I Could Maybe, Possibly, Perhaps, Actually Learn to Swim

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By Kathleen Bertrand

G_Kathleen

For as long as I can remember—and even longer—I’ve been terrified of water. My parents tell me stories of me as baby screaming in the bath and, as a toddler, crying through Father and Tot swim classes. I don’t have a dramatic story of almost drowning, so I don’t really know where the fear came from, only that it’s always been there.

Not surprisingly, I’ve never managed to learn how to swim. Not for lack of trying though. As a kid, every summer I took swimming lessons. As the week of classes approached, I tingled with nerves and my stomach was one big knot. Even now, 25 years later, when I think about the lessons, I can feel the heavy dread which hung over those sunny summer days.

I just kept failing. As I got older and taller, the kids in my swimming class got younger and smaller. Soon my younger brother passed me and I was still stuck in the first level. Now my instructors would have to take me to the deeper end to jump in because the shallow end was barely up to my waist. It seems like I spent hours, toes curled over the edge of the pool, with the instructor waiting for me to jump while all the much younger kids watched from the water in the shallow end. As I continued to fail summer after summer, I welcomed the ear infections that usually put an early end to them. Finally, I think my parents felt sorry for me, and one blissful summer I didn’t have to go.

Of course being a swimming class drop-out didn’t mean that I could leave my fear behind. Growing up on the West Coast of British Columbia, water is everywhere. My fear forced me to either stay on dry land or suffer if I couldn’t avoid the water. No swimming at summer camp for me. I watched everybody’s backpacks on excursions to the water slides. I endured one agonizing three-day school sailing trip where I tried to hide in my sleeping bag to avoid going out onto a dorry. (It didn’t work.)

As I grew up and into adulthood, not being able to swim had become part of my identity. I clutched tight to my fear, even embellishing it when it suited me. It was something I was proud of in a strange way. It was a safe way to be vulnerable; it was a good excuse for sitting on the sidelines; and, once I met my water-loving husband-to-be, it was a great reason to have him wrap his arms around me in the pool. I was comfortable with my fear and had decided that I could never learn how to swim.

DANGEROUS WOMAN!

So imagine the look on my husband’s face when one day back in March, out of the blue, I told him I was signing up for swimming lessons! I had been feeling God poking at me when I first read the I am a Dangerous Woman Declaration. So when Idelette issued her dare, I knew God had something for me. I’m a bit new to looking and listening for God to show up in my life, but when the word “fear” kept cropping up, it became obvious. It was time to finally face my fear. So I bought a new bathing suit, registered for lessons and told Facebook I was going to jump into the deep end at the end of my five-week class.

During the second class, our instructor brought us all over to the deep end and told us to jump in! Right then I realized God might have bigger plans for me in this than I had made for myself. I had a choice: I could settle back into my comfortable fear and excuses or I could see where God would take me. And for the first time I decided to jump.

During each of my ten classes, I felt God show up again and again. God was there in the big, flashy moments, like that first jump.

I am here. I am with you.

God was there in the smaller, discouraging moments, as I tried and failed to kick and lift up my head to breath. I am here. I am with you. Over and over. I am here. I am with you.

The Saturday after my classes were over, I went with my husband and two kids to the pool to do what had been dubbed My Big Jump. I alerted the lifeguard that I had never jumped off the diving board by myself before and to please come rescue me if I didn’t come back up. I climbed up to the one-meter board. Then I jumped. As I came up, I didn’t quite feel the exhilaration I had been expecting. Only then did I feel the three-meter board daring me to climb up.

Once again I accepted what felt like a divine dare. I climbed to the top and immediately began swearing. It was so beeping high! However, like in so many moments during these classes, I felt God. I am here. I am with you.

So I looked down (big mistake), whispered my battle cry prayer, “You make me brave” and jumped! I popped up, swam to the side, and immediately broke down crying. I’d gone so much farther than I had ever planned. I could maybe, possibly, perhaps, actually learn to swim.

Through my lessons, God showed me that who I am is not the version I have constructed for myself. What I believe to be true about who I am can be changed if I cooperate. My only identity is as a Dangerous Daughter of God. All I need to do is claim this truth and let God do the rest. God is here. God is with me. My job is to lean out and jump and God will catch me, taking me deeper and deeper each time. From the edge of the shallow end to the three-meter diving board, God will catch me.

I didn’t pass my class and I’m still scared of the water. But I am no longer Kathleen-Who-Can’t-Swim, but Kathleen-Who-is-Learning-to-Swim. And I’m registering for classes again in the fall.

___________

About Kathleen:

KathleenBorn and raised on the West Coast of Canada, I am a happiest with a cuppa tea and a good book. I work in museum exhibit design, but I am currently spending most of my time learning to be a great mummy to my two wee ones. I live in between the mountains and the beach in Port Moody, BC but half my heart lives in Brittany, France.

