what a hundred lifeguards taught me about my calling

No matter how much I wish they didn’t, my children love to go to the indoor water park. I can’t think of a worse invention on planet earth. (Besides maybe anthropomorphic rats. And canned cheese).

I have an idea! Let’s build a bunch of slides in a huge, dark-ish gymnasium. Then let’s crank the heat up to 275 degrees and add lots and lots of water. 

indoor water park

For hour upon endless hour, we walk around in our bathing suit without even the perks that bathing suits usually offer. You can’t get a tan because you’re inside. You aren’t motivated to cool off because it’s the middle of winter and you’ve been cold for three months. Not only that, but you’ve just realized your suit is super snug because the last time you wore it was August and now it’s the end of winter and oh yea, I have skin and oh no, it’s white like paste.

The first time we went to one such place, I was all geared up for what they call “fun” – wore my suit, sported my whiteness, braved the Totem Towers. But half-way through standing in line on wet steps with my shivering children, I realized I was miserable. Not to mention the fact that the man behind me was exactly eye level to my be-hind.

As I tried to angle myself into the railing, (both to have some kind of covering from my line-mates behind me as well as to protect my frontal area from the giant bucket of water that emptied itself every sixty seconds), I caught a glimpse of the chair section over to my right.

That’s right, the chair section. Row upon endless row of lounge chairs.

That’s when I realized the secret to the indoor water park, the secret more experienced mothers obviously already knew: don’t wear your bathing suit to the water park.

It sounds lame and party pooper-ish. I know. But this might be one of those times where it is appropriate to pull out the whole I carried you for nine months inside of me so now Daddy has to take you down the water slide.

And so, on our second visit to water hell, I came armed with my new-found wisdom in the form of a Sarah Addison Allen novel and a pair of long pants. Even though it was 275 degrees with air thicker than a Low Country summer, I managed to enjoy myself.

But I couldn’t focus on my book. There was too much going on, too many people to watch. The most fascinating among them were the lifeguards.

For all the ways the indoor water park disappointed me, the lifeguards nearly made up for it. These were no whistle twirling, chair lounging, teenage flirting type of life guards. These people were serious and focused – more special ops, less High School Musical.

First, there were a ton of them. Second, they each had a whistle in their mouths – Popeye style – and an orange life raft tucked under their arm at all times.

But the most compelling thing about these lifeguards was the fact that they were not only always on their feet, they never stopped moving.

It was as if they were each assigned an eight foot length of the pool. No more and no less. They were responsible for those eight feet and anyone who swam within them. They paced their assigned distance back and forth on the edge of the pool, eyes never leaving the water.

It was impressive to watch, as much as I hated to admit anything impressed me at the water park.

Their job wasn’t to watch the whole pool – just their assigned corner. Besides, there were eight more lifeguards spaced out perfectly around the pool, each doing their job, responsible for their small section.

pool chairs

Possibility can be as overwhelming as it is inspiring. At first it can feel terribly exciting to imagine anything is possible. You pin adorable posters in super cute fonts to your dream board on Pinterest and actually believe some of them. Until you sprint flat into the wall of your own limits in the form of lack of time, lack of energy, comparison, competition, and distraction.

Could it be possible we have it wrong? That the gift isn’t in believing we can do anything but in knowing we can do nothing?

Could it be possible that your limits – those things you curse and hate and wish were different about yourself – are not holding you back but pointing you forward?

It seems to me when I finally recognize my inability is when Christ shows up able within me.

But he doesn’t equip me to do every job possible, he equips me to do the job meant for me.

If you’re willing to face your inability, you might see something you desperately need to carry on – your limits can be a gift, showing you what is outside your circle of influence and responsibility so that you may embrace and focus on the small part that belongs to you and only to you.

Could it be possible that the reason we are so overwhelmed is because we are focused on the whole pool, forgetting our eight-foot assignment?

As I watched those lifeguards, a phrase my dad often says came to mind – You just focus on your corner of the pool. 

I know what he means now – You have a job to do and it won’t look like mine or his or theirs. It looks like yours. It isn’t the whole pool, but it’s important. The fact that you can’t cover the whole pool at once doesn’t mean you are a failure, it just means you have the wrong goal. It also means you need other people  around you to do their job, too.

Do you know what is in your corner of the pool? Do you recognize your eight foot assignment?


