It was every parent’s nightmare.
She could have died, and it would have been my fault.
We were in a splash pad, and our little two-year old was giddy with glee playing with the rain spouting out from giant flowers. Seeing how there could be a danger of her falling into a pool nearby, I whizzed around to look for a buoyant swim vest someone had given to us.
“Ah got it! Now where are you Sa -“
Panic. Complete panic.
Within two seconds, she had disappeared.
In my recurrent nightmares, I always lost one or both of my children. Now it was real.
Just before I turned hysterical, she emerged from underwater like a drenched hummingbird, under the giant arms of a stocky, eagle-eyed father who was playing with his older son.
Seeing how much fun the big kids were having, she had taken a first step into the shallow end, not realizing that the next step would be too deep for her.
I knew from that day, that our little braveheart would dread swimming like the plague.
“DANGROUS (Dangerous) MAMA. FOR BIG KIDS,” she told me one day walking past a swimming pool. “TOO DEEP. NOT FOR AH-FEI.” Ah Fei being her own affectionate nickname for herself.
So imagine my internal struggle when my paediatric colleague reminded me of the importance of ensuring our children knew how to swim. I’d casually bring up the topic, and Sarah-Faith would assertively remind me with the conviction of a preacher, “NOT FOR AH-FEI!”
The day arrived. We enrolled her for a swim trial.
As Cliff got into the pool with our little toddler who was wailing like a cat, putting little ring floats round her arms, he said, “See Sarah-Faith, if you wear these, you’ll be safe, okay?”
”No, Papa, tell her that she’s safe because she’s with YOU,” said the swim instructor. “There’s nothing magical about the floats, it’s YOU who is keeping her safe.”
As Sarah-Faith became transfixed on the little water toys tossed around, Cliff pulled out her arm floats without any resistance.
“Papa got you,” Cliff kept saying, “Papa got you.”
Tears welled up behind my eyes. All at once, I felt God speaking to me about our situation.
In a time of several major transitions, with us moving from Canada to Singapore with a toddler and a newborn, into a new neighborhood, I was exhausted. Without my mum-in-law’s help, I was fatigued and overwhelmed. I wanted help but didn’t know who to turn to. I fell ill with a cold that raged into an oozing, yucky sinusitis. Emotionally and physically, I was depleted.
Many of our friends with young children sent their older child to preschool or had a live in domestic helper. We had prayed about this and given the intense transitions and unusual stresses our family might face serving the underprivileged in the field, we felt God’s leading for homeschooling our children this season instead of institutionalizing them so soon.
But with me starting work soon, and already feeling completely depleted with a raging sinusitis infection and struggling with nighttime anxiety from worrying about the things only mums worry about, I felt defeated.
An angel in the form of a homeschooling mama had already reached out to me genuinely to offer her help but I felt guilty accepting it; another grandma we had met through a divine accident graciously offered to accompany Sarah-Faith to her weekly playgroup, even suggesting for us to go on a date while she helped with our children.
Yet, every day I would google private pre-schools, public kindergartens and nanny services online, even when I knew it was not what God wanted for our family.
The first preschool we visited had the words “HUNGRY FOR SUCCESS” plastered over the walls of a junior kindergarten class. Another informed us they had no outdoor time at all because of the possibility of mosquitoes.
The possibility of mosquitoes.
Those options I googled were my floats. My floats made me feel safe. With them, I knew that at least we would survive.
But it was not true. It is God, our Papa, who’s got us.
From time to time, whenever Cliff said, “In Team Tam, we don’t just survive,” Sarah-Faith would belt out with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader, “WE THHHRIVE!!”
As the swim instructor encouraged the parents to hold their children under their armpits and swish them around in the water, Sarah-Faith refused. With her legs wrapped round Papa’s torso like a constricting python, there was no swishing, for sure.
Time passed, and as the other toddlers squealed with delight, she, too, began to let go and loosen up. Within minutes, she had turned from an angry python to a delighted duckling.
By this time, my face was drenched in tears.
So often, we try so hard to maintain our sense of security by securing life floats for ourselves- better finances, better prospects, better options. We strive and busy ourselves endlessly to make our lives more secure, stable. We do everything we can to purge it of worry and uncertainty.
If we can pay for a service with the money we’ve earned, we’ll take that instead of relying on a relationship. It feels more certain, more secure.
Those of us who DO take the God-led path, which may seem more tenuous, suffer humiliation, fear and the pain of uncertainty.
It was there and then, when i saw Sarah-Faith smiling in Cliff’s arms that I felt God saying, “I’ve got you, Wai Jia.”
We may not have a domestic helper. We may not have my mum-in-law here. We may not have a dual-income family. We may have many things set against culture- like the desire to homeschool, to live simply, to live as though we were preparing for someplace else, somewhere in the mission field, or in eternity.
Yet, with God by our side, why did I fear? Did He not provide this homeschooling mama friend to encourage and strengthen us? Did He not send this “random” grandma our way when we were visiting a missions organization to bless us temporarily till we found more regular help? Did He not allow a random Facebook reader to identify me on the street last week, only to offer to connect me with other mums in the neighborhood, when I was feeling isolated and at my lowest? Has He not sent us countless angels and strangers to run backwards to hold elevator buttons, open doors, offer their directions, and offer us their tables when I was struggling with two little ones in public?
And so, if God is by our side and fighting for us, is there more we need to fear?
So many people had warned us against this- saying that this arrangement would unsettle Sarah-Faith, that it lacks the structure and predictability of a nursery, that it would not be good for a child who just underwent a major transition of moving homes and countries.
Yet, in God’s divine way, we now see He handpicked Sarah-Faith’s caregivers- she sees them as part of our extended family. Each of them were moved by God in specific and divine ways to reach out to us, and none were willing to accept any form of payment because “don’t you see Wai Jia? We are one family”.
I now see that God’s way supersedes our own ideas, for where else would I find a 1 to 3 or 1 to 1 ratio from people who intentionally chose to love and dote on her like family? No preschool, however expensive, could provide that.
In reality, sending her to an institution would be much easier and feel more “secure” for us all.
But the truth is, our floats won’t save us. Even if we feel safer with them.
But resting in His arms, neither flailing nor resisting Him, learning to graciously accept the unconventional help He has chosen to provide, will.
It grows our spiritual muscles to stay afloat, the very ones that will help us swim, in the very thing that we once felt like we were drowning in.
For whatever He has called you to unconventionally, however tenuous it may seem, is it time, perhaps, for you to put your floats on shore and take to the waters with Him?
Papa’s got you.
*We are currently praying for a Big Sister or Grandma to help us with Sarah-Faith’s care. If you could pray alongside us, or if you’d like to reach out to us and join us for playdates, we’d love to hear from you <3