(The following entry reflects on Steve Carter’s message For Such a Time as This, part three of the series Where’s God in All of This? If you missed it or would like a refresher of it, both the video and the transcript are available to you.
I saw the movie Jaws at a very young age. I wasn’t supposed to see the movie. It just kind of happened that, at one of our family gatherings, my older cousins were watching it, so I was, too. Jaws terrified me so thoroughly that, to this day, I am afraid to swim in the ocean by myself. It doesn’t stop there, though. Lakes scare me, too. Even swimming pools have the power to trigger my mind’s DVR back to the sights and sounds of that iconic film. I saw the movie as a child, but now I’m an adult. I’m the mother of three children. I have a career. I own a home. And I’m afraid of Jaws. It is a ridiculous fear, I know.
When Steve Carter opened Sunday’s final message on the book of Esther by sharing an experience he had while paddle boarding in the ocean, I thought for sure he would describe a massive Great White shark circling him, plotting to attack as he floated on the surface of its feeding ground. I was relieved to hear that, while standing on his paddle board, far from the safety of shore, Steve saw dolphins, not sharks, swimming below and beside him. He experienced life unfolding before his eyes, not death and destruction swallowing him whole.
I’m in the midst of a dolphin sighting of my own. Life is unfolding in new and beautiful ways right before my very eyes. I’m out on the open ocean, and I’m paddling. I’m practicing patience as I wait for my set. I can see it amongst the waves, and I can feel the ocean swelling below me. God is up to something in my life. It is palpable.
You see, it just so happens that my husband, Jay, was at church with me last Sunday. In fact, lately, he’s been at church with me quite often. For years, I have been praying that Jay would go to church with me, but I had to learn how to be patient and wait on God’s timing.
When I started attending church with regularity, I began inviting Jay to go to with me. To be honest, my words might have formed an invitation, but knowing now who I was then, I’m sure my posture and tone revealed my selfish intentions: I wanted him to go because I was going. The me-that-I-was-then never bothered to open up to my husband—my best friend—about the positive changes in my heart. The me-that-I-was-then worried about so much and shared so little.
One particular Sunday, as I was trying to push and coerce and guilt my husband into going to church with me, he finally said, “This is the kind of stuff that leads to divorce.” It was a wake up call. In the moment, I was defensive and angry that he was drawing a line in the sand. It was a line in the sand. In that moment, I stopped asking him to go to church with me. I accepted that we would be unified in everything except this one little area of my life. I would keep my faith to myself, and we would go about our lives.
It worked for a little while.
But then there was this towel. I was in church one Sunday, and there were tables with beach towels and an open invitation to be baptized in a lake. It’s normal and good for my eyes to well up at church, but that morning, I sobbed. I wanted to be baptized. I wanted to take a towel. But what would that mean? What would Jay think? What would other people think? Doubt and fear and uncertainty attacked my mind. But it just so happened that the band played “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman, a song that shreds my heart into 10,000 pieces and then sews together the broken bits in a new and beautiful way. Through my tears, I found my way down to the stage and, hands shaking, I accepted a towel. After church, I went home, and I told my husband what I wanted to do. And when he said, “I love you so much, and I am proud of you,” my heart, once again, broke into 10,000 tiny little pieces that were transformed into something new and beautiful by the conversations we had and the support he poured out in the weeks that led up to my baptism.
And then there was this table.
A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting around a table with about ten other members of our church. The conversation shifted to spiritual gifts. Each person took turns sharing what their spiritual gifts were and where they felt that God was calling them to step out in faith. I wrestled with my words. I knew what I wanted to say; I could hear what God wanted me to say, but fear crept in and kept me silent. But it just so happened that a teenage girl spoke up about her passion for writing. She had no fear describing her craft, and she was confident using her gift. When she finished, all eyes shifted toward me, prompting me to share whatever it was that I was holding back. I remember laughing as I blurted out the fact that writing is my best kept secret. I can still hear Lisa Uidl and Meghan Watson’s voices in unison as they practically shouted, “We have a church blog!” In that moment, a tidal wave of hope began propelling me forward.
That night, I wrote. And the next day, I shared my writing with Jay. He was the only person I trusted to read that first draft because I knew he would love me no matter what was on that paper. I also knew he would love me enough to give honest feedback. The first draft needed work. The second draft was garbage. As the days passed, I wrote and rewrote and shared my work and listened to his feedback. By the time I sent that first piece of writing off, something had changed between us. It felt as if we were paddling out to see, in search of a good wave and some dolphins.
As I reflect on Steve Carter’s message, I realize that of course there were sharks in the ocean with him. There will always be sharks. There will always be ways to turn opportunities for joy into opportunities for fear. When Jay spoke his “divorce” line, I allowed it to terrorize me instead of accepting it as an opportunity for growth. I was dragging him out to sea when he wasn’t ready to leave the shore. If I’m honest, I wasn’t ready to leave the shore either. Had I continued to pull him along, we both would have drowned. For now, I’m content to continue sharing where I can, and Jay is content to watch me surf from his beach chair. God willing, when the time is right, Jay will join me in the waves.