"The most important thing in the world is family and love." - John Wooden

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

As I sat seaside this past week in Naples, Florida, I watched the tide's water flow in one direction and pull back in the opposite; wash in over one child's sand sculpture, and soon another was built; gush forward over one set of footprints, roll back and a new set of imprints were created. I part-heard/part-felt the cacophony that is the shoreline - equal parts of water resonant, birdcall, breeze, and the tinny sound of playful, relaxed voices. Clear, bright blue waters melted into vivid green. Vibrant circles of color, as if part of an artist's palette, dotted sparkling sand.

Dappled areas of bare sand, except for the wooden stakes surrounded by yellow tape, were interspersed throughout the colorful landscape - protected turtle nests.

On June 17, 1989, I married my husband, John. I was a mere 23 years old, but viewed myself as MUCH older; and, John, at age 27, was positively pushing the needle towards the "old" mark! Feelings of elation and excitement regarding our future coursed through my soul's veins. Looking deeply into John's eyes during our ceremony, I saw an ocean of love in those blue green orbs, and I was overwhelmed with my own reciprocal feelings as we publicly proclaimed our vows. I tried to clasp the moment...

Back in Naples, I scooped up water along the shoreline and tried to hold it in my hands. I tightly sealed my fingers, and still, the water flowed - much like the past years. 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 . . .and on the years streamed over smooth, sandy bars of happiness and rough, rocky outcroppings of life challenges. One house rented was soon left for a mortgage and a new address. One degree earned was followed by another, followed by still more schooling. Tides of life rolled in as one event followed the outward flow of another.

Ebb and flow. Inhale and exhale. Sunrise and sunset.

Soon it was the end of September 1998; something felt different. Habitual morning coffee suddenly became nauseating. Strong scents, once easily ignored, were now sending me scrambling to find the nearest restroom. Emotions surfaced with more frequency and greater intensity. What treasure was the tide rolling in our way?

Once more, in Naples, I clasped another scoopful of water. Again, I pressed my fingers firmly together, determined to savor the warmth of the water and not allow it to seep away - similar to the way in which I tried to cling tightly to both pregnancy and our soon-to-be-born daughter, Madelyn.

The end of September flowed into the fall of October and November, followed by the winter months, and on into spring. May came and went, and in spite of doctor's best predictions, the tides of life had not yet revealed the small, sweet person growing within my womb.

Much in the manner of a seashell seeker scouring the beach, serenely waiting for the tides to reveal its hidden treasure, so too were John and I instructed to remain patient, potentially for up to two more weeks. June 1, June 2, June 3...on and on the days continued to stream.

Ebb and flow. Inhale and exhale. Sunrise and Sunset.

June 14, 1999. Sweat drips. My hand entrusted into John's. Those eyes, those same eyes from ten years prior, still filled with an endless ocean of love, gaze strongly into mine, sending currents of strength. Whispered words of encouragement. Clasping onto to those loving words...

Dusk fades into dawn, which gives way to day. One hour followed by another.

Her eyes, alert and curious, met mine for the first time and locked on. I gazed up at John and back to her. Love at first sight. Unbelievable joy. A precious baby girl was placed upon my chest as my arms carefully cradled around her.

Baby cries and coos part ways for songs and words. Crib evolved into a toddler bed, which became a double bed. Board books and storybooks are soon replaced by novels. Bright, primary colored toys give way to dolls and outside play. Childhood calls as the back door slams. Trees climbed. Flowers picked. Tears and boo-boo kisses. Giggles and laughs. Snuggles and hugs. Puzzles and games. Creative art corner ever expanding. Textbooks and paper. Prom dresses followed by cap and gown.

Ebb and flow. Inhale and Exhale. Sunrise and sunset.

In Naples, turtle nests are protected. Eventually, these eggs will hatch, and the newly born turtles will attempt to make their way to the sea. Many of the turtles will not make it to the water - due to predators, dehydration, and other obstacles. Those that do make it to sea are not guaranteed survival. From birds to sharks, or other big fish, and from ingesting tar balls to ingesting plastic, only one out of 1,000 baby turtles survives into adulthood. And yet, these nests are ceremoniously protected- to at least give the hatchlings a fighting chance.

Truth be told, we are all navigating this ocean called life - through smooth, placid waters, to large waves of storms; and from predator-free, wide open currents, to dangers lurking within each undercurrent and sandy shoreline. Just as the sea turtles cannot clasp and remain still in safe waters, neither can we. Ceremonies, traditions, and rituals often buffer early stages of relationships and families, but these do not guarantee survival. Genuine effort, thought, patience, dialogue, plus a good dose of humor - in addition to love - are just a few of the many tools humans must employ in order for family relationships to survive.

In spite of my best efforts at the beaches of Naples, I was never able to hold onto the seawater for very long. Similarly, our sweet baby girl and beautiful daughter will no longer be a teenager when these words are read, and she now spends more time away from John and me than with us. Meanwhile, wrinkles line both John's and my eyes. Gray incessantly sprouts along my temples and part-line; and John's hair, once curly and dark, is mostly missing.

Ebb and flow. Inhale and exhale. Sunrise and sunset.

I still seek, find comfort, and see much love in John's eyes - those same eyes into which I gazed in June of 1989. I love those eyes, and the person behind them, even more now. Equally, I am filled with abundant love for my brilliant, beautiful daughter whose eyes locked into mine and overflowed my heart with joy 20 years ago.

Happy Anniversary, John! Happy Birthday, Maddie! I love you, both - to the moon and back.

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