Friday, June 9, 2017

The Other Side of Fear



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I recently started taking swimming lessons with my kids.

Yes, that's right. Not taking my kids TO swimming lessons or watching them swim AT lessons. I’m actually learning to swim right alongside them.

Me. With my kids. Who are 5 years old and 7 years old.

If that sounds like it might be a tad bit embarrassing - you're right - it is! I mean, one minute our instructor is teaching my little ones to blow bubbles in the pool and bob their heads underwater. And the next – she’s teaching me how to get from Point A to Point B in the same pool without dying. I am quite literally a full-grown adult who doesn’t really know how to keep herself afloat.

During our first lesson my instructor said she wanted to teach me how to breathe. I won’t lie – I almost asked her to clarify, because I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly. I KNEW how to breathe. Swimming was what I needed – breathing I had been doing just fine for years. However - she being the teacher, and me being the adult taking swimming lessons with her kids – I decided I should just comply.

She told me to inhale deeply, submerge my entire head in the water, blow out for three strokes, come back up to the surface with another deep inhale, and then repeat. Easy, I thought. Until I did it, and it was hard.

My timing was completely off. While I was under water, I ran out of air well before I could swim the full three strokes, but then again – who could even COUNT to three when I had to focus on breathing?! Then, when I came back up for my inhale, I panicked and ended up gasping for air and swallowing a bunch of water instead.

It was a mess. And I thought, “Whaddya know? Maybe I DO need to learn how to breathe after all.”

She halted our lesson right there, explaining that we just needed to get back to the basics. She took me through some exercises that taught me the ins and outs of breathing (so to speak). She said that when I inhaled and exhaled, I would really need to inhale and exhale. Like truly, GENUINELY inhale and exhale. Because if I didn’t – if I didn’t completely fill my lungs with air and then completely empty it all out -  my breathing would feel rushed, forced and compromised. It would feel like I was hyperventilating!

She also assured me that, while the timing and counting of breaths and strokes may have seemed like a lot to do at once …. with enough practice … all of it would eventually just CLICK and come naturally to me. I wouldn’t even have to think about it – it’d be like walking, or riding a bike or – yes – breathing.

Now, here’s where adult swimming lessons becomes a metaphor for LIFE.

Life gets so complicated sometimes. By me. I complicate life. And sometimes, I just need to slow down and re-learn the things I thought I’d always known how to do. Sometimes I just need to get back to the basics. The simple rhythm of taking it all in – fully – and then letting it go – completely. At one point in my existence, this may have come more naturally to me. But then things got more complicated. Growing up and responsibilities and marriage and children and families and struggles and fears and anxieties that I never realized I even had. They started taking over – DOMINATING – and, quite frankly, I panicked through so much of it. I had forgotten a lot of what I thought I knew to be true and solid and trustworthy ... which left me flailing, struggling, choking, gasping for air and wondering ... WHAT HAPPENED? Why was this all so hard all of a sudden??!

I was a grown adult, struggling to keep herself afloat.

But here I am. I am learning. Again. I'm learning that faith – like breathing - takes work and it takes practice. You can forget what it’s like to feel that sweet release and FREEDOM of stepping out in faith - but you can also find it again. 

You can. As old or as “too late” as it may feel – it’s really never too late for any of us to learn. 

During my last lesson, my teacher asked me to join her in the deep end to practice treading water. I used to HATE the deep end when I was little, and I still kind of hate it. But I followed her and watched as she showed me how to kick my legs like egg beaters and wave my arms in and out to tread above the surface. And then she casually asked me to get out of the water and  jump in. As in, jump in the DEEP END.

We went back and forth about this for a bit. I asked important questions like, “What? Jump? Off the edge? Now? Me?” and she kept answering with annoying responses like “Yes. You. Now. Go.”

So I climbed up that ladder, out of the pool and onto the cold, slippery edge. I had flashbacks of when I was little and would stand at the end of the diving board, digging my bare feet into the coarse platform – watching as my instructor below tried to coax me into jumping. The world seemed so much bigger back then and I felt small and unable to make that leap. I hardly ever jumped off the diving board as a kid – no matter how hard my instructors, friends and parents tried to get me to. ONE TIME, someone who I won’t name (but she is one of my two parents) CLIMBED UP the diving board in her civilian clothes and PUSHED me off herself! But that is a blog for another time.

Fast forward to present time.

I stood at the edge of the deep end and made a mental decision that I was just going to do it. I was going to jump. And I must’ve known in my heart that my instructor wouldn’t let me die and that I could trust in the fact that everything I knew told me that I would rise back up to the surface – even if it didn’t feel natural or if I had doubts. Even if I was scared. I seemed to know in my gut that it would be fine. I had faith … and that felt good.

And …. lo and behold I jumped in, relaxed my body and felt it RISE UP. I rose straight up to the top by doing nothing expect believing I would. And as soon as my head came out of the water, my legs instinctively began kicking like eggs beaters and my arms waved and I kept myself afloat.

Whaddya know? All this time. I am a grown adult who can keep herself afloat. 

There’s a saying: everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. I know fear is natural and in so many cases, it's even helpful. We learn things through our fears. We grow. Sometimes we're protected by our fears. They are normal and they make us human.

But, oh, how I want to live more on that "other side." The side where I can participate in life with more intention and confidence and freedom and faith. The side where anxiety is not the master, where I can stand toe to toe with fear, where the inside of my mind more accurately matches the inside of my heart.

I am not there yet. But I feel farther along on my journey – alive with joy and free of so much that I’ve complicated this beautiful, simple life with. Through my struggles and fears, my eternal “Lifeguard on Duty” (the swimming metaphors will not die) has pulled me out and restored me time and time again. Faithfully. He does that. The Lord rescues me EVEN when I don’t ask Him to or believe that He can. He is good and gracious and pursuing and loving and FAITHFUL like that. And He teaches me … with loving patience ... what this amazing world on the other side of fear is all about. He shows me glimpses of its richness and abundance and allows me to inhale the fresh, alluring air of freedom and He KEEPS THE DOOR OPEN for me to enter, to visit, to live and to breathe there – even for just one more second than I did the day before. 


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