It is a basic fact that the ocean is vast and giant. Some see it as an abyss that has yet to be understood. Some see it as a relaxing or exciting form place for recreation. I see it as a mass of God’s creation, an endless opportunity for education and spiritual peace. After having spent five days and four nights on the most unorthodox family vacation of my life, I can tell you that the view alone of the Gulf of Texas was enough to set my heart at rest.
Ever since my mom spent her Spring Break booking and planning our first vacation after four years, all I could think about was the beach. If I had a hard day at work, it’s okay because we were going to the beach in July. If I had a test or performance that was wearing me out, I could make it through because we were going to the beach in July. As I reflected on my first year at the best school I’ve had the privilege to attend, I knew that I got through a good chunk of the Spring semester because we were going to the beach in July. I made lists, countdowns, piles of clothes, and even playlists months in advance. Heck, my mom planned my 20th birthday around the beach! Nothing could ruin the prospects of this trip that cost our family more than we can stomach. Absolutely nothing could get in our way of sandy clothes, salty air, and sweet family time.
Until we received our paperwork for our lodging.
See, I had spent nearly four months wishing for nothing but sand, shells, and saltwater falling through my fingers. I needed that simple paradise in my life as soon as I knew we were going. I held onto that, even as the week of our trip approached and our family received one disappointment after another. It was enough to distract my mom from the actual purpose of our trip – the beach – which absolutely broke my heart.
One night after dinner, my mom was just about to break down from stress. We were gazing out the window at the most beautiful moonrise I have ever seen and our conversation turned deep. We noticed that, as waves and tides and rip currents rolled and crashed and dissolved, there was a stress line that looked like a white foamy crease in the black waters. Mom pointed it out and asked me what I thought it meant. I will admit that my answer surprised me.
Before I get into what I believe the sight of the mesmerizing shoreline taught me, I want to dwell on the strength of my mom. While my amazing dad has done so much to provide for our family spiritually and financially (having to work two to three jobs at a time thanks to the wonderful economy), Mom has been Riley’s and my rock. She has fed, clothed, bathed, driven, prayed for and supported us since she and Dad knew we were coming. Mom has painstakingly invested herself in every birthday party, morning of the big test, family vacation, and everything possible in between.
The fact that this trip had taken some unexpected turns shattered her world, seeing as how I was only 16 when we last took a trip as a family. It had been so long since we were able to get out of the house with our van packed to the ceiling with blankets, clothes, and snacks that smelled like home. To face the fact that some things had run from her control angered, confused and terrified her. I think that she wasn’t able to fully enjoy the opportunity to relax and enjoy one of our favorite cities because she was so upset. She thought she had ruined our trip, which couldn’t be ANY further from the truth. Mom works harder than anybody I know, so to see her long-awaited chance to relax being stolen from her left me at a loss for words.
When my tear-streaked, grief-stricken mother asked me what this shoreline meant to me, I honestly believed that it had something to do with our family’s most prevalent demon: stress.
This appropriately named stress line was maybe 40 feet from the immediate shoreline, separating two different textures of waves, as well as two degrees of shallowness. The side closer to the beach represents what we can touch and see. It reveals shells, small creatures, and soft sand that buries your feet if you stand in it too long. It presents the immediate, present-day phenomena of life. It is what is familiar and enjoyable. The beach is what is easy to expose to small children and the elderly because of the virtual lack of threatening creatures or forces of nature. The waves are predictable yet enjoyable.
Beyond this thin stretch of superficiality is what we know as the ocean. It houses the creatures that God created on the fifth day. It is the vast body of water covering three quarters of the earth that humans have yet to fully comprehend. It is daring, dark, and beautiful. It is where 98% of our curiosity, fears, and possibilities lie. You can only walk so far across a piece of land until you run into a sandy shoreline. Therefore, the ocean is inevitable.
I described to Mom that I believe the shoreline represents our comfort zone. Right around the stress line is about where I was starting to lose ability to touch the ground. Beyond this line is a whole entire world that we humans don’t know much about but are designed to learn about and care for. In this season of economic, emotional, and medical trials for our family, we were focusing on he inward side of the stress line: our jobs, our education, our responsibilities, and anything that could send us into a panic if we don’t know what we’re doing 100% of the time. Anything beyond the stress line is what we consider dangerous but completely worth going for.
I immediately remembered the book of Matthew 14, the Gospel that inspires the song "Oceans", in which we learn about the miracle of Jesus distributing loaves of bread and fish to over 5,000 people. Immediately after this triumph, Peter and the disciples were commanded to travel ahead of the crowd to deliver the news of John the Baptist’s death. When the men were caught in a circle of waves, Jesus sent forth on the water to comfort the men, whom they thought was a ghost. Peter was bold enough to ask Jesus to command him on the water, to which Jesus told Peter to come. When Peter felt as if he was about to drown, Jesus simply asked, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
In this lesson of heart, I hold onto the second verse of "Oceans":
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surround me
You never fail and You won't stop now
This simple yet profoundly conviction can speak to anyone who doubts God’s provision. It can move anyone to realize that the depths of the darkest, most dangerous oceans hold no comparison to the majesty and might of our God.
I simply told Mom that we went on this trip for the experience of the beach, and that God led us to the opportunity to realize that His world is magnificent and exciting. In this revelation, "I [found Him] in the mystery" of the confusing spectacle. What we have waiting for us back on dry, comfortable land is nothing compared to what lies deep within the cool, dark waters of God’s prophecy and majesty. Even though Texas is infamous for its murky waters and scorching summers, it’s my home and I have grown up knowing that I love Texas with all my heart. God used this very strange and heart-opening adventure to let us realize that, no matter how far we stray from the shore, God will keep our head above the waves.
"When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours, and You are mine."