I had been pushed down, held under, dragged into the pits, and told I was deformed before I finally found a friend who encouraged me. What about you? What is holding you under? Causing you to sputter and cough? Hope you enjoy this series of lessons I learned from trying to swim without a “life-guard”.


Some people are challenged by mountain climbing, bungee jumping or running a marathon. Others find it a challenge just get out of bed or out the front door. Me? For years, I stood somewhere in-between phobia extremes. Somewhere along with those challenged by air travel are those of us who are water challenged. Surely, I’m not alone when I say I was an adult before I learned to swim, and forty-five-years-old before I stopped being afraid of going underwater. It likely had something to do with the river where our parents took us to picnic and swim.

Lesson I

While we played at the edge of the river current, my sisters and our friends got the idea it was fun to dunk each other. But every time I went under, I came up gasping for air. I tried to call out to our parents, but they thought I was playing, and just waved and laughed. Meanwhile, down I went again.

Who or what holds you under? Takes your breath away and keeps your heart in a constant flutter of anxiety? Is it your finances, fear, depression, bad habits? Are you laughing on the outside? Putting on a face that gives everyone the idea everything is okay? Or are you crying out for help and no one is listening?  God is listening.

Lesson II

I had always wanted to learn to swim. I even signed up for lessons in the 7th grade. That was a disaster. Middle school is a terrible time to have first period PE, much less swim lessons. The hair caps leaked, and the wall mounted hair dryers are better used today as hand dryers. I often spent cold winter days with damp unruly hair trying to stay clear of the boiler pipes that ran the length of the middle school halls. In those days, it was skirts with socks and loafers. Bullies were known for pushing people into the pipes and many a bare leg got burned.

Our coach, Ms. Rocher, wasn’t exactly a girl’s best friend. She was quite a bully herself. During swim lessons, she was known to randomly push a girl off into the deep end and when they came up gasping for air and couldn’t make it to the side, the coach jabbed a pole at her until she grabbed hold. Then the coach ridiculed the girl as she dragged her sputtering to the side. I was that girl more than once. Needless to say, I didn’t learn to swim.

Life is marred with negative people who make fun and try to push us into making choices we don’t want to make. Like swimming lessons, learning to live the life God has for us isn’t easy. We may fall into deep water and come up sputtering, but unlike my coach, God reaches out to pull us to safety. He never jabs or hurls insults.

Lesson III

For years my husband, Bill, didn’t know I couldn’t swim. You’d think he would have figured it out. After all, there was the time when we first got married that he took me to the sand pit with his friends, Cheryl and Butch. Naïve as I was, I didn’t realize the pit was a swimming excursion. It was supposed to be a picnic and a time to wax our cars, now classics. We parked Bill’s ’67 Mustang in the shade next to Butch and Cheryl’s 57 Chevy. Cheryl and Butch were nowhere to be seen. We pulled out the cooler and I set up our picnic while Bill started waxing the hood of the Mustang. We heard a whoop and Cheryl’s laughter and went looking for them. We found Butch doing a cannon ball over the edge of the sandpit into muddy water. We laughed with Cheryl, but when she jumped in after him, my heart pounded. I knew where this day was headed.

“But we didn’t’ bring our suits,” I argued. Bill grinned. I faked a smile and swallowed the lump in my throat. “We can’t swim in our clothes.”

He wiggled his eyebrows and winked. I felt my eyes open wide. He just laughed and looked down at his Levi’s. “I always swim in my jeans.” I laughed and said, “I don’t believe it.” With that, he grabbed my hand and leapt into the pit. I was able to take a breath and pinch my nose with my free hand just before hitting the murky water. I came up sputtering and Bill kissed me hard, taking the rest of my breath away. When he released me, it was only to toss me onto his back and up onto his shoulder. I gladly clamored up and he went down, under the water. I sat on his shoulders expecting him to stand. I’d seen this done before. The guy goes under the water and the girl climbs up onto his shoulders, then the guy comes up. I figured I’d be okay if he didn’t drop me into the water again. But he never came up. Instead, I felt him squirming under me and I began to sink. He threw me off his back and came up sucking in air and laughing. The last thing I heard was his laughter and something about sinking to his knees in mud. Panic stricken, I fought to stay above water. I could easily touch the bottom but was afraid of the quicksand effect. I clung to Bill. Of course, he loved that, and held me against his side while treading water, never realizing my serious fear.

In life, like with swimming, we have choices. We can either swim in the sand pit, or choose to swim in the clear, clean pool of God’s way. If we choose to call on God, we can be assured that when we start sinking in the muddy sludge of life and clamor onto His shoulders, He won’t go under. And neither will we. He sets our feet on solid rock. His never-ending faithfulness is remarkable. Are you swimming in the pits?

Lesson IV

When my children took swimming lessons, I took lessons with them. Their instructor was amazing. My five and six-year-olds learned to swim and loved the water, but not me. I did learn to dog paddle and even to swim on my side doing the butterfly stroke, but I couldn’t go under water. The second my face got wet, I was sputtering and coughing and got a bad headache. The instructor surmised my problem was likely something to do with a deviation in my nasal cavity. She gave me a nose clamp, and I learned it was okay to go under water when I wore it. But still being in my twenties, I was too vain to wear it. Don’t allow pride and vanity to keep you from doing what you know to do.

Lesson V

Twenty years later, I was visiting with my sister in Florida. She asked me to take her five-year-old daughter to the apartment pool and she promised to be out soon. I told her we’d stay in the shallow end. “Oh, that’s okay. Sara can swim like a fish.” I still worried, because I didn’t have a nose clamp, and if Sara ended up over her head, I couldn’t go under water to retrieve her. We went to the pool, but I insisted we stay in the shallow end. My niece, the fish, swam at ease and never worried about the water getting up her nose. She wanted me to play tea party on the pool floor with her and I explained I couldn’t because water goes up my nose. She furrowed her little brow as she contemplated my problem. “Don’t be afraid, Aunt Shelia. I’ve got an idea,” she said, sounding all grown up. “Put the top of your head in first, and the water won’t go up your nose.” She demonstrated for me, plunging the top of her head into the clear water and, and coming up face first. “Like that,” she said with a laugh.

 I dreaded the usual headache, sputtering, and being embarrassed by her laughter, but the child was so sweet, compassionate, and encouraging, I took a deep breath and dipped my forehead into the water, and of course, my nose followed. Up I came, no water up my nose, none trickling down my throat, no coughing, no sputtering. Amazing. The simple, encouraging advice of a five-year-old worked! Turns out, the dipping posture allowed the air pressure to build before it was displaced by water. By the end of my vacation, Sara and I were having tea parties on the floor of the pool . . . and me without a nose clamp! I’ll never forget her gentle patience.

Choose friends and fellowship with those who encourage you and lift you up, not push you down. People who will bring you hope as they cheer you in defeating your fears and bad habits.

Since the day my niece encouraged me, I’ve enjoyed swimming, even swim underwater. My husband and I actually installed our own pool in the backyard several years ago. I love teaching my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to swim, building their trust and confidence while we search for treasure at the bottom of the clear, clean water. It’s refreshing and comforting to know my Lifeguard is always with me.

Life, like swimming, isn’t always safe. It depends on where you swim, who you swim with, and if you have a lifeguard.

According to Isaiah 55:8-9, God’s ways are not like our ways, and His thoughts are not like our thoughts. His ways and thoughts are higher. What a great lifeguard!

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