of the media barrage of “father” images on this greeting-card holiday, or maybe it has more to do with the lessons I am learning on this particular point on my spiritual journey. Either way, the story is begging to be told this morning so I will set it free…
I was about three years old when my father and I had our first foray into “solo parenting” with each other. My Mom needed gall bladder surgery, and that meant caring for me was left in the hands of my father. Although I was very young, I do have some very vivid memories of this event, including going to the hospital to see my Mom while she was recovering (it was the 70’s, long before same day surgery). But the most memorable event from our family lore happened later that night when Dad and I were home by ourselves.
I woke up in the middle of the night, and I needed to use the bathroom. The bathroom was on the other side of the house, and I was not about to venture there alone in the dark. So, I went to wake up my Dad in the bedroom next to mine. “Dad” I whispered. And I waited. “DAD!” I yelled. He woke up, startled. “I have to go to the bathroom.” I remember he sort of grunted, mostly asleep, but lovingly scooped me up and carried me to the bathroom. He sleepily set me down, presumably on the toilet as I had asked him to do, and started to close the door and walk away
“Dad”…. I was very hesitant at first. Nighttime help was Mom territory. Maybe Dads did this different, I thought. But something was definitely not right.
“DAD!” I yelled. He turned around.
“My foot is in the toilet!”
Still groggy, Dad rubbed his eyes and asked (as if it mattered), “Which one??”
Crying, I called out:
“BOTH OF THEM!”
We still laugh together at this story, the memory of which likely has become more vivid with retelling over the years. I had a full, two foot and most of my lower half immersion in toilet water that night, and there was a whole lot of cleaning up to do. My Dad embellishes the story now by stating that his punishment was that after he got me dried off and changed, I immediately crawled into bed next to him and put my cold, clammy little toilet water feet all over his legs.
The funniest part of this story, from my perspective, is that I am still a both-feet-in-the-water kind of girl. Maybe this early childhood experience was a baptism of sorts, having two feet stuck firmly into the toilet bowl of life and coming out with laughter and a great story. I have most certainly spent some time waist deep in some pretty unpleasant waters. Thankfully, my feet haven’t always been aimed toward a toilet bowl, though. I am often plunged into amazing situations, serendipitous opportunities, and richly rewarding experiences. I also have learned that some situations are not what I anticipated they would be and there is no easy way out, even when I call for help. Over time, I have learned to trust that when I call for help, strong arms will lift me up, dry me off, and set both feet firmly back on solid ground. I will be wet, and the aftermath may require a lot of cleaning-up. But, when all is said and done, there will be a story worth telling and retelling about the experience. There will be a lesson…a small point of light…within the immersion.
I also know from my own journey that there are times when all we can manage to do is stick one toe in the water, especially when we are learning (or re-learning) to trust. Cleaning up and drying off can take its toll on us, and we need time to heal. But there is joyful abandon in recognizing within ourselves a return to the child-like willingness to jump in with both feet, to be fully immersed but not washed away…or perhaps in my case, flushed away…by the experience. I have come to learn that water can be life-giving, even when it provides an opportunity for a shared story that keeps us laughing together through all the ups and downs of life.
May we be willing to jump with both feet into the waters of life, always trusting in the arms that are present to guide and protect us on our journey.