Soon, we began to experience the draw. The draw for something more. The draw for life beyond the horizon. There was something greater, grander planned for us and we wanted it. Life was not just money and happiness. Life has a purpose, there is a greater calling out beyond the horizon and we were determined to answer it.
We gave notice and packed what we didn't sell. We headed west to volunteer in church ministry. We believed that we would be able to meet our physical needs as easily as we had been doing it. Why would it be any different? Our feet were on solid ground after all.
As we were driving west to fulfill our destiny the financial world was collapsing. In a year Lehman Brothers would file for bankruptcy, but we didn’t know that and even if we did it meant nothing to us. These underlying financial struggles wreaked havoc on the local economy. Consequentially, employment of any kind became a highly sought after commodity. A local fast food chain announced they were hiring and the lines were two hundred people deep before eight in the morning.
Solid ground. Gone is the relentless drag of the deep abyss, the ever present reminder that oxygen is a privilege and not a right. Solid ground. Gone are the crashing waves that so indifferently and yet almost malevolently threatened to destroy the beauty of life. Solid ground.
We just got here, but we won’t be here for long.
We didn’t start out drowning, not many people do. Truthfully we didn’t even realize that we were in the water and needed to swim.
We met in college, we went from strangers to just friends to best friends and tying the knot in a little over 15 months. It was a blur and each step only got easier. In fact it was so easy and seamless that it gave reason for pause to ask if we were doing the right thing. Because surely life and the blessings of it are not just thrown at your feet you must fight for them and not just fight but win.
Our first six months of marriage were truly bliss. We were young and in love and not in want of money. We had good jobs and we were surrounded by friends and family. We truly did not realize that we were only in the shallow waters of life, our feet were on solid ground.
This is when we went under.
In the span of about two months we suffered a miscarriage and a falling out with our volunteer work. On top of it our dog got hit by a car.
Have you ever been pulled out to sea by a riptide. Its a dreadful experience. The terror that grips you’re heart is breathtaking, but there is a deeper truth that the terror stands upon. The unmooring from reality. The inability to recognize what you have already experienced. It is being set adrift without the tools to navigate.
What we thought we knew didn't make sense to us anymore. We found ourselves in a new environment, one that was harsh and temperamental without the kind assurance of the solid ground beneath our feet.
For the next two years we thrashed in the waves. We finally found employment, we came up for air. The starting pay was not enough to cover our yearly expenses, we had to wait for scheduled pay raises a year away, we dipped beneath the surface. We had our first and second daughters a joy of life, we came up for air. Added stress of caring for little ones began to weigh heavily on us, we went back under.
A slip, a stumble, that moment when you are running into the wave and the ground drops beneath you. But we could still stand with our heads above water, our feet were on solid ground. But for the first time an idea began to sprout in our minds. “What if there is nothing to stand on beyond the horizon?” It was unnerving but we shook it off and insulated ourselves with the self assurance that only other people find themselves in over their heads. But the idea, the fear was planted in our hearts.
Months went by and the cost of living only grew and the ground continued to fall beneath the surface. We threw ourselves into our volunteer work believing that serving a higher purpose would lead to financial stability. Employment opportunities only became more competitive and our volunteer hours increased, thus creating a catch 22 in our minds. Choosing between what we came to see as our identity and the need to eat.
We were barely above water but we could still feel the earth beneath our feet, the hopeful assurance that all was well and there was order in the midst of chaos. We had been holding onto what we believed were defining truths of our life and we believed that we would plant our feet on solid ground without ever going under.
It was time to swim.
Our wonderful sitter was overwhelmed and rightfully so. She was now watching a child who had severe food allergies and none of us were familiar with any of it. We needed to find a new childcare solution. We began to look but with our youngest daughter’s new diagnosis the cost of childcare had increased significantly. We began to run the numbers and we realized that we would be losing money each month by having them in daycare and we would be losing money by giving up employment to care for our own children.
This was it, we had felt the comfort of being able to steadily stay afloat, but now we were under water and sinking. The moment of sink or swim had arrived. We had been doing everything we could to avoid it but it came to us. In hindsight its easy to say this was a moment of providence, a pinpoint in time where the chords of reality have been manipulated by a higher power to produce a greater outcome. But in the moment it felt like death, and we were tired of dying.
For so long the fear of dropping into the abyss kept us from living. We weren't trying to swim we were trying not to drown. The fog of fear had been lifted and our purpose in the moment became clear,
We were actively picking up any side work we could find and occasionally we would find something, we came up for air. The nature of side work being what it is though, meant that that needed income was not dependable, we went back down. We had some support from family giving us occasional pushes to come up for air, but the truth was it was on us to swim and no one could do it for us. We were learning, we got better with our money and our budget. We started to tread water and for the first time in awhile we began to breathe.
The fear was still there but the adrenaline fueled panic of survival was subsiding. We began to believe that drowning was not inevitable, that it was possible to keep our heads up and who knew maybe we could even rise higher in the future. Right then, in that moment, our choices weren’t only limited to the timing of going under.
Then destiny came, the wave that changed it all. Until this point everything seemed gradual. We were drifting but unaware, without a sense of direction and purpose, just simply trying to stay afloat. We were both at work when we got the call, our youngest daughter had turned blue. She was just starting to eat baby food and her sitter fed her some sweet potatoes. Unbeknownst to anybody at the time, she had a severe food allergy to them. Her throat closed. It was a terrifying moment for everyone, thankfully she survived unscathed. What happened next was the wave.
We were moving, but without direction. Our North Star appeared our fifth year at sea. We had been serving a wide base of clients and were simply working for money. Then it dawned on us. We didn’t want money, we wanted to help people succeed. We didn’t want to trade dollars. We wanted to give people what they valued more than money. In short we found our niche. With that realization we gained our heading.
We swam with purpose, each stroke building the hope that this life at sea was quickly moving behind us.
In our drifting years we had incorrectly thought we spotted land many times, so many times in fact that we had become calloused to the hope that would build up in us. We didn't want to feel let down again. It hurt to labor so hard towards a false hope. When we saw that our niche was receptive of what we offered, it took us a little bit to believe it. We had heard the empty platitudes so many times that we had become jaded to actual reception. It wasn’t until we felt that distant but familiar surety beneath our feet that we realized we had arrived, solid ground.
The next four years were a transformative time. Our presence in the sea changed from the frantic thrashing of a drowning victim to the intentional and directional stroke of a swimmer. We went from welfare to self-employed, from food stamps to feeding others, from taking any work to providing high value service.
There was pain and it was painful to watch, each stroke was made with sacrifice. Our first forays into the business world were cumbersome and we had a huge learning curve to overcome. We quickly realized that harnessing our creative abilities was the best way to moving forward. We began to hone our craft and build skill sets. Many hours went into grinding it out, but with each hour we became better swimmers. We were moving and we began to realize that our life, our destiny was in a large part in our hands.
The further we swam, the more our business acumen grew, the more nagging the question that started this whole journey became. Why had we gone out here in the first place? Did we want to go back? No, we had a purpose, we knew we did, we just weren’t as sure of it as we had been before, back when we were on solid ground. We were no longer just surviving, we were looking to live.
The flood of emotions is always so hard to describe. Years of tucking our little ones in bed and not knowing how we could feed them in the future, years of battle internally and externally, years of the constant reminder that the abyss wanted us-was pulling at us-were all over the moment our feet touched solid ground.
We have been working, longing, striving for this moment, but not just this moment. Our years of struggle did not destroy us they made us strong. They gave us purpose, one that is not just to survive but to create and to build. That is not done here, on the beach.
We will not be here for long because we are headed to higher ground.