It was the dead of winter in that early part of 2011, and I was standing waist-deep in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean ocean. I had just finished photographing an intimate portrait session with a bride and groom the day after their wedding. We had walked the beach and found nooks and crannies that they tucked into, snuggling close and basking in the glow that first-day-newlyweds have about them.
As the sun softened and sank low, we came upon an old wooden dock. It just far enough into the surf break that we had to time our entry onto it carefully. The first-day-wife was wearing her day-before-wedding-dress and we were doing everything possible to keep it dry.
We photographed on that dock until the light was gone. And, at the very last minute, I handed my camera over to the videographer to get a photograph of Josh and I at the end of it. I wanted to remember that warm January evening in my unusual work attire with my most favorite man.
I wore a red bikini that day.
There was something about the teal color of the Cancun water combined with the color of the fabric that just gets me. It’s one of my most favorite photographs of us.
Three years later, as we were packing up the house and preparing for our Maui move, I was taking stock of my bathing suit supply. And I held up the bikini from that photograph.
Jane, Josh said in a tone that a father would use with a child clinging to what’s lest of her beloved blankey. It’s time to part ways.
So I put the suit on in defiance. To prove that there was nothing wrong with it. No reason to throw it away. That’s about the time he started to laugh. And I had to see what he saw: the thing was threadbare. The fabric on the bottoms had separated and stretched to the point of sagging. It was not a cute look. And I was heartbroken when my beloved bikini now lay in a heap in the trash can. I needed to find a replacement. And fast.
I started shopping. Looking high and low. In town. Online. In magazines. You don’t know how elusive a red bikini is until you’re looking one. Add to that a meticulous requirement of both shape (bandeau top) and color (true crimson, please), and I quickly found myself on a wild goose chase. I even put my twin sister on the hunt in Phoenix. It seemed silly, really. Being that intentional in finding a bikini. I mean, come on. It’s a bikini. But as silly as it was, it was just my thing. I wanted a new red bikini for Maui. And as hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to find the perfect one.
And then the move picked up steam. The Great Red Bikini Hunt of 2014 was put on hold, and eventually forgotten about, with the abundance of other details that come with transplanting your entire lives across an ocean to live on a tiny island. My red bikini was out of sight, out of mind. New adventures awaited.
a divine promise delivered through text
Ten days after embracing a new zip code, I received a text message from a girlfriend. We had met seven months earlier at dinner before a conference. At that point, Josh and I knew we were moving, but were still undecided as to where. I shared our story with her, and told her the eclectic short list: Portland, San Diego, Atlanta, and Maui. And we laughed about how diverse the cities were.
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 my red bikini hunt publicly just because it was a silly, minuscule thing that (for some reason) was important to me. Maybe she saw the photo of us on the dock, I thought. It had been my Facebook cover for awhile. It might have been what she was thinking of.
Well, I wrote back. I used to have one that I loved, and have been on the hunt for a new one. But I haven’t been able to find the right one. And then I asked the thing she told me not to. Why?
And I waited in curious anticipation while she typed and deleted and carefully wrote her reply:
When we met before the conference last year, you were sharing your story about moving but you couldn’t decide between Maui and Atlanta, and laughed about how different the two extremes 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 the promise. 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 fulfilled. And I see the picture again every time I hear from you.
As soon as I read the words, I burst into tears. It’s an incredible feeling – that moment you realize God hears even the unprayed-prayers. To know He cares about the silly details you care about. And uses them to confirm a promise in a way that only you will understand.
Eight months later, I was sitting in bed on another Wednesday morning for another quiet time, filled with a certain amount of anxiety. Fearing that, for all this time, I had been praying the wrong way. Believing for the wrong thing. Looking in the wrong direction. I was scared that I would look up one day to realize God was standing on the far other side of some wide canyon, waving His arms wildly to get my attention. Then cupping holy hands around His merciful mouth to yell, I’m over here! That’s not Me! That voice You’re listening to is not Mine!
I was afraid of that classic childhood moment where I bury my face in my dad’s legs, squeezing tight to the safety of him, and look up to realize that I’m clinging to a stranger. And it wasn’t my dad after all.
And I prayed three simple words.
confirm or deny
I had been praying for days with the understanding that His promised pregnancy would happen soon. And that morning, I begged Him to affirm that I was, in fact, hearing from Him. That I was not, in fact, crazy. Or confusing His voice. Or twisting His word into something I desperately wanted to hear. Oh Lord… meet me here. Confirm or deny.
Two hours later, as I sat at my desk, a new email notification popped up in the top right corner of my screen. It was from my social media manager. She was working on cultivating my The Life I Love Pinterest board for me, and had pulled out one little detail from a brain dump email I had sent a week earlier of things that I love:
You guys, Sarah was entirely unconnected to the red bikini story. In fact, she had never even heard it! She just happened to pick out those two words. At that specific time. On that one particular morning.
He had confirmed. Just like I prayed.
And I took a deep breath. Thankful for the confirmation to keep praying with the understanding that I would, in fact, get pregnant. And overwhelmed with the understanding that He loves extravagantly. And He cares about every single detail of my story.
Even in the form of a red bikini.
Photo credit: Jenna Michelle Photography.