Imagine swimming for thirteen years, with the goal of standing on the Paralympic podium, receiving a gold medal for Team Canada. You’ve gotten up in the early morning hours to head to the gym or pool for training. You’ve travelled around the world to compete and prepare, giving it everything you’ve got. You’ve persevered through injuries and a pandemic that’s caused havoc on your dreams. You know that swimming and being an athlete is where God wants you, but you are crushed again, when for the third time, you don’t quite make the Paralympic team.
That’s Danielle’s story, an upper year Concordia student with achondroplasia dwarfism, who spends some of her time learning about linguistics and theology, and the other part at the Olympic Stadium in Montréal, training to be on Team Canada. Even though her story hasn’t played out the way she expected, she still sees God’s hand in the midst and believes that he still has good things in store for her.
Back when Danielle started training and racing, she became consumed by her identity as a swimmer. Consumed with a desire to impress people and put on a show, swimming was all she thought about. If she did well, then she was happy and hopeful. If she did poorly, then she felt defeated and sad. It wasn’t until her mom sat her down a few years into her training that she began to see how her faith and her sport could intersect.
“One of the greatest pieces of advice was given to me by my mom. She asked me once, ‘Who are you swimming for?’ and I didn’t have an answer. She said, ‘If you’re swimming for anyone but God and yourself, you need to stop right now.’ She then went on to say, ‘Danielle, you’re a child of God, who happens to swim.’ I still say that to this day. I am a child of God, who happens to swim. I am a child of God, who happens to be a student.”
Swimming is the way Danielle gets to worship God. It’s not who she is, just how being a student, or a boyfriend/girlfriend is not our sole identity either. If Danielle never gets to be a paralympian, it’s okay because her identity in Christ never changes. Same for us. If I don’t make the honour roll, if I never get married, it really is okay, because my identity in God never changes.
When we no longer focus on how something serves us, and instead focus on God, we allow it to become an act of worship to him. Whatever we happen to be doing can be a way to glorify God. Colossians 3:23 talks about this: “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” That’s what helps motivate Danielle. Whether she goes to Tokyo or not, she is swimming for the Lord, and seeing his child use the skills he’s given her gives him pleasure and delight.
What do we do though, when the lack of immediate results just doesn’t feel like enough? When we are hoping, trusting, believing that this is where God wants us, but our circumstances are still not like we expected? Is it okay to hope and be disappointed when things don’t work out the way we expect? Danielle has a few thoughts on this:
“Never apologize for hoping and believing in your dream. God gives us dreams not because he promises to give us everything we want, but he gives us dreams to show us how far he is willing to go with us. You’re never alone in your hope, and your dreams are not a waste of time.”
It can feel discouraging when we have these dreams that God is taking his time to fulfill. It can even cause uncomfortable questions to arise:
Why does God allow these hopes and dreams to stay if he’s not going to make them happen?
Have I misheard God through this process?
It’s tiring to keep hoping, to keep trying, when we aren’t seeing the results we want. We want to see him actually take us the whole way, not just show us how far he is willing to go. But maybe (as cliche as it sounds) the point is to enjoy the journey to get there (or maybe more importantly, the one who’s on the journey with you).
Maybe that’s what hope is meant to truly look like. Walking with our heavenly Father, pursuing him and his heart above all else. Continuing to meet with him so we can know where he wants us to be for our betterment and his glory.
Danielle puts it this way:
“As Christians our hope is in Christ, it’s not stagnant but living. Look at the resurrection, Jesus is not dead but alive. We know it will get better, God comes out as the winner. It’s just not guaranteed to look the way we want it to. [But] to keep having this hope, I have to know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Wouldn’t you want to spend more time with the person who knows what you’re supposed to be doing? I know this is where God wants me. I won’t stop swimming until God tells me to stop.”
By spending quality time with God, Danielle confidently continues to train and swim even though things aren’t looking the way she hoped.
This past year, the pandemic has taught us a lot about what it means to have our plans changed, to try to hope while also holding space for disappointment and grief. Maybe you feel that tension; I know I have at times.
I feel it when I decide to keep following Jesus, even when my prayer for healing isn’t being answered like I hoped. When I stay in the city that I felt called too, even if adjusting to life there is messier than expected. It’s picking up my Bible on a day where the last thing I want to do is spend time reading it.
Praise God that in the tension our hope is alive, thanks to the miraculous resurrection of Jesus. We know things will get better, if not immediately, then in what’s to come. Which doesn’t change our current circumstances, but it can help us hold onto hope.
Let’s go back to imagining you’re an athlete, whose dreams of attending the Paralympics have been dashed. Imagine that while visiting family, you receive a call that a teammate has been injured and may not be able to go to Tokyo after all. You return to Montréal to continue training, waiting to see if your fellow athlete will be able to go or if you will take her place, since you were the first backup. You spend weeks in this limbo, wanting your friend to get better but also wanting the chance to attend the Paralympics. Trying to trust God through this rollercoaster of emotions. After weeks of waiting, the phone call comes in—you’re going to the Paralympics!
Surprise dear reader. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Danielle is going to Tokyo! You can cheer her on this August as she competes in the 100m breaststroke, representing Team Canada.
Go Danielle! We’re cheering you on!
If you’re interested in following along with Danielle—with swimming, learning about dwarfism or her favourite coffee spots in MTL—you can watch her vlogs on her channel This Little Light or follow her on Instagram (@dee_kisser).