Tumbling in the Undertow

by Richelle Wright on January 29, 2014

I’ll never forget the first time I went body surfing.

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Desert-grown children trying Pacific surf for the very first time.

Only a tiny part of a much larger set of events, it remains vividly stamped upon my mind

  • Ten years old!
  • Traveling – on a plane for the very first time that I could independently remember!
  • On a trip with my swim team and without my parents – also for the first time!
  • Coco Beach, Florida – a truly different world from where I was growing up!
  • My very first Shirley Temple, with a maraschino cherry, even!

Yet something about the white sand, the shimmery rolling waves advancing on the beach, the seabirds soaring and squawking far above, the relentless sun, the brilliant blue sky and a still-to-this-day lesson learned (although not always well- learned)…  I occasionally dream of that afternoon, still.

My parents had forbidden me to play in the ocean. They understood much better than I the power of the waves and recognized my ignorance of that power as well as my arrogance in my capacity to handle myself well in the water. I wasn’t to do anything more than wade in the ankle to knee deep froth along the beach.

I’d promised to obey, but didn’t keep that promise and God was still faithful to teach me an invaluable truth.

One of the team chaperones offered to carry me out on his shoulders. TECHNICALLY, my feet and ankles were all that was in the water while Mr. Staten bore the brunt of waves splashing onto his chest and face. It wasn’t long, however, before I pleaded to try out the waves on my own. Conceding, he finally lifted me down (I don’t think he was aware of my parents’ restriction), turned me loose – although he also stood right there beside me, and laughed as I learned to jump and float through the swells and then made my first attempts to actually body surf in those gentle, rolling waves. I’d never done anything so exhilarating or fun, until…

Until the first time I didn’t quite catch the wave and ended up tumbling (or at least feeling like I was) like laundry in a front loading washing machine, scraping my chin and then my legs on shells or sand or something and then totally clueless once I stopped rolling as to which direction, and more importantly – air, were up. Then Mr. Staten grabbed me by the arm and yanked me up out of the water. Shoulder aching and with a much more realistic respect for the ocean, I, my bleeding chin and my wounded pride were through body surfing…  for that day.

I lived an important principle in those moments. (There was also a corollary I later learned when I got home, although I don’t remember if I actually told my parents about my infraction or if they discovered it some other way the way parents tend to do. They did realize that I’d disobeyed them. )

What was that foundational reality?

20140128IMG_0058God commands us to be strong and courageous, but He doesn’t typically intend for us to be brave all alone.

I probably would have been just fine even if Mr Staten not been there to help me regain my footing – but my tumbling in the undertow did mark me. In fact, it terrified me. If he’d not been there to help me… or if he’d not ventured back out into the surf with me the next time… I don’t think I would have ever given it a second try. I would have been too afraid.

That’s a lesson to which I still cling, today, over thirty years later…

…for there have been many times when, working internationally, I’ve felt all alone:

  • when I climb on a plane and I’m terrified of flying;
  • when I can’t understand what people are saying to me;
  • when I can’t make people understand what I’m trying to say;
  • when I don’t feel good and just want someone to come and take care of me, but no one does;
  • when I’m in labor on one continent, my husband is on another, and there’s a huge ocean and a desert in between;
  • when someone says things about me that aren’t true and the only thing I can do is stay silent and hope;
  • when our mission organization collapses, begins a legal dissolution and we are left on the backside of the desert wondering how to survive and what’s next;
  • when I long for authentic accountability, but it comes in a form that only makes me chafe;.
  • when terrorism creeps ever closer, ever nearer, and the security checks everywhere never lets my husband forget it;
  • when God tells us it is time to start over all over again, in a new place; and…?

It is a list which could continue for a very long time.

Every international worker reading that list can probably come up with an even more exhaustive list of their own “all alone” times. But that’s not the point. Neither is the fact that we are never alone if we’ve placed our trust and hope in Jesus, even though that is a beautiful truth that often brings comfort and confidence when enduring those alone times.

The point is this:

When I look back at those so lonely moments, I can also now see at least one, if not many, flesh and blood persons that God had placed there with me… Mr Staten’s, if you will, who were there and ready to grab my by the arm, yank me up and set me back on my feet when I felt like I was tumbling in the undertow of this missionary life.

Without fail, they were always there.

So what was the problem? Why did I feel so alone?

Often I declined their help… simply refusing to acknowledge their willingness to be there and to do what they could. Other times, I insisted I could handle it on my own – just me and God against the world. My pride and I wouldn’t let me admit any weakness or need. Then there were those times when I was taking myself and my own problems way too seriously. And who knows how many times I made the excuse that they just couldn’t understand.

