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The two times I drowned

January 17, 2018

7I was a little kindergarten-aged tyke, running around the edge of the pool between the teen swimmers and my siblings.  It was a grand afternoon at my father’s band camp.  Dad was the Norwin High School music teacher and quite a successful one at that, having won two Pennsylvania Bandmaster of the Year awards from the educational department of the Keystone State.  He was always coming up with great ideas to further help his band students, and Band Camp was a treat not only for the high schoolers but also for us Zockoll kids, because we got to ride along and enjoy the festive atmosphere in a camp setting.  And now we had the best time of the week:  swim time!

As the splashing and laughing went on around me, I got curious.  That middle-of-the-pool rope had plastic float devices attached to it every few feet.  I wanted to go and see if I could shake one loose.  In addition, I would be able to go into deep water safely since I would be clinging to the rope, so I quietly made a decision to go on my private adventure while everything else was going on around me.  I slipped into the water and made my way out to the first plastic floater.  I grabbed it with both hands.  The plastic bobber rotated and I lost my grip, slipped and plummeted straight to the bottom.

My next recollection was of being revived at the edge of the pool with scores of faces surrounding me and looking down at me anxiously.   Fortunately, one of the lifeguards had glanced in my direction, and through the dozens of swimming bodies had seen a little figure glide to the bottom of the pool.  I misunderstood the lifeguard’s words and thought I had officially “drownded”, as I told my mom and dad.  The experience was a frightful one and was one of the main reasons I developed thalassophobia – a fear of deep water.  I can recall attending a science camp in my freshman year at high school, desperately trying to appear calm while with sweaty hands hanging on to the side railing of a tugboat-sized craft as we chugged out into the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.  It was the first time in my life I could not see any land in any direction.  I was terrified.

I’m somewhat over that now, and I find certain deep waters utterly fascinating.

A particular type of deep water.  Allow me to explain, please.

My wife and I have had numerous talks within the past year about my restlessness in life.  Jill, bless her heart, has patiently listened to me as I tried – and failed – to express why I am finding a wandering in my spirit.  Is it because of the family?  No.  Is it the job of teaching?  No.  Is it wanting a larger ministry?  Well, I wasn’t sure.  I felt like, well, I was drowning again, and in a way, I couldn’t breathe freely.

The came the Israel trip.  “Perhaps you need time to get away,” said Jill. “Just stop being a teacher and be a student on this trip.  Relax and learn.”

That’s just what I did.

And the light began to go on in my thick skull.

We were walking through Magdala on an extremely hot day but I don’t think any of us were bothered by the temperature.  The week was incredible up to that day.  We had been to Gethsemane, the city of David, Dead Sea, Capernaum, Bethlehem .. just remembering it makes my head swim.    We were looking, reviewing, asking, learning, discussing, and most importantly, reflecting.

And here we were at Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene.  We were studying the foundation stone archaeological remains of the shops, the marketplace, and the streets where Jesus Himself visited and taught.  We walked and looked.  And walked. And looked.

I went over to the gift shop and – being on a budget – perused the T-shirts.  I found a nice shirt with the words DUC IN ALTUM written on the front below a graphic of a fisherman’s boat.  The cashier told me that it was Latin for “Put out into the deep,” citing the passage where Jesus told Peter to move out into deeper waters in order to get a better catch.  I bought the shirt and wore it almost immediately.  Go deeper.  Reach deeper.  I liked the phrase.  It fed a bit of that hunger I was experiencing.

However, back in the States, I once again fell into a questioning spirit:  Am I doing enough in the classroom?  Should I expand my ministry?  Am I doing enough for my home church?  Where do I turn now?

God then answered in the form of a remarkable quotation that both fed the Duc in Altum in me as well as guide my eyes toward the right direction in seeking an answer.

I came across a quote from Bible scholar John MacArthur as he told the story of his early years of ministry.  He cited a little slogan that has led his life in the ministry:

“If I take care of the depth of my ministry, God will take care of the breadth of it.”

He went on to say, “In a sense it’s sort of against the grain of a young man’s ambition to be driven by depth rather than breadth, to be driven by excellence rather than success, to be driven by quality rather than quantity.  Ambition sort of pushes you in the direction of ‘what can I do the biggest and the fastest’, not ‘what can I do the smallest and the slowest’.  Ambitious people tend to be driven by breadth rather than depth.  They tend to be driven by success rather than excellence and by quantity rather than quality.”

I got to thinking about that this morning.  I believe my perception of the teaching ministry was skewered;  I was looking to the width of the shore rather than the plentiful bounty awaiting in the deep.

That is what I believe God is teaching me:  to take those around you and cast out into deeper waters.  Yes, that makes great sense – I have a strong collection of students who meet in my classroom at lunch, desiring to be both hearers and doers of the Word. I get emails after school from teens asking about a spiritual question or concern.  I have students walking alongside me in the hall or meeting with me between classes.  They have questions.  I want to give them stronger Scriptural answers.

I want to get out the nets and get back out to the fascinating deep as I did when I first started my teaching ministry decades ago.  Better yet, I want to get a twin-screw driven Stern Trawler and head out to sea, Lord.  Dear Father, let me go to greater spiritual depths.  Let me take my classes – and myself – to as deep a Bible study as You will allow.  Let me shove offshore as they did in the schoolhouses and churches of centuries past and fill both me and my students with Scriptural depth that I could have never imagined.

“If I take care of the depth of my ministry, God will take care of the breadth of it.”

I think I found a very important answer.

I am breathing more freely.

Duc in Altum.


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