  1. says

    Emily, how much do I love that you posted this? We just went to GWL on Thursday and I posted about our trip today. I also mentioned how serious the lifeguards are!!
    Ironically, I’m fighting the comparison trip looking at our two posts today about experiencing the same place but as you say, I have to work my corner of the pool.
    I love your perspective and thanks for the encouragement.
    PS if we’re ever there together, I’ll totally read with you in the chairs and buy expensive Smoothies to sip on 😉

  2. says

    I have lots of friends who boast about taking their kids to GWL. And honestly, I can’t think of anything worse. I’m with you, focusing on my eight feet today. And trying to remain undistracted. Love your honesty. (BTW, my kids are introverts and hate that place, who knew having introverted children could be such a gift.)

  3. says

    Bravo, Emily. If I were reading this in a book I’d highlight the whole blessed thing.

    And this right here: “It seems to me when I finally recognize my inability is when Christ shows up able within me.” ~Yes and amen and I will remember this.

    Have a great week, friend. I love you!

  4. says

    I cannot tell you how much I needed this today. Really. I can’t tell you. It’s ugly and messy and I’m heartbroken. But. I believe I have “a section of the pool” I’m just not sure I know what it is anymore. I’ve kinda lost my way lately. Thank you for being a sign on my journey saying “Go this way”. You are always an encouragement to me. Strangers but one in the Spirit. How good God is.

  5. says

    Emily, I needed to hear this sooooo much today, my friend! And, it looks like I am not the only one! Thanks for a great reminder–focus on the task that God has given me. Don’t know why we make that so hard to do!


  6. says

    A girlfriend and I often say to each other, “But I could be anywhere.” We both have struggled with feeling like we are in Square One camp. It has been especially hard recently when I unfurled the big long ribbon of what if and chose to allow myself every option. Necessary mistake.

    I got washed under the mass of my limits. I could be anywhere, doing anything, but I wasn’t.

    Until one day I finally saw how much I craved small. Which I think you point out so well–I have a corner (wish it was the corner of a pan of brownies right now…). Knowing I have a corner means I can bring anything to it. I don’t have to live in the whole ocean, be responsible for every ship and sailor. Just this rock that I love and the 3 feet of water in front of it that sloshes just the way I like.

    Thank you for the encouragement image that says my wall, my limit, is actually my path forward.

  7. says

    This is so stinky awesome I can’t even believe it. First, I love that you hate the indoor water park. We’ve been not once, but twice, and BOTH times I got IN THE WATER, both days. At one point Brad said to me, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a human being with lips the color of yours.” (read: brilliant blue). I’ve been warmer snowshoeing in 25 below zero in the north woods of Minnesota.

    But your point about knowing and respecting and loving your eight feet? Brilliant. Totally brilliant. That’s my problem – I want way more than 8 feet, and worse, I want THAT person’s 8 feet, too, because her 8 feet look so much better than mine! EGAD!

    This is so good. I’m going back to read it again right now. And I never do that with any blog post. Seriously.

      • says

        I agree with Michelle, “stinky awesome”. And I say this because the last time I visited GWL, the guards closed down an entire pool due to an unfortunate poo incident. If you like watching them go about their daily business, you should see them on high alert;) They each had a job, and they stuck to it until the offending article was removed and the pool shocked back into use. I really wish I’d thought to bring the long pants at that point:)

  8. says

    Love this. Such wisdom here. Couldn’t agree more. My head knows…my heart sometimes forgets. Still working on defining my 8-foot assignment. Or, rather, waiting for it to be revealed to me, step by step. Thanks Emily.

  9. Sissy says

    I love this post. I really do. I’ve always wondered about GWL and if it would be fun, because let me tell you, water parks in Florida are amazing, but I always ended up sunburned and when the thunderstorm rolled around in the afternoon we were freezing under what little shelter was provided. What I do love now, is the kiddie pool at our pool, with the zero entry area. It’s warm, it’s shaded and I feel like I’m at the beach. The best of both worlds, I think.
    And yes, I do love the part about my 8 feet. There are days when I wonder if I working the wrong 8 feet.

  10. says

    Wow, this is such a well-written (and funny!) post. I get bogged down by the big picture a lot instead of focusing on where I am right now. There’s so much good I can do here in my own little space I’ve created, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m keeping up with everyone else.

  11. says

    This is fantastic, Emily! Truly. I’m with Kristen Strong in that I’d highlight nearly every word if it were in a book. And I’m with Michelle DeRusha in my pining for everyone else’s 8 feet, too; mostly thinking “shouldn’t I?!” as I wonder what I should do (ah, that good girl thing following me around).

    Focus here. Do my job well. In this moment.

    Solid counsel. And lived out, beautiful worship.

