Growing up in Southern California in the 70’s, the kids in our neighborhood invaded the community pool as often as possible. It cost twenty-five cents for entrance to “The Plunge”, and it was, easily, the best quarter I’ve ever spent. With that quarter came a mesh bag for your towel and flip-flops (although, back then we called them “thongs”), a safety-pin/locker key for you to attach to your swim suit, and access to the cool, chlorinated water for a couple hours!
I can still remember the pulsing fear growing in my seven-year-old chest as I climbed the ladder to jump off the high dive for the first time. I don’t know how tall it was, but in my memory the air felt a little thinner up there.
It was early evening, and my whole family was at the pool for a summer swim. Down below I could hear my parents, brothers, and neighbors cheering me on as I stood scared at the top of the metal tower. I dared not look at them as my small feet moved numbly across the coarse non-skid epoxy on the blue fiberglass diving board. With each step I could feel my weight nudging the board downward. I held tightly to the metal rails, certain the board would bounce up, catapult me into the sky and then down onto the concrete.
An early evening chill had come over the outdoor aquatic facility, and down below there was a line of shivering children with blue lips who had little patience or grace for my fears. Some of the older boys yelled to the Lifeguard, insisting someone make the little girl climb back down. In spite of my shame, I tried to ignore them. I had worked for this high dive opportunity. The moment hadn’t been given to me without qualification.
Before I was allowed to even stand in line for the high dive, I had to swim one lifeguard monitored lap across the deep end. “Gosh darn it! I had earned the right to stand on this tower and jump to my demise, and no one was going to take that right away from me.” I released my grip on the handrails and walked slowly to the edge of diving board, holding my head high.
To onlookers that high held head appeared powerful, but at age seven it was fear that held my head high. Fear combined with some advice from my father. Just before I climbed the ladder, my Dad pulled me over and whispered some final instructions, “When you get to the top, don’t look down. Just look straight ahead at the horizon and jump. The water will catch you.”
I learned a couple lessons that day.
Trusting the words of my father and following his instruction helped me overcome my fears and jump into the chlorinated water. We can drown in our own fears. Looking down and looking backwards when we are already filled with fears just leaves a soul shivering in the night air. We have a heavenly Father who wants to tell us which way to look when we are consumed with fears and afraid to jump, but in order to hear his instruction we have to lean in and listen for His whisper.
We cannot concern ourselves with the people shivering on the sidelines. For the most part, the majority of people want to see good unfold. They rally around and cheer for the frightened to release the rails and trust, but not all people are that way. Some people have agendas of self. Shivering and insecure in their own situations they may use their power of influence to convince us to pull back from doing things that God knows we can accomplish. Oftentimes man cannot see what God already knows. The majority of the people are treading water in the pool as well, and they are cheering for our success, but sadly, our natural inclination is to feed our fears with the words (or silence) from blue-lipped naysayers.
It’s been over forty years since I stood on that high dive and looked out at the horizon, but my recent return to a community pool reminded me that there are still lessons to be learned. A few of them have been resonating with me a great deal lately.
Friendships can happen anywhere! It was a Sunday afternoon and the deck at the community pool was packed with adults applying and reapplying sunscreen to little shoulders, the pool was a frenzy of splashing children and floating devices, and I was lounging in a chair watching it all and enjoying the laughter and the sun. Nearby two little boys were throwing a football back and forth to one another in the shallow end. I was half watching them, half reading my book when I heard one of the boys yell across to his playmate, and my attention was heightened.
“Hey, what’s your name?” the smaller boy yelled.
“Amari,” the other answered.
“Oh, I’m Kyle,” the smaller boy said, “my name is Kyle.”
Without missing a beat, the boys continued tossing the football back and forth in the pool. The exchange surprised me because had Kyle not asked Amari his name, I would have assumed they had been friends for a long time. The ease at which they were willing to interact with one another reminded me that adults stop doing that.
