Secrets of the Deep

Jan 4, 2010 1478

—Tammy Brinsmead

The water was black. It mocked me, dared me, drew me into its swollen depths. I had always known it would be a cold swim, but on the day of the race reality wrapped its merciless arms around my shoulders and hung on.

A race briefing the night before had whisked aside all hope of a twenty-three to twenty-four degree ocean. Twenty-one, was the icy report. And I was ready. I had never been a quitter. I had trained for three arduous months, plonked myself on a plane and I faced my once naïve goal with gritted teeth and half a bottle of suncream.

The sunrise was amiable. The shallows lapping the sand eagerly soaked in its North Queensland radiance and I was fooled into a sense of bold reassurance. Four hundred metres later, my skeleton was crying out for a wetsuit and the warm bed I had left on the mainland.

Those eight kilometres, from Magnetic Island to Townsville, were the toughest mental battle of my thirty years. Peppered through my past were physical, emotional and spiritual challenges, welcome and unwelcome, chosen and unexpected. What made the difference that frigid morning was that I was fighting Tammy Brinsmead, and she was my only witness, judge and ally.

If you had asked me along any point in that race if I was an honourable person, someone to be admired, a woman of strength, I would have hung my head in shame. All I wanted was for the cold to stop. When the jetty finally bolted into vision, and the island’s mountains melted out of view, I was still thinking about stopping. I reprimanded myself for not adopting a heroic attitude of motivated optimism and was humbled to find I could not even command it at will.

I arrived on the beach with my body a chilly thirty-two degrees, shivering uncontrollably. The relief was indescribable. Huddled in towels, space blankets and the jackets of at least three strangers, I waited, mind numb. Slowly, almost reluctantly, the fibres of my body embraced the gift of warmth.

It was late that afternoon that whispers of truth crept into the edges of my race reflections. I had berated myself during the swim for ‘not coping‘, but realised that finishing was coping. A day later, I flew into my hometown and was suddenly aware of a new strength I had acquired imperceptibly. I could suffer and survive. And in the week that followed, I was restored by the gracious and humbling praise of my mates at the pool. It seemed that surviving meant something to them too.

In a quiet moment, I remembered also that Christ was probably cold on the cross—so much more than cold. And he hung on. For me. For you. For the friend who told me last night that she wonders if Christianity is a lie. For my mate in Western Australia who lost yet another person close to him in a car accident this week. For the homeless man who made me feel uncomfortable this afternoon. For the parent I interviewed last month, whom, I suspect, abused his child.

Christ held on through the cross, and he is still holding on. He is holding the opportunity that my friend may choose faith in brokenness. He is attending the funeral of my friend’s mate. He is living on the street with the homeless man, while building him a mansion in a place my heart cannot imagine. He is in custody with the parent of my patient. His arms are around me.

Sometimes I feel like my life, my Christianity, is simply a matter of holding on. I don’t feel like I’m winning. I’m not even sure if I’ll finish, but I realise that’s reality. Like my body lacked physiological resources to keep its core warm during the race, I lack the perfection of Christ to excel in this race to the grave. When I come home, though, my fellow competitors, and even God, aren’t going to ask if I sustained an attitude of hope, faith and love. What will matter to them and to me, will be to finish. God grant us that grace.

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