  12. Janet says

    I do think we get overwhelmed trying to do too much and partly I blame the church for that. We are told we will be known by our fruit. What does that even mean? I like to think it is the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians. Some think it pertains to our children. Some think it is good works.
    There are blog posts regarding God’s big dream for you and blog posts about justice and what that looks like. It is all too much.
    I am staying in the moment and trying to see who God places in my path and trying to really listen and be present with people.
    We need to be a people who rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us. After all we are the church, the temple of the Holy Spirit, not the building.

  13. says

    “Possibility can be as overwhelming as it is inspiring.” Seriously, Emily, I did not know this was how I sometimes feel until I read it. Like sitting down with the world at my fingertips, but unable to type even one word because of the overwhelmed and the “holy cow! I have the world at my fingertips.” But, well, I don’t. I actually only have 8 feet of the world. And I want to do it well. Like the cool lifeguards. Thanks for putting words to what I could not articulate.

  14. says

    What you said. And what your dad said. Yes.

    I’ve had lots of swimming pool struggles, as you know, so the fact that you wrote this is a real blessing to me.

    Want to know something interesting? I didn’t read this the day you posted it. I read it today when it was delivered to my inbox. And before I read this today, I wrote a post about my calling. So your title really captured my attention.

    You’re my hero.

  15. says

    Oh my word, cracking up over here in my little corner of the pool! You echo my sentiments exactly about the hell otherwise known as indoor water parks. We went to one 2 Christmases in Sandusky, Ohio. The whole experience was made even lovelier by the stomach bug half of our extended family got and the freak-of-nature rash my son exhibited within the first two hours of our visit. Not to mention that I’m kind of allergic to too much noise / barely-dressed people / bare feet / public water / floating band-aids.

    Thanks for the reminder that our limits can conceive possibility. And that I’m not called to patrol the whole water park / save the world; sometimes I forget. Oh and that I’m not the world’s worst mom because my kids and I don’t have the same definition of fun. : )

  16. says

    This is such a great reminder! I think that I am pretty good at not doing things that I am not gifted for but I do have moments where I get sidetracked with other people’s gifting or talents. As I get older, I am learning how important it is to stand my post and encourage others to stand their posts, the kingdom gets moved forward. In that, we don’t compare or deal with jealousy. We encourage and build up. We look a whole lot more Jesus.

  17. says

    What an awesome post, Emily! And, a great reminder that we all have limits and should focus on the talents and the gifts we know God has given us. No use in stretching ourselves too thin!
    Blessings to you!

  18. Jennifer Dawn McLucas says

    Ha! I laughed so hard my husband had to know what was up. FYI, he didn’t find it as funny. Apparently you and I are completely missing the point of indoor water parks. Or something. 😉

  19. says

    You have no idea the power of your words in my life today. God has put in front of me a huge ministry role that makes me hyperventilate. I’m getting read to print this post and read it 10 more times today. THANK YOU!!

  20. gina says

    Thank you, Emily, for your post. Your words give me such clear pictures that offer insight into things i struggle with within myself. After training and preparing for the task, i think i’ve stepped into the natatorium and am stuck just a few steps in, *completely overwhelmed* by the vastness of the pool, the number of people, the variety of their needs, and the weight of the responsibility represented therein. i’m not sure if i even know where my 8 foot area is, or how to tend it. If i’ve looked at it, i’m sure i’ve looked into someone else’s area, either wishing i had it, or thinking i’m better prepared for the job there than in my spot.
    Thanks again for giving me an image for this struggle. i feel like God can use it to get me to move forward toward my spot.

  21. Nadine says

    Oh, the humidity! I’ve never heard of anything quite so unappealing, but thanks so much – image may stick in my head & be good to share with other introverted mom(s). I told my husband I’d be willing to go to White Water – the wave pool’s about my speed, so I’ll be needing a lounge chair myself! It may be less than eight feet, but I’m pretty sure it’s where God would want me.

  22. says

    I needed this. Thank you, Emily. And as for indoor water parks–we’ve never been , but you are making me re-think it. Of course, Ohio winters can make you do desperate things to find a bit of warmth and fun–so I’m not ruling it out, not yet. I’ll be sure to pack my log pants and books if we go.

  23. Lisa says

    I read this twice and after visiting A Wyndham Resort( indoor waterpark) last week I can say my experience was totally different,yes there was Lifeguards,and yes I wore a bathing suit cover,but my experience was totally not yours,maybe because I am a grandmother,and thankful there was lifeguards and this was something I never got to experience in MY YOUNGER years,not sure but I think I missed something,I will read it for a 3rd time to see.

