Sea of Angels

Sea of Angels

Her daughter had swum out too far and gone missing. She prayed for angels to assist her.

An artist's rendering of a young girl building a sand castle at the beach

Pichilemu, my Chilean home, is known as the “Capital of the Surf.” People come from all over the world to ride our waves. My husband, Mitch, and I have lived here since the eldest of our five children was a baby, surfing and spreading the Gospel, living it in our home as well.

A couple of Easters ago, I was focused especially on our youngest, 13-year-old Katrina. We’d been talking about Easter in preparation for the upcoming service, but I wasn’t sure how much had really gotten through. Katrina has Down syndrome, and often had trouble making herself understood.

How could I know my daughter’s questions so I could fully convey the power of the Easter message?

“Why don’t we go to the beach?” I said. Floating on our surfboards in God’s ocean seemed a pretty good place to talk about miracles.

“Yay!” Katrina said, and ran off to find her powder-blue board. She was a strong swimmer on the local team and a good surfer too. That was no surprise in my family–Mitch would rather surf than eat, and I’d been a lifeguard for years in California.

Katrina had a childlike wonder about the sea. Sand castles, surfing, starfish–it was all magical to her. Through her eyes it was magical to me too.

The beach was packed, and we threw our stuff down near some neighbors. Sun sparkled off the water. A few surf schools were having lessons in the shallow, peaceful bay. Beyond them, out in deeper waters, I could see waves of 30 feet or more. Only the most experienced surfers ventured out there.

One of the kids in our group was a beginner, so, ever the lifeguard, I went with her down to the water and took my time settling her on her surfboard–too much time for Katrina. I let her paddle in ahead of us. “Not past those people,” I told her, pointing to some surfing students. “I want to be able to see you.”

“Okay, Mom!” she called, heading off in her shiny black wet suit. The waters of the bay were shallow enough that if Katrina had any trouble, she could walk right out.

I turned back to see Katrina several yards away–and still paddling fast. “Katrina!” I shouted, surprised at her. “Come back!”

Katrina kept going, disappearing among the surfing students. “Katrina!” I took off after her. This was not the day for a game of chase.

It’s not easy to go after someone on a surfboard. Lying flat against the water’s surface it’s impossible to see anything. I paddled a few strokes, then sat up and scanned the water, squinting into the sunlight reflected off the ocean’s spray. She couldn’t have gotten very far.

My arms were longer and I was stronger. Perhaps I’d passed her? I twisted around to look up at the cliffs behind me, where a couple was walking. “Hello!” I yelled up to them. “Can you see a girl on a blue surfboard out there?”

The couple scanned the water. Almost immediately the woman pointed to the north–way farther than I had believed Katrina could be. But sure enough there she was, 400 yards away, on the other side of a sand bar–beyond the bay and well into dangerous waters. I couldn’t believe it.

“Katrina!” I screamed. People turned at the fear in my voice. All I could do was watch helplessly as Katrina rose up on a wave, crashed to the bottom and disappeared.

“We’ll find her!” a man called out. He and his friends headed toward her on their surfboards.

I twisted back to the couple on the cliff. “Please run to the surf shop!” I said. “My little girl’s out there. We need the Coast Guard!”

The couple rushed off. Lifeguards splashed into the water, the surf instructors swam past me. People on the beach saw the commotion and moved to the water’s edge. With swift, powerful strokes I paddled out of the bay into the waters beyond, to the last place I’d seen Katrina. Then I sat up and scanned the surf again.

The sunlight reflecting off the mist on the water made it almost impossible to see anything. I looked at my watch. It had been 30 minutes since Katrina had left me. I swam back to shore and stumbled up to one of the lifeguards. “Did anyone find her?”

“Not so far,” he said. “I’m only getting reports of a pod of toninas.”

The Chilean dolphins were rarely seen around Pichilemu. These must have been migrating to warmer waters for mating season. Katrina had never seen one. Imagining how her face would have lit up at the idea of a pod of black dolphins, my throat closed up and my eyes filled with tears.

Lord, please send your angels to help her. I ran up and down the shore, squinting into the mist. Out in the water, the searchers did the best they could, but the big waves made it hard for them to get very far.

Once more I paddled out on my board, hoping for a glimpse of Katrina. When I didn’t find her I returned to the beach and scanned the children’s faces there, hoping against hope Katrina would suddenly appear among them. A friend from the surf shop came up beside me. “How long has she been missing?” he asked.

I looked at my watch. “Two hours!” I sobbed. It seemed like only minutes had passed since I’d watched her crash down from that wave.

“She’s a strong swimmer,” he reminded me. “Don’t give up hope.”

I couldn’t give up hope. I bowed my head. I’d brought Katrina here today to teach her about miracles.

“I’m going to jog up the beach,” I said. “Follow the current north.” Off I went, but what did I expect to find? Katrina was in the water somewhere. There was little chance she’d get back to shore after all this time. Never had the promise and hope of Easter seemed so far away.

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