Water Wings

By Rachel Dowda

When I moved home two summers ago, I started seeing a therapist; the room was full of dollhouses and barbies staring at me and it just didn't work out. I cancelled the next appointment because I was "out of town" and never rescheduled. I was never too great at goodbyes.

I found another lady and liked her immediately. She didn’t have cliche quotes hung up, creepy statues of angels, or throw blankets. And no dolls. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch her name, and after two visits I felt like it was late to ask. I couldn’t say, "Excuse me, I just told you all of my secrets but I didn't catch your name a month ago". Too late, should have thought of that sooner. 

One day, while I was talking to the nameless therapist, she told me about water wing friends. As she was talking, Spirit whispered, "pay attention Rach, this is big".

I had just finished telling her how the previous week I had messed up in an area I'd messed up hundreds of times before. I felt embarrassed and angry at myself even though the friend I'd wronged wasn't angry. I felt like that should have been it, that there shouldn’t have been any more chances, because I kept trying but kept failing. This friend responded with such graciousness and honesty; in a way where I knew I'd be loved even if I repeated the mess over again. The nameless therapist answered, "well it sounds like you have a water wing friend!"

Water wing friends are full of love and grace; friends who give you the chance to change and try new things and mess up while still being loved, still feeling safe. Some parents throw their kids in the pool and say, "better learn quick or you're going to drown," and the child's experience is fear and perfectionism. Other parents put water wings on their kids and say, "you can use these for as long as you need. When you're ready, we'll take them off". This takes away the pressure of unmet expectations and gives room for growth and trust.

Some friends are like this. They are the water wings to your weakness, holding you up, letting you enjoy the freedom of swimming without having to be completely ready to dive in. They give you the chance to swim with everyone else, to be included, instead of always sitting alone in the shallow end. By the end of the summer, you're able to swim on your own. And it feels so good.

It reminds me of something Anne Lamott said: "Grace is buoyancy, when we feel we are going under. Grace is water wings--"floaties", like little kids wear for courage."

These kind of friends are courage with skin on. 

A month after that conversation, I visited my spiritual family at Legacy School of Discipleship and went swimming with all of the students. It felt so good to be back to the place that's full of the people who are my home; I felt so loved and cared for those few days. We swam as the sun was setting and the backlight made everyone glow, like I was seeing a hint of how glorious we truly are. My friend, Trent, was smart as usual, and grabbed a life jacket to hold on to while I just jumped in. Five minutes later, I was tired of treading water. I'm a decent swimmer, but can't do anything special except stay alive, which I guess is the best thing you can do. My legs were getting tired though and I was swallowing a lot of lake water. Trent saw me and tossed me his life jacket. "You can use it for a while, I'm okay, " he said as he began treading. A few minutes later, after I recovered, I threw it back to him and was able to tread again. For the next forty five minutes, we passed the life jacket back and forth between us. 

resting, treading; resting, treading. 

I didn't see it until ta few weeks later, but that is such a picture of grace, such a picture of community built on vulnerability, which is the biggest pair of water wings you'll ever see. Sometimes I need people to lift me up under my arms, pull me out of the mud I created myself, and toss me into the water which is freedom and love and courage. 

giving grace, receiving grace; giving grace, receiving grace. 

Right now I'm using water wings for sure. I mess up all the time, and desperately need them to keep me from swallowing gallons of lake water. Then I feel terribly guilty for messing up, and I need them again. Then in my guilt I do something or say something and I need them once again. Grace upon grace. Except this house of grace isn't like a house of cards, which is fragile and easily blown over. Grace houses are more like the legos that can't come apart, even if you use your teeth or almost rip off your nails. They're stuck. And this house shelters me and keeps me warm and becomes a place of safety.

So that day I decided to go to Target and buy out all the water wings they have, and then make my way to Walmart and do the same thing. I needed to pass them out, and tell people to make sure they share them with each other.

resting, treading; resting, treading. 

giving grace, receiving grace; giving grace, receiving grace. 

 Rachel Dowda

Rachel Dowda