I did a lot of odd jobs growing up. Cutting lawns in exchange for the goods or services of others, painting my trumpet teacher’s stucco-sided garage in exchange for music lessons, but what seemed like my first real job was working at the day care camp at the YMCA in Torrance, California.
It wasn’t really a job job exactly. I wasn’t on their payroll. The official Y employees/swimming teachers also had a day camp program for little kids. I would go to the camp and hang out with the kids.
When it was time for them to go into the pool, there were too many of them. They had the day campers all roped off in about a third of the shallow end, while the regular swimming lessons for older students and adults filled the rest of pool with their activities. There were really too many people in that pool and only one lifeguard. So my job during pool time was to make sure that none of the day camp kids drowned.
I had no training in CPR. I don’t even know if there was such a thing. There was mouth to mouth resuscitation. I remember learning that. I’m happy to say that I never had to use it. I’m also happy to say that none of the kids drowned. But I do remember pulling up a lot of kids who seemed like they had been under too long, their heads breaking the surface of water, sometimes laughing smiling, sometimes coughing, choking. Ocassionally someone drank water and needed to sit with me at the side of the pool to catch their breath and take a break.
My pay was a few dollars every day and free high-level swimming lessons. They taught the dolphin kick and the butterfly. I swam with weight belts on my chest. Sometimes I'd sink.
With this job, when I first started, I was so excited. As I look back, I can see God preparing me for years of ministry to kids and students even at this young age. I took my role seriously—watching after the kids in the water. But even the exciting becomes rote, you sort of melt yourself into the routine of swimming pools and kids, and it's easy to forget what you're really there for.
One day when I was off, I went to, where else (?), a pool. It was the municipal pool in my city’s park—kind of like Northside Park. The pool bigger than Northside’s, at least it seems like that looking back. It was nice to swim on my own, no kids to worry about, no weight belts strapped on. I swam underwater a full length of the pool. I was great. Then I saw underwater bodies heading to the ladders and the sides, everyone all getting out of the water all at once. I surfaced and saw what I never had to do myself.
The lifeguard on duty in the water instead of his perch, a child in his arms. The lifeguard rushing to the side and resuscitation efforts beginning immediately. Everyone stood frozen, all of us looking, wanting, hoping to hear the cough, the choke, the catching of breath signalling life. But in the confusion, pool staff rushing everyone to get out of the pool and out into the park on the other side of the locker rooms.
Minutes that seemed like hours later, the child was wheeled out to the ambulance, her eyes open, looking very much alive.
The pool closed for the rest of the day.
You can believe that when I went back to work on Monday, I was more aware than ever of every child entrusted to my care—watching, checking more than I needed to, making sure that pool time was fun time the way it was supposed to be.
It seems like such a long time ago, and yet the memory and the danger still seems fresh. My mind wants to take the metaphor of drowning to the people around me who don’t know Jesus—while I might be drowning in stuff or tasks or fears or worries, what about people who think they’re fine, but don’t know the storm around us all? What kind of a lifeguard might I be today?
This Sunday morning, in our Kindergarten Bible School, we get to tell the story of Jesus calming the storm. It’s my favorite lesson of the year. We make the boat and the storm and act it out as a whole group. And with all of the waves and the storm going strong, we wake up Jesus.
Help us. We’re going to drown. Don’t you care?
Real waves. Real fear. An ocean roiling all around us, swallowing us into death. All of it happening in Room 001.
And then Jesus gets up and says, “Peace! Be still!”
The Kindergarteners all at once are silent (at least it’s always worked so far). The storm is stopped. Drowning averted.
Jesus asks, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”