Yesterday I was caught in a rip current. I wasn’t swimming by myself exactly. There were two little girls on the beach with their Mother and just down from them a family.
I’m not sure if this article is going to be about faith or the lack of faith. Isn’t it interesting that when you get into trouble and you are waiting for God to wave his hand to part the waters, you don’t know whether you are praying for salvation or just panicking. And then praying after with great gratitude.
I was sitting on the beach, watching as a black cloud rolled over from the sound side, ominous with thunder but no lightening, and as I glanced up, a young girl was pulled deeply into the ocean. It sort of looked like she did it on purpose, but I decided to keep an eye out just in case. Her mother who always watches her intently had turned her head for a few seconds. Truly, it only took a few seconds. And her friend who at first started after her, came back crying, ran to the Mom and the Mom now with full attention on her daughter, started waving her in. Then something happened that alerted me to danger. Her bright yellow boogie board came flying, away from her and onto shore. That was when Mom started swimming, talking to her, encouraging her. But for long seconds now she was not visible from the shore as the waves rolled over. So I continued to spot them, ready to call 911.
And then just as fast as it happened, it was over. The little girl was in her Mom’s arm’s and they were both swimming toward shore and soon her mother was comforting both girls as they started digging in the sand. Scared and embarrassed, experienced ocean swimmers, they both wondered what had happened.
I waded out to greet them as they came in. Careful not to go more than 3-4 feet, careful to stay close to other swimmers, and far away from the ripping waves. But not quite careful enough, because that’s when it got me. The bottom dropped out from under my feet and suddenly I was in up to my chin. I could barely drag my toes, the undertow was pulling hard.
Having read many times that the way out of a rip is to swim parallel to shore, I knew exactly what to do. First I tried to body surf, spotting a few waves, but instead of rolling me onto shore, they washed over and then took me out further. Soon I was twenty feet out and going backwards fast. Still barely able to touch, I swam parallel to shore, going to the right. NOTHING. “I’m going to be the headline in tomorrow’s paper,” I thought, then, “My husband’s going to kill me if I die after all we’ve done this year to save my life.” “Well,” I thought, after trying a couple more paddles “parallel” to shore and getting no where, “I’m not going to let pride stand in the way of life. I’m going to jump up and down and wave my arms and yell for help.” And that is what I did. The very same little girl that was taken out, saw me and just as her mother was walking away, she pointed to me.
The woman came and calmly directed me to swim with the waves to the left. Six strokes and I could stand, so she reached out her hand. Then I did what I always do when danger strikes, I belly laughed. “Thank you, I was drifting out and could not get an advantage toward shore.”
Afterwards I felt pretty foolish. I had pointed out the perpendicular waves to my husband when we first arrived. “Look, those waves at cross directions to the surf can create a rip tide,” I said knowingly. We decided before he left that if I went swimming I would stick close to shore and go into the calmer area to the right. Ah, that calmer area proved deceptively turbulent underneath. I saw it, I watched it take someone and still I thought I could wade in a few feet to greet the little girl and her Mom. I would be exempt from the pull, this rich ride out and off shore. I would be safe. For those brief seconds when I was trying to swim parallel against the pull of the wave, I was not thinking of cancer, painful lymph nodes or is my foot tingling or just numb. Not once. What was I thinking? Living, getting someone to see me jumping up, waving my arms and yelling, “I can’t get in. Help.” Determined not to be pulled out as far as she had just gone, knowing that then I would surely drown due to my lack of stamina. Never once thinking, well at least I’d be done with treatments, surgery. Never once thought of giving in.
I notice most things differently now. My brief run with the rip tide included. My cavalier attitude that If I waded out just a few feet, I’d be safe seems ridiculous now that I’m sitting in the beach house, typing a blog post. But I think that’s our approach with most dangerous things in life. Death coming not from a big thing like cancer but a series of small choices that cause your soul to shrink and your heart to beat but not with passion. I spent days in discernment over the meaning of this misadventure. Initially I thought it had something to do with sin. That sin can seem tiny and insignificant on the surface but it’s strong turbulence underneath can suck you out and under and nearly kill you. It happens so gradually that you don’t even know you are drowning until you can’t breathe anymore. Believing that our choices don’t change us, reorienting our focus, creating smaller and more shallow breaths until we are almost dead from lack of oxygen. But then I saw the billboard at the Baptist church again, “You catch the fish, let God do the cleaning.” And I realized that I’m not a preacher of sin. Never have been, never will be.
I decided instead that the rip represents the Holy Spirit and the cancer. A metaphor for my medical journey which appeared to be a calm, almost smooth rippling on the surface (mastitistis) but under which rolled a mighty magnificent power. This power rips you from your anchor and rides you far from shelter, shaking you up and upside down. It buries you up to your chin and threatens to drag you even further but if you get scared enough you yell, “Help!!” Even still it’s shaking you, threatening to drown you at any second until an angel comes by and instructs you to swim left and not right, saving your life. Six strokes, six more treatments and it’s over.
“Faith is believing in what we do not see, and the reward for this kind of faith is to see what we believe.” Saint Augustine
And after today, I believe in rip tides in a new way. A more powerful way than previously. And I believe that was God speaking to me of my cure, my wholeness and physcial healing. He’s taken me to the brink of drowning and then sitting me down on shore, where even the black omnious storm approaching from the sound has disappeared and the sun is shining. I believe She will be watching to see how I’ll do things differently, now that I have another chance, a new life. Perhaps She is expecting expansion in my healing through my blog, my poetry my art. Perhaps She is compelling me to spend more time in meditation and gratitude, sitting on my cushion merging my soul with His/Hers. Who knows because clearly this is a story that bears telling and retelling, the end not fully written. Let me believe in the unseen, be it rips or the Holy Spirit, so that I can be rewarded with the kind of faith that sees what I believe.”
Stand on the beach and watch keenly for ripples in the tides. Wonder at the power of the current, as you’re waiting protected on shore, watching, collecting knowledge and asking for guidance. Know when to walk out boldly and fearlessly into the most dangerous currents of your life and still be safe, buoyed by the Holy Spirit. Believe in the power of Christ to guide your steps even in the midst of being dragged out to sea. Believe in the unseen manifesting in the seen. This story, I choose. This faith I’ve chosen.