Last week, I took two very-much-needed days of comp time from work and break time from my life and went to the beach with my friend, Ginny, and her family. We talked, we laughed, we shopped, we ate. I chatted with her sweetheart of a husband and giggled with her two precious little girls. It was 36 hours of near-total relaxation and total lack of responsibility. In a word: heavenly.
I came home with a back full of sunburn and a heart full of memories. One of my favorites was when we were getting ready to walk across a parking lot at dinner time Thursday night and the four-year-old looked up at me with a serious face and said, “Miss Sarah, we have to hold hands in parking lots. I’ll hold yours.” My heart melted about then and I considered smuggling her home in my suitcase, but I’m pretty sure that Ginny would have a problem with that.
Friday morning, Ginny, the girls, and I hit the beach. The rule was that the little people could only go in to their knees and she stayed back with them. But as I’ve explained before, for a coastal native like me, beach rules are that you haven’t really been into the water unless you get completely wet from head to toe. So, I determined that even though it meant going out alone, I was going all the way in.
It wasn’t the sunniest day and it was a little breezy. The breeze added to the undertow just a bit, but I cautiously made my way out into the waves. And once I got out to the point that I was satisfied I’d gone far enough, I watched a flock of pelicans playing and thought about the fact that really, there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from a trip to the beach.
1. Keep your eyes on a fixed point.
When the undertow is pulling at you, it’s really easy to get dragged out to sea, or at least, way out of my place. My first impulse was to keep my eyes on Ginny, since she was the person that I was there with. The problem was that she kept moving. The girls were running up and down the beach looking for shells and sharks’ teeth and she was following them. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d be much smarter to keep my eyes on a fixed point. At the beach that fixed point was the aqua-colored umbrella that we had set our chairs and towels under. But in real life, that fixed point is Jesus.
2. Watch your back.
To keep my eyes on my fixed point, I had to be looking toward the shore. But if I was only watching the shore, I had waves coming at me from behind. Getting blindsided by a large wave is a really good way to get hurt or drowned at the beach. My years of experience told me that the best way to handle this was to turn sideways, where I could see my fixed point, and also see the waves coming up behind me. It was much easier to conquer the waves when I could see them coming ahead of time so that I could judge how to confront them. Some of them were easily floated over, but some were so large that I had to dive over them or duck under them to keep from being overwhelmed by them. Seeing them ahead of time made them much easier to handle.
3. Don’t go too far out by yourself.
When I came back to shore and collapsed on my towel on Friday, the four-year-old looked at me and said, “How come you went out to the deep end?” I brushed the sand from between my fingers and smiled at her.
“I like the deep end.”
And while that’s true, experience has told me that going out too far by oneself is just plain stupid and very dangerous. When I was 11 years old, my Mom had her gall bladder out and after her surgery, she shared a hospital room with a young girl who had been out swimming one evening, by herself. A wave had caught her unaware and slammed her into the sand. I watched this twenty-something young woman, lying partially paralyzed, in the bed next to my Mom’s and I knew that the ocean—though beautiful—was also powerful and dangerous—and sometimes deadly.
On Friday, I was careful not to go out further than the other folks that were out there. I’m a strong swimmer, but I only went out until the water was at my diaphragm when I stood up. And I stayed in close enough that if I got into trouble, I knew I could scream loud enough to alert folks that I needed help.
Honestly, I need to learn that lesson a little better in my own life. I’m often not cautious enough. I get way too far in over my head and then, I don’t ask for help because I would rather deny that I’m drowning and actually drown than for other people to recognize that I’m drowning. I’d like to say that I’m getting better at this, but the truth is that God often has to send “lifeguards” to paddle out and tell me to come back in to shore. But I guess that as long as I’m listening, maybe I’m learning, too.
Has God ever taught you a lesson at the beach? Does God often speak to you through nature? Can you identify with the three lessons He’s teaching me?