At a New Year’s Eve party about two or three years ago, Katie, my littlest child, pulled me into the bathroom with her and excitedly whispered, “Mama! You know that man who plays the guitar and sings at our church? HE’S HERE!” It turns out that our worship pastor Stevie (as his fans know him) is my little Katie’s personal Justin Beiber. We went out, and I took her over to talk to him, and though he was very kind, all she could do is smile shyly and not utter a sound. We did manage to get a picture of them together though.
Katie continued to smile at him from her vantage point on the second row at church each Sunday. Then this spring, I began tutoring Stevie’s son Gabe in PreCalculus several times a week. Katie would accompany me, drawing, watching the Disney channel, or sneaking upstairs to play Gabe’s drums while he and I did our math.
Their home backs up to the San Gabriel River, and one day Stevie took Katie and me on a tour down steep metal stairs on the face of a cliff to a ledge overlooking the quiet river. Stevie told us about swimming there with the family and showed us his favorite place to sit and fish. Katie took it all in quietly and with big eyes. Stevie asked her, “Next time you come over, would you like to go fishing with me?” Katie smile was huge. “Yes!”
All the way home, Katie talked about going fishing. All the next day, she talked about fishing. She had a million questions about fish and catching them and letting them go. She asked me a million times about when she was going fishing with Stevie. Then the next day on the way to their house, she again talked about fishing non-stop.
Once we got there though, it was a different story. Stevie had gotten chairs and gear and live worms. He had even found a little Mickey Mouse fishing pole for Katie. Katie had brought cold feet. Once the reality of going down to the river with a very nice, but essentially unknown man set in, Katie wasn’t so sure she wanted to go. We talked, we cajoled, we encouraged, but she was afraid. Finally Stevie told her “That’s okay, Katie. I’ll tell you what. I will go down and set up a spot to fish. If you change your mind, have your mom bring you down when you are ready. I will wait for you.”
Stevie headed out, Gabe and I went to work on his math, and Katie sat down to draw. After fifteen minutes or so, I said “Katie, let’s go see if Stevie caught any fish yet.” “Okay,” was her shaky reply.
Down the steep stairs we went to the river’s edge. Stevie had set up the chairs and was all ready for her. “Ready to fish?” he said. She was. He showed her the rod and the bobber and the hook and the worm, setting it all up for her. He helped her cast, and we sat down to wait. She kept peering over the edge trying to see her hook. Below, we could see the shadowy shapes of fish and the nose of a turtle.
The hook was only in the water for about five minutes before the bobber popped under the water. She had a bite! Stevie helped her reel, and as she squealed with delight, a big fat perch came up on her line. Together she and Stevie marveled at its smooth sides, blue stripes, and sharp spines. She politely declined to touch it, but she giggled and talked about it nonstop. Stevie clasped the prized catch carefully and removed the hook. “Goodbye, fish,” called Katie as Stevie tossed him back in the water. The fish wasn’t the only thing hooked- so was Katie. She wanted her line back in the water. Stevie set her up again, and I excused myself to go back to Gabe and his PreCal. As I climbed the steps, Kate was jabbering away at a laughing Stevie as they both tried to find more turtles.
About an hour later they came up the path, gear in hand, both grinning from ear to ear. Katie was full of stories about what she had seen and done, excited about heading home to tell her brother and sister all about it. Later, Stevie would share his favorite part of the trip: Katie had said to him “Let’s just put down our poles and talk…” and so they did. Katie has a fan, too.
As August turns into September and the school starts again, I have often thought that this time of year is more like New Year’s than January. This is the time of year for new. New teachers, new friends, new schools, new opportunities, new adventures. For me this year, it is the newness of having all three of my kids in school, and wondering just what the year will bring. For my Katie, it is the newness of starting kindergarten. All this newness is exciting, but can also be intimidating. It can be so tempting to feel like Katie did when it finally came time to fish. She wanted to fish with Stevie. She was excited to fish with him. But when it came down to letting go of her mama and following him down to the fishing hole, things got a little shaky.
There is a fear of the unknown that newness carries. As Katie understood, even in an adventure that is eagerly sought, that first frighteningly unknown step must be taken. We will know it each tomorrow as we step into new places, new beginnings, new adventures. There will always be the lingering thought that it might be better to evade this newness- that it might be better not to take the risk. Stifle that thought. Get your pole and go fishing.
~And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk that it took to blossom.~ Anais Nin