When we arrived at the beach, the first thing I did was step out onto the balcony to see the ocean. Some lazy clouds hung in the robin egg blue sky casting their shadows over the sea. No waves, only tiny ripples danced across the water causing small white crests to roll, not crash, into the shore. A few seagulls glided over the water as a whisper of a breeze brushed my face.
I smiled to myself. I had never seen the ocean so calm before but I wasn’t surprised. God had a way of communicating with me at the ocean. I felt His presence more than ever when I was near the water. In my conversations with God over the last couple of weeks, He placed on my heart messages of peace and rest. The stillness of the ocean echoed what He had been telling me.
The last few weeks I struggled with a full calendar. I went to bed early and woke up tired. I felt guilty for not crossing off enough items on my to-do list, for having the gall to spend a part of my afternoon with a cup of tea and a good book because I didn’t have the energy to do anything else. Once able to accomplish the work of many on few hours of sleep, I couldn’t do that anymore. I prayed for God to give me more energy, more strength to get things done. Through tears, I poured out my frustration and disappointment in myself. As I asked for the ability to do more, God whispered one word on my heart. I didn’t want to hear it and it was the exact opposite of what I was praying for but the tug on my heart was unmistakable. He wouldn’t answer my prayer for more energy. Instead, He said, “Rest”.
He used my husband to share that message as well. As I melted into a stool at the kitchen counter, scribbling a last minute grocery list on the back of an envelope, Mike stood over me. He saw the exhaustion on my face and asked what was wrong. I listed the things I had to do that day. He told me I needed to make some changes, to slow down, and to rest more. He noticed I was doing too much and that my energy was not what it used to be. Over the next few days, God cleared my schedule in different ways. On one particular afternoon. I took advantage of the extra down time and made a cup of tea, curled up on the couch, and enjoyed the quiet stillness. I fought through the guilt over not being productive but I did it. I rested, mentally and physically. And it felt good.
I finally had a moment to think and to be. God told me to rest. For days, I prayed about it. Admittedly, I was a little sullen over God not answering my prayer for more energy. Still I accepted it. Then I began to understand it. Over and over, God opened my eyes. It wasn’t just about focusing on the wrong things or doing too much. It wasn’t even about getting more sleep and deleting things from my calendar. It was about resting … in Him.
Really, it wasn’t just my crazy schedule. It was the canceling of plans, the rain that came on the worst day, the ingredient I discovered I didn’t have in the middle of the dinner recipe, the last-minute change in venue for lunch, the package that wasn’t delivered on time … that was the stuff that left my soul unsettled. The unexpected changes, flipping the script. I had it all worked out in my head and then it didn’t happen that way. Maybe it was the perfectionist in me. Maybe it was the self-diagnosed OCD tendencies. It made me anxious and frustrated … and sometimes angry. These little things that weren’t such a big deal – I made them a big deal.
I asked God to mold my heart, to take my stress, to take my life and use it. My plans were not His plans. My constant need to control and maintain, to manage and solve – it no longer served me. I had to let that go.
Recently, I started my 49th round of cancer treatment. I was embarrassed to admit how many times I asked my oncologist how long he ‘thought’ these meds would work? When he said he couldn’t answer me, I rephrased the question and asked again. I needed to know. The unknown was difficult for me. Cancer, like life, was a great unknown. I read the long list of side effects, opened the bottles, and held those two pills in my hand. I closed my eyes and prayed for a few more precious months with my family. I clung to God’s promises to take care of me, to walk with me through every step. Then, I swallowed those pills that first night, believing the medicine would keep the cancer stable. That was what I did. Every day.
Now I had to trust Him with the rest of my life. All of it. Not just the big things, but the little things. I had to keep my faith. I thought about all the things that weighed heavily on my heart, the things that kept me up at night – I had to trust Him with those things too. Those relationships that were too much work – maybe God was telling me to let them go. The plans that didn’t happen, the schedules