  24. says

    Thank you so much for making me feel less guilty about being that mom who “lets” dad suit up for such gigs!

    And for making this point so well. This is the article I’ve been wanting to write. You wrote it so nicely!

  25. says

    Love what you learned and shared. I SO have a visual picture of lifeguards “on the job”, in their section. We recently spent two summers in Glen Ellyn, IL and it was the first time witnessing lifeguards with whistles in their mouths and heads in constant bobbing motion. My cheeks and neck grew tired just watching! Thank you for confirming that God gives each one of us different passions and responsibilities.

  26. says

    this is exactly IT.
    thank you. you just let me let myself off a million hooks of possibility. i hate possibility when it rams up against contentment. especially in this culture of pinterest, facebook, & every other godforsaken (literally) comparison i make to paint myself inadequate.
    this is brilliant.
    & easily the funniest post i’ve ever had the pleasure of reading from you.

  27. says

    This is fantastic for so many reasons. 1.) I share your loathing of indoor water parks. 2.) I went to my first indoor pool party this weekend. On the way, my husband and I couldn’t stop enumerating reasons why this was the worst idea ever. You covered pretty much all of them. 3.) And, yes, I didn’t know you could go in pants! Fabulous. Next time.
    And 4.) “But he doesn’t equip me to do every job possible, he equips me to do the job meant for me.” Love that. Needed that. Thanks, Emily.

  28. says

    I love your story…and I feel the same way you do about being at GWL! I am not the only one. Thanks for the reminder that we have our own section to focus on…I needed it!

  29. says

    First off…this is so so well written! Secondly, thank you for posting this…It is so easy to be focused on others “part of the pool”….but when I do that…i am missing what IS in my part of the pool…my circle of influence and what God has given me. Such a fresh perspective and just what I needed today.

    Thank you.

  30. says

    Oh, how I needed to hear this reminder.

    And this: “…he doesn’t equip me to do every job possible, he equips me to do the job meant for me.” Yes. Just, yes.

  31. says

    oh my goodness you have no idea how much this resonated with me tonight. wow!

    I have been overwhelmed. extremely! And my kids have had to deal with the repercussions of it all.

    I remember reading a quote last year that I should have taken as a sign to not try and do everything or be everything “just because you’re good at something does not mean you should do it.”

    And there is some serious truth in that. A lot of us are good at many things. I, for one, am a very creative person. I love art in all forms, I love to create things and work with my hands, I love music and singing, I love photography and painting and creating a story, etc. And the problem is that I have tried to do all of it. Which has left me stressed out and lose all joy in creativity in general.

    I know that writing is something God has put upon my heart since I was very little. And I need to focus on that specifically. I need to pour my heart and soul into that one thing that God has gifted me with.

    SO thank you for pouring in more clarity and confirmation on what I need to do. You are a blessing beyond words!

  32. Kendra says

    This is one of my favorites. Hilarious and true. And I can’t stop laughing at the man in direct eye-line of your be-hind. That’s the WORST.

  33. says

    This is awesome Emily, and something I needed to hear.

    I have such a hard time focusing on my own work, feeling like that is enough, feeling like I’m capable of getting the job done…

    Thanks for a reminder to do what I’m called to, and to stop worrying about everything else.

    And thank you for the sage advice that Dad should get to ride the water slides with any future kiddos. I’m filing that away for sure.

  34. Corrie Weaver says

    I thought I was the only one who thought those water parks were horendous! Glad to know I am not alone. I cannot tell you how much I needed to read this today. I have a really big picture in front of me that is completely overwhelming me and I can’t figure out what my corner of the pool is. But it is a relief to know that I only need tend to my corner. I also found it interesting when you said you need other people around you do their job in their corner. That can make such a difference. BTW, I love reading your blog and your sister’s because ya’ll are so real, so down to earth and yet you both are so insightful and full of wisdom. You tell your stories (whicvh I love) with humor yet grace. Thanks a bunch!

  35. Jenny says

    Emily- I am dying laughing because I HATE these kinds of places! Just like you, I tried to do everything but I was miserable. I felt so wierd in line in my bathing suit with people on stairs below me…ugh. I had no idea you could just sit on the chairs. Also, the noise is what gets to me. I am a huge fan of outdoor light filled places :)

    This is beautifully written and I feel like it was just what I needed to hear!

  36. says

    As soon as I started reading, I thought about GWL–my husband and I went on a marriage retreat there a few months ago! Your words, your message, are beautiful.

