Lessons in Floating

Last Year – When I was here at the beautiful Adriatic Sea last year, the Holy Spirit told me to go for a swim.  I loved the beach when I was a kid—what kid doesn’t?  But as an adult, I had come to associate the sea with many discomforts: the itchy feeling of salt water dried on the skin, oily sunscreen crusted with sand, fair skin that burns despite the use of sunscreen SPF 45, the sand that gets into places it shouldn’t, and a body that’s white and lumpy and looks better clothed than in a swimsuit—intense body shame.  So it was with all that beach-hating baggage that the Holy Spirit told me to take a swim.

Despite my bags and baggage, I did take a swim.  Leaving my glasses on top of my towel, I walked toward the water.  I saw something washed up on the beach that looked like a dead jellyfish.  I’ve been stung by jellyfish.  It’s like being stung by an electric wasp—definitely an experience I don’t want to ever have again.  But instead of turning back, I just laughed.  If God wants me to swim, then He has a purpose.  “Besides,” I told myself, “it was probably just a plastic bag from somebody’s beach lunch.”

I had decided that my act of obedience meant that I should get completely wet.  So I got about waist-deep, then dove into the waves.  After paddling around for a few minutes, I thought that I was finished.  But the Holy Spirit told me: “Lay back.”  I did, and discovered something wonderful: I float like a cork!  I am so buoyant that I can even float with my head above the water, toes above the water, and bottom down.  But laying back with my ears under the water was incredibly peaceful, and little by little I felt my limbs release their muscular tension.

I took that first swim fully clothed because I didn’t have my swimsuit with me.  I understood that swimming would be something I should do every day while I was here, so I knew I needed to buy a swimsuit.  The only thing I’ve hated more than the beach is buying a swimsuit.  The last one I bought online, and it covered so much of me that it was almost a throwback to the old swimsuits they used in the early 1900’s.  I knew that if I thought too much about it, I would talk myself out of buying one, so I just plunged into a swim shop and bought one.  It’s not bad looking.

A few days after that first swim the wind kicked up, bringing bigger waves.  Thanks to a breakwater, the big waves are tamed into choppy little wavelets before they reach the swimming area by the beach.  During my floating session that day, God (who had never repeated Himself to me before) told me: “Relax!  Relax!  Relax!”  And the little wavelets shook each limb with a different rhythm and out of synch with one another.  It reminded me of a Lamaze exercise in which your coach takes an arm and your teacher takes the opposite leg and they shake them in differing rhythms.  You are supposed to practice releasing the tension in those muscles and all the others in between.  And that memory tickled me so much that I laughed out loud—and a more profound relaxation followed.  God has the greatest sense of humor!

The lesson in physically relaxing taught me to relax when I’m worried about things going wrong.  Without going into detail (which you can read about in my book “Look, Listen, Love,” available from http://www.lulu.com/), I learned that I can relax and let God work out the things that I have no control over.  And when I do really relax and release those worries, God not only works things out, but blesses me in unexpected ways.  And one of those things, you can read about in my blog post: https://europeanfaithmissions.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/god-meets-radical-faith-with-radical-provision/.

This Year – I have returned to the beach, bringing two very dear friends with me.  The three of us have gone to the beach each day, floating and swimming, talking and laughing, praying and praising our Heavenly Father.

A lesson that God has been teaching me recently is to let go of the past—particularly past offenses and betrayals, but also past mistakes or bad choices that I need to forgive myself.  I have been working on it, releasing those people and things to God, forgiving and letting them go.  But every once in a while, the memory of these things comes to mind, robbing me of my focus and trying to rob my peace.  Whenever this happens, I try to release the memory as quickly as possible.

While floating yesterday, the Holy Spirit told me that, just as I had learned to relax my worries into God’s hands, I also need to relax my memories into His hands.  And lying there on the bosom of the sea, I did exactly that.

This morning during my prayer time, once again I found my attention wandering to a painful event.  Immediately, I said, “Let it go!  Let it go!  Let it go!” and I released the memory and returned my focus to God, my Peace.

When it comes to relaxing my grip on those memories, would it be wrong to say that I’m working on it?  I’m grateful that God is a patient Teacher.  God is good!

The Panic in Their Eyes

I don’t think of myself as a scary or intimidating person.  But with one word I can strike terror into the hearts of people in many countries throughout Europe.  And it doesn’t matter what that word is or what language it’s in.

Last evening was a perfect example: I was having dinner in the hotel restaurant here in Budapest.  Like most hotels and hotel restaurants in cities throughout Europe, the staff speak English—at least enough to do their jobs.  The restaurant was empty for a while, so it was just me and the two waiters.  One waiter, let’s call him Neo, had served me coffee earlier in the afternoon.  He spoke excellent English.

The other waiter had seated me then skittered off and busied himself with the task of removing one fork from each place setting on each table.  When Neo emerged from the kitchen the frightened waiter whispered something to him.  Neo came to give me a menu, then joined the other man in the task of fork removal.  I quickly made my choice and then watched as both men worked their way closer and closer to me.  The frightened waiter worked his way to me, skipping my table and moving on without once looking directly at me.  Neo, seeing that my menu was closed, came and took my order.

The thing I had done to so frighten the other waiter was this: I spoke English.  The poor man was terrified that I might speak to him in English.  I have seen this reaction many times in Italy.  I am fluent in Italian.  But even if I speak Italian, many times people will panic when they hear my English-accented Italian, fearing that I will switch to English.

And guess who is the most frightened of all: my own English students.  Some students who stopped coming to me for English lessons years ago will get that look of terror in their eyes when they see me enter a room.  When (if) they speak to me, they will speak only Italian.  Some won’t risk speaking to me at all.  In non-classroom settings, I have never insisted that my students speak English with me.  I prefer my social interactions to be relaxed and stress-free.  But most of them have never given me the chance to tell them that—in any language.

That’s not to say that all my English students are afraid of speaking English.  Many brave souls will speak English with me.  A few will actually seek me out for English conversation.  But those lazy ones who didn’t want to study, instead wishing that I would just open their skulls and pour the language inside.  Or maybe they want me to find the USB port in their brains and download the English language file.  Sorry to say, it simply doesn’t work that way.

One time I saw that terror reaction from one word to an American boy in his early 20’s.  He was sitting beside me in an airport restaurant in the US.  He asked where I was going, and I said, “Milan.”  He asked what I do there.  At the word “missionary” I thought he was going to throw up.  He quickly finished, paid, and left.  I’m not going to speculate on why he had that extreme reaction, but I do pray for him from time to time.

Then today at lunch the tables were turned on me.  I had ordered in English, and so enjoyed my lunch (chanterelle mushroom soup—yum!) that when the waiter took my plate and asked how I liked it, I answered one of the dozen or so Hungarian words I know: finom (delicious).  He answered something in Hungarian.  And every time he came back, he spoke to me in Hungarian.

When the frightened waiter from last night came to start his shift, my lunch waiter whispered something to him.  Now I was the one with the terrified look.  Here’s how my imagination translated that whispered sentence: “You’re wrong, Laszlo, she does speak Hungarian!  She’s been holding out on us!”