Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An Ocean of Stories: Patience and Faith

Your coffee and tea pots may be close to empty. And perhaps I have worn out my welcome, but how do I end a series that has been so dear? How do I write the last entry of a set of posts that has been cathartic in the writing? In the telling? I’m not sure. I rue leaving, but I leave you with this last thought, this final meandering.

One of my favorite books is Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea. She penned this book over fifty years ago, but the relevancy to today is uncanny. Isn’t that how a really good book should be? Timeless?  During our vacation I remembered Anne’s words:  

Patience, patience, patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.

During much of our time on the beach we combed the shore for seashells. We walked and walked and walked. We watched the never ceasing pattern of the waves—the pushing and swirling in and the pulling and carrying out. We felt the sand shift, turn and roll beneath our feet. Sometimes we walked side by side and at other times one was ahead or behind. 

We found a great many broken conchs. We gathered pieces of shells broken by the mighty force of the great waters. At first I lamented all the broken and fragmented shells. Saddened each time I picked one up and wondered how beautiful it must have been before it was broken. We kept many of them because the broken shells tell just as many stories as the whole ones. We marveled at the range of hues in their palette: oranges, corals, creams, peaches, grays and blues. We were intrigued by the designs. We found some treasures: whole shells scooped up from the barreling sand before the water could carry them beyond our reach again. We walked back to our room with Steve’s pockets stuffed with shells. But it was patience, endless patience, which filled his pockets.

Our bounty from our walks on the beach. 

The herons, cranes, pelicans and seagulls delighted us. Their aerial acrobatics defied gravity. Their descent to the surface of the ocean, their dive into the dark plane of water was breathtaking. 

The brown pelicans rarely settled on the beach—too ungainly and awkward. In the sky and on the water they exhibited strength and power, even gangly grace. The stately cranes and herons stood silently on the beach. Loners, not given to social interactions and graces. Abby stalked a heron, reached out her hand to see if she could touch him; she could not. In the mornings this particular heron waited for the fishermen to toss it a free meal—one that it didn’t have to work to get. And who could forget the greedy, gregarious seagulls? The sleek black skimmers flew low and skittered above the shallows. Flocks of laughing gulls swooped and landed and ate cheese puffs from children’s hands. This whole bird family was always congregating and gossiping and quarreling.

These were my thoughts on the ocean shore. The Father uses the ocean to teach me. Certainly it is not the only place I can hear the Father’s voice. It is not the only place I move into his Presence. It is not church. It is not fellowship. It is not his Word. It is not heaven. It is not paradise.

It is simply the ocean, but it is a tool the Almighty God uses to teach his children—to teach me. The Spirit led Paul to proclaim that all of earth declares the Father’s glory.

At the ocean small little me has a better understanding of the vastness of my Creator. At the ocean my faith is exposed and stretched. At the ocean I slow down. I stop. I sit. I breathe. At the ocean I live the words of the psalmist: be still and know that I am God.

It is the long unbroken line of the horizon, the up-turned bowl of the sky and the depths of the gray green water that enable me to see the unfathomable enormity and the unbreakable faithfulness of my God.

We walked the beach on the last morning, and I remembered Anne’s words again.

Patience and faith.

And I sighed. 

Neither of these can be hurried. They are not cultivated or grown in a climate of speed. Perhaps that is why we learn so much about them while we are on the beach. We tend to toss hurry and speed aside—cast them off like too tight and hot garments. We discard them so we might have a time of sabbath. 

In order to find a whole shell I had to be patient. I moved in this endless rhythm of watching the sand roll under the white foam, and I waited to see what would be released in the roll. If I dredged the sand all I found was grit and slivers and chips of what used to be. Dregs—like coffee grounds from a long forgotten pot. There was a particular moment when I thought about how sad it was for so many shells to be broken. At first it seemed such a waste, but then realization dawned, evolved slowly. If it were not for these broken shells we would have no sand on the beach. No building material for castles. No gritty path to walk in the dawn and twilight. Out of the brokenness comes something greater. Something more. And brokenness is never wasted.


