It was a hot, sunny day on the west coast of Florida. I was with my husband and his family visiting his younger brother in college. Beach-dwellers that we are, we embarked on a day of sun, sand and water.
I stood at the tide line and gazed out at the watery horizon. We were planning to snorkel, not something I’m crazy about doing. There just seems something really unnatural about breathing through a tube underwater. I usually wind up semi-hyperventilating because I am unable to regulate my breathing. I imagine all kinds of what-if scenarios: a drop of water spilling into the snorkel causing my airway to close, a wave engulfing my snorkel with the same result, etc. Let’s just say it, I don’t like to snorkel, but was willing to be a good sport and go along with the family plan.
A long, thick, dark line rippled in the water. Squinting, I saw it was a large band of seaweed that stretched across the water in both directions as far as I could see. To make matters worse, the seaweed began The Deep. You know, where the tidal shelf drops into oblivion and creatures of the sea play in their playground.
I love, love, love the sea and all that is in it. From sharks to angler fish to sea urchins, I will never stop getting a kick out of God’s creativity, imagination and ingenuity that is so proudly displayed in the creatures of the sea. But, I also know humans weren’t meant to live in it, and thus we enter their territory. I fully respect that it is their home and not mine.
Splashing around in shallow water is one thing. Venturing into the deep, dark unknown is another. I swallowed hard and felt my stomach turn. I reasoned that as long as I didn’t touch the seaweed, I would be in the safer, shallow water.
Got it. The seaweed is my marker. It was the beginning of The Deep. I will tolerate snorkeling as long as I don’t touch a thread of the nasty stuff.
Bruce, his brother and I waded out into waist-high water, fighting against the crashing waves and stubborn under toe. They both dipped headfirst into the water with only the tips of their snorkels spouting up in the air and an occasional flipper kicking behind them.
I took a deep breath then practiced a few normal breaths through the snorkel. My chest was already heaving.
Just go already, I said to myself, not wanting to fall behind.
I leaned forward and fell face-first into the murky water. Phase 1 complete.
I began to kick my flippers, swimming parallel to the beach as the current tried to pull me toward the shore.
Don’t touch the seaweed, Kristi. Whatever you do, don’t touch the seaweed! I reminded myself over and over. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the abyss that housed mysterious creatures lurking who knows how closely by. Florida, after all, is home to some of the largest shark populations in the world. Love them!!!! But, I don’t need a close encounter with them unless its through a cage.
I tried to follow the shadowy figures of my husband and brother-in-law. It was really hard to see in the water thick as pea soup.
All of a sudden, you guessed it, I felt the seaweed. It brushed up against my left arm, then my left leg. It tickled my stomach, and longer strands grazed my hair.
Before I knew it, I was completely tangled up in the mess of it! It was all over me as if I were a small fly caught in an enormous spider web. The more I struggled to break free, the worse it got.
Couple this moment with the fact that I’m definitely hyperventilating through the dumb snorkel and I can only imagine the show I must have given the sun worshipers on the sandy beach. I probably looked like I was wrestling an alligator (which have been known to make an appearance!).
My body was flailing horizontally on the water’s surface as I struggled to remain clam. Nope. I was too far gone for that. My lungs grew hot as I held my breath, not wanting any water to fill my snorkel, and my arms and legs were utterly caught in the disgusting seaweed. I could no longer see my husband or brother-in-law and knew I had been separated from them. I was in big trouble. I had been pulled into the seaweed by the current and was in The Deep – alone.
Just don’t try to stand up, Kristi. Then you’ll know how really deep you are and that will make matters worse, I counciled myself.
No such luck. The will of self-preservation kicked in and I shot out of the water like a rocket, breathing a huge, obnoxious gulp of air with eyes bulging and body shaking.
To my surprise, and embarrassment, I nearly tackled my poor brother-in-law! He was only about a foot in front of me, and I landed right in his face. He had turned toward me in the same moment I sailed through the air like a swordfish with a sheer look of horror on my face.
When I landed, my feet plunged into the sand much sooner than I expected to in The Deep.
Well, that is because I wasn’t actually in The Deep. I stood up and realized the water was barely to my waist. There I stood, with seaweed draped on me like a swamp monster, heaving, snorkel floating nearby in the water, trembling with mouth agape at the whole escapade.
He looked with shock and bewilderment at the scene I had created.
I quickly gathered my composure (on the outside), gave a sheepish smile and apologized for my weird behavior and told him I was fine.
He gave me an Okay, but I don’t really believe you, you crazy woman glance, then turned around and continued snorkeling.
I, however, could only stand there and process what had happened. I looked again at the band of seaweed, and from where I was standing in the water, it wasn’t drifting as far out to sea as it looked like from the shore. Nor could I judge how deep the water was with sand in between my toes.
