Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lessons Learned from the Poolside

Over the summer my kids took swimming lessons.  One hour a day the littles tested their courage kicking and splashing, daring themselves to try harder each time, be a tad bolder, go a bit deeper.  And as they splashed and stretched and grappled and learned, I did some stretching and learning of my own, too.

We were a rag-tag bunch of moms, crowding around picnic tables watching our children through wet windows and sliding glass doors.   A motley crew from various towns, all ages and stages of motherhood.  At first glance, all we seemed to have in common was the shared goal that our children might conquer the waters below.  And yet, despite our apparent differences, over time a community began to form.

We'd greet each other day after day, towels in hand, polite smiles on our faces.  We'd greet one another with friendly hellos, inhaling the smell of chlorine wafting on summer breezes.  We'd discuss the weather and other "safe" topics, like toddler naptimes and eating preferences. Some moms were more chatty than others, one wearing the face of dogged exhaustion, a newborn sleeping obliviously upon her weary chest.  Another scribbling frantic scholastic notes, grad-school text book perched in her lap.  Others struggled corralling wiggly toddlers missing their naps while many just looked relieved to have a small break in their otherwise chaotic day of mom-challenges.

The vibe of the group felt a bit awkward and contrived, much like the first day of school, where everyone wants to blend and "fit in".  Some people escaped to the quiet safety of their cell phones, while others fled for the isolation of their cars.  But the rest of us hung in past the awkward, willing to be there, to give interaction a go.

And then one afternoon something changed.  One of the ladies, a more vocal mom of the group, took a risk.  She casually mentioned how she had "scored big" at the Good Will, buying back-to-school clothes at half price.  And in that moment, at those simple words uttered, an unheard sigh of relief spread across the group.  In the moments that followed women opened up about financial stresses and strains, one asking for the location of the nearest dollar store, another complaining of rising prices.  In a flurry of excitement moms opened up about cable bills, grocery store budgets, the insanity of gas prices.  And then they went even deeper.  One mom shared her guilt over working full time, another her feelings of failure in dealing with toddler tantrums.  Over the course of an hour, these moms shared their hearts, their worries, their struggles, their fears.  Community was born.  All because this one brave soul who was willing to take a leap of faith and try at being real.

Amazing things can happen when one is willing to take a risk. It's like this gift that gives the rest of us permission to struggle, to admit we don't have it all pulled together.  To share how life gets hard and how motherhood, work, family and obligations pull and tug at our hearts, muddling minds and threatening sanity.  Because of one brave soldier, willing to put her real right out there for all to see, hearts connected and friendships were born.

It's a beautiful thing to behold, this thing called community.  It's what we all crave, what we yearn for--a feeling of belonging and connection.  It's what we're supposed to have, how God made us to be.  And all it takes is just one brave soul, risking a little embarrassment to try and connect, setting fears and fakery aside.  Getting down to matters of the heart--the stuff of us all.

I wish I could say that one brave soul was me, but it wasn't.  But maybe next time it will be.  And maybe next time it will be you, too.  For when we are willing to show up and be real, to share our broken, scared, scarred up places we feel a little less alone.  We realize we're all in this struggle together, this thing called life where mountains of pressure loom large and expectations tug on our shoulders threatening to pull us right down.  But when we take the plunge, we help one another to grow, to learn, to listen and love.  Our hearts get a little bigger and softer in this simple act of exposure.

As the weeks of lessons came to a close, the kids wrapped them up with a jump off the diving board.  Each child needed to decide whether they'd jump right in, trusting someone would be there to catch them, or if they'd instead smile, wave and back away.  Some of the kids amazed us all as they jumped right off the diving board without a moment's hesitation, brave adventurous smiles stretching wide across wet cheeks. We clapped and admired their courage. Others took baby steps, knees knocking a bit while fighting the urge to run away.  We clapped just as hard for these sweet ones, knowing all too well about conquering fears and taking a risk.  And then it was time for my own scared-brave boy to stare down the edge of that board.  It took not one but two tries for him--not ready at first to take the leap.  A look of teary-eyed disappointment spread across his little face but then-- he tried again.  Determined  to conquer his fears my first born willed himself off that plank.  With a mix of fear and resolve in his eyes he jumped.  Hot tears sprung to my eyes at his victory as I realized we all need to practice diving right in.

I encourage you to take your knobbly-kneed jump, the one that holds you back and keeps you safe--and yet isolated.  There is such beauty and hope and love in the depths below.  Just do it. Take your leap.


  1. So good!! I am tempted to say that I am sorry you had to spend so much time at swim lessons this summer (been there, ick), but it sounds like you made the best of it. :)

    I don't know if you've heard of the author Anne Jackson (who recently got married so she's now Ann Miller) but I read her book "permission to speak freely" this winter where she shares some pretty dark stuff from her past. She talks about how over the years when she has shared her own secrets it has given others permission to share theirs too and great healing has occurred. She calls it "giving the gift of going second." I love that idea, both how she phrased it, and how you wrote about it here. Going first is so important! True community can't exist without it.

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  2. It's amazing what can happen when we can just be real...such a blessing to all!

    Yay for a jump off the diving board!

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