Every Christmas season, I dive into a new book or devotional to discover more deeply the meaning of Jesus being sent to earth for me. This year, I am guided by Ann Voskamp's new book "The Greatest Gift" and it already feels as if there’s a new depth to the diving. There’s always fear, though, when it comes to diving. I fear falling in and I fear not being able to get out. I’m reminded of an article I wrote about a fear I experienced in childhood, shared below. This is the way I want to experience Christmas this year, fears and all.
Heights of Fear
Parents trickled into the cavernous room, immediately overwhelmed by the stench of chlorine and oppressive humidity. Dissonant sounds of unclear origin echoed the children’s pounding hearts as they lined up against the gray cement wall on the far side. Moms searched the line for their own children, sending reassurance with a wave and a forced smile. The adults continued to methodically fill the metal bleachers while the swim coaches entered, quietly reminding the children of the basics taught over the past eight weeks. Meanwhile, the high dive platform projected its majestic presence thirty feet up, commanding acknowledgement from its royal subjects.
Staring down at the pattern of tiny gray tiles under my pudgy bare feet, I tugged at my white rubber cap again, wondering how to make the ominous white platform disappear. The muddled sounds of the coach’s voice reminded me to glance up at her lips to glean a word or two of the instructions she was giving. I couldn’t wear my hearing aids in the pool since they couldn’t get wet. Goosebumps and the knotted pit in my gut accompanied my walk along the slippery poolside plank as I waited my turn for the final requirement to finish my swim class. I didn’t want to look up as the first kid tentatively climbed the ladder to his fate at the top. I couldn’t help peeking though; I held my breath for him as he climbed and climbed and climbed some more; then skipped forward off the board to make the dreaded descent. Thwomp. It was a loud landing into the dark descent of the deep water, even to my ears. I bet it hurt. I continued to hold my breath, shivering, until I saw his dark shadow moving closer and closer to the surface of the water. He doggie paddled his way to the side of the pool and climbed out. I exhaled.
After what seemed like an eternity, it was my turn. I stood at the bottom of the ladder looking up, wondering if it reached heaven. Taking a deep breath, I started to climb slowly, keeping my focus straight ahead. I didn’t even want to try to see if my mom noticed me from the bleachers because it meant I had to look somewhere else. One-two-three. I’ll just count my way up there. Four-five-six. Taking my time, I considered going down instead of up again. Seven-eight-nine. The goosebumps and pit in my stomach were now accompanied by the fact that I couldn’t breathe. Inhale, exhale. Ten-eleven-twelve. Inhale, exhale. Thirty four- thirty five- thirty six. I was at the top. The grit of the board scratched the bottom of my feet as I took tiny steps forward to reach the end. There were a couple more steps to take and I stopped and peeked. All I could see was a black square of motion down there, and it didn’t look big enough to catch me.
Time froze; bile caught in the back of my throat, threatening to give me a new way to embarrass myself in front of other people. I swallowed. I slid my right foot forward; dragged my left foot to meet it. I did it again. Oh God I can’t do this. Will I die now? One more step to go. At the end of the board, I knew I had to move fast or freak out, big time. I sucked in a short breath and jumped forward. I don’t know if the screaming was in my head or out of my mouth but it was all I could hear. Falling falling falling until I slammed into a cold wet wall. That hurt. Flailing, I sank sank sank for what seemed like another eternity. My chest tightened with fear, my nose flooded with pool water. At last, I stopped sinking and was still. Silence surrounded me; isolated me; threatened me.
Motivated by my need to get out of there, I finally remembered to move my arms and legs. My chest tightened more. Blowing out through my nose, bubbles tickled my cheeks as they swam to the surface faster than I ever could. I followed the bubbles up the water. Swim swim swim. Swim some more. My arms got heavier but I moved them anyway. The light from the top of the water started to get brighter. I swam some more. Breaking through the wet ceiling, I sucked in air while I kicked my way to the side of the pool. My chest was still heaving as I grabbed the ladder and climbed out. Dripping, I looked in the bleachers for my mom. I took a few steps and finally saw her frantically waving from the sea of parents. I walked the slippery path back to the group of kids in my class to join the land of the living.
Today, I understand how the jump off the high dive was a critical turning point in learning how to trust. No matter how many swim lessons I had, there was a level of trust beyond my understanding which propelled my jump. To trust the God of heaven to love me so much to send His Son—for ME!--is a jump into overwhelming love which I hope catches me each time I fall.