If any one thing in nature draws me it is water. Lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers, streams, swimming pools and oh, my, the OCEAN! There is some part of me that feels as if I’ve settled in at the most natural place in the world when I am by water. That is saying a lot for a woman who:
- …cannot swim.
- …didn’t even see the ocean until she was almost 25-years-old.
- …who hated trying to walk on sand.
- …who can’t fathom the ordeal of trying my wheelchair on a beach.
- …who rarely is around water, except in the bathroom and kitchen.
- …who is terrified of water in my face, much less over my head.
My fear of water stems from having my hair washed as a child while standing at the kitchen sink. Regardless of how far I stretched over the sink or how tightly I squeezed my eyes shut nothing could stop the unpredictable flood of water on my face. Locked into position by my mother’s turning of my head and repeated reprimands I was helpless to do much but hope it ended quicker every single time and fight to control my panic. Since I was the genetic recipient of oily type hair it required washing daily. My mother insisted on washing my hair herself until I was entering the sixth grade. By my calculations that is around 3600 hair washings, although I probably should reduce it to 3500 for the first year I was alive and my hair hadn’t quite grown in yet. So 3500 times I experienced what felt like I was drowning.
As I got older I understood I wasn’t going to drown when my mother dumped countless containers of water on my head, but as a young child, I didn’t have that awareness and by the time I was older the fear was deeply engrained in me. Sadly it couldn’t be washed out. Hence my love/hate relationship with water.
It is such a fear that when I accepted Christ at the age of fourteen I couldn’t bring myself to join the church at the same time because it meant being completely submerged in running water. We did it the way our ancestors had for centuries, we gathered by a creek bank and waded in, the preacher and you got into your places and you held your nose closed with his hand over yours and he lowered you completely under the water. Now because the closest creek with running water that was accessible couldn’t boast of being very deep under normal conditions our church had to wait until we had a big rain. The creek would swell immensely, overflow its banks and our deacons would keep an eye on it for that perfect Sunday it was clear and deep enough for baptism, then in we’d go. I was having no part of it for it looked like torture to me.
Eventually the pastor and my parents wore my resistance down. I consented and one July Sunday afternoon I was among those who waded into the creek, dressed in a dress because we weren’t allowed to wear pants to any church service, and my mind was far from anything holy. I wasn’t even capable of praying. Never had a man looked so physically incapable of being able to prevent dropping me in the water or not being able to pull me back up as our pastor did as I took his hand in the middle of that flood swollen creek with its racing waters. When I went under panic rose inside me and had the immersion taken any longer than a few seconds I probably would have drown myself fighting to get up and away. I doubted my salvation experience as being real for years because my baptism was so emotionally traumatic, yet I never told another living soul.
From the first time I saw the ocean, beneath the headlights of a van at night it was only black and white but my love for it burst forth. Especially in the darkness the power of the ocean was so immense, so powerful I could not question the mightiness of God in His creation. A couple days later I would see it for the first time in “color” and the mission group I was with had to drag me off the beach for they were all frozen from the winter temperatures and ocean breezes while I didn’t even realize I was numb from cold.
Now though I could sit by the ocean, especially in winter when it is practically deserted, for endless days and even nights. The crashing or lapping of the ocean waves becoming the heartbeat of my being, the breeze off the ocean sweeping all the ugliness away and the call of the sea gulls tempting me to flight. Once I can psych myself up enough to get into a swimming pool I never want to get out, the water giving me a physical freedom of movement I don’t have on dry land. Though I was never brave enough to cross the large boulders into the raging river in the Great Smoky Mountains I certainly longed to with nearly everything within me and sitting beside its banks my heart leaps in my chest and my eyes lift toward Heaven.
One other experience with water has blossomed my love for water. I was so sick, my body so ravaged by infection the flesh was falling off of my left leg, and I was barely aware I was still on this planet but I wanted a drink of water. I’d been begging, every time I rose to a point of consciousness, for a drink since I’d been taken into the emergency room. How many hours passed I can’t tell you but it seemed as if I were suspended between this world and the other where there was no time, I just existed between the two places. I opened my eyes and couldn’t see more than a foot from my bed but I sensed I wasn’t alone and I again begged for a drink of water. This time the person with me said she’d be right back with it. I struggled to stay conscious long enough for that drink but again slipped under. Awaking again my question was, “Where’s my water”? Before I had another thought I was unconscious again.
Then I was being lifted right out of my hospital bed and I pushed to awaken myself for it wasn’t that I was being lifted by nurses or orderlies as it was done in a hospital. Instead someone had their arms under me, one beneath my knees and one under my shoulders and was literally lifting me up in his arms. First I thought my husband had gone crazy but when my eyes opened I was no longer in that hospital bed, I was no longer in that hospital. Above me gentle sunlight played hide and seek with the most beautiful green leaves that just seemed to simmer and glow and branches of a large tree that seemed as old as time. I felt arms tighten around me, my head was pressed to someone’s chest, right at the heart and I knew beneath my ear the heartbeat of Jesus was beating.
Immediately I became aware of the sound of rushing water and as I was carried toward the sound I was able to see a river so wide the banks of the other side were only visible when we were in the water. The rivers waters were running swiftly, I could hear that, I sensed that, but when I looked at it the transparent silvery water, a water I’d never seen before and haven’t seen since its surface was smooth as silk. It was as if it was liquid silver yet you could see through it as clearly as any creek or river I’ve ever seen before. I knew we were going in that water and regardless of how beautiful it was, I remembered I was afraid of water.
“I should be afraid!” I thought.
But before the thought completely slipped through my mind Jesus replied, “It’s okay Faye, I’ve got you.”
All semblance of fear left me. It was okay Jesus had me. Into that water we went and I could feel how deep it was by how quickly I became nearly submerged and still we went on until we came to a wide smooth boulder in the middle of the river. Jesus lay me so my head and shoulders rested on that rock and as the rest of me was bathed by those rushing waters He never let me go.
That was an experience I knew for nearly a week multiple times a day. I never had a thought of fear after the first time. I somehow knew not to look up into Jesus face and I wasn’t tempted to, I wasn’t tempted by any negative or bad thoughts there. I didn’t wonder if I would live or die. I was 100% surrendered to God. I had 100% absolute trust in Him. I didn’t question how He managed to carry me. I didn’t question where we were but wherever it was it was created by God and He shared it with me. I didn’t question anything. I just gave in to the experience.
Love for water floods my heart and there are days I wish I knew of a body of water that was wheelchair accessible so that I could just go and sit by it and watch it move. I love it. But I hate it still with that fear that never completely fades. Just this morning when I was washing my own hair and water rushed down over my face that panic and fear popped up.
I love God. He is never far from my thoughts, always there for me even when I am not there for Him, and we have a personal relationship. Yet…
I still mess things up, I sin, sometimes ON PURPOSE! I still don’t obey Him regardless of how much I profess to love Him because I want my own way! Is that not showing hate instead of love? I think so.
Conquering my fear of water, of drowning to be specific, is something I will never stop trying to get over. Neither is my disobedience to my Holy Father. One day I’ll be able to afford and be brave enough to take swimming lessons and I will find that freedom in the water more often and in a greater way than ever before. One day I’ll cross another river and be Home and experience God as never before.
It’s okay Jesus has me!