"Certainly he’s not talking to me" I thought as I adjusted my goggles on my eyes, and continued to do my best to swim like I really knew what I was doing. I had watched my kids do freestyle in their swim lessons countless times, surely I was doing it right. "I said…beginner’s to the shallow end!" shouted the coach, looking straight at me. The jig was up, he knew I was an imposter, and I now realized that I didn’t really know how to swim, I really only knew how to not drown. I began the swim/walk of shame over to the shallow end, pulling the lane lines up as I went under them. As I was wading over in defeat, I glanced back at the "real swimmers" doing their laps. I have to admit I was a little…ok fine, I was totally embarrassed. There I was in my brand new competition style swimsuit, and pink goggles, all dressed up with nowhere to swim.
I hated the water, actually I was scared of it. If i ever went swimming, I liked to stay where I could touch the bottom, and avoided swimming in the ocean as much as possible. I put my children in swim lessons for years because I didn’t want them to have the same fear. My heart would jump into my throat every time I would see them swimming in the deep end. I couldn’t keep my head under water for more than 3 seconds without panicking. One day I decided I was tired of being afraid, I was going to face my fears. I shocked my husband and friends when I told them I was signing up for swim class. I chose the local community college because it was affordable. My hope was that I could just jump in, and start swimming! I was also thinking that once I got the hang of it, it would be a great new way to work out! However, it appeared I wouldn’t be swimming laps anytime soon.
We were given a separate instructor, Coach Howie. We were told that he was a miracle worker. “Perfect” I thought, since I had just moments before come to the realization that it would take a miracle for me to learn how to swim. Coach Howie was a portly, older gentleman, with reddish brown hair, and freckled skin from years of being in the sunshine. He told us he was going to teach all of us as if we knew nothing at all, and he was true to his word. Our entire first lesson was spent holding our breath and seeing how long we could hold our faces under the water, followed by learning how to float on our backs and on our bellies. Just imagine, at one end of the pool, half of the class is swimming laps back and forth and doing interval drills, on the other side you have about 15 people floating around on the surface of the water like bloated fish who had floated to the surface after dying. I felt like I was the main character on an episode of some prime-time family comedy. I’m sure I’ve got you rolling on the floor laughing at this point, don’t I? Yes, it was quite humorous, and humbling.
As I was struggling to keep my body floating on the top of the water, focusing on the clouds above, I began to chuckle to myself thinking “Oh Lord, you sure have a sense of humor”! There I was, a 30 something floating amongst mostly college-aged students. I found comfort in the fact that at least I wasn’t the oldest person there! Whew! I decided to throw embarrassment to the wind and give it my all, I didn’t get myself into this bathing suit for nothing! So what if I was practicing things that a 4 year old could master, everybody has to start somewhere!
That night when my girls asked me how my first swim class was, I bit my lip slightly as I said quietly “Well, we learned how to float today”. My youngest daughter Mia instantly stopped what she was doing. She looked at me with a suspicious, sideways smile, thinking I was kidding and with a sarcastic voice said “Seriously?” I had no words, I only laughed and laughed as I nodded my head.
As the weeks passed, my little beginner swim class went from floating, to holding our breath, to learning our strokes, to side breathing, to diving, and before you knew it, we were all diving into the deep end and swimming like real swimmers! I often felt like the team mom, clapping my hands and saying “I am SO proud of us, we’re really swimming! Yay us!!” I was usually alone in my excitement, getting some confused glances from most of my much cooler classmates. These days I love the water, I would even call myself a swimmer! I love to jump into the silence of the cool, clear pool and feel my body glide through the water. The rhythm of my arms piercing through the surface, and pushing against the resistance of the water, with my legs gently kicking behind me is one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done, and I can’t believe I waited so long to learn.
Whenever my children complain about having to do something difficult, I remind them “doing hard stuff makes you stronger”. It’s amazing that the more difficulty you face, the stronger you really are. Swimming gives me some peace and quiet (which is rare), and time to think about everything from what I’m going to make for dinner, to the great complexities of the Gospel. As I fall into my back and forth rhythm of swimming laps, I am often amazed that I’m looking down at 9 feet of water beneath me, and that I conquered my fear! I’m not panicking looking for the edge of the pool to grab on to. I’m actually enjoying myself! It is amazing to me how the Lord can take a terrified person and make them fearless and strong. What an amazing God we serve!
You know, this story really has little to do with swimming. Learning how to swim was just one more way that God was able to show me that after humility comes victory. I was reminded that if I face my fears head on, and let them know that they don’t control me anymore, God will bring the victory! As I think about all that God has brought me through, I remember the Shannon of the past. She wouldn’t have stepped foot on a college campus, much less donned a snazzy competition swimsuit and goggles, only to end up floating around a pool like a piece of kelp drifting aimlessly out at sea. I stood up to my fear, and conquered it!
So, what are YOU afraid of? C’mon, we all have something. I dare you to face it! You can do it, you’re not on your own, God is there with you, and He’s got amazing things for you to learn along the way! If it helps you at all, just think about me floating around in a pool while people are swimming laps around me, and say to yourself “Well at least I’m not that bad!”