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The Anniversary of the Red Bikini Story

It was the dead of winter, ten years ago yesterday, when I found myself standing waist-deep in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean ocean just a few months before Shawna’s diagnosis. I had just finished photographing an intimate portrait session with a bride and groom on the day after their wedding. We walked the beach, and they snuggled close, basking in the kind of glow that first-day newlyweds have about them.

We came upon an old wooden dock as the sun sank low. It was just far enough into the surf break that we had to time our approach carefully, watching the waves and waiting for a break to run out and jump up onto it so the first-day-wife wouldn’t get her gown soaked.

We photographed out there on that dock tucked in the sea until the light was gone. At the very last minute, with the sky still pink, I handed my camera over to get a photograph of Josh and me sitting at the end of the dock. I wanted to remember that warm, tropical January evening in my red bikini with my most favorite man.

That photograph of us on the dock was eventually matted and framed in our bedroom, part of a gallery of our favorite marriage moments, forever tucked into picture frames for safekeeping.

* * *

Three years later, we were preparing to move to Maui. I stood in the middle of our closet, taking inventory of what to take and what to toss and what to pack away in storage when I opened the dresser drawer of mismatched bathing suits and mysteriously orphaned socks. Buried in the back was that well-worn and now threadbare red bikini.

The fabric on the bottoms had separated and stretched, sagging. The top was faded. And it was time to part ways with my favorite bathing suit. No sooner was it thrown in the trash heap among empty toilet paper rolls and old fabric softener sheets than I started looking for a replacement.

I searched high and low in those last few months before we moved. In town. Online. In magazines. But I just couldn’t find the right replacement. And eventually, the abundance of other details that come with transplanting your entire life across an ocean to live on a tiny island took over.

A month or two later and just twenty days into our brand-new zip code, a girlfriend sent me a text. We had only known each other a short while, and at the time we’d met, Josh and I hadn’t yet decided on our Maui move. 

“Don’t ask me why,” she wrote in her text, “but do you own a red bathing suit? Specifically a two-piece?”

My curiosity was piqued. I hadn’t really talked about that red bikini hunt in any kind of public format that she would have seen. I mean, it was just a bathing suit.

Maybe she saw the photo of us on the dock, I thought—it had been my Facebook cover photo for quite a while.

“Well,” I replied, “I used to have one that I loved and wore out, and I’ve been on the hunt for a new one. But I haven’t been able to find the right replacement.” Then I asked the very thing she told me not to: “Why?”

“When we met,” she wrote back, “you were sharing your story about moving but you couldn’t decide between Portland or San Diego or Maui or Atlanta, and we laughed about how extremely different they all were. That night, I saw you. In Maui. On the beach. Very pregnant. In a red two-piece bathing suit. So I have sort of known you were moving to Maui all along. And I have a feeling that you knew you would end up there too.

“But I know that’s just the beginning of the promise,” she continued. “I know because I don’t see stuff like that all the time. So, for what it’s worth, I’m praying for your desires to be fulfilled. And I see the picture again every time I hear from you.”

Chills rushed over my skin. I flashed back to that last morning in our desert home— I’d woken up to an empty bed and a harried husband who was trying to get through the last-minute checklist that comes with moving your entire life across the ocean. I lay there on the mattress, on the floor of our otherwise empty bedroom, swallowing down sleep and emotion and asking God for a sign that He was in this—in the decision to move, in the continuing choice to do nothing but wait and believe Him for our family—in all of it. 

Oh Lord, I prayed, give us a tangible sign that we are headed in the right direction.

I thought about the priests in Joshua 3, who were well on their way to crossing the river and walking waist-deep in the Jordan before God stopped the flow of it twenty miles upstream. They had to bravely and boldly walk out into the river first, and then stand there and wait for the path to clear. They didn’t know that God would dam up that river twenty miles upstream from where they stood. They just knew that the waters would be cut off. And they moved out and trusted that He would do something to clear the way for them eventually. Because He said He would.

We were already waist-deep in our move, and maybe it was too late to ask.

But I asked anyway.

Twenty days downstream from our move, He had given His sign.

And it was in the form of a red bikini.

* * *

Maybe another year had gone by. I sat in bed on another morning for another quiet time, and I was filled again with a certain amount of anxiety. I was suddenly fearful that we had been praying the wrong way for nine years. Believing God for the wrong thing. Looking for Him in the wrong direction.

I was terrified that I would look up one day and realize that God was standing on the entire other side of a gaping-mouthed canyon, waving His arms wildly to get my attention. Then cupping holy hands around His merciful mouth to yell, “Hey! I’m over here! That’s not Me! That voice You’re listening to is not Mine!” I was afraid of that childhood feeling of burying your face in Dad’s legs, squeezing tight to the safety of him, before looking up and realizing that you’re clinging to a stranger instead.

And out of that anxiety and fear came three simple prayer-words: confirm or deny.

I had been praying for days, with words bold and brave and marked with a confident understanding that His promised pregnancy would happen soon. But that morning I was suddenly embarrassed about it. For praying that way—still, after all this time.

I begged Him to affirm that I was, in fact, hearing from Him. That I was not crazy or confusing His voice or twisting His Word into something I desperately wanted to hear.

Oh Lord, meet me here, I prayed. Confirm or deny.

Two hours later, I was sitting at my desk when a new email notification popped up in the corner of my screen. It was from a woman I had recently hired to manage my social media accounts. She was purely a business connection, and she was entirely uninvolved in our story.

She was working on cultivating a Pinterest board called The Life I Love from a brain-dump email I had sent a week earlier. I’d given her a list of my favorite things, and she wanted my opinion about a pin she was considering adding.

“Random question of the day!” she wrote. “How do you feel about this red bikini?”

* * *

This story is one I love to re-tell over and over, mostly because it was so unexpected. So detailed. So particular to a private kind of intimacy between God and me. Because He cares about every single detail in our lives. He uses the silliest things to speak hope into bleakness. And He is so kind to answer when we cry out, desperate: confirm or deny. A lot of Christians are afraid to ask for a sign – like they are testing God. I see it more as saying “hey, God, I’m a little lost and am having trouble seeing the path. Can you let me know which direction to keep heading in?” And sometimes, He’ll quietly point down the road with a tiny little “keep doing what you’re doing” flag. And sometimes? It’s in the form of a red bikini.

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