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. 

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