I swam with manatees the other day! It was the first time I’ve even seen them in the wild since moving here to Florida. We were at one of the beaches here close to our home. The water stays shallow for quite a while and I was out a bit with Brooke in the inner tube. The water was so clear that day and we were enjoying all the fish swimming around us and collecting seashells off the ocean floor.
I looked back toward the shore and noticed a man pointing in our direction and I turned to see what looked like a large (very large!) clump of seaweed. Then I noticed that it was moving right toward Brooke! I grabbed her quickly and I think it probably would have hit her if I didn’t move her in time.
After the shock wore off, I had two reactions:
I was disappointed that I freaked and didn’t stay closer to touch it.
Now, I’m a bit nervous about the fact that I was oblivious to the existence of a large sea animal right next to us! What if it had been a shark?
When we first moved here, we enrolled the kids in a surf lesson. We asked the surf instructor about the “shark factor”. She explained that sharks don’t eat people, they don’t hunt people…they want fish. If you happen to be in the path of the fish, you might get “hit”. She then went on to explain the wisdom of checking in with the lifeguards, staying away from piers and jetties where people fish and the importance of the “fishy” smell that exists sometimes. These are all warnings that the presence of sharks might be greater. I’ve also reminded all of our children of how many people we know that have lived here their entire lives and we have yet to meet anyone who’s been bitten by a shark.
I know all of this, but when we returned to that same beach, I have to admit that I felt fear.
It’s interesting that out of all of our children, Brooke was the one with me in the water that day. I used to say that Brooke was “born cautious”. This cautiousness, however, had become full on fear by the time she was 2 years old. She hated being outside. She would scream at the shining sun, at the wind in her face, if dirt touched her hands. She went into full panic if she saw any kind of insect. She was terrified of Chuck E Cheese, Mickey Mouse, Red Robin. Any costumed character would create a huge physical reaction…lots of crying, screaming and shaking. It was true fear.
We took her to the beach for the first time when she was three. I was nervous as we were preparing for the trip…I knew that it could very well be miserable for all of us if she spent the entire time terrified and screaming.
Our first day on the beach, I held her under the umbrella for the majority of the day. Every little while I would carry her around…letting the sun touch her face, touching her fingers or toes in the water. We pointed out the birds in the sky. I would hold sand in my hand and let her touch it. By the second day she was ready to sit on a towel and touch the sand. She would stand at the edge of the water if we held her hand. Slowly, she became more comfortable. By the end of the week, she was comfortable being at the beach. She still didn’t want to be in the water, but she could spend the day with us and enjoy herself.
That is the trip that turned things for her. It wasn’t immediate, but from then on she was more willing to try new things. She gradually became at peace with the world around her.
Now, many of these fears have dissipated. She hugged Mickey Mouse for the first time last fall. When we go to Disney now (which is only 2 1/2 hrs away from us!!), the character greetings are a high priority to her. Now, she loves being in the water. She is my nature-lover…always observing God’s beautiful creation all around us. I was shocked when one day this spring, I picked her up from school and she was telling me how “cool” it was to see a hissing cockroach
in her science class!
I love that I get to watch her grow and explore and figure out what she finds fascinating. When we returned to that same beach a few days after we “swam with the manatees”, she was the first one in the water. As I watched her run and splash, I was met with a choice:
I could choose fear or freedom.
And isn’t it the same for all of us? We can stay on the shore, where it’s safe…clean…where we feel in control. Or we can jump in and fully experience all that awaits us. The joy and excitement that come with jumping in, over, under the waves. Then, if we go even further, past the breaking point, we find the place where we can float. The peace that comes with floating on the water, gazing up at the blue sky with sun kissing my cheeks. It’s such a wonderful place to be!
So it is with our relationship with God! It’s meant to be exciting and joy-filled. Adventurous! And when we relinquish control…when we go deep enough…we are able to float. Float over the waves. Float amidst all the “dangers” that lurk beneath. Not that the dangers aren’t there,
But it’s that our trust in the One who overcame all will conquer the fear that could keep us captive.
“There is no room in love for fear.
Well-formed love banishes fear.
Since fear is crippling,
a fearful life–
fear of death, fear of judgement–
is one not yet fully formed in love.
We, though, are going to love–
love and be loved.
First we were loved, now we love.
He loved us first.”
1 John 4:18-19 MSG
We are loved. I am loved. You are loved. And the One who loved us first…JESUS, Who loved us first has come so that we are no longer crippled with fear. We can leave it at the shore and jump in…