Time Trial


My boss was putting me to the test, and I was putting a scripture to the test. Meanwhile, my job was ticking away on a stopwatch.

I sat through the lifeguard training class in despair. Staring out over the pool, I listened as the instructor droned on endlessly, describing one lawsuit after another. “These cases,” she concluded, “have been warning flags for the Red Cross. There is a need to upgrade standards and for guards to meet new criteria in rescue skills. This, of course, includes the timed swimming tests you will all be taking.”

Ugh. I felt my heart sink. Two hundred yards in three and a half minutes—anything but that.

I worked at the pool as a swimming teacher and lifeguard. I’d been hired because I taught well. I’d never competed in high school or even been a fast swimmer, but it hadn’t been a problem, until now.

“Places,” she bellowed, blowing her whistle. We all lined up at the deep end of the pool, ready for a practice 50-yard sprint. The whistle sounded a second time and I dove in, hauling my arms out of the water. I plowed down to the other end of the pool, turned, and surfaced, gagging on what seemed like a gallon of water. I couldn’t breathe, my throat and lungs lost in a fit of self-protective spasms. Choking, I crawled back up the lane and a 60-year-old veteran pulled me in.

“Seventy-five seconds,” announced the instructor loud enough for the entire class to hear, not even a hint of sympathy in her voice.

I drove home in tears. I loved my job. I needed my job. College and a good job weren’t easy to combine. Kneeling by my bed in frustration, I gave way to the anger and tears. “I can’t do this,” I heard myself saying to God over and over again. I don’t know how long this desperate monologue continued, but at some point, into my mind came the words, “With God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). It was the scripture my best friend quoted whenever things got tough. She had it plastered all over her bedroom walls.

But I couldn’t accept anything as simple as this. Besides, the scripture had come special delivery to Mary, and Mary didn’t have to swim 200 yards in three and a half minutes. It had nothing to do with me. On I raged, furious, and again the scripture came into my mind. What kind of answer was this?

“No,” I cried, “I can’t do this. Don’t you understand?”

I was tired of humiliation and afraid that no amount of swimming time I put in would help me pass off the tests. But, despite the doubts, the words “With God nothing shall be impossible” returned and sparked a little hope into my heart. I asked Heavenly Father for help in getting my times down enough to make passing a possibility.

Heavenly Father’s help came from the least expected source. At the next class the same seemingly unsympathetic instructor took me aside and told me she wanted to help. “I can take all your times down if you’ll swim with me and follow the workout schedule I give you to the letter.”

Reality dawned. So this was Heavenly Father’s way of helping me pass. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, was the hope that he would just turn me into Janet Evans for a few minutes. I stammered out my thanks and my doubts. “I’m not so sure …” I began.

“It’s not impossible,” she said.

I stared at her in amazement—those very words. “Meet me here at six, starting tonight.”

The next four weeks I forgot about changing places with Janet Evans while I swam, dragged, and pushed my way through the pool. And slowly, every few days, the instructor would scream in genuine delight. “You’ve lost two seconds; you’re cruising. Now, get the lead out! Don’t stop.”

The instructors had postponed the final times test for me as long as they could. The day of judgment arrived, and I sat on the edge of the pool, terrified. A friend who’d passed his tests off a month earlier sat next to me trying to be encouraging. “I’ll follow you,” he said, “and whenever you start to slow down, I’ll tap on your feet.”

“Oh, Randy,” I groaned, “you’re sweet, but tapping isn’t going to do it; you’ll have to push. I’ve worked so hard, but I’m still off on that stupid 200 by three seconds. I just don’t know.”

“You can do it. Come on, she’s ready for you.”

I jumped in the water while the instructor set her stopwatch. Randy did a couple of flip turns and splashed over to my side. “I’m just going along for the ride,” he told her.

“Well, don’t get in the way.” She raised the stopwatch and gave me her ultimatum, “You can and you will do this.” Yeah, I thought, and next week we’re heading for the Olympics. Someone better warn Janet Evans.

I held on to the edge of the gutter, my feet up, ready for the push off. I straightened my goggles, and before I could utter a prayer, the words “With God nothing shall be impossible” found their way into my frenzied heart.

“Ready,” the trainer hollered. “Go!”

Off I went, swimming my heart out, Randy hitting my feet whenever I slowed the pace. The first 50 passed and then the next. The third 50 always hit me hard. With God nothing is impossible, I thought over and over, willing it to be so. I hauled through the last 50 and caught the edge, exhausted.

She screamed, “3:28!” I’d passed.

It’s hard to believe that swimming could become a spiritual experience, but through the power of a simple scripture it did. I found help from Heavenly Father at a time when I really needed it. I felt his love and concern and know that, with him, all things I want to accomplish that are righteous are possible.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus