Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton shared her incredible story of hope and inspiration before a crowd gathered at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, CA, reminding attendees that God is faithful even in the darkest of times.
At the special one-day event, which culminated her 2015 tour, the 25-year-old Hawaii native and Soul Surfer author revealed that despite losing her arm in a horrific shark attack in 2003, her passion for surfing has not diminished.
"When I go surfing now I feel like anyone else in the water," she said when asked if she feels anxious while riding the waves. "I'm just out there enjoying the ocean and trying to catch my next wave. I'm thankful that I've been able to let that fear go and overcome it. I think..my passion and love for surfing outweighed my fear of sharks. I don't think anyone should [have that fear], because it's not a normal occurrence to have to shark problems."
Today, Hamilton is a world-class surfing champion and has some television and film appearances, including competing as a contestant in season 25 of The Amazing Race and playing herself in the feature film Dolphin Tale 2. In July, she and her husband, Adam Dirks, welcomed their first child, Tobias, into the world, and she is currently working on her second film, Surf Like a Girl.
When asked what advice she would give to young people seeking to pursue their passion, she said, "I think it's important that you have passion and something that you love to do and to keep striving after that. There are some awesome ways to find those passions, by trying new things and challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone... you never know, you might find something you love to do."
While Hamilton is certainly passionate about surfing, she's even more passionate about her Christian faith.
"I found that having my faith in God has team worked my passion for surfing, because it's kept me grounded in who I am in Christ more than who I am as a surfer or an ocean lover," she explained. "As a professional surfer...it's easy to get caught up in a bad crowd. I've seen surfers in my hometown get caught up in drugs and make poor decisions that eventually led them away from their passion and talent to surf, whereas I had my grounding in Jesus Christ, and that kept me close to Him and helped me make healthy decisions growing up...I knew of God's promises for my life, so I held tight to that instead of something that might have led me away from my talent."
Hamilton revealed that she was able to draw strength from her strong Christian faith and her close family and friends in the wake of the devastating shark attack.
"[When I was a teenager] my mom would read the Bible to me and pray with me and encourage me in my faith," she recalled. "Because she did know that, I did know God's promises and truths for my life...I had that to cling to when things got tough and hard. When I lost my arm, rather than moping and being angry at God, I was able to find hope in God's promises and that I had a future through Him. I feel so grateful to my mom and dad for taking me to the church where I could hear God's word and be encouraged on a weekly basis."
She added, "It's a good reminder of how important community is and family, those are the people that have you best interest at hand."
When asked if she ever felt pressured into doing something that contradicted her beliefs, Hamilton explained that growing up, many of her close friends were Christians who were "great influences" on her life. However, she had another group of surfing friends who began taking things in a negative direction as they grew older.
"Though I still loved them, I didn't love what they were doing," she said. "So, I had to decide, 'No, I'm not going to hang out with you when you're partying, I'll just hang out with you when you're surfing.' I was thankful that I had my good group of girlfriends that were making healthy decisions. Of course, I still loved my friends that were making bad decisions, but it was hard to let go of them in certain areas...especially when we were traveling on the road, I'd be with them and sometimes I'd stay at the house or hotel by myself at night when they went out."
While she felt lonely at the time, Hamilton says she is thankful she held fast to her values: "A lot of that stuff seems so exciting when you're in high school...but at the end of the day, it kind of brings you down and isn't the wisest of choices. It's okay to say 'no' and make decisions that are good for you. You can still love your friends that make decisions that aren't necessarily right, but you don't have to do everything they do."
Instead of striving for physical perfection, Hamilton urged her young female fans to focus on inner beauty - both their own, and that of others: "There are a lot of media images that are constantly shoved in front of us...all this stuff telling us how we need to be cool and beautiful," she said. "When God looks at us, He loves us as we are. When we bring it back to who we are in Christ and think of how we love our friends, that's what life is all about. It's not about being perfect or what the world thinks is perfect. When you're bombarded with these images, it's okay not to accept it and remember who you are in Christ. God loves us so much, and He doesn't want us to be self-depressed."
While it's important to love yourself just as God created you, it's also important to take care of yourself and stay active, Hamilton said. "I wrote my book Body and Soul to encourage girls to be their beautiful self, but also be active and healthy and find activities you like to do," she explained.
Ultimately, life is full of pain and hardship -- Hamilton knows that firsthand. However, she encouraged attendees to remember that God is faithful, even in the darkest days.
"There are two Scripture verses that I love: Psalm 73:26, which says 'My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,'" Hamilton said. "What I appreciate about this verse is that it brings it to a place where it's all about what Christ has done for us. God, at the end of the day, is our fortune. When we go through hard times, He comes to help us. We are human our flesh is weak, we fail, and we sin and we turn our back on God and make the same mistakes over and over again. We're often affected by other people's mistakes in our lives because they are sinners too."
It's important to understand that this world is broken because it shows us the need for Jesus Christ, Hamilton explained.
"We need Jesus and need his forgiveness of our sins and new life in him, so he can then be our faith and fortune," the surfer said, adding that she also draws comfort from Ephesians 2:8, which says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."
"That verse brings it back to what God has done," Hamilton contended. "It's not what we have done, but God accepts us just as we are. When we become Christians, he gives us this gift of faith which is such a blessing and can help us through the hardest of hard times."
She added, "That doesn't mean life is going to be easy or pain-free, it just means that we can rely on God for everything and he will sustain us through hard times. He's the light of hope that we need when things get tough, and we can't understand why. We can know that we can trust that God has hope for us."