A number of years ago, I took my daughter to go see “Soul Surfer,” a family (and sensitively depicted) movie based on a real-life event that happened several years ago, when a 13-year-old surfer’s arm was bitten off in a shark attack in Hawaii. Why I wanted my daughter to see it — and why I’m writing about it now — is because of how this young woman, Bethany Hamilton, handled what would be a traumatic incident for anyone, under any circumstances.
Here were her circumstances: In addition to being an age at which most of her peers would be painfully self-conscious about any physical characteristic — even a pimple — that might physically differentiate them from others, she had even more to grieve than her lost arm. An accomplished surfer who already had sponsors and who was going to turn pro, Bethany also faced the loss of her dream.
Any one of us, in the same situation, would no doubt feel that he or she was the victim of a terribly unfair fluke. Add to that being a teenager — a teenage girl — and having a rewarding career plan dashed, and you have a lot of reasons to feel sorry for yourself. But in an interview just three weeks after the horrifying event, you couldn’t see a trace of self-pity in the face or voice of Bethany Hamilton.
Evidently Bethany has a strong faith, an unshakeable belief that what happened to her is part of God’s plan for her. In that three weeks after her accident she had become active again, and wore her usual wardrobe of sleeveless tops naturally and self-confidently. When asked by an interviewer if she thought she would surf again, she said sweetly yet firmly, “Not if. When.”
Here is a person who made a choice to hold on to both her faith and her vision, even in the wake of a horrific event that included pain of every imaginable sort: physical, mental, emotional, professional, financial. And perhaps in her words lies a key to the difference between living an old story and living a New Story: to hold your vision and what you stand for at all times, in all circumstances; to say sweetly yet firmly, “Not if. When.”
—Rev. Maggie Oman Shannon