 

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  • I love this line: ‘God showed me that who I am is not the version I construct for myself’. There’s possibly never been a truer sentence written.

    Congratulations on feeling the terror and doing it anyway! That’s the definition of courage, pure and simple.

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      Thanks so much Bev! I treasure this lesson and am happy to be able to share it so widely.

      And I tell my kids about being brave often but it is a much different thing to live it out myself!

  • This is AMAZING!
    I didn’t learn to swim until I was in college — yup, awkward, and I’m still not a good swimmer, so I completely identify with that hesitancy about the water.
    But, Kathleen-who-is-learning-to-swim, you are incredible, and God will continue to catch you!

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      Thanks Michelle! There are quite a few of us who have learned to swim later in life, eh?

  • Donna-Jean Brown

    I’m glad to be the first one to comment here, Kathleen because although I’m a fish, I feel lots of sympathy for your fear and have lots of hope for your learning to enjoy swimming. I have fond memories of teaching adults to swim. It was so much more gratifying than teaching children because, of course, the adults’ fears were more deeply engrained and when they conquered them the achievement and celebration was huge. Your story of God’s faithful support is inspiring and I cheer you on to find the fun in water as you work with expert teachers. Way to go!

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      Thanks Donna-Jean! It is special to read about teaching adults from your point of view. My instructor was so wonderful! He had such a good balance between pushing us and giving us confidence. I couldn’t have gone as far as I did without him. I’m sure the adults you taught felt the same way about you since it is obvious you love it!

  • Nicole Walters

    Wonderful! Your dare stuck out to me when I saw it on facebook and I am so glad to read your story about it here. And I love that it isn’t just a journey about learning to swim, though that is a mighty goal when such fear is involved. It is about learning who you are in God. We all have fears to overcome to learn that. Thank you for sharing!

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      I was really surprised when my lessons became about much more than just learning how to swim. I’m so grateful my fear pushed me to make the time to mediate and pray through my lessons otherwise I might have missed out on a very powerful life lesson!

  • I love this so much, Kathleen. How you showed up, how God showed up and how you are telling the story.

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      Thank you Idelette! This would not have happened without you and I am so very grateful!

  • Awesome. We live in such a success/performance/completion culture that we often fail to recognize the VICTORY in process and effort. This journey of life, I’m convinced, is meant to reveal to us who we are in God’s eyes, taking the scales off our own. He IS with us!

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      I love this! Thank you. I am claiming victory in this process even though technically I failed the class.

  • Nicole A. Joshua

    You are indeed a brave woman Kathleen! Thank you for reminding me that my identity is constructed and can be changed, redeemed.

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      Oh, what a beautiful thing it is, isn’t it?

  • Joy Howard

    Kathleen, THIS could be my story! I am just delighted you wrote this! I did not know how to swim and then my oh so patient husband taught me. He figured out that I couldn’t see the swim instructor’s demos bc I am so near-sighted. He got into the pool with me so I could see his movements. After many, many lessons, I can swim. Not well. Not well at all, but I can do it. I KNOW you will be able to swim too and I hope you find pleasure in the water too. Hugs from another late swimmer!!

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      I’ve always had trouble seeing the instructor in the pool without my glasses too! Congratulations on learning to swim and thank you for your encouragement. Thank heavens for patient husbands, eh?

      • juliathemechanic

        Kathleen, I loved your story! You’re incredibly brave and funny. I too had trouble seeing what my swim instructor was demonstrating with my super nearsighted vision. Then I realized that I could buy prescription swim goggles super cheap on Amazon. Around $20! Try them, they’re a revelation.

        • Kathleen Bertrand

          *gasp* This is SUCH good news! Thanks for letting my know. Although it has been a few years since I wrote this, I slowly improving in the pool. Prescriptions googles sound wonderful!

  • Saskia Wishart

    Oh my gosh! I love the bravery in this story and in your big jump. Thank you for taking the dare and sharing with us.

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      So happy to be able to share my dare here too! Thanks!

  • HBurns

    Way to go Kathleen… that’s HUGE and you did it. xo

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      Thank you so much!

  • Kristen – Richards

    Kathleen.. what a lovely piece… So brave of you to write and share with others.. I smiled as I was reading this .. because God does the same to me … it may be about different issues, but I too, feel the same poke as I am sure many other readers do as well.. When I have hesitation on an issue and I get that butterfly, queasy feeling in my stomach.. I get that God-like poke.. and I say.. here we go again..but afterwards, I give God thanks that we managed to get through it together and it deepens my trust in Him- because through Him anything is possible.. God Bless and Happy Swimming

    • Kathleen Bertrand

      Hi Kristen, I was brought back to this post by another commenter and realized I had never replied to your comment. Thank you for your words of support! I pray you are still following those pokes. <3