I can’t believe it’s been 5 years. This picture came up on my Facebook memories this morning. Do you get those?
This was a training event I did before my first (and only) triathlon in July of 2013. You see, I had woken up 9 months prior with a crazy idea that I should do a triathlon. Both haunted and exhilarated all day by the thought, I confessed my audacious dream to my husband that night, quickly met by my husband’s support and the truth that he believed in me more than I believed in myself. You see, I was a mom of a 4-year-old and 1-year-old at the time and was living in a state of overwhelm. It didn’t seem like good timing, but one baby step at a time, I started to prepare.
I decided to start with running, because it was the “easiest” and most low-cost skill to learn. I was not a runner. I had only run 1 mile once in my life and at the time couldn’t run .25 without stopping all together. So, week after week, I worked my couch to 5K program until I ran a mile straight. I still laugh when I think of the poor elderly people walking their fluffy dog by the stop sign that marked my mile marker. I sprinted like I was straining to finish a marathon and slapped that stop sign as I screamed at the top of my lungs. Victory! I didn’t care if I looked crazy. No one could know how hard I worked for that first mile.
My dear friend (now sister-in-love) took me under her wing, teaching me how to run more efficiently. We signed up for a 5K and trained toward that date. It was the next baby step that made sense in preparation for a summer triathlon. She graciously ran my pace as we finished the Pumpkin Run on a cold, rainy October day. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was the lady pushing through the finish just as the ugly cry came gushing from deep down inside. In the physical strain, something inside of me was changing.
My next step toward a triathlon was to learn how to swim. Although I knew how to stay afloat and get across the pool, I had no idea how to swim in a straight line and breath at the same time. As I kid, I loved swimming underwater and pretending to be a mermaid. I may or may not have seen the movie Splash (with Daryl Hannah) way to may times and told a girl at a hotel pool that I was an actual real mermaid. She looked at me in disbelief inquiring as to why I had no tail in the pool. Wasn’t it obvious? My tail would not appear until I was in salt water. Duh. (Don’t worry. Since then I did repent for lying.) For a triathlon though, mermaid swimming would definitely not cut it. There was only one thing to do.
I started showing up at the gym when the old people came. 6 am. As a stay at home, there was no other way to get it done. I remember crying on the way to the gym at 5 am, jealous of all the sleeping people represented in the dark homes I was passing. Why was I doing this? I was already a tired mom. A voice deep inside told me it was worth it.
After weight lifting and cardio, I waited by the pool door waiting for the lock to click. If I wasn’t in at 6 a.m. on the dot, I wouldn’t have a swim lane. Day after day, I choked on water as I struggled to learn a proper breathing technique. I read swimming books, watched YouTube videos and took pointers from the “experts” at the pool. After 3 weeks of raising eyebrows and concern among lifeguards and my elderly counterparts, I made it across the pool for the first time with no choking or floundering. I felt unstoppable. Improving every week, I finally swam .25 mile without stopping. Now it was time to test my skills in open water at the very park I was scheduled to complete my first triathlon that summer. That was 5 years ago today.
Triathlons draw a surprising diversity of people. I was comforted to meet so many first timers at this training event that would prepare us for the real thing. My dad came along to support me, my husband holding down the fort at home.
I scanned the horizon, searching for landmarks that would keep me on track. I had read that one of the most important things to learn in open swim practice is how to use landmarks to swim straight as there would be no underwater lane like I had grown so accustomed to at the pool. I dipped my toe in the freezing water. Butterflies stirred in my stomach. As the sun made its full debut, they blew a horn and we were off into the dark, choppy water. Within yards, all the advice I had received to practice in open water made sense. Two days before, I swam confident in a calm, clear pool. Today I was crowded by swimmers in cold, cloudy water, utterly discombobulated. The breathing technique I had mastered so well in protected waters was futile as big waves interrupted my breath, challenging my rhythm as I coughed, regrouped and kept swimming.
I heard a yell over my shoulder. A fellow swimmer was panicking and crying for help. The two ladies near her shouted and panicked with her. I found myself swimming away from the finish and back to the fear-struck triathlete. Not wanting to get pulled under myself, I stopped short of her by a yard and called out, “It’s okay…deep breaths…you’re okay…you’re not alone…lean back. Relax. You’ve got this. You’re not alone. We’re with you. You’re going to finish.”
Her breathing slowed. Focus replaced the haze over her eyes as tears emerged on her wet face. After exchanging smiles and determined glances, the four of us clawed through the white-capped water in timeless silence, emerging on the sand with something more than we had entered the water with.
5 years later, I still feel that choppy water. I know you do too. It’s that space between what we’ve learned with our heads but is still being tested in our living. It’s the stretch between our Biblical ideals and vision as moms and the blunt realities of every day as we strive to live those out.
I could point back to those days with despair. When I look in the mirror each day, I don’t recognize the go-getter me that I romanticize from my past. I struggle with basic responsibilities. The critic in my head has lots of ammunition. But grace calls out. The truth is that you and I are in a season we’ve never been in before. It’s easy to admire the hindsight view of days gone by while Jesus invites us to sit with Him in our present.
I think if we listen closely, there’s a voice in our choppy waters. “It’s okay…deep breaths…you’re not alone…lean back. I’m in the water with you and we’re going to finish together.”
I believe there’s power in naming things. Sometimes questions are the best place to start.
What are my choppy waters? Don’t shame yourself for naming something you judge to be a small thing. Is it tiredness? A child who hasn’t learned to read? A financial concern or failure that whispers in your ear? Or maybe it’s a big thing that you’re scared to name, because it’s scary to hope.
Who’s with me in the water? We know God is, but maybe He’s inviting us to know it deeper down than we’ve ever known it before. He’ll never leave us. He’s not giving up on us. His determined love can give us courage to not give up on ourselves. But who else is there? Who has God surrounded you with? Maybe it’s time to reach out for a listening ear, a prayer or a laugh over coffee. We don’t have to face the choppy waters alone.
What’s God speaking to my heart? Be still? Lean back? It’s rarely the booming voice that calls us into our truest, bravest us. It’s often the gentle nudging and the friendly leading. Not from far off on the distant shore, but right there in the water with us.
Whatever our choppy may be, let’s look to the horizon. We will emerge, sister. We will walk out of this season with goodness we didn’t know going in. Then we’ll gather our stories and turn them into buoys for someone else.
My greatest buoy in every season of life is the Word of God. Praying Scripture has been such a powerful way for me to anchor my heart in truth while posturing myself to receive from God even as I go about my busy day. I’ve created a free resource for you. Here’s the link if you’d like to learn more or get it in your inbox today.