Crying girls, yelling boys, pacing leaders — these aren’t phrases that usually come to mind when people think about their favorite vacation; but most people don’t use words such as hypothermia, Swiss nuns, or drowning to describe it either.
It began one year ago when I joined a leadership development team “Infuse” at Woodmen Valley Chapel. After spending nine months honing our leadership skills, they were tested as we departed on a 14 day trip through Europe. Nine days through London and Brussels left us fatigued as we arrived at peaceful Zurich, Switzerland.
While there, Paige decided to brave the frigid waters of Lake Zurich. The lake was huge (2½ by 12 miles) but what was the worst that could happen — I mean, Paige is a swim coach and lifeguard (however, at 98 pounds there isn’t much she can do to rescue someone from the middle of a lake) and as a teenager I guess I believed I was invincible. Rising to the challenge (despite the fact that everyone else backed out), I decided to go with Paige (ironically, the only swimming I’d done ended with 2nd grade swim lessons). Dipping our toes into the water, we quickly realized that mountain lakes are unbearably cold. Gritting our teeth, we pressed on; ignoring the voices telling me to return to shore I continued on and on — until we reached the far bank. Exhausted, I suggested we wait a while before returning. With slight hesitation, Paige agreed. Seeing my fear of the long swim back, she suggested that we walk along the lake to a narrower point. After walking over a mile, we found one.
Cautiously stepping into the water we shivered as the sun ducked behind ominous clouds. We began our daunting swim back to the hostel when suddenly the wind, current, lightning, and rain picked up. Somewhat panicked, Paige shrieked “Ashleigh, I need you to swim towards me quickly.” Without even thinking I listened and was thankful when I finally heard “you’re safe.” Looking back through the rising layer of fog, I saw a gigantic tugboat which passed just tens of feet behind me. Beat after that push, I floated — unable to swim any farther and stuck in the middle of the largest lake I’d ever seen. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore Paige interrupted, dragging me by the arm; I prayed as I’ve never prayed. Shortly, I recovered just enough to swim along. Fighting back tears and the waves that pounded my face I saw the warning lights flash indicating unsafe waters — as if I didn’t already recognize that! Taking the remainder one stroke at a time, Paige and I finally reached the far bank — the current was strong and had pushed us many miles.
Unable to move but too cold to stay put, we laboriously crawled to the end of the dock. We eventually got to our feet and shuffled our way in the direction of our hostel. Shivering and traipsing through Zurich in nothing but swimsuits, we stopped at a sign indicating that the hostel was a 2½ hour walk! The minutes dragged into what felt like hours. Exhausted beyond belief, I fought to take each step (I failed to mention earlier, I was fasting and hadn’t eaten all day) and decided to ask for help. Seeing an elderly man walking to his car Paige cried out “do you speak English?'” Startled, the man shook his head and pointed urgently behind us. To our astonishment, we were abruptly pulled into a Catholic boarding school by a nun. She quickly retrieved two blankets, sweatsuits, teacups, and scones. The Swiss nun spoke little English but called two other nuns that we now refer to as the “English-speaking nun” and “car-driving nun.” Eventually, they learned our story and quickly returned us to our youth hostel where our youth pastor was frantic, the girls were crying because they thought we’d died, and the boys were racing around in their self-formed search party. I learned a lot that day.
I learned to be aware of my surroundings. I learned to trust another person even in the worst situations. I learned that oftentimes help comes in unexpected places. I learned to take risks but to build in ‘safety nets’. I learned that even in times of hardship we must overcome all obstacles. I learned to count on God even in rough waters. But most importantly, I learned that I have the strength to push myself even when all odds are against me.
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