In my part of Florida, coastal volunteers often spend days replanting sea oats to prevent erosion from our frequent hurricanes. They watch and mark sea turtle nests and arrange lighting so that the baby turtles can get to the sea. Other workers replant baby oysters to harvest in later years. All these efforts demonstrate appreciation for the coastal life, for beach restoration. But there is another kind of beach restoration— the kind that the beach gives to me. Several weekends a year my husband and I escape to a nearby state park on the Gulf of Mexico. We don’t have to be sun lovers to enjoy the beauty of the location and the nearby shopping and restaurants. My husband parks the motorhome, puts out his pretty camp lights and reclines to watch his sports channels with the portable satellite. I have a different way to relax. I pack my bag with water, book and camera, take my chair on my shoulder and board my trusty bicycle. My time at the ocean’s edge is a connection to God’s greatness. It feels like He is so close, especially in the evening.
I’ve learned to appreciate the seasonal variations along the beach path through the pines and gnarled hardwood; There’s always something interesting: deer moss, spiral grasses with marigold-like flowers, bushy green clumps with tiny white stars, prickly pears, magnolias and a purple cluster of stalks that grows in the shadowed slopes between the hillocks of sand. Like a nine-year-old, I hurry along the boardwalk to get that first glimpse of a wedge of blue framed between the last roll of dunes. The surf’s sound previews the state of the water—sometimes a gentle roll, sometimes a menacing roar. The smell differs with the direction of the wind and the time of the year—sometimes there’s a rich scent of decay from deposits of sea grasses or dead creatures left after high tide. Sometimes it’s just clean salt on a brisk wind. The power of the waves, the variations of grey, navy and aqua, and the timelessness of it all intrigue me. It’s never the same, yet it is constant. The water is sometimes softly glistening aquamarine so easy a baby could play at the edge and sometimes gunmetal grey roaring angrily as the surf eats chunks away from the shoreline.
The path to the water and along the beach has become an old friend. I feel comfortable here to pray and sing alone. The noise of the surf keeps my words private and precious. The comfort of God’s presence here soothes and restores. I’ve spent hours here pouring out my heart to God as the sea murmurs. Like David, “I cry aloud to the Lord. I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him. Before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you [God] who know[s] my way.” (Psalm 142:1-3 NIV). Once on a grey November weekend a few years back, my husband and I received really bad news. I couldn’t wait to walk the beach. I took my sandy feet as far as I could to the edges of the park boundaries and stayed there weeping out of earshot until the grief was lighter and my confidence was renewed to face the problem ahead.
I’ve spent equal time here praising God for this good stage in our lives, for health to breathe and move freely, to sing with exuberance for the simple gift to relax in His beauty; these moments also bring me back to the Psalms. “The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.…” (Psalm 29:3 NIV)…”Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad…” and “Let the sea resound and all that is in it.” (Psalm 96:11 NIV). “The seas have lifted up, Oh Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea— the Lord on high is mighty.” (Psalm 93:3,4 NIV) This mighty ocean always gives me perspective. Before the power of the surf, I seem pretty insignificant. My needs, my wants and desires, and even my pitiful efforts to serve Him are dwarfed by His greatness. Here I’m reminded to trust in His enormous, eternal plan. The water’s edge is a visual connection to His bigger world—a reminder to pray for those on other shores, those connected by the water on this planet—believers I’ll meet in the future and others far away who need Christ. Sure, there’s the sand to get out of my shoes and my blanket. The book and water bottle seems heavier going back. It’s a long hike to my bicycle. But I’ll come again for the solace.
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