On Lake Tohopekaliga and on the peninsula of Indian Shores I watched the birds. The take off and landings captured my attention and I filled with awe. I noticed that each bird was built and designed to acclimate to their environment. Oddly unique. The graceful flap of the wings, the build up of speed and the execution of sheer strength born on hollow bones stunned me.

The birds reminded me of people. I enjoy people’s personalities, their quirks and their idiosyncrasies. When their strengths and giftings —the leanings and bents of them—surface I am intrigued. And I am ecstatic when people find their wings, lay aside their awkwardness and fly.

Patience and faith.

That’s what Anne learned a half a century ago. And I discovered that she learned these lessons not on a seashore in New England, but on an island less than a hundred miles from where I stood. And truths are timeless. The lessons Anne learned fifty years ago were still available to me.

The ocean teaches patience.

There will be brokenness in this life we live. Honestly, it is inevitable, but it does not have to be wasted. The brokenness does not have to futile. If we can be patient, God will use the brokenness to build something new, something useful and something beautiful.

All the sparkling white sand that shoots silver when the moon beams on it, all those grains that glimmer blinding white when the sun shines on them are reminders that this incredible sight happens because of the millions of broken shells. Brokenness transformed.

The ocean teaches faith.

When birds rise aloft on hollow bones, they don’t doubt their wings will hold them. They don’t worry about their next meal; they just simply do what they are built and gifted to do: they just simply fish and fly. They don’t wonder if there are fish in the water, they just watch for them to surface—when and wherever. They know the feeding times of the schools. They know the patterns of the currents. But they don’t doubt the bounty that lies hidden beneath the surface of the water just because they can’t see it. But they do search for it. They will risk. They will dive in order to be fed. They will fly. 

I didn't want to leave the sea. I hated leaving behind the rhythms and rawness of it. I loathed to move away from the stillness--the leisure and the ease and the absence of strife. But life is in the strife. Yes, it is. It is in the strife and the struggle that we see the strength of our shell; we understand the power of our hollow bones. 

Someday those rhythms and stillness will me mine forever, but until then I must have patience. I must have faith. 

I am home now. The lessons of the sea seem far away. And I struggle to implement them. I grapple with the return to tasks, chores and schedules. Sadly stillness is not a readily available commodity. Stillness must be decided; it is rarely just simply found. I see brokenness everywhere around me. Everywhere. And I see faithlessness. Sometimes my own. But God is not broken, and God is not faithless. 

Patience and faith is what the sea teaches. 

It is what life teaches. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

An Ocean of Stories: The Until Moment

Steve and I seem to be drawn to geeky, nerdy things. Or so we have been told. To us the things we enjoy do not have such labels, but we tend to get labeled cheesy for many reasons.  

Often we dress alike, and most of the time it is not intentional. We enjoy the same kind of movies and books and events. The last major event of our vacation most likely qualified for every tag I just mentioned. Steve and I, however, have wanted to go to one of these events long before we met or married.

Kissimmee, Florida is home to one of the many Medieval Times dinner theaters; it is themed on a medieval joust and tournament with a bit of intrigue. A huge white castle stands on the main road through the town near Wal-mart and other modern establishments. The castle seems terribly out of place with its towers and drawbridge and white stone walls. This dinner was the last planned event we had for our vacation. Abby wasn’t sure about this, but agreed to go, good sport that she is.

I am not sure what I expected. I am not sure if I even knew exactly what I expected. The event asked us to be there an hour earlier than our dinner time, so we complied. That hour gave us ample time to peruse and shop at their many vendors in the great hall of the castle. They moved what would have been the village sellers inside the building. The market owners (souvenir sellers) milled around the keep hawking their wares. I am almost sure that this is what burst my bubble.

