Throwback Thursday: Hannah and the Sea Lion

My daughter, Hannah, was 10. I was … well, younger than I am now—with flaming-red, butch-bob-short hair. (Hey, it was the early ’90s … no one looked good.) At the time, I was the associate editor of a national travel pub, assigned a sea-kayaking story in the Channel Islands. Tough job, but someone had to do it.

So there we were, mother and daughter, paddling our way through the wind and waves while being scolded by hundreds of disapproving seagulls (their nests were on a nearby island). Adding to their shrieks was the occasional horn of a commercial shipping boat that was chugging by.

Suddenly, my daughter, who was about 50 feet away from me at that time, let out a yell. “Mommy!” she screamed. Thinking her kayak had sprung a leak or she had been attacked by some sort of sea creature, I spun around … in full protective mother mode.

Instead of Jaws, I saw Fred.

Fred, as we would come to name him, was a sea lion pup who had lost his way in the bay. Tired, lonely and looking for his mum, Fred had spied our kayaks, swam closer, and then kept bobbing his head up and down, carefully pondering which one of these strange, misshapen, yellow things was his mother.

For five long minutes, he swam from kayak to kayak, carefully looking up at each of us—first myself, then our guide and finally, my daughter. It was then that something clicked in Fred’s little, prehistoric brain. I’d like to think it was his heart that skipped a beat when, after looking prolongedly into my daughter’s eyes, he made the instinctual decision that it was this beguiling creature with whom he was most sympatico with.

And so Fred did the next logical thing … he jumped. Darned if he didn’t take one big flying leap and flop right onto the back of my daughter’s kayak—immediately settling in for the journey. At first, the whole thing freaked Hannah out. She didn’t know what Fred intended to do. Would he flop around? Bite her? Jump off? How long would he stay?

Fred remained with us for 40 minutes—even when the wind picked up and the waves swelled into an almost unmanageable size. As we traversed a narrow cave, our kayak ride got rockier. But still, Fred, a stalwart soul, held on. The two, little human and orphaned pup, had clearly taken a shine to one another. Whenever my daughter looked back at him, he was looking at her, his right flipper poised gracefully over the edge, my daughter’s right arm laying downward, almost in sync.

When Fred would finally jump off, I was sure it was to his watery grave. This was a La Niña year and, according to our guide, orphaned seal pups were not uncommon. But I didn’t tell my daughter that. As it was, I had to fight back my own tears, knowing that Fred would probably be dead before sunset.

As the saying goes, “Mother Nature is a bitch.” Not that I believe in Mother Nature—except as the name of a granola bar—because it’s God who is ruler of the universe, of nature and of everything under the sun. He is the Creator, nature is the created and there is no vague, impersonal entity involved in any of this. But that’s another blog post for another time.

Back to Fred. Last we saw of him, his little head was bobbing up and down in the dark blue swell, though we saw him surface less often as the minutes wore on. I quickly urged the guide to take us back to the mainland—sparing my daughter, and myself, the pain of having to watch the little guy succumb to the elements.

These are the kind of moments where I truly do wish God would show up—sooner rather than later—so things can be set right. I know this much: No seal was ever orphaned in Eden. And no child would have been, either, had mankind ever reached the procreation phase before our perfect world suddenly became very imperfect.

Today, all creation (if not always mankind) groans for His coming—a time at the end of all things when, as Revelation describes, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.”

In their heart of hearts, I would venture to say most people hope for this reality, but creation knows it. Not consciously, of course—no more than Fred consciously picked which kayak to jump on. But I believe that nature has been hardwired by our Creator to long for His coming. And if you stop and listen carefully, with your spiritual antennae attuned to our troubled planet, you can hear that groaning.

Sometimes, it feels like a quiet unease. Other times, it feels more intense—like it’s been whipped up into a wail. I hear it in my own wails, in my prayers sometimes, when I feel God’s heart for this fallen world and all the pain and injustice of it.

Which brings us to the question: Does God even notice when a seal pup dies without the comfort of his mother? Aren’t there far weightier matters on His mind, such as mass starvation, pestilence, disease, wars, human slavery and all the other clear demonstrations of man’s inhumanity to man? Yes, He does notice—more importantly, He cares. Jesus said as much when He said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matt. 10:29).

Now those words bring me comfort. It reinforces the unchanging truth—one that has been amply demonstrated in my own life—that God is a Person, someone who cares deeply and passionately for each of us. He doesn’t just care for you—He also “takes great delight in you” and “rejoices over you with singing.” Just as he cares about a little sea lion pup who lost his mother and then was no more.

 

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