I’m finally coming to an understanding on that last one.

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True enough – other people may not be able to understand. And that reality really doesn’t matter.

Equally valid?  Those with whom God has surrounded me absolutely might not be who I’d choose to rely upon for help or rescue, given my druthers.

Yet neither one of those facts prohibits a brother or sister or colleague from being willing, available and able to help stop my lonely tumbling. Neither one means someone else is not God’s provision to set me back on my feet… regardless of my preferences or what I think.

When I stubbornly refuse to acknowledge or accept this provision:

I’m the one who disqualifies.

I’m the one who denies someone a God-gifted opportunity to serve.

I’m the one who blindly refuses grace proffered.

I’m the one who needs to admit that I don’t have it all figured out and that I’m still learning

***************************************

As an international worker, do you find it hard to rely upon and trust other people during challenging times? Why or why not?

Look back. Can you see times when God “pre-surrounded you” with exactly the people you’d need? Did you accept or refuse their support? Will you please share your story and what you’ve learned as a result?

– Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • Marilyn Gardner

    I’ve been thinking of this analogy all day. Undertows are something I’ve always been afraid of. I appreciate the way you worked through this in the post. What came to mind are the unlikely people who have surrounded our family. At one point during a major crisis when my heart was in so much pain I could hardly breathe I was so angry about this very thing. It was in a moment of raw rage that God brought the most unlikely people, and they were the perfect people. But I would never have chosen them. Thanks for this post Richelle.

    • Richelle Wright

      yes… i’ve been so surprised by the people God has gifted me with – and sometimes frustrated with myself because i fought leaning on them for that very reason. 🙂 glad you could identify with this. thanks for your kind words, Marilyn.

  • Hope Egliht Johansson

    Some times I do find it hard to rely upon and trust other people during challenging times for three primary reasons: either my pride and expectations of others make me feel like I have to be perfect (especially if it’s parenting or marriage related), OR I feel like everyone around me is tapped out and I couldn’t ask anyone HERE for help because they can’t handle one more thing just like I can’t (like when I need someone to drive my kids or babysit for them last minute) OR I feel like no else on earth could possibly understand MY circumstance and MY situation because they don’t live in MY country they aren’t married to MY husband or they aren’t doing MY ministry- all of these reasons are so self focused. They don’t leave room for my savior. That’s probably the majority of the problem in the first place. God has been teaching me how easily I get stressed. Just after new years I sat a missionary conference with a friend and we talked about how difficult we find it to ask others for help. We promised to be that person for each other. God pre-surrounded her with me. What a blessing to be able to help her do some extra driving last week while her husband was out of town. The bigger thing I am learning is to rely on the Lord. To take a moment in those stressful situations and turn my face to heaven for the peace I need. To ask for prayer and depend on him IN PRAYER when things are bigger than I can handle. After 30 years of being a Christian, I should know this by now. But I’m learning it anew.

    • Richelle Wright

      i know when i’m inward focused, i’m blind to the opportunities and blessing all around, ready to be discovered. and i’m so glad has someone right there for you, right now. i love it when i pray that for my friends and then He answers!

      and frankly… i learn more about prayer every day, it seems!

  • Robert and Jenn McDuffie

    I must confess that this is a very real and raw subject for my husband and me right now as it seems as though there is really no one we feel we can talk to about what we have endured over the last five years of our lives, as full time ministers. It seems as though all those we have trusted, opened up to (about our lives, our struggles, and our flaws) and shared freely with have inevitably used the information we supplied them and eventually turned around on us and used our testimony as a weapon to against us.

    After having served on the mission fields of South Africa as well as brief times spent in Indonesia, Botswana and Zambia over the last three years we are realizing that our souls have been brutally bruised, beaten and battered and we sincerely feel like we are just two wounded soldiers, who are suffering from PTSD, and sincerely do not know what we are supposed to do next.

    Most recently, we have been the victims of an all-out character assassination campaign. For the last seven months, a man we used to consider a brother, friend and partner in ministry has been cyber-bullying us and our spiritual adopted daughter. Since the middle of June, e-mail after e-mail has been distributed all over the world. The slanderous / libellous lies that have been told about us in his effort to discredit us and destroy us are seemingly without number and downright wicked, abominable and completely against the Scriptures! We were warned by the Spirit that he would proceed with this kind of attack against us and were warned that he would recruit people from our past who were offended with us to join him in this all-out attack. The saddest part is he even persuaded the head of the ministry (which we both were ministering under) and that had under took our VISA to abandon us due to countless slanderous lies.