I realized I was expecting a very real and authentic experience. I wanted a castle with rushes on the floor and a fire in the fireplace and Irish wolf hounds sprawled beside the tables. I wanted the castle to be dimly lit, if not by real wall torches then at least by simulated ones. And I wanted a crown, but certainly not the paper one they handed us—one with tabs to attempt to make it fit any head.

I was disappointed.


Until the falconer entered the hall.

No one seemed to notice him. Perhaps the other guests were put off by his austere demeanor. The falconer was dressed in monochromatic colors: blacks, browns and grays. He matched his bird. 

Menacingly fierce. Haughty and aloof. Silent and observant. 

They mirrored each other—eyes moving to and fro. Watching. Compressed energy. I approached the falconer even though everything in his body language expressed for me to do otherwise. I was curious. And curiosity often gets the better of me. I fought the urge to reach out and run my finger down the bird’s curved head. Actually if he had asked if I wanted the bird on my arm I would have agreed with absolutely no hesitation.

Apparently in my enthusiasm I invaded the bird’s personal space. In a hard tone the handler eyed me.

“He’s not a friendly sort. He doesn’t like strangers.”

I stepped back. I had been warned.

For that few moments I experienced something unexpectedly authentic. The bird was real. Very real. It had been trained. Its hood dangled and its talons curved around the falconer’s arm. It swiveled its head and peered at me. Had I reached out to touch him I believe he would have snagged a chunk of flesh out of my hand.  His handler may have been playing a character role, but this was his bird. It followed his commands. It listened to his voice and submitted to his control.

This interaction changed the evening for me. After this I ignored the many anachronistic details of the whole production. Instead I looked and searched for what was real.

The horses were real. One horse, sent to the ring alone, performed while its trainers were in the corners of the arena.  Galloping and prancing into the fog. Silvery white—a flash. The great white horse danced. Elegant and graceful. Such contained power.

The feats of skill of the six knights were real. Their spears hit the targets; the relays were quick and fast. The lances pierced the centers of rings. They had the ability to not only ride a horse, but to command one. One knight’s horse decided it did not want to cooperate. Our heads turned following the rearing hooves and the shaking head. Our eyes were riveted on the drama, but the knight’s patience was visible and after a tug of war he prevailed; the horse at last obeyed. The jousting caused you to wince. The lances shattered when they hit the shields, splinters of wood sprayed across the sand of the arena.

The frustration of the acting knights was real. When one missed his target you could see the drop of his head, the muttering and mouthing of words perhaps better left unsaid.  

The food was real. The serving wenches brought us tomato bisque soup and poured it steaming into our pewter handled bowls. No spoons. Then they carried out enormous platters of chicken and potatoes. They placed half a chicken on our plates—succulently roasted and perfectly seasoned. The potatoes were steaming hot with a smattering of herbs crusted on the top. We ate the food with our hands, and the heat burned our fingers. And I smiled. We eat chicken fingers and fries with our hands all the time, but so much of an experience is about context isn’t it?

I searched for what was real.

During the tournament there were many other things that were real: my husband holding my hand under the table, his arm across my back, his gentle squeeze on my shoulder, his smile and wink, my daughter’s gasps of awe, her smile at me in the faint light of the arena and her willingness to do this nerdy thing with us—all that was real.

Gratitude washed over me, and such a sense of raw contentment and spontaneous thanksgiving bubbled up inside my spirit.

The gratitude, contentment and the thanksgiving were very real. 

God is teaching me in every arena of my life, every arena, to search for what is real. Through his Holy Spirit he is enabling me to find what is authentic

At the medieval feast (and in other places) I learned that sometimes my vision is impaired because the only things I see are the details that are not right or the elements that don’t fit. Sometimes my experience is warped by my expectations. Sometimes I don’t see the real because my attitude is out of line. Sometimes I miss the real because I am searching for the wrong things often in the wrong places.

But if we ask Him, if we just ask, he will give us our until moment.

