I grew up in Southern California, where I spent countless days at Corona Del Mar beach, digging for hermit crabs and body surfing in the cold Pacific waves. My dermatologist will tell you that all that outdoor fun came with a hefty price tag, but I can tell you that it was all worth it. My heart and soul found a home listening to the endless waves crash on the sand, and every time I go back to the beach I remember better who I am.
Since we live in Central Texas, my kids have spent only a few precious days at the beach. I wish we could fly to Hawaii or Santa Barbara or Destin every year, but that’s not possible. The Texas Gulf is close, though. So this year we rented a tiny house a few blocks from the Galveston shore, and we spent as much time as possible in the waves.
As we pulled out kites, my daughter told me she had never flown one before. I was IN SHOCK. I’m pretty sure she flew a kite at least once when she was very small, but being the youngest has meant some life experiences have gotten swallowed up in baseball tournaments and bigger kid activities. The beach ended up being a place of many other “firsts” for her besides the kites: digging for crabs, body surfing, boogie boarding, and the joy of an outdoor shower to wash off all the sand from the day.
I wish I could tell you that everyone in our family was happy all week long, but alas, our accursed humanity came with us on vacation. (Selfishness is so easy to pack! It fits in the tiniest crevices of every duffle bag we’ve ever owned.)
All six of us shared one shower for the week, and after a long day at the beach, standing in line while dripping all over the floor didn’t exactly bring out the best in us. The kids fought over blankets in shared beds, who ate too much of the chips/donuts/ice cream, and just about anything else they could think of to argue about. No matter what plan we made for each day, there was at least one unhappy person in our crowd. (I’m not too proud to admit that often the unhappy person was Mom.) It was a week full of mixed emotions, and although the photos all look so happy, I wanted to run away from these favorite people of mine several times.
But being a family means we never quit on each other. It means we grit our teeth and admit when we’re wrong. It means we admit that our rash behavior was fueled by the fear that we are losing something when we let someone else’s comfort take precedence over our own. And sometimes, being a family means we let go of ourselves in the frustrating moments and choose to be kind and loving and believe the best.
At least… I think that’s what it means to be a family. I guess I’m still figuring that one out…
Sunday was our last full day at the beach. We decided to slip in the church across the street from our rental house and worship Jesus. We knew nothing about the church. We had met no one who attended there. We were like church explorers on an adventure!
The building was over a hundred years old, and stained glass windows lined the walls. There were big brass pipes from an ancient organ, but the band played modern instruments and opened with a Lumineers song. The sanctuary had an eclectic mix of seating: old wooden pews someone had draped with vintage quilts, sofas from the 1970s and 80s, and a mishmash of chairs that would have made the Goodwill proud. A man named Robert gave us a tour and told us about the day he found refuge in that church during a literal storm, and then how he stayed on and became a permanent fixture in that community.
We took communion at the end of the service. The bread was fresh baked that morning by another member who either used to be or still is homeless, I’m not super sure. We stood in line to receive a tiny piece and dip it in a cup of grape juice. As I waited for my turn, I thought about all the people around me in that holy place. We were a few among millions of Christians around the world, carrying our sin and selfishness to the cross again that morning, finding hope and comfort in the call to lay it down in new ways so we could be saved from the wind and storms raging against our souls.
We take and eat, remembering the body broken for us and the blood spilled out so we could be called the children of God. This world wears us all Paperthin; it leaves us waiting on the seawall for the end of something so we can begin a new life. Communion is a reminder that we belong, and that our belonging cost God his Son. We were redeemed by his blood because of his love.
Belonging and belovedness always feel like “firsts”. God meets us and proves he has loved us to the very end once again, and it always seems like we’ve never been here before. We’ve never flown this kite or dug in this sand that holds life and hope for us. Every wave of his love seems like a completely new experience, and all of them carry us a little closer to our forever home.
I hope you get to take a vacation this summer, even if it’s only for a day or two. I hope you discover new places full of the same holy God who loves you no matter where you go. I pray you see waves that sing of his neverending love, and mountains that preach of his glory.
And I hope you hear him tell you that he loves you and that you don’t have far to go before you spend the first day of eternity with him forever. Because someday we will all cross over the ocean that divides this world and the next, and then all the pain and struggle of this world will cease to plague us and the glory of God will shine through our thinned-out lives.
Our hearts and souls will finally be home at last, and we will all be free.