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Overcoming Hydrophobia

Water is fearful. Just ask Peter, who found himself in a fishing boat with the other disciples during a raging storm. He would most likely tell you how vast water can be—how the ocean makes you feel insignificant and terrified. Yet somehow Peter managed abandon reason to set foot on its glassy surface and for a brief moment, walk on water. Yes, he began to sink and drown in his own doubt, but as he did, Jesus was there to immediately pull him out.

Noah also had a fear of water. As a man who walked with God, he spent a hundred years building an ark without any visible sign of imminent flooding. While those around him went about their usual business, I imagine Noah became fearful of water in a different way—he feared its absence, that somehow there would be no flood and that his work would be in vain. But soon enough, raindrops plummeted from the skies like little beads of peril, and Noah received his bittersweet ethereal validation. While the waters ravaged the earth, in the midst of the chaotic flood, God remembered his servant Noah.

I recently graduated from UC Berkeley and found myself in the same position as Peter and Noah. God had called me to do something for him that required a lot of faith—He asked me to move away from my hometown in Sacramento, to Los Angeles to be a part of a church plant. I didn’t have a job, and thus had no means of supporting myself financially. I felt like Peter, unsure uncertain that the water would be able to support my weight—or rather, that my faith could keep me afloat.

And as all of my friends around me found employment opportunities in corporate America with high salaries and retirement plans, I found myself praying over fast-food dinners, and impecuniously counting the change on my dresser. (Ok, I lied. I can’t even afford a dresser.) In any case, I felt like Noah, who carried out his appointed task that seemed so unreasonable vis-à-vis the normal lives of his peers. But the way I see it, even Noah must have tossed doubt back and forth in his mind, monitoring the heavens for some ominous rain clouds. It will rain—it has to, he would say to himself, as if he could speak those words into reality. This is how I felt my first few nights in my new apartment in LA, lying on the ground in my sleeping bag, praying for some kind of celestial thumbs-up to validate my being here.

I tried pursuing a successful career in moneymaking: I faxed and emailed resumes; I submitted applications that yielded no responses from their respective employers; I even applied to graduate school, but was abruptly shot down. Somehow God in his infinite wisdom knew better than to grant me the life I had planned for myself. Through circumstances, and more often than not, through my own character flaws and inadequacies, God led me here to Los Angeles where I am learning to situate my life around His will.

Following God is a humbling experience.

I remember in elementary school, my class would take its annual field trip to Water World, a water theme park with slides and, of course, a wave pool. The most popular feature of this park at the time was the wave pool because it simulated the waves of the ocean, where a multitude of children could drag their inner tubes and casually ride the waves like buoys or driftwood.

I found this to be exhilarating and thought it best to venture to the deepest area of the pool where the waves were generated. That way, I could ride the larger and fiercer waves. As I navigated my way toward the deep end, I quickly realized my feet were unable to reach the ground. The waves crashed into me and dragged under to the bottom of the pool, far beneath the surface of the water that was blanketed with inner tubes. Nobody, not even the lifeguards, could see that I had been claimed by the waves and taken under.

And there I remained submerged for what seemed like hours but was in fact only a few moments. But within those few moments, I felt the unbridled panic, the soul-wrenching fear that came from the realization that nobody knew I was drowning. Without even a voice to cry out or the presence of mind to flail my arms in desperation, my body became subject to the undercurrents of the pool. That is when my arm somehow snagged onto an inner tube.

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I frantically clung to the inner tube that was occupied by a lady who didn’t seem to notice that she had caught a terrified, shivering Korean boy. I stared at her, and imagined that she would lift me out of the water and upon examination, find that I was not worth keeping and throw me back into the pool. "This one is too small," she would say. "I’m fishing for more sizable Koreans." At least then she would have been somewhat intentional in catching me.

But she was not deliberate in saving my life—she didn’t even know she did. I look back on that day and see my brush with death as a sign from God telling me that even in the crowded, chaotic pool, He noticed me. Just as He remembered Noah during the flood, God remembered me at the bottom of the pool. And as Jesus pulled Peter out of the ocean, God saved me from drowning. God was taking care of his little son, who was so fragile and helpless.

After 15 years, I am just as helpless as I was then, perhaps even more so in some ways. From time to time, I find myself impatiently staring up at the skies (usually after searching unsuccessfully for a job) waiting for the rain to fall. I find myself pacing my room, imbued with the anxiety of not knowing where the next month’s rent will come from, as if I’m stepping out onto the harsh and unforgiving sea.

But I only allow myself to feel this hesitation for a moment, and then I continue forward with what God has planned for me here in Los Angeles, because He has called me to do His work. Even though I have a college degree, I may end up working menial jobs that pay minimum wage for the rest of my life. But I have made my peace with the idea, because I know that when God calls his servants to do his work, he will provide for them. "Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid," said Jesus as he beckoned Peter to come forth. God extends that same invitation to me, and I have chosen to step out in faith. And yes, I am taking a risk; however, there is a greater risk, one that we are all susceptible to, which is the risk of living a life with neither the faith nor the courage to step out of the boat and experience God in a real way.

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