And when he does—

Oh! When He does... 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Ocean of Stories: Deep Calls to Deep

When we got back from lunch the day of building our sandcastle we spent most of the afternoon swimming and playing in the ocean. We floated and dipped and tread in almost bathtub warm water until the tips of our fingers were ridged.

Now, I have a confession to make. I hate doing this. I just don’t like letting anyone know I have these strange little fears. I mean, really? I’ve held snakes, held an alligator, touched a tarantula, petted the backs of bumblebees and kayaked on the ocean. But I do have some little fears and trepidations, A  couple of examples: I don’t ride roller coasters (I can’t get off) or a motor cycle alone or with someone (I hate the leaning). There’s more, but they don’t seem relevant here.

But there’s one that is relevant and it’s the one I am reluctantly confessing. In 1975 I was nine years old. (You do the math.) That year a blockbuster summer movie premiered: Steven Spielberg’s JAWS. I think you may know where this is going. I saw that movie, and then my family went to Myrtle Beach. Yes, yes we did. Needless to say I wouldn’t go into the ocean above my ankles. My stepfather pushed, pulled and almost carried me out into water above my waist. I think I remember crying. I just knew that the great white shark of Jaws had not really been killed and he was going to show up and devour me.

I laugh about that now, but then it was a real fear. I'm sorry but it didn’t matter that it was actually illogical and highly improbable. It was real for me.

Jaws doesn’t affect me anymore, but that day in the ocean for some wild and bizarre reason Soul Surfer popped in my head. Just popped right in while I was following Steve and Abby out to the sand bar. My little, idiosyncratic fears just bubbled right up to the surface. From that point I was acutely aware of every leg and arm movement around and beneath me.  Yes, silly I know, but whoever said fears were logical? I spent quite a while trying to shake this creeping angst.

Steve and Abby moved steadily to the sand bar. We watched Steve closely to see where the water level hit him because he is 6’3”. Slowly I followed them. Ever on the alert. Hesitant. Reluctant. Jittery. And I was getting teased and ribbed by my husband and my daughter.

Did I ever mention out loud that I was afraid of a shark swimming beneath us? No, of course not. Oh no, I didn’t want them to know the real reason I was dragging my feet through the water.

And they kept watching me. Kept coaxing me.

My husband knows me well. He saw my reluctance. I am sure he could feel it. He knows that I am an adventurous spirit so something hindered me. Then he said it. I’m not sure how long he had been contemplating it in his mind. Perhaps it just spilled right out on the surface of the ocean and floated to me.

“What is it your blog says? Deep calls to deep? Isn’t that what it says? Why aren’t you out in the deep, Tamera?” His grin broke across his face and the knowing look was in his eye.

Abby chimed in too, “yea, Mom.” I just looked at her.

He knew. Steve knew what would compel me to swallow my fear. I  swallowed. I gulped it right down: it lodged in my throat. But I began to move toward Abby and him anyway.

He held out his hand to me. The water was over my head, but not his. And as he took my hand he pulled me to him and then swung me up and held me in his arms. I gasped, but wrapped my arms around his neck. And he laughed. I felt like a bride being carried over the threshold.  Abby grabbed my feet and then Steve walked a little deeper. We stayed this way for a long time laughing, joking and splashing.

Steve’s great, long arms held me in the water. Even when the waves hit him they didn’t seem to affect him. He raised me up just enough that the water wouldn’t hit me in the face. My arm curled around his neck and across his shoulder and held my other one in a clasp.

Funny thing?

I forgot about watching for giant shadows in the water. I discarded that fear when Steve scooped me up into his arms. Even when we decided to head back to shore the creeping fear was gone. Dissipated and dissolved not by my husband’s challenge, but by his beckoning hand and his strong arms and towering height.

When God calls you to deep water, Friends, he will carry you. When you are afraid of what’s lurking beneath the surface of things He will reach out his hand to you. He will pull you to himself and swing you up into his arms.

