Learning to Swim by Trusting the Lifeguard

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.– Psalm 32:8 NIV

Despite the miserable heat of Florida in July, a cold panic gripped my gut as I balanced over the deep end of the pool. Below me, golden sunlight danced in the depths. The undulating blue would have seemed inviting were it not for my terror of heights. Twelve feet of vertical air stood between me and my Intermediate Swimmer’s pin. Weeks of lessons and tests of endurance culminated in this one last obstacle: stepping off the high dive and into thin air.

In the summer of ’63 I was seven years old, a child of Miami with a perpetual tan. I never could stand the heat down there. No one had air conditioning in their houses back then, so we kids lived outdoors year-round. Watery dangers lurked everywhere. Sandwiched between the sea and the swamp, we lived on land coaxed out of the Everglades. A network of dangerous canals crisscrossed our neighborhoods to keep our houses from floating away. Learning to swim was not optional. That was fine with me ’til I faced the dreaded drop to the deep.

With kids lined up behind me, I turned and climbed back down the ladder. Shame burned my face as the panic subsided. One by one they leapt from the board, swam to the side, and collected their prize. Their moms met them and hugged them and pinned the awards to their suits. Finally all had jumped, and all had left, save for one patient mom, a petrified child, and the kindest lifeguard who ever lived: Robert.

To me, he was a grown man: tall, strong, unafraid. He was probably all of eighteen. No doubt working his way through his summer vacation, he had spent the morning administering tests with rigid Red Cross requirements. His lunch was waiting, the pool was just about to open to the public, and his job was to flunk me for refusing to leap off the board. Instead, he climbed the ladder with me. Standing together above the abyss, he held my hand and encouraged me to jump with him. He promised me two things: he wouldn’t make me, and he wouldn’t let anything happen to me.

We stood there a long, long time. He never threatened to leave me, or send me back to Advanced Beginners. He just waited.

Finally, we jumped. And I had been right- it was a long way to the water. Plunging deeply into the heart of the blue, the feeling of panic gave way to relief when I realized my hand was still firmly in his. We kicked our way skyward, came up to the surface, and swam to the side of the pool.

To this day, I remember feeling safe with him, trusting him, and the wave of gratitude that washed over my heart. Almost fifty years later I remember him vividly; I think because he was so like the Savior I eventually came to know. As I stand on the brink of a new year with its possibilities and pitfalls, I stand unafraid because Jesus holds my hand, my heart, and my life. Into the depths of 2012 we plunge!

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul– Deuteronomy 4:29 NIV

© 2012 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com.


  1. Danielle says:

    I love the way you see Jesus in everyday activities. I am amazed that you can remember the name of the lifeguard that held your hand. Isn’t it wonderful to have the opportunity to be Jesus to someone as they plunge into the uncertainty the future holds?

  2. Rachel Ophoff says:

    Thank you, my friend. And yes, it is wonderful. Normally we don’t know when we get to be Jesus to someone, as I’m sure Robert had no idea what it meant to me, even fifty years later. I hope I see him when I get to Heaven!

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