New ways in pool and church

First it’s the smell, the steamy scent of chlorine that gently infiltrates my nose as I enter the indoor pool arena. Then it’s the brush of a moist beach towel and the squeaky sounds created by bathing suits adhering to little wet legs and small toes gripping flip flops.

It’s time once again for swimming lessons and as I watch, among an audience of parents and siblings at our public pool, I’m impressed by how much better swimming lessons are today than they were when I was a youngster.

In the decades since I first entered a pool, I can see that we have not only improved our teaching methods, but have finally embraced the notion that if kids can detect the fun, they will venture into the water with greater courage and enthusiasm.

I don’t recall how old I was when my mother hauled me to my first advanced swimming lessons, held at the local high school pool and sponsored by the city parks and recreation department, but I recall the chlorine, the cool puddles of water, and the shivering. I also recall the terror.

I should not have been afraid. My first series of swimming lessons had been taught by Mrs. Graham in her enclosed, private pool. She was gentle and round and buoyant. She kept the temperature warm like a bath tub. She also wore a cap and posted a giant sign beside her pool that read, “Please don’t pee in my pool. I don’t swim in your toilet.” In this warm, slightly zany atmosphere, I learned to swim and dive with confidence.

But the high school pool was different. My slender body constantly shivered in the outside air and a large mural declaring, “There is no gain without pain” greeted me as I entered the pool area.

In time, I came to realize that they were a good group of instructors. I pressed through my own fears and went on to steadily improve my swimming skills as the summers progressed. But years later, as I watch little bodies eagerly hurry over to greet their young swim coaches, I realize this is one of several arenas that have vastly improved over the years.

God reminds me, in the gentlest of ways, that the good ol’ days were not always the best of days. New approaches can be better than old ones.

My favorite arena is church. Hey —- it’s a new day in a whole lot of them.

We church folks are finally getting the idea that a variety of first-rate opportunities, providing families with ways to grow and friends for support, is the best way to pass on the word that God is near and available to each one of us—whoever we are, no matter what our story may be.

What’s going on in churches this summer? Bands are playing. Breakfasts are being served and picnics enjoyed. Kids are having the time of their lives learning about God while they sing, play games, craft and listen to stories during vacation Bible school. Church libraries are providing the latest in life-guiding materials free of charge. Teens are participating in mission trips and going to camp. AA groups are gathering, people are losing weight, and small groups are meeting regularly to share the joys and sorrows of their lives with each other.

There are weddings and baptisms. Baby showers and music rehearsals. Board meetings and memorials. There are teas and potlucks and outdoor work parties. The isolation many people feel, living far from childhood homes and family members, can be relieved in part by developing family-like relationships with other Christians.

Church life that is filled with caring people, the spirit of God, and a host of opportunities is available to everyone. Come on ... dive in!

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