Eventually you will relax and forget the dangers in the water. You will rest in his presence. You will relax in the curve of his arm. He will not be moved. The waves will not overtake him. He will always be able to touch bottom. He knows what is lurking in the depths, and not one thing frightens him.

Many of you are being called into deep water. God is calling your name and you are afraid. Afraid of his calling and of what is in the water. You are remembering Jaws and Soul Surfer. You have watched far too many episodes of Shark Week. You just can’t move into the deep because of what might be out there. You just can’t. You see shadows and what you don’t realize is that they are your own.

Please don’t miss what God has for you. If he calls you into the deep he will sustain you. He will uphold you. He will protect you. He will lift you.

If you will trust him he will dissipate your fears and dissolve your reluctance.

I decided to trust Steve. I chose to take his hand. I reminded myself that he is much taller and much stronger.

Because I did make this choice I made it to the second sand bar—a place I had only been in a boat before.

God wants to take you where you have never been.  Out into the deep.

Swallow past the lump in your throat and trust Him. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

An Ocean of Stories: Side by Side

I suppose in many ways it was a silly dream. One that seemed to have no purpose other than just fancy. Just whimsy. Just wistful thinking. But I dreamed it anyway. Just one of those tucked away little things. But it was my silly, whimsical and wistful dream. 

Our second day at the beach we spent the entire day there. From early in the morning until the evening. We left only to grab lunch and rehydrate and refuel.

As I walked onto the beach that day I expressed this little hope dream. Just said it right out loud. Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing truly profound. Nothing overly exciting.

“I want to build a sand castle,” 

Steve looked at me. “What kind of sand castle do you want to build?” 

“A big one!”

He laughed. No, he did not laugh at me, but with the laugh that indulges all my idiosyncrasies, the laugh that says he enjoys my quirks and the laugh that fuels my wishes (which often don’t fit with the said appropriateness for a middle-aged woman).

“Let’s build one!”

And so it began. This dream wish of mine.

We didn’t have any real tools. No molds. No bucket. No shovel.

Steve asked me what kind of castle. Round? Square?  Towers? Moat?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

We played like children. Engrossed and immersed in our task. Two people grown, playing in the sand

I found a large bottle cap and began to carry water from the ocean to the building site. Steve found a broken piece of plastic shovel and a piece of cardboard. Eventually I finished drinking a bottle of water, and so my transporting of water became a much easier and more productive endeavor. But I still used the bottle cap; it was just the right size for wetting the places Steve was working. Steve held and pressed the cardboard against the walls of the castle to make them square, and I filled in the gaps with wet sand. Steve’s huge hands patted and pressed and flattened. Mine brushed, smoothed and rounded.

We had to change our design. Several times our towers crumbled and our walls shifted and slid. Or an idea simply didn’t work, but it didn’t seem to matter. We simply altered our plans and began again.

We built quietly. Intently. Diligently. Three word instructions or directions passed between us. For every creative endeavor each one of us introduced the other one would follow with matching and complimentary creativity. We didn’t discuss how we wanted the castle to look or even how big to make it. We simply worked together. Side by side.

One purpose. One goal. One vision.

And we used what we had. We used the tools given us. We employed what we already possessed.

And we worked side by side. We make a good team.

When we declared it finished we took way too many photos mostly because we understand the ways of the beach. We knew there would be a chance when we returned that the castle would be gone. For whatever reason.

Then we dipped in the ocean to cool our hot, sweaty and sandy selves. We left the beach to get lunch (that’s another story!). When we traipsed back a couple of hours later to our surprise and delight the castle remained. Another interesting thing? When we left only our castle stood on our stretch of the beach, but when we returned several other castles rose up from the sand around ours. And strangely enough the architects of those castles had copied details from ours.

I have built castles in the sand before. I have erected structures on the shores, but that day with Steve my morning dream became a reality. It had been accomplished together.

Side by Side.

This castle was far different than I had originally foreseen. The sand castle was more substantial and solid than I expected. And our castle of sand was far more beautiful than I ever imagined.

