Jim, our kids, and I aren't the only ones in our extended family dreaming about Africa these days. Jim's sister and her husband are also Africa bound. Her husband Michael went on a ministry trip last summer to Kenya and now he's returning but with Deidra this time. It will be her very first mission trip so a lot of new experiences are in store for her. But as with us, the new experiences don't wait to happen on the mission field. Like us, she's facing new challenges and learning new lessons even before leaving America. And believe me, I can relate to a lot of the things she wrote about in her latest blog post:
Growing up in sunny coastal Southern California was not without its advantages. Beautiful scenery. Balmy weather. And water, water everywhere. Because there was so much water, parents were wise to drown-proof their children as early as possible. My parents were wise. I was drown-proofed at the age of five.
However, some of my earliest memories involving swimming pools are accompanied by a sick stomach and sweaty palms. I'd sit in the backseat, butterflies in my tummy, begging my mom not to make me go. She remained stoic, as well she should have; after all, these lessons might mean the difference between life and death someday. I also remember fearing the deep end of the pool; it seemed bottomless to me. The fact that my swimming teacher was constantly catching me unawares and pushing me off the edge into water well over head didn’t do much to dissipate that fear.
My parents didn't know it at the time, but this lady specialized in drown-proofing mentally handicapped children. Her methods were, well ... decidedly not tender or sympathetic to tears and trembling bottom lips. The element of surprise was her weapon of choice, and once I learned to keep my head above water, she used it. Her objective was pretty basic – should I ever find myself, unexpectedly, in water over my head, her training would override anything else, and I’d be able to swim.
She was effective. I didn’t drown; I learned to swim; and I am terrified of deep water.
I was thinking about this fear while planning our upcoming mission trip to Kenya. We’ll be flying 6000 miles, a lot of them covered by water. It’s not that I’m scared of dying in a plane crash – I’m scared of the plane crashing into the ocean! As I was thinking about the news stories of jumbo jets crashing into the depths (and not thinking about the work God has for us to do when we get there) I realized something.
I hated going to swimming lessons because I didn’t trust my swimming teacher. Not at all. Nope. Not for a sec. Why? Because she never let me know what was coming. But she never let me drown. I never even came close. She was always in the water with me, ready to intervene should I need rescuing. But she didn’t reach out as long as I kept my head above water. And when I swam, I swam towards her. Her arms represented safety and a respite from the battle against the water. I didn’t trust her because I never knew when I was going to find myself in the deep end. And I hate not knowing what’s coming.
My fear, of the deep, of spiders, of many things in life, is rooted in doubt. Do I trust my Father to save me when I need saving?
I have no reason not to trust Him. I know He’s always there, even when I can’t see Him clearly or feel His touch. He’s never unaware of my circumstances, and He intervenes when He deems necessary. The problem comes when His idea of necessary and my idea of necessary are not the same. Which is pretty much anytime I’m not in control of what’s happening to me.
If my parents had given in to my tears, or the swimming teacher had let me stay in the “safe” shallow end, I wouldn’t have learned to swim. I certainly wouldn’t have learned to override panic and kick for the surface when finding myself in deep water.
In spiritual terms, my Father’s swimming lessons are all about faith. Faith that He has given me everything I need, in Him, to not only survive the world, but to overcome it. Faith that He has a plan and purpose for everything that happens, even when I don’t like it, when it scares me, or when I can’t see how a situation could possibly be worked for my good.
James wrote that we should count it all joy when we face trials of many kinds, because the testing of our faith builds perseverance (James 1: 2-4).
The Message translation says it like this: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
"Under pressure, our faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors". Hum… kind of like being unexpectedly pushed into the deep end. What's deep inside is what comes out.
When we are in over our heads and crying out to God to save us, that’s when we must remember the lessons the Holy Spirit has taught. We have to kick for the surface and swim with all our might towards His arms. We know the direction, even when temporarily blinded by fear.
Everything in our lives is allowed by Him and often for a purpose that we can’t see or understand. But He always has a purpose and plan. Always. “Plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for” (Jeremiah 29:11, The Message).
Kind of like those swimming lessons I dreaded so much.
To read more about the journey that God is taking Deidra and Michael on, visit her blog: