Losing the Floaties by 40

This one was written by Heidi Fields. I was only two years shy of 40 […]

Guest Contributor / 12.13.17

This one was written by Heidi Fields.

I was only two years shy of 40 when I decided to learn to swim. I was only half joking when I asked the swimming instructor if he had adult-sized floaty rings for my arms. I was only two years out of the womb when I rocked the ruffled two piece and yellow shades in this photo.

Despite having an innate, Milan-esque aqua fashion sense, I usually avoided pool parties and beach activities as a child. I was like oil and water was like water. Mixing the two of us was more awkward than boys and girls at junior high dances. While I could float and swirl around well enough to remain among the living, I never learned to swim and never ventured beyond the shallow end.

It’s safe to conclude I was not destined to be the Missy Franklin of the 90s or follow in the wake of Miss Piggy’s elegant synchronized swimmers in The Great Muppet Caper. No matter how much their glittered caps and pink capes beckoned to my aqua fashion sense like fresh chum to a shark.

When I lived on Maui in my twenties I finally became a bit braver and stoked the fires of my ‘little swimmer that could’ to the point that I occasionally dipped my toes in the Pacific. Eventually, those fires fueled my courage enough that I was semi-comfortable in waist deep water. Full disclosure: at all times my arms were outstretched to my full 73-inch wingspan. I was like an albatross ready to take flight and retreat to dry land at any moment. I guess you could say I had flirted with water throughout my life, but I was never interested enough to give water my phone number.

Enter the decision to learn to swim before I turned 40. By conventional wisdom it was a bit late to ditch the floaty rings and jump into the deep end. By my thinking, I had waited long enough. At 38, I realized that paralyzing fear still kept me from putting my head under the water, and my movement through the water had peaked at an erratic dog paddle that resembled drowning and caused others to offer life-saving assistance.

Leaving the dock on this swimming journey has been funny, embarrassing and difficult, but also quite freeing and meaningful. First, a bit of the funny and embarrassing. The first day of swim class I was horrified to see that my instructor was in the pool farthest from where I was standing while a class full of five-year-olds was in the pool nearest to me. Was it really necessary for me to walk past all of their parents who were watching intently through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls?

I desperately scanned the room for another path, any other path, even it if required leaving through the emergency exit and squeezing myself through the ventilation ducts to get back inside. No such luck. There I stood, me and my five-foot-nine self in all my ruffled, nylon and spandex glory. I put my head down and tried to slink, as best as tall-ish people can slink, to where my instructor was waiting. I un-affectionately refer to this experience as the longest walk of my life and now try to avoid the innocent bystanders who unwittingly chose front row seats to my ruffled, aqua slink. In case you’re wondering, yes, I altered my attire for future classes.

Now, on to the freeing and meaningful. Every Thursday night I get into the water, listen to my swimming coach, move my arms and legs, manage to survive and make a bit of progress. I’m slowly starting to enjoy what once was a source of fear. Paul’s words to the Philippians frequently come to mind.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:12-14 ESV

These words remind me that if I swallow gallons and begin to sink while choking and spewing on anyone within a 10-foot radius, it’s OK. God helps me re-surface, catch my breath, seek reconciliation, and learn a thing or two. God’s grace saves us no matter how many times we hit the bottom.

When wrestling with the same sin for the thousandth time, my grace-lens tends to grow foggy. I hear myself saying things like, “Well, I’ve blown it again. My frequent sinner miles could easily take me to all seven continents and the mysterious island where Oceanic Flight 815 deposited the characters from Lost. I’m sorry, again, Lord. Please help…”

I picture God raising his eyebrows and sighing while giving Jesus the nod to spray me down with a high-power pressure washer. After Jesus blasts the sin off me, he shakes his head, looks at the Holy Spirit and says ‘Good luck!’ My view of God’s grace becomes distorted and ends up looking and feeling more like begrudging tolerance.

Reading and meditating on scriptures like Ephesians 1:7-8 helps right the distortion: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” ESV

If my grace-lens is not foggy, I picture God’s mighty arms outstretched ready to welcome and forgive a prodigal, Jesus as a compassionate and empathetic intercessor and the Holy Spirit providing comfort and power to joyfully pursue becoming more like Christ.

Staying in the water despite near-drowning experiences provides many close encounters with God’s life-saving grace. The fact that His love and acceptance are always available, even if I got out of the water, gives me the freedom to stay in. The water is not fine, but God welcomes us to come on in. He specializes in treacherous rescues and never fails to transform in the most satisfying ways.

It would be remiss to not address what you’re all wondering. Am I ready for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics? No, but I’m hoping to achieve a mediocre freestyle stroke soon. I have also become less uncomfortable performing my aqua-slink, sans ruffles, in front of the kindergartners’ parents. Who  knows? Maybe I’ll swim with Miss Piggy after all.