But isn’t that the way of the wondrous grace of God?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

An Ocean of Stories: The Two Towers

I hadn’t seen a water-dripped castle in a very long time. This effect caused the castle to look like two ancient and worn monoliths. Eroded over time by water and wind.  In the bright, hot sun they almost looked out of place. Certainly they were not your typical castles of sand. They were not made with preformed molds and plastic buckets. They weren’t square or even exactly round. The two towers protruded up out of the sand—momentary monuments of someone’s efforts and time.

The castle mesmerized me. I studied it. From every angle. It wasn’t elaborate. It wasn’t intricate. It wasn’t complicated. It was simple.

Its architects, however, were gone. Not a trace of them remained other than the two towers rising out of the sand.

We reclined in our beach chairs, low to the ground, and watched the people on the beach around us. The sun beat down, but a breeze was blowing (because of the coming storm) and it kept our skin cool.

Two gangly boys kept walking past us. Maybe nine or ten years old. Shirtless and barefoot. Their swimming trunks hung from their narrow athletic bodies and their heads were crowned with blond tousled messes. Their knees and shoulders and elbows were knobby angles. Their feet were already too big for their bodies. They ambled across the beach kicking sand.  Their meandering always brought them around to the castle. Each time they made a pass they would stop and look a little longer. At first I thought they were the builders, but soon their attitudes told me differently.

As I watched them I knew what was going to happen. You do too. These boys were contemplating knocking the two towers down. I felt coming. On the third or fourth pass one boy, the taller one, flung out his arm and took off the top half of one of the towers.  

I winced.

The second boy joined the first. Another flat-handed hit and the bridge fell. Another and the top of the second tower fell. Then with four or five arm swings and strategic kicks they leveled the sand castle. Nothing remained but a hollow and gaping hole.

As I watched I felt very sorry for the builders. I hoped they weren’t witnessing the boys’ free-for-all.What I really wanted was for them to be far down the beach or on their way home.

Nonchalantly the boys walked away. They never looked back. Not once.

It wasn’t their castle. They had nothing invested in the designing or the building of it. They knew it would collapse easily.

I understand that this was just a sand castle. These were just young boys. Anyone who builds a castle on the beach knows that at some point the castle will be gone. It’s inevitable. It is a sad, but true code of the beach.

But what caused me to pause was the bent toward destruction. What disturbed me was this nonchalant annihilation of someone else’s architectural endeavors.

I realized that at some point in life we have someone in our lives who destroys our dreams or we destroy someone else’s dreams. Occasionally we are just simply a bystander. But all of us at one time or another have knocked someone’s castle down or have experienced partial or a complete demolition of our own.  

We spend time building these elaborate dreams—shaky structures attesting to our goals and ambitions. We take the risk; we take the chance that they might remain for a little while. But the counter chance of this is that someone or something will come and tear down or even destroy these castles of ours.

Perhaps maliciously. Maybe haphazardly. Possibly just an accident.  

People’s dreams are fragile—like water dripped from cupped hands building frail monuments of grainy sand and salty water.  

More than anyone our enemy knows the frailty and instability of our castles. This enemy understands and is bent on destruction. He wants to level the desires and hopes of our hearts. He wants to knock our castles down and leave gaping, hollow holes. He comes to steal, to kill and to destroy. That’s his purpose. That’s his goal. It will not be haphazard. It will not be accidental. It will be malicious. It will be intentional.

Jesus warned us about the enemy and his intentions. He instructed us to build not on sand, but on rock. He asserted that the foundation is the most vital and important element in any structure.

Friends, if we are going to build castles and towers then let us build on something substantial and stable and strong. Let us build on Him. On His Word.

Storms, rains, streams, wind and little boys will come. The enemy will meander along our beaches. 

Please, dear Friends, please don't quit building. Don't stop the slow water-dripping of dreams. We have to build anyway. 

But know and count and stand on this: the enemy cannot destroy what has been built on rock. He cannot level what has been established on God’s promises, on his mercies and on his grace.  


Friday, August 16, 2013

An Ocean of Stories: The Storm

Standing in the ocean with the froth and the foam I watched the sky.

That first day on the beach was strange. The clouds were heavy and dark, billowing and rolling toward the ocean. We watched them come. The sky was an odd color, no longer just another hue of the ocean’s palette. We were thigh deep in the salty water and the waves were becoming choppier, pushing against us with more force.

Lightning sparked in the sky and then thunder cracked and rolled—echoing out over the breadth of the water—it was startling and unexpected. To see the lightning break that vast sky was a little unnerving. But even then the leisure of the beach atmosphere did not lend to people jumping out of the water quickly. Everyone took their time gathering and packing up for the day. Everyone was reluctant to be too quick to leave. There was a thin thread of the vacation kind of hope: perhaps it would blow over, move out over the ocean and not affect this space, this expanse of water and sky.  

Certainly we didn’t want to leave. Had we not waited for this forever? To put our feet in the sand and plunge our hands and heads beneath the surface? Hadn’t we driven for far too long and anticipated far too much for it to be ruined by a storm?

We stood in the water and watched the lightning. The lines were jagged and slashed the sky for just split seconds with more and more frequency.

We waded out of the water, pulling our heavy legs along with us. Experiencing the weightlessness of the water through the buoyancy of the salt had lightened the load we daily carry.  And we hated to leave that ease.

We packed all our strewn belongings and began to walk back to our little resort. Our flip flops made lots of strange noises and sand ground between our toes.

Inside we dropped all the beach paraphernalia by the front door, dried off and changed clothes. And that’s all the time it took. The storm hit. Actually it blasted. The rain pounded against the glass in sheets of slate gray. The wind whipped the giant palms outside our door, bending not only the fronds but the trunks first one way and then another. We looked out the windows and only the faint outlines of buildings and structures could be traced. It was early evening, but it was dark. And the dark was looming and tight against us, not the soft falling darkness after sunset on the beach.

The storm grew—building in its ferocity.

For a brief moment I was a little unnerved. It had been a long time since I had seen this kind of intensity in a summer storm, but I walked to our sun room windows and watched it from behind the glass. Instead of increasing my anxiety I found a quiet place of peace—an utterly still place. This is a place that can’t be drummed up or coerced.

We were in the middle of the storm, but we were sheltered, protected from the onslaught.

I left the window and we settled in with books, TV, ice cream and popcorn. We curled up in tight balls, all our limbs pulled in tightly to our bodies (except Steve). Later we went to bed and while we were sleeping the storm raged over and across the ocean, dying slowly down.

We woke the next morning wondering if our one full day at the beach would be marred by rain and more storms. But the storm was gone. It had left evidence of its presence. Water stood on the street almost ankle deep in places. On the sidewalks the water puddled  and debris littered the parking lot. Chairs were strewn wildly about within the pool enclosure. Broken palm fronds lay on our walkways.  Later we learned that during the storm a waterspout was spotted not far from us. But this morning the sun shone, glittering in the puddles and warming the standing water. The air smelled clean. The sky was brilliant blue and cloudless with little evidence of the battle of the night before.

Storms come. They happen. Regardless. =

We can predict them. Sometimes. We can watch for favorable conditions and patterns and currents, but all of these are only educated guesses based on often arbitrary percentages.  Some are only showers and sprinklings, but others are like our fierce and violent ocean variety.

We want God to stop the storms or pull us OUT of them. We want him to make them go around us or to blow right over. We don’t want storms in our lives. They frighten us. They unnerve us. They scare us. They inconvenience us. They trap us.

In our angst we ask for there to be no storms. We tend to equate the absence of storms as the approval or the affirmation of God’s presence.