We were, in fact, a safe distance from The Deep. Everything changed when I saw it from a different longitude and latitude. Boy did I feel ridiculous!
That experience has never left me – nor the lesson it taught me.
I learned that fear is powerful. Very powerful. It can affect us mentally, emotionally and physically. Fear of the unknown allows much room for us to fill in the blanks with worst-case scenarios.
What began as a fun day at the beach with my extended family turned into, in my mind, a life-or-death situation where I was being pulled out to sea and straight into the mouth of something much larger and stronger than me.
There were multiple layers of fear that day. Fear of being separated from my family. Fear of being alone. Fear of not being able to control the situation. Fear of what may have its eye on me. Fear of just how deep the trouble I was in – way over my head. Fear of not being able to breathe. Fear of being helpless and being beyond help. And fear that this horrible moment will never, ever end!
Were any of those fears real? Well, some – to a point.
If I had been separated from my family, I guess I believed I would have been lost forever. This stems from abandonment issues – 20 years later I am still working on courtesy of childhood scars. The truth is, my family wouldn’t have left the beach without me. They would have, at some point, noticed I was gone, and felt like I was worthy enough to come find me.
I don’t know many people who like being
alone lonely. Let me clarify that. I love being alone, but have a very hard time handling loneliness I had that in spades growing up, and if I never feel lonely again it would be too soon. I thoroughly enjoy time by myself, but that’s not the same as being lonely. Being lost in the ocean would have been the bad kind of being alone, but again, I didn’t believe at the time that I was worth searching for. Enter lonely and afraid.
Fear of a lack of control. Please raise your hand if you struggle with this, too! Don’t we all want to be the captain of our ship in some way? It’s our carnal nature to turn our compass in the direction we want to go. And, if we could control the weather, the water, the sun and the moon so as to plan our trip, well, that would be even better. In the moment of sheer panic in the ocean that day, trusting God for my safety was the last thing on my mind. Was He not watching? Seeing? Still sovereign on His throne? (Psalm 121) Does He not care for us all of the time? (Matthew 6:25-34)
And yes, anytime we venture into a world where we are the minority, the foreigner, there is risk. Listen to survivors tell their stories of being lost in the Amazon, on the African plains, in ice caverns, etc. When we are in these places – we play by the rules of nature there. Sure, there could have been something in the water, but again, I had total amnesia as to God’s hand of protection or His plans for my life. Even if I had been attacked by a shark, could God still not find a way to use it for my good and His glory? He can…with our cooperation.
Sometimes we get into trouble over our head either by choice or by default. I had lost sight of God as Rescuer either by the hand of a loved one or stranger, or any other creative means He may choose to save me. I believed the situation was bigger than me and God. That is wrong. Lots of things are bigger than me, but nothing is bigger than God. I never asked Him to save me. That makes me sad. He is my Good Father and I forgot to call on Him when I needed help.
Life feels suffocating sometimes. We feel helpless. This is a recipe for panic and anxiety. God is God of peace and order. He controls all, all the time. Nothing happens to us that hasn’t passed through His hands first. He can never be surprised, shocked or unprepared for what life may bring. We can be blindsided. He never closes His eyes. When we are at our worst, weakest and most helpless, He is our superhero, our Savior.
Ah. The last fear – that the moment will never end. That was a low blow from the enemy. Nothing on this earth will last forever. No, I take that back. There are two things – God’s Word and our decision as to where to spend eternity. Everything else will fade away (Matthew 24:35). Everything. When we are caught in a moment that feels like a downward spiral pulling us further from the oxygen we need so badly to get through a tough situation, it is easy to merely see the darkness enveloping around us. But, broaden our lens and we see that even darkness is as light to God. Nothing is hidden from Him (Psalm 139:12).
I’ve been thinking about this experience lately in regards to missions. I’ve let fear take me hostage on a runaway train of imagination and exaggeration and have felt every fear that I did at the beach that day. There are risks to missions, but there is risk walking to our mailbox, driving to work, and anything we do. Anything. When deciding what to do about missions this year, it would behoove us to deliberately, intentionally, boot fear to the curb. It has no place in God’s calling.
What are you fearful about? Have any big decisions weighing on you?
I think God understands we feel fear because He remembers we are made of dust (Psalm 103:13-14). We aren’t superhuman like He is. But, when we choose to see things from His longitude and latitude (a heavenly perspective, I might add), we are reminded of just how much He loves us and never takes His eyes off of us (Psalm 17:8). And, the more we turn from our natural instinct to fear and choose to think like Him, the more we can see His divine plan at work in our lives.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:2
Whether heading out for a fun day at the beach, or stepping out in faith on mission, there is one Truth that remains – and it is enough for all who call on Christ as Savior…
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. ~ Joshua 1:9
Dear Lord, lead on. Amen.