Our dog almost drowned.
My husband and oldest son thought it would be CRAZY fun to paddle in our tandem kayak at full speed from the calm brackish river straight into the foaming mouth of the Pacific Ocean.
Our little super-dog did not want to miss out.
He ran into the river and swam out to the paddling duo, where he was quickly lifted into the boat. I watched from the shore, with our three other kids, in semi-disbelief. Of course, these two adventurers would try this. Of course.
When the kayak reached the rocks– which formed a staggered pathway to the roaring ocean– our dog took one look at the waves and jumped ship. The strong current carried him into the water, and for a long five minutes, we saw him no more.
Our other son and daughter standing on the beach observed this and started screaming to our dog, then screaming for me to do something. The kayak crazies were doing all they could to maintain control of their vessel as they rode the waves; they could do nothing to search for our dog. (Disclaimer: They survived with nothing more than a scratch or two, but will never attempt such a feat again, much to the relief of the wife and mother).
I handed our baby to our daughter and told the kids to stop yelling and start praying. Ignoring laughing jeers from the beach (many Mexicans here do not see dogs as pets, but rather as wild nuisances not worth a second look), I ran into the ocean, stopping when I reached knee level. As much as I value the love my kids have for our rescued street dog of four years, I was not willing to risk my life for him. So I stood there watching, waiting, and praying.
And then I saw him.
I could see he was losing strength in all ways. It was dog against ocean. The wild and unpredictable sea was winning big time.
“Puddle (yes, that is his name)!” I yelled above the roar, “Look at me!” Miraculously, he heard and turned his little face to mine.
It did not take him long to realize that when he fixed his eyes on me, he was able to keep swimming and maintain a straight course, in spite of the incredible force.
A giant wave wrapped itself around his body, and again, he disappeared. I stood there, still calling his name. His face emerged through the white foam of the now crested wave, his small brown eyes on me. He swam with all his power towards me, determination in his fixed gaze. As soon as he was within a safe distance, I reached down and gathered his shaking little body in my arms, carrying him back to my cheering children.
“Did you see that?” I asked them as we all collapsed in the sand, loving on our courageous, exhausted little dog (to the astonishment of the onlookers). “Puddle swam, fought, persevered, and lived because he fixed his eyes on me. If he had kept looking away, and if he had not known and trusted me when he did see me, he would have perished. He just showed us what it looks like to fix our eyes on Jesus. Did you see it? Did you see what he taught us? We must remember this!”
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author, and finisher of faith. – Hebrews 12:1
To “fix our eyes” and “set our minds” is mostly about paying attention. What we gaze at intently, what we habitually ponder and believe, what we give our time and energy to, what we allow to exercise influence over us, is what we pay attention to, and therefore what governs us.
We’ve been given the fantastic capacity to direct our attention. Paying attention to the good, the beautiful, and the true (Philippians 4:8; Romans 12:9) is hard work. So much of Scripture is a narrative about God seeking to get the attention of his people, for we are ones who are ever “prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love…”
Paul was clear about the power of attention in Romans 8:5-6 when he wrote, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
Curt Thompson’s book, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves, highlights this very thing in verifiable scientific terms:
“Neuroplasticity is the feature of flexible adaptation that makes possible the connection (or pruning) of neural networks and thus the formation and permanence of [shame] patterns. And attention is the function that drives the movement of neuroplasticity. Via intentional attunement, we connect neurons… by attention we move them toward differentiation and linkage, bringing them together as an integrated whole. Attention is the engine of the mind’s train that pulls along the rest of the functional cars. Ultimately, we become what we pay attention to, and the options available to us at any time are myriad, the most important of which is located within us (48).”
We are transformed by that which we give our attention to the most.
Our good Father has been carving into my heart with a consistent hand, this incredible concept of “fixing my eyes” and “setting my mind.” This is not a leisurely practice; this is a movement of force on which my life depends. It takes an incredible amount of Spirit-infused discipline and focus. Much of the Christian life it seems, is about paying attention to what truly matters and maintaining a firm stance and stroke of perseverance.
It all hits home and pushes me to an entirely new level of this in considering our present life. We’re living in a small, insanely-hot-and-insect-ridden coastal village in southern Mexico for ten months so that our oldest son and I might study Spanish full-time. We’ve been serving in Mexico the past four years (my husband is fluent) and picked up quite a bit, but not enough by any means to continue with confidence and effectiveness. This is a critical time of learning both language and indigenous culture in preparation for our next term of service.
My attention is challenged consistently. What will I gaze upon with my thoughts that will then dictate my emotions and actions? Will I turn to the left or the right in distraction? Will I look behind me or will I keep my eyes straight ahead? Will I keep my hands to the plow and make a straight furrow?
How easy it is to waver in our calling and the long obedience it demands! I can pay attention to the impossibilities and unknowns. I can give emotional energy to the discomfort of having to use an outside bathroom and the fear of the scorpions and tarantulas we’ve found more than once in our little house. I can grow annoyed when looking up in my kitchen to see the iguana we’ve named “Joey” climb through the wooden slats upon which clay tiles sit to form our ceiling. I can freeze up because of my tense tongue in learning a new language. I can throw my hands up in despair, overwhelmed when I’m handed yet another set of verbs and conjugations to learn. I can sit at the chair in which I spend almost 8 hours per day in study, and simply cry.
Or, I can fix my eyes on the author and perfecter of my faith, whom for the joy set before him, endured the cross and scorned it’s a shame (Hebrews 12:1-2). Inevitably, Jesus has not asked of us that he did not also have to endure, nor did he leave us without an example of how to set our minds on the purposes of God with patience and perseverance.
In Matthew 6:23, he flatly said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” His eyes were fixed, his mind was set on the purposes of the Father. Nothing contrary was worth his attention. This is how he taught us to live. This is what he demands.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain. – I Corinthians 15:8
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! -Isaiah 26:3
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. – Hebrews 10: 35-36
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:24
For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18
It might feel as if we too are in the wild ocean, but he is on the shore!
Let us lookup.
Let us fix our eyes.
Let us set our minds.
Let us swim.
We will not drown.