This is not truth. Ask Joseph. Ask Jochebed. Ask Esther. Ask Daniel. Ask Peter. Ask Mary Magdalene. Ask Bonhoeffer. Ask Corrie ten Boom. Ask Mac Goddard. 

The affirmation of God’s presence comes in the still place, the quiet place, in the midst of the storm.  That peace comes when we look at the storm and realize we are sheltered from the onslaught. We know this. We’ve heard this truth touted too many times to count. And yet the clich├ęd use of this metaphor does not negate its truth.

We’re so afraid life is going to be ruined because of the storms. This belief causes ulcers and anxiety and fear. We worry we won’t be prepared to weather the storm. We agonize we won’t be able to endure the severity or the length of it. Because of these thoughts we often ignore the warning signs: the lightning, the thunder and the wind.

But our God will shelter us. He will cover us. He will put us in a safe place even while the storm rages right around us. We can go to sleep in the midst of the fiercest of storms if we know and are convinced that He is good and that He can be trusted.

And when we wake the next morning there will be little evidence of the battle during the night except that we have learned to trust Him a little more. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

An Ocean of Stories: Forgetting and Remembering

On Tuesday we drove (Again! Life is full of driving) to Indian Shores. Indian Shores sits on a narrow peninsula and in a sense you feel like you are on an island.

Our resort told us that we were just steps from the beach. Just steps. What they failed to tell us was that those steps crossed the major highway that ran through Indian Shores. There was a crosswalk, but it was not my idea of steps away from the beach. This just proves that we can look at anything virtually on the web, but it will never show us exactly how something really is. I got over this quickly—a few steps was far closer to the ocean than I had been in years, so I quickly quenched the complaining.

If there are any men reading this post, please ignore me. You can skip these next few paragraphs and just move along. I know you really just don’t get this kind of thinking. But the ladies do. They know. They understand.

Here’s a real kicker and dilemma about the beach: putting on a bathing suit is very close to a nightmare. NO, it’s worse than a nightmare because nightmares are usually confined to your room and inside your head—my bathing suit clad body was not. I tried to avoid mirrors or windows, but it was inevitable.

I had a decision to make. I could go down to the beach and wallow and worry and whimper (which would lead to withdrawing) about what I looked like or I could go down to the beach and laugh and play and worship. Those were my options. Those were my choices. One or the other.

That first day back at the beach I realized I had grown-up. Forty-seven years of living certainly had its dividends. I forgot that I didn’t look like the cover of Shape magazine.

I forgot? No, I think I finally understood that I didn’t have to look like those covers—it’s not required. Not by my husband (who really does love ME.) and not by God (who loves ME even more). To look good in a bathing suit is not a prerequisite for doing what I was called to do. I tried to tell myself the same thing years ago, tried to convince myself of these exact truths, but I was just too young in many ways to understand. But that day, that beautiful glorious afternoon I donned my red and white bathing suit, put on my white cover-up, slipped my feet into a pair of flip-flops, put my red sunglasses on top of my head and threw my beach chair over my shoulder and walked those few steps to the beach.

I spent that first hour at the beach getting reacquainted with the ocean. I felt like she was an old friend I had not seen in a long time—there’s an old familiarity, but there’s this time of remembering and returning and readjusting. For a long time I just stood in the water and gave myself time to remember the ocean’s rhythms and her steadiness and her force. I had forgotten that even on the edge of the shore the waves could rock me, and the sand would slip out from under my feet. I had forgotten the sinking, the endless whish and roar. I had forgotten the foam and spray. I had forgotten so many things.

But the remembering. Oh, the remembering and then the immediate experiencing was nothing short of delicious. I even enjoyed the grit of the sand and the salt on the upper line of my top lip. I relished the raucous caw of the seagulls and the tropical scent of sunscreen. I was engulfed and dwarfed by the endless curving horizon and the vast bowl of the sky.   

Somewhere in the crevices of my heart I remembered the words of the psalmist and I truly, deeply understood them:
The seas have lifted up, O 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

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