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Since the weather turned cold and the possibility that snow or ice will line the edges of our streets grows more likely each day, my husband and I decided to buy a four-month membership at the YMCA in our town. Now, instead of slipping and sliding up and down the roads near our home in subzero temperatures, we run on a second-story indoor track a few days a week.

But in addition to the indoor track, the heated pool offered another wonderful winter perk. I’m swimming again. Or at least trying too.

Two years ago, I joined a gym with a pool near my home in Indianapolis as a way to get in shape after surgery and radiation treatment. At that time, I had endured three open abdominal surgeries, and finding a way to build my core muscles slowly enough to accommodate all the scar tissue was a challenge. Swimming offered the solution. But if offered so much more.

Through swimming, I found a place to quiet myself, a place to focus. In other words, swimming taught me how to breathe.

I could use that lesson again now.

The first night I hit the pool, however, I was faced with a new challenge. The pool at my old gym was three feet deep at both ends, and in the middle, it may have sunk to four feet deep. At most. But I could touch the bottom at all points. In the new pool, I am faced with a deep end.

While I am building back up to “in-shape” for swimming, the deep end surprises me with every lap. My head pivots back and forth for breath as I free-style toward the 9-foot section, and the floor gives way beneath me.

I could drown here, I think to myself. One cramp or a mouthful of water, and I’m a goner.

The waters would engulf me, sweep over me, swallow me alive. That’s how the Psalmist describes drowning in Psalm 124. And I feel that some days, even when there’s not a drop of water around. It’s easy to be engulfed, swept up, swallowed by my circumstances. I live many days as though I’m swimming in the deep end with a cramp in my leg. Helpless.

But though I feel helpless, I am not alone. Though I  feel helpless, I am not unhelped.

See, the Psalmist doesn’t drown, doesn’t get swallowed up, because the Lord is there, pulling him out of the depths. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” he cries.

It didn’t take me too many trips through the deep end of the pool to realize that’s why a lifeguard is on duty. At the three-foot pool they didn’t need one. Each swimmer could look out for herself. But when the stakes are high and the water is deep, it helps to know someone is watching.

Photo by ajari, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.