  37. says

    I love this! It’s so true and can be applied to any and all parts of life, really. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged when you’re thinking about the big picture. This happens to me each day. I’m focused on the day as a whole with it’s to-do list and errand running and kid corralling, I forget how much easier the day can be by focusing on the upcoming hour rather than the upcoming 24 hours.

    Thanks for the reminder :)

  38. says

    I just found your blog…. and I’m so glad I did! It was the alcoholism post that drew me in, as I’m recently learning to release a very alcoholic and abusive father with no plans to reform.

    I love this post, though, because it really spoke to me! I graduated from college over a year ago, and I’ve recently landed a good job as manager of a boutique in a lively town. Sometimes I feel like I need to go further, push beyond, take the next step, spread my wings, go the distance. Your post gave me the permission to just stop it, already! I’m starting off my three day weekend (yay) meditating on your lesson. Thank you. :)

  39. says

    Props for going in their Emily. I would have never gotten this great perspective about the lifeguard if you hadn’t braved the 275 degrees, because you couldn’t get me to go there unless you drugged me :) Love this story the humor and the truth. I need to cover my 8 feet. :)

  40. says

    What a wonderful reminder: “But he doesn’t equip me to do every job possible, he equips me to do the job meant for me.” I’ve been struggling against my personal limitations lately, feeling like they’re so unfair, and “no one else” has to deal with them. I want everyone else’s job and everyone else’s part of the pool. It’s time to bring my focus home to just these 8 ft that I have before me.

  41. says

    “Overwhelmed” is how I described myself to my husband for about the last year. I felt like I had to do everything, which left me feeling utterly inadequate. I’m finally learning this lesson you’ve told so well — God doesn’t need me to be God. Just me, a channel for Christ to work through — and don’t channels work best when unobstructed, empty? Thanks for this, Emily.

  42. Pattie says

    For people in northern climates, indoor waterparks are THE only option. But I agree–they are not too fun for moms :) I appreciate this post.

  43. says

    Emily! Thank you. Needed this so much. My corner of the pool seems strange and obscure to most way out here in Roswell, NM. But it is our God Ordained corner for this specific time and season in our lives. God help me not to wish I were placed in a different 8 foot section but to steward mine like it’s the only section in the world. Thanks for a fresh dose of perspective. love love love your writing.:)

  44. says

    So, I’m pretty sure I’m the last person alive to read this post. I feel like I’ve seen it linked a hundred times. And rightfully so! I need to read these words, this Truth, every.single.day.

    But enough of that serious talk. I have two other things to say. First, this? “more special ops, less High School Musical” – one of the best turns of phrase I’ve read recently. I love that. And second, when I saw the Rats of NIMH movie as a kid, it gave me awful nightmares. So yeah, anthropomorphic rats are The Worst.

    • says

      Hi Mary,
      Nope, I read this after you! LOL. I’m so glad I did and that more are reading this Truth.
      Oh, I love that Truth-Phrase also! Truth. Amazing how refreshing it is!
      Have a JOYfull Day!
      Love Ya, Susie :)

  45. says

    Emily, this is so good! I can’t believe I missed it before, but I’m so glad someone pointed this post out to me. I love everything you say here, and it’s given me a lot to think about. Thanks for sharing!

  46. says

    Hi Emily,
    I came over today from Tsh’s (in)courage post. I love how funny this is, but this is what really grabbed me:
    “Could it be possible that the reason we are so overwhelmed is because we are focused on the whole pool, forgetting our eight-foot assignment?”
    Yes! This is why I can get overwhelmed–I’m looking at too much, trying to tackle it all at once, instead of taking an 8-foot assignment at a time. So glad I came over today. :)

  47. says

    Hi Emily.

    Tears. Through these tears I can see more clearly than I have for . . . I don’t know how long now.

    Heart-Pounding. Over the heart-pounding in my chest I can hear Jesus.

    W R I T E. Five simple letters forming OneWord365 for me. I know I can’t WRITE from my weaknesses but thru the Strength which He gives me as I keep my focus on my eight foot corner of the pool.

    Weakness. Weakness is what My assignment is to WRITE about.

    Tears. Through these tears and the many He has already collected, I can see that my thorn, my Gift of Weakness is His Strength in which I will be strong so others may run with what He has me write upon an electronic tablet.

    Thank You. Emily, you have a gift of weaving heart-words with authentic reality that is preciously, refreshingly enCouraging.

    {HUGs} Love Ya, Susie :)

  48. Karen says

    How did I miss this post back in March??? I just linked to it through Tsh’s post today on (in)courage. Leave it to you and your beautiful words to perfectly capture the feelings of being enough, thank you:)

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