Surviving Storms at Sea


In case you’re new to my neighborhood, let me tell you something about me that you may not know: I love the ocean. I was born for it. And God has used it to teach me some of the most profound lessons of my life.

About five or six years ago, while my brother was dating his now-wife, our family took a daytrip to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Oddly, I don’t remember why we chose that place. But we ended up there – Mama and Daddy and Little Grama Ruby and we three grown-up late-twenties-and-early-thirties children. But really, I didn’t mind the trip. I had always loved the aquarium as a child. I had, in fact, toyed with the idea of going into marine biology when I was considering colleges. And so even while we adults probably looked painfully out of place surrounded by hordes of small, shorts-and-sandal-clad children on summer vacation, we had a good time.

Now, I’ve been on lots and lots of trips to the aquarium. I know more than the average coastal resident about the aquatic ecosystems of the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. But that day, I learned something that came back to me tonight…

As a beach-comber, you may have noticed black shells among your finds. (If you’ve never noticed, take a look at the photo above, which I took on Shackleford Banks several years ago.) I had always thought that the black shells were just shells that had been created black. But actually, not all of them were. Many of those black shells that we see among the shell beds are shells that for millions of years (yes, really, millions) have been resting on the bottom of the ocean – so deep down that the sunlight doesn’t even reach them. And over time, these shells that started in shades of white or gray or orange – or a million other God-created colors – fade to black.

But then, guess what happens? A storm happens at sea. And in one of the many mysteries of the deep, God stirs the ocean, and dredges up the black shells, and allows them to wash back up onto the beach to see the sun again. And so that we can enjoy their beauty again.

Today is the birthday of a dear friend of mine. For the couple of years I’ve known him, he’s referred to himself as a “geezer,” but to me, he’s like a sweet protective brother or favorite wise uncle. And today is his birthday. And as I was praying for him – that he would enjoy his birthday and really celebrate it – God reminded me of the black shells from the deep. See, this particular friend showed up in my life in the middle of my angriest, most turbulent storms. And because he had been through storms of his own, God was able to use him to help me not to drown, but to come back up onto the beach to see the sun again.

I hope my friend really, really celebrates his birthday this year. I know that I do. I thank God for him each and every day.

Happy Birthday, Rick!

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  1. I was too busy being a curmudgeonly old goat to think sweet thoughts – but I do wish I had read this before starting out my day instead of near its notional finish line. It might have put a few more smile lines in my face – as it is doing now – and helped to stave off a bit of a grumble, which tended to color much of the afternoon and early evening.

    Thanks for the kind words, Sarah – truth is, I don’t do birthdays well regardless of all other considerations: no additional wisdom or graciousness is imparted by putting another notch on the calendar of life, just opportunities to acquire wisdom or to practice graciousness. Today? I just wanted to isolate. To be left alone.

    God, grant me the serenity to accept…

  2. Sarah Salter says:

    Rick, I knew after our last chat that you weren’t looking forward to your birthday. Thus why I was praying for you last night, and considering making you a homemade digital birthday card. I thought, “I can’t use a snow scene on it. He’ll kick my butt. What’s the opposite of snow? Maybe the beach.” And that was when God brought this whole train of thought into my head. Regardless, I hope you’re smiling now. And tomorrow’s a new day. And imagine! I gave you what you wanted for your birthday! I pretty much left you alone! 😉

  3. …and I’m smiling now – and I miss the warmth of the year. Thanks for not abandoning me to my own devices. 😀

  4. Sarah Salter says:

    Never let it be said that I “abandoned” you in any way. 🙂

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