When I was in high school my family sponsored a family coming to the U.S.; they left Vietnam in a boat with only the clothes on their backs and gold to bribe their way to freedom. They spent four days in a boat huddled together for safety and warmth. Their boat sank and they were discovered by a larger boat which took them to Malaysia. After weeks and months living in a forest fending for themselves then a refugee camp they were put on a plane to Chicago in the dead of winter with only shorts and flip flops.
These family members are visiting us this weekend and I learned for the first time that Phan, the mother, doesn’t know how to swim. She was twenty-nine when their adventure started, and with a five year old and a seven year old and her husband, she got in a boat to escape, knowing full well she did not know how to swim. Talk about courage and motivation. When I asked her how she felt getting into the boat, not knowing if they would make it out alive. She said she had no choice, it was the only way her children would have any kind of future. It was worth the risk.
They left everything behind in order to flee the persecution and death that covered their country. They risked their lives and all they knew with the hope that life would be better somewhere else. Their grandchildren are playing in our yard and their son and his wife are chatting with my family on the front porch. If you had asked them while they were sailing along those first four days what life they wanted, they could never have imagined the one their children and grandchildren are now living. It is an incredible story, one that reminds me the our first step of courage is the scariest one. Once we take that first step the next one is easier. The next step gets easier, and the you simply keep moving.
Sometimes in life we are not going towards what we want, we are leaving behind what we don’t want. It may be easier to identify what needs to be put behind us, what needs to get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror as we drive towards an unknown future. The decision to leave may be the only thing we are certain of, but it is the only option we see that allows us to survive as ourselves. When you face that moment and know that how you live now is not what you want moving forward, take the risk and get in the boat…even if you can’t swim. Your life is worth the risk.