Last month, we vacationed in St. Augustine, Florida as a family. We’d never taken the kids to the Atlantic before that. For the past ten years or more, we’ve always gone to the Gulf side of the state. The waves are really gentle over there, but the east side of Florida gets pummeled by the ocean. In the mornings, the waves were cheeky, nipping at the feet of runners and sandpipers looking for little fish. But in the afternoon and evening, the ocean had worked itself up like a puppy that doesn’t know its own strength.
On one of those afternoons, Scott and I took our boogie boards out into the waves and onto a sandbar that was a little way out. We were jumping onto our boards and riding the waves out on our bellies seeing how far it would take us before we had to start paddling. But then we had to swim back to the sandbar to start again. The waves would shove us back to the shore but then suck us back in with so much force, it was actually scary sometimes how quickly I was getting caught in the waves and suddenly being slammed into the sand below.
A few yards away, two men were doing the same thing, but obviously had more practice. They were able to stand on their boards for some of the bigger swells. Scott and I would stop to watch them, impressed by how well they were doing. I surrendered after a while, getting thrashed too many times by the waves.
I swam back to the shore and saw a woman staring out to where the two men were. Her eyebrows were knitted together in a frown and I noticed she kept waving to them with both arms. Moments later, a pick up truck rolled onto the beach and a lifeguard jumped out and into the surf after the two men. I asked the woman if everything was ok.
“My brother is caught in the riptide,” she said. “He’s a good swimmer, but he can’t get past it right now.” I looked back out to where I had been and where they were and sure enough, one of the two men had drifted away further into the ocean.
Scott paddled back then realizing something was going on and we watched as the lifeguard took the man further out past the riptide to get him back in. He ended up being fine, but he looked tired. The woman was relieved that they were back on the beach.
I am telling this story because I thought it was a really accurate metaphor for life. You think you’re doing all right managing the rolling patterns of your days. But life can get overwhelming; you get tossed around by the waves of emotions or obligations. You tell yourself to “just keep swimming.” You can see the shore so you think you’re doing fine swimming on your own. You know the break is not far off. But before you know it, no matter who you are, or how good you are at life, even the ones who never seem to struggle, can find themselves in a state of panic not knowing how to get back to the shore. And it happens without warning. You know where you need to be, but try as you might, you can’t seem to get back.
Some days I pray and I feel so clearly, God is coming to my rescue giving me the strength I need to get through things. But others, prayers aren’t enough. I find myself calling for help. I am very blessed to have family and friends who answer when I need them. They’re my lifeguards and they help me find my way back. You know who you are and I am so grateful for each of you who have answered my calls or somehow had exactly the words I’ve needed to continue. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.
I found a great quote recently. ‘There are five types of people you want to surround yourself with: the inspired, the passionate, the motivated, the grateful and the open minded.” I am blessed to know people who embody all of those qualities and believe that having them in my life has saved mine.
The very few gleanings I’ve gathered in life have led me to be able to confidently say, find the people who lift you up. If the people closest to you make you feel negative, depressed, lazy, ungrateful and/or judgmental, reevaluate those friendships. Don’t be afraid to create a little distance from them. And also think about if you are the one creating toxicity in other people’s lives. We must be the things that we need in others. We attract what we give. It’s never too late to start again redefining who we are. Don’t worry if you realize you’re off course. There are times in life when we need a lifeguard and others when we can be the lifeguard. But the only way to become one is to swim, to live life as best as we can, succeeding and failing, sometimes all in the same day. We must use our failures to become stronger. Once we heal from our setbacks, we can grow and help others who are stuck where we were. It teaches us humility and gratitude.