Thursday, March 10, 2016

Rough waters

One summer, many, many years ago, I was excited to be allowed to go off with a group of friends to church camp. We weren't going very far, probably not more than a few hours from home, but it would be my first real trip. I was excited and scared at the same time. I remember my mother helping me pack my suitcase. We picked out cute little short sets, baby doll pajamas, a one piece swimsuit and all the other things I'd need. While we packed, she gave me a long list of rules for conducting myself while I was away. She wanted me to be safe but also gave me permission to have fun. Finally, the day came for us to drive to the church and for me to get on that big church bus. All of my friends were there. It was going to be great! My mother waved goodbye and we were off. My friends and I were chattering all the way and it was a great day. 

The bus pulled into camp and we were each assigned a camp counselor. Since it was in the 1960's, boys and girls were kept separated. Each camp counselor was assigned about a dozen kids. We were taken to our bunkhouses and told to unpack. Each of us got an assigned bunk bed and camp buddy. After we'd unpacked and set up our things, we were taken around camp and shown where all of the amenities were located. I was excited to see a swimming pool. I'd just completed swimming lessons the previous year and I was looking forward to being able to swim without a life jacket. 

The first few days, we worked on Bible studies and crafts. We played outdoor games, performed skits, sang songs, and had a great time. It felt like heaven not having to spend a boring summer at home. At the end of the day, we'd gather together for a big bonfire. We'd sing "KumBaYah" and other traditional camp songs. It felt like a wonderful bonding experience. I came to love and respect the camp leaders as they shared Scripture and the love of Christ with us.

In the middle of the week, the daily schedule was posted and we were thrilled to see swimming listed. About an hour after lunch, we donned our swimsuits and marched single file to the pool. The leaders went over rules and told us they didn't want to see any monkey business. That went in one ear and out the other as our group kids ran to see who would be the first in the water. My buddy and I didn't care about being first. We were having fun laughing and talking as we entered the gates to the swimming area. We lay our towels on the concrete surrounding the pool and walked down the steps to the water. Since we were both novice swimmers, we stayed near the shallow end of the pool and played there for a while. Soon more kids were in the water and challenges began. Some of the counselors put kids on their shoulders and began to play a game of "Chicken." The boys were splashing water in our faces and daring us to come out a little deeper. Of course, we couldn't let them think we were scared, so went a little further. At the four foot marker, the water was just under my chin. I had to tip my head back a little and stand on my toes to keep my face out of the water. While I was there, I decided to practice treading water, a skill I'd learned from the swimming instructor at our local pool last year. I walked forward just a little more until I had to begin moving my feet in order to stay afloat. I was scared to practice this new skill without an instructor close by. Frantically, I moved my feet back and forth in a rapid motion. I knew in order to stay afloat, I had to use both my arms and legs. I could hear my swim teacher's voice, "Just keep moving your arms and legs. You won't sink. Relax." I did exactly as I remembered her teaching me to do and it worked. Soon I was no longer freaking out, I was just treading water and enjoying it. My buddy was by my side and we were laughing as we tread water together. I heard a boy from my grammar school calling out my name. As I turned to look at him, without warning, he came running and jumped into the pool. I don't know what his intention was at the time, but he landed square on top of my head and forced me under the water. I hadn't even had time to take a breath and I felt like I was going to die. His weight on top of me was so heavy. 

I struggled to get out from him and get to the surface for air. I managed to break the surface and take a huge gulp of air before I sunk back down again. This happened 2 more times and finally, one of the lifeguards saw I was in trouble. When I was rescued and taken out of the water, I could hear the boy laughing his head off. He thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen. Little did he know I almost lost my life that day. Even though I knew how to tread water, I'd been pushed into much deeper water and could barely make it to the top for air. 

Almost 49 years have passed since I've thought of that terrifying ordeal. Why would that old memory be so fresh in my mind today? I think it's because I have felt like I've been treading water for the past few days. I've been struggling to keep my head afloat. There's been a huge personal challenge in my life and I've felt like I was drowning. 

It's been pretty smooth sailing for months, especially in the area of health issues, but the waters have been churning in other areas of my life. Just like my surprise attack from a friend at church camp years ago, I was blindsided by something very unexpected and painful. I never expected to be so deeply hurt by someone I loved so much, but it happened. For days and days, I've been sinking below the surface and fighting my way up to take that deep gulp of air. But the air wasn't enough, I needed to be saved. I needed a lifeguard to help me overcome impending doom. I did the best I could to tread water. I kept my feet and my arms moving but it wasn't working...no matter how I tried, I was sinking and sinking fast. 

Today, I spent 2 hours lying on my closet floor crying out to God, my one and only lifeguard. I begged Him to take my burden because it was too heavy for me to carry any more. I knew if I kept holding on to it, I was going down to the bottom like a dead weight. And do you know what? After hours of pouring out my soul, He reached down into the depths of my despair and took hold of my hand. He lifted me up and reminded me that He knew my pain. He told me I didn't have to tread water any more. He gave me permission just to lay back and float knowing that His ever loving arms are beneath me and He won't ever let me go under. 

I'll never forget the relief I felt when the lifeguard pulled me out of the water and I was safe on dry ground; but I'll forever etch into my memory the way I felt today when God set me free from the chains of bondage that were weighing me down. I can't share the details of what happened with you because they are of such a deep, personal nature but I want you to know if there's something you're struggling with...something that has thrust you into rough waters, there is a lifeguard and His name is Jesus. Why keep on treading water if you don't have to? Just give it up and let Him have it and then, you can just lie back, rest, and float. 

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