I sat on the boat with flippers attached to my feet and a mask and snorkel attached to my head. The safety vest hugged me snuggly as the guide explained how we step into the water, then hover just below the surface to keep the two ends of the 10-inch snorkel both in our mouth and just above the water for breathing. He explained how to hold our breath and dive deeper and then come back up and blow to clear the tube. This would allow us to explore the coral reef of John Pennekamp State Park from different angles and depths.
My friends were all excited about the excursion. It was Spring Break of my senior year of college, and I had driven to Miami with three friends. A family friend of one them had a house there, so we could stay for free. We just needed to get ourselves there and pay for our food and activities. It was a no brainer. Driving to the Florida Keys was one of our planned day trips, and a stop at Pennekamp for snorkeling the first item on our itinerary.
But now that I was on the boat, I realized I couldn’t go through with it. I was a decent swimmer but easily panicked in the water. The safety vest required pulling the cord to save me, and I was afraid in a moment of panic I wouldn’t remember to do it and would drown. And what about the sharks and eels and stingrays? And what if I accidentally stepped down on the coral and bled to death or was hauled off to federal prison for destroying a Sanctuary Preservation Area.
My friends were growing frustrated with me, but I told them to go on and I’d just stay on the boat. “That’s crazy,” Jim said. “It’s totally safe.” I wouldn’t budge.
If I remember right, the whole boat cleared out and my friends actually circled back around to check on me before I finally gave in. “Okay, I’ll just try it,” I said. “But if I’m scared, I’m coming back.”
Of course, you know how this ends. I got in the water and discovered how amazing it is to be surrounded by fish of every color and see the fantastic coral that teemed with life. I saw parrotfish and damselfish, I marveled at the sea cucumbers, and came face to face with a barracuda who was just passing through.
“I can’t believe I almost missed it,” I said, grinning ear to ear as the boat took us back to the marina.
We all probably have a story like that of a time when we nearly let our fear keep us from experiencing something new, something more. In her new book, Every Little Thing, my friend Deidra Riggs talks about her own snorkeling adventure in Hawaii with her husband when she found herself too afraid to take the plunge until the last full day in Maui when her husband gave her a life jacket that would make it impossible for her to drown. Slowly, she eased into the water, her husband by her side, and like my own experience, she couldn’t believe she almost missed it.
“The water held me gently, rocking me in comfortable assurance, and I was overwhelmed. My throat tightened, and I would have cried if I could have figured out how to cry and be facedown on the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the same time. And so I breathed, and I surrendered to the waters and to the warm sun on my back and the glorious invention of that gigantic yellow life preserver. And the waters did not consume me.”
Fear is just one of the things that keeps us from living the life God has for us, Deidra writes. She also says we miss out when we “charge ahead with our own plans and on our own strength” without waiting for God’s leading. Or when we fail to pay attention to “the question that keeps bugging you or the calling you think you hear.”
But the message that hit closest to home for me is how far off the mark we get when we think we need another life, a bigger or better life, to find meaning or have purpose in what we are doing. Listen to Deidra here:
“You do not need to fancy up your life. You don’t need a bigger platform, or a more significant ministry, or a bigger house, or another circle of friends, or more members in your small group, or anything more than what you have when you lift your eyes from this page and take a good, long look around you. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not need us to make it anything more than it already is. What the gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to do is to be exactly who we are, in the places where we find ourselves, and to be infused with the salty goodness that comes when we surrender our lives and our agendas and our hopes and dreams to the power and control of the Holy Spirit.”
I jumped in that day at Pennekamp. I didn’t miss the splendor of that barrier reef or the release of floating there among the fishes, breathing in and out under water. But it’s possible I’ve missed plenty of other amazing experiences because I was too afraid or too insistent on my own way or too busy to look around or too worried that the little thing I could do wasn’t big enough.
I don’t want to miss anything else.
Want to hear some great news? I have a copy of Every Little Thing to give away to one reader. Want to enter? Just leave a comment, subscribe to this blog, or share this post on social media by the end of day on Wednesday, November 18. I’ll randomly select a winner and announce it on Thursday, November 19.
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