In my opinion, visiting the Miami Sea Aquarium and the glass tunnel aquarium at the Omaha Zoo pales in comparison to having pet fish. I’d like to introduce you to Tom and Jerry – two happy orange goldfish distinct only in their tail fins and named after the cartoon characters by our youngest daughter, Miriam.
Watching fish swim peacefully through the days reminds me of the Proverbs 31 woman who could laugh easily at the days to come. Life in a rural-ministry fishbowl doesn’t always fill my tank with laughter. My heart as a pastor’s wife longs to glide through ministry with hope-filled ease, smiling when sharks come and laughing when stingrays show up. Is this fish-bowl scenario even possible?
Life’s swim lessons, when saturated with hope, drown out worry, doubt, and fear allowing joy, certainty, and trust to flourish.
Worry/JOY: One day, Miriam went to check on Tom and Jerry and, alas, Tom was missing! As the bigger of the two, his absence seemed magnified in the happy little tank. A friend had given us two small catfish and one was big enough to have eaten a goldfish. My husband even found a youtube video showing that exact scenario. He jokingly blamed our friend for the catfish-based death during one of his sermons. We started worrying for Jerry.
About two months later, Miriam caught a tiny glimpse of orange through the window of the castle where Tom had swum through so often. Tom was alive! He’d been trapped in the castle for lots of days without movement or food. His glossy orange coat had faded away and he had a large hole in his stomach area. We cried for joy and I asked my ladies’ prayer group to pray for a full recovery. Our hope in Tom’s resurrection grew and I texted a humble apology to the friend who gifted us the catfish. She asked for a public confession during Kurt’s next sermon. It wasn’t to be; Tom died the next day. His “second death” eclipsed the joy at seeing him alive again. We stopped worrying over Jerry.
I can easily go into castle-retreat mode when conflict closes in – bring on the dark chocolate and self-pitying thoughts! How can we let go of worry and grasp joy? Maybe it looks like enjoying the gift of transparent friendships as we linger longer outside our comfort zone. Joy can also drain out worry when we embrace God’s gift of presence. It’s ok to retreat to Him!
Castle Retreats: Take the day of the week you were born on and schedule a monthly mini retreat with God. This is something new for me in 2021. I combined ideas from the following books: Spirit Walk by Steve Smith; 30 Ways a Mother can Bless her Children by John Trent; TAWG/DAWG (Time/Day Alone with God) from Moms in Prayer International. Schedule yours!
Doubt/CERTAINTY: I was a part of competitive swim teams from age 11 to16 when we lived in Ohio. My coaches taught me flipturns, freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and block starts. But I wanted to learn the butterfly stroke. I was painfully shy about asking, and every time I got the courage, my coaches doubted I could excel in this complicated stroke – until Coach Carl. I remember the day I choked out the words, “Will you teach me the fly stroke?” and he said, “Sure, let’s start now!” I knew with certainty I could learn it from him. He taught me on the pool pavement as he was not confident of his stroke in the water. It’s just what this visual learner needed and I was flying through the water in no time. He signed me up for individual and relay events where I could help contribute to team points with my butterfly stroke. I was never the fastest but I also never quit swimming my hardest. He gave me the iron-woman award. I never had a better coach.
Fear/TRUST: My first and consequently last swim coach was Coach W. If we accidentally said his first name, we had to drop down and give him fifty pushups, the last ten being half speed while asking his permission to get up. We worked out 2x/day and 6x/week during the school year. Sundays were the only relief I felt. I never lost my fear of Coach W. and I never swam competitively again.
God is the complete opposite of Coach W. He wants us to speak His Names – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (from Isaiah 9:6). But Jesus is not just our coach, He’s also our pacesetter.
Swimmers have a lane pecking order starting with the pace setter. These lane leaders need not be the fastest but they do need to keep the most steady pace for everyone in their lane. If you catch up to your pacesetter one or two times a practice, it’s polite to let them stay as your lane’s leader, after all, you are swimming in some of their drag energy. But if you catch their feet multiple times during a practice, it’s polite for them to give up their lane leadership to you. The position of pacesetter isn’t always desirable, but it is honorable. You have to know you can set and maintain the best pace for your lane members.
Jesus is the best coach AND pacesetter. He leads me beside still waters AND restores my soul (see Psalm 23). He both sets and maintains the pace that is best for each of us. I’ll swim in His wake anytime!
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