Surprised by Fish


Snorkeling was awkward and uncomfortable. It didn’t matter what was down there. It wasn’t worth it!

Be sure to go snorkeling, my friends had advised when I went one summer with my family to Hawaii. They told stories of amazing underwater sights—tropical fish so tame they’d eat out of my hand. I envisioned myself floating in the warm water with the sun on my back, discovering these wonders for myself.

When I actually arrived on the beach with the snorkeling gear in hand, I found it wasn’t that easy. In fact, I would have missed the experience completely had it not been for my brother, who had quickly thrown on his gear and was already on his way toward the water.

“Wait for me,” I shouted, flopping down the beach in my flippers, trying to put on my mask. I was huffing through the snorkel when I hit the water and was knocked down, scraping my knees on the sharp rocks. Salt water flooded my mask, and I swallowed a great deal of the Pacific Ocean.

I stood up coughing and ripped the mask off, trying to stay upright in waves that seemed determined to knock me back over. I did an immediate analysis. The mask was unreliable. The rocks were sharp; the flippers impossible. I would not be able to breathe through my nose. I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to go snorkeling. It didn’t matter what was down there. It wasn’t worth it.

“Where are you going?” I heard my brother shouting, incredulous, as I started back up to shore. I turned to see that he had emerged only a short distance away.

“You’ve got to see this,” he said, splashing over to where I stood, his eyes grinning behind Plexiglas. He adjusted my mask, gave me a quick demonstration, and then—despite my protests—absolutely insisted I put my head into the water.

I will never forget those next few moments. The bubbles cleared and I saw. It wasn’t rocks below but a delicate salmon-colored reef, covered with graceful sea anemones. Fins flashed by and I saw dozens of bottle-nosed fish striped in yellows, oranges, and neon blues. It was several seconds before I even remembered to breathe. I spent the rest of the morning floating alongside my brother, astonished at what one poet called the “high superfluousness” in nature. God made nature to be beautiful. He made me to feel joy.

I’m so grateful that I didn’t miss that experience and that my brother knew how much it would mean to me. I have had other experiences in life since then that were a lot like snorkeling.

I’ve also felt very uncomfortable fasting and then stepping to the pulpit to bear testimony to a sea of faces. I’ve never felt so awkward as I did when I was first called to teach. I’ve wondered if it’s worth it to immerse myself deeply in the scriptures. And I’ve hardly been able to breathe with nervousness when I’ve been about to share the Book of Mormon with a friend.

But there is someone who has kept me from retreating. It is Jesus Christ. Because of what I’ve learned about his life and mission, and because of experiences I’ve had when I’ve trusted him before, I know I can do what he’s asked.

I will never forget those indescribable moments when my heart has been touched and illuminated by the Holy Ghost. I’ve been able to see life in a wonderful, new way. I’ve come to know some things I could never have known except through my own experience. There really is a spirit self within me, unique and intricate in design, that shouldn’t be thrown over by discouragement.

[illustration] Illustrated by Ron Peterson