On a recent Saturday, I caught a TED Radio Hour talk on NPR with Diana Nyad, the first person to swim 111 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida. For the next quarter-hour, I was spell-bound as Nyad shared her journey of perseverance, overcoming multiple failures, physical challenges, and pain so severe that jellyfish stings caused her body to go into convulsions.
Still, Nyad kept trying. In September 2013, the 64-year-old, former world-champion swimmer, stood on the rocky Cuban shore, preparing for her fifth attempt. “Find a way,” her best friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll, told her.
Nearly forty hours later, her third day of swimming, Nyad’s body was beginning to break down when Stoll called her to the boat. “Look.” Stoll pointed. Ahead, white lights spread across the horizon. “Morning is coming,” the exhausted Nyad said. “No,” Bonnie replied. “Those are the lights of the U.S.”
Fourteen hours later, Nyad pulled herself out of the water and onto the Florida sand, her dream accomplished. I heard this story just after realizing my own dream of signing a contract to publish a book about Ruth, my adopted daughter. I’ve never been stung by jellyfish or swam more than 30-minutes at a time, but I found myself weeping at Nyad’s mantra to “find a way” through the pain and challenges to reach a desired destination.
“You have a dream, you have obstacles in front of you,” Nyad said. “None of us gets through life without heartache, without turmoil; and if you believe and you have faith and you get knocked down and get back up again and you believe in perseverance as a great human quality, you will find your way.”
Although Nyad isn’t religious, scripture is full of words on perseverance, encouraging believers not to grow weary in doing good; to pray without ceasing; to continue through trials. One of my favorites says to rejoice, even in our deepest troubles, knowing that such experiences bring perseverance; “and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts,” (Ro. 5:3-5).
Still it is easier to believe while sitting in cozy comfort than swimming through the Gulf Stream in total darkness because the faintest light will attract sharks. It was easier when I held my beloved daughter in my arms, warm brown eyes smiling up at me, than sitting at my desk, aching with pain while writing about how we had to let her go.
But truth is truth, no matter what your circumstances. Whether you are on a difficult physical journey or a heartbreaking emotional one, God promises that he can use even your toughest experiences to bring you to a place of hope. Best of all, he promises to go with you and to help you find your way.
So swim through the fear and pain and sorrow, asking God to fill you with his love and peace and strength. Keep your eyes on the endpoint. Those white lights blazing across the horizon? That’s your destination.
Stories like Nyad’s help us keep going when we want to quit. To hear her inspiring talk, and those of other athlete’s who have overcome astonishing challenges, click here.