“I need some help,” my friend said as she grabbed my arm. I trailed behind her and a very unsure little boy to the lane in which he was to swim at a swim meet yesterday. Her six-year-old was second guessing his pending participation in relay race.
I was at the meet to watch Fury. Okay, so most of the parents and families watched. I yet again failed to restrain my inner swim coach, stood on the side of the pool, and yelled encouragement to my child in the water. How does everyone do it? Keep themselves politely engaged and happy without all the “GO! GO! PULL! YOU’VE GOT IT!!!!”s escaping their mouths at full volume. Between that and my talking too much, I need help – probably in the form of a straight-jacket on my mouth.
My sweet parents came to watch Fury swim, too. It was like old home week for them. They spent hundreds of hours at pools across the state of Texas in my childhood. One of my brothers loved the water – and it loved him back. I remember him getting up almost every morning before the crack of dawn. My mom would drive him to and from the pool where he practiced for an hour or two. He would come home for breakfast, then head to school, then go back to the pool for afternoon work-out. His practices paved the way for swim meet after swim meet where my folks sat in stand after stand cheering their boy on. Even though I’m sure he couldn’t hear them or see them, they were there. Supporting him whether he won or lost.
So as I watched my mom and dad sit in a familiar place by the side of a pool, cheering now their grandson, I was moved by it all. Because, even though their swimming child has grown into an adult, he is still their boy. And to this day, they cheer him on. Even if he can’t hear or see, they still sit in stands believing the “yes, you can”s they yelled at him from a sideline on a day he wasn’t too sure about loving the water.
As I stood yesterday, at the end of the lane, with my dear friend and her scared child, I thought of my brother. And my parents. And I watched a mom do for her child what my folks did for my brother. Believe in him.
Crying his eyes out, the child refused to go when the first leg of the relay touched the wall. His mom sent another kid in his stead then got on her knees in front of the boy.
“You can do this,” she told him frankly. “I know you can.” She went on to remind him who he is, “I know this is hard. But, listen to me,” she had his sweet little face in her hand. “I understand you’re scared; but you can do this. You do hard things. That’s who you are. You can do this.”
I stood behind her watching him fight to hear her words over the tears that kept flowing. He listened and put his little goggles back over his swollen-from-crying eyes. He stood at the edge of the pool, watching his teammate get closer and closer to the wall, knowing that when the swimmer touched it – he would have to go, or they would forfeit the race. He looked at the vast amount of water between him and the wall at the other end. Tears started again. But his mother stood next to him. “You can do this. You do hard things.”
The truth is – she knew he could do it. She had watched him practice. It wasn’t going to be easy, but she knew he had it in him. She also knew that his jumping in and making a go at it would serve him well in the future. It’s called grit.
The boy’s teammate touched the wall, and mid-cry the little boy jumped in and started swimming his heart out. Everyone was cheering for the kid, because everyone had heard him crying – more along the lines of screaming “I CAN’T! I CAN’T!” and “I DON’T WANT TO!!!” About this time, his dad showed up, making it just in time from work. We saw him coming down the stairs to the pool. The swimming kid made it half way, then re-thought his decision and grabbed hold to the lane dividers and stopped. Looking back at his mom, the tears welled again beneath his little goggles. We all yelled “KEEP GOING! YOU CAN DO IT!” And then we added, “THERE’S YOU’RE DAD – GO TO HIM!” His dad had already knelt down at the other end of the pool, cheering, reassuring the boy.
So the kid let go, started again. Then stopped and grabbed the lane divider, begging to quit, but reached down inside of himself and listened to the truth, “yes you can” over the pool’s message “I’m bigger than you. You should be scared.”
Little stroke, by little stroke, he made it to the end. The crowd erupted. In almost the same motion of touching the wall, that boy got out of the water as quick as lightening. Beneath more tears, he smiled the biggest smile as he realized that yes – he could do it. He made it. He faced a fear and wasn’t defeated. It was such fun to watch.
Forty-two years ago, my parents did the exact same thing for their son. As they stood by a pool in Wichita Falls, agonizingly watching their boy struggle through tears to get to the other side, they yelled, “YOU CAN DO IT!” I remember – though I was young – cheering my brother with them. We all were. But as a kid, I thought my folks were mean to make my brother finish that race. He cried every breath he took. But even then, I knew that something about his finishing-what-he-started was good. They were there for him. He was safe. They were not going to let him drown. But they were also determined to give him the gift of not quitting.
I’m grateful for parents who believe in their kids and won’t let them listen to false messages or to quit. Today it is a pool. Tomorrow – who knows. But, yesterday, as I watched that boy and his parents, I wondered what mountain he will ascend thanks to a swim meet when he was six.
I can only hope I do the same for my kids.
Thanks for walking the road with me.
This is my brother today. I wonder if he does what he does due in part to his parents cheering him, not letting him quit, encouraging him with “You can do it” inspiration. He learned a lot about himself, about grit, pressing through his own swimming pool struggles. He is amazing.
2014 Annual Conference David Wills, President of the National Christian Foundation – PPT from Kingdom Advisors on Vimeo. David gives a glimpse into some of the great things going on in the world -through charitable giving (both of talents and financial resources) and Scripture translation.