They didn’t hesitate or question the validity of the relationship based on racial, economic or spiritual values. They didn’t concern themselves with whether the relationship would last beyond what it was in that brief moment. They just embraced the friendship for the amount of time it had been allotted.
Their interaction with one another was based on the shared interest of throwing a football. There was no agenda. They weren’t going to try to persuade the other to a belief or a lifestyle. They were just meeting and engaging where they were.
A relationship fostered in a pool can grow to have just as much validity as a relationship fostered in a foyer on a Sunday morning. It’s a matter of being open. Spiritual friendships form when people engage in conversations of the heart. It can happen wherever we allow it to happen. It’s not a requirement that we have a long drawn out history; it’s simply the decision for two people to be present and open.
There will always be “that one girl”. A million years ago I was a preteen, and I had a female cousin who was a teenager. She wore her age like she wore her bikini: perfectly. She was tall, blonde, tan and friendly to everyone. I believe Carrie smiled while she slept, it was just her nature. I wanted to be just like her. She was a great role model. The problem was that I wanted to be just like her immediately. I hated that I was younger than her and I couldn’t wait until I was older and I could fill out the top half of a two-piece swimsuit.
Years passed, and I am well beyond the days of teenage angst over an underdeveloped body. As I look around the pool it strikes me that while I no longer compare my body to other women, I can still find “that one girl” at the pool and long to be where she is–immediately.
I have begun to swim laps as a part of my daily exercise regime, and I find myself looking over at the young women who are swimming in the lanes next to me. With long perfect moves and controlled breathing they glide across the water barely making a wake. My own laps resemble a synchronized swimmer having a seizure. When I concentrate on kicking I forget how to breathe. If I count my strokes between breaths I nearly run into the wall. It’s a convoluted and chlorinated mess wearing goggles.
I have come so far in no longer comparing my outward appearance to another woman, yet there is still the temptation to compete in an avenue where I will surely be the loser. It’s as if the enemy knows that if I compare myself to someone who is further along—I may give up completely. The way my cousin wore a bikini didn’t make a difference in the way I would eventually wear a bikini, unless it made me feel like I never quite measured up. The way one swimmer glides across the water doesn’t make a difference in the way I will eventually swim–unless I let it stop me altogether.
You can always swim two more laps! The first day I started swimming laps I was only able to swim eight laps. I wish I could say I swam all eight without resting, but that wasn’t the case. Within a few weeks I pushed it up to twelve laps, and I even did fourteen on one occasion.
I remember the day I jumped to sixteen. I was ready to quit for the day. I had not only done my now standard twelve, but I had even done the bonus two more and made it to fourteen when my son said to me, “Mom, just do two more. End at sixteen.” I told him I didn’t think I could do two more. To which he replied, “You can always swim two more laps.”
I swam sixteen laps and it was a transformational moment, because from then on, I would always try to do at least fourteen–because I knew I was capable of doing sixteen. My faith had grown based on my experience.
Recently, I was swimming alone when I had done sixteen and was ready to stop. The cardio-breathing was exhausting me, and I when I was finished swimming I would be going to the restaurant to work a nine to ten hour shift. I still had a long day ahead. I had every reason to stop at sixteen laps. Even though I was alone, I heard my son’s words, “You can always swim two more laps.”
I could tell you that I swam two more laps and stopped at eighteen, but that’s not what happened. What happened was I swam two more and then I thought, “I can swim two more.”
That was the day I swam twenty laps.
- It doesn’t matter how scary the situation, or even if you caused the crisis—there is always a way out, just listen to the Father and He will tell you where to look.
- If He tells you to let go of the rails and jump, trust Him. The water will catch you!
- Let others cheer you on, and disregard the blue-lipped naysayers.
- Be present and open with the people splashing around right in front of you. Nothing in this world matters as much as the relationships we foster, and your pool is big enough for more friends.
- Don’t compare yourself with someone else. Let them swim in their lane while you kick around in your own!
- Remember: quitting is never an option. You can always swim two more laps!