    At the same time the Spirit had warned us of the coming storm, He also spoke to us that we should not try to defend ourselves and that we should simply put our trust in Him and that He would fight for us. In full obedience to this word, we have not written a single word to defend ourselves until this very day. Much to
    our surprise, very few people have come to us, in order to inquire if what was being said about us was true or not and even more surprising was that in the end – only a handful of people stood with us and supported us on a personal level.

    It is even more surprising to us that not one person has taken the initiative to boldly denounce this liar and call him to account according to the Scriptures. Our provocateur has seemingly “gotten away” with his endless lies about us and also has seemingly been 100% successful at what he professed he would do from the beginning – namely destroy my husband and drive us out of South Africa! It is a great mystery to us, why we haven’t seen YHWH (the LORD) fight on our behalf through all of this, in the manner which we thought He would, according to the promise He had made to us.

    All those who conspired against us seem to be prospering (especially, in their “ministries”), while we have been completely discredited, severely wounded and scarred and left wondering what’s next?!! We honestly do not know what we are supposed to be doing just now or where we are supposed to go. Looking back, it
    feels like we have been living in the twilight zone for the last seven months and any moment now we’re going to wake up out of our sleep and everything is going to return to normal.

    Needless to say this has left us finding ourselves questioning anyone who may have the desire to reach out to us. We wonder if we can truly trust them with our very scarred, wounded and broken souls or are they just going to eventually wound us, scar us and betray us as well. I find myself wondering when certain people who are mutual friends with us and our previous ministry sponsor inquire about our well-being if it is because they genuinely care or because they have hidden agendas and motives behind their inquiries.

    It’s a difficult place to be and after five loonnngggg years of enduring one battle after another, we are both worn out and exhausted and left wondering, “What (if anything) are we doing wrong?” “Where do we go from here?” “Where is the mercy and compassion, in the body of Messiah, especially, for those who
    have truly given everything, for the sake of the call, and are left with absolutely nothing due to their obedience and total surrender to the call?”

    • Richelle Wright

      Sounds like you’ve been through several very challenging seasons/events/times, BUT that you are also asking some good questions. Still being teachable and wondering what God is saying through the often hurtful and/or sinful actions and words of other people and remembering that He works through even those circumstances (i.e. people that don’t love me but God still uses them to accomplish His good in and through me) means that you are willing/wanting to let Him redeem that pain. I think that’s a step to recovering and moving on after seasons like what you’ve lived.

      I’ve had a dear friend continually reminding me to take TIME to rest and begin healing from the accumulation of such a stressful, difficult time… to take space and time to recover and allow God to begin restoring your hearts. I’ve personally found it very beneficial to try and figure out what, out of all that happened in our last term, I could accept responsibility for or own, if you will. Where it was sin on my part – confess, repent and seek forgiveness. Where I was sinned against I’ve been praying for grace to forgive the sins, hurtful words, actions and actions be they intentional or thoughtless. And for those things where I just don’t know, I’ve been thanking God for refining and asking Him to open my eyes to see with His eyes what He wants me to see. The hardest part in all of that is taking the TIME.

      Personally, I’ve also been saturating myself with God’s Word, simplifying my space and my schedule (because that is calming and comforting for me), getting good and adequate rest, writing (my hubby says blogging – for me – is cheaper than a therapist 🙂 ), eating well, trying to get consistent exercise, reading a variety of materials, and have picked a new “skill” that I want to learn. About halfway through our furlough, it is starting to make a difference. Maybe in your situation, seeing a counselor in member care with your organization (who is outside of all these events) or talking with a trusted pastor or leader in your home church would also help you to sort through some of this. People outside of us can sometimes see things a bit more clearly that we can when we are struggling to keep our heads out of the water.

      It IS hard to trust other sinful people because we will end up hurt. It IS also true that there are some amazing people out there and we risk becoming bitter, withdrawn and lonely. May God start helping you to see the safe people He’s already pre-surrounded you with.

  • Water and surrender seems to be a reoccurring theme in my life right now. Yes, the feelings of loneliness and abandonment abound making a tough situation even harder. As you say, though, in each of those difficult times I can see the unlikely relationships divinely placed in my life. Thanks for writing this piece, Richelle.

    • Richelle Wright

      yeah. it was actually your last piece about sinking that started me thinking on these lines as well… you said that much more eloquently than i: “unlikely relationships divinely placed.” can i borrow that sometime? 🙂

      • You are so kind to me Richelle. Of course you can use that line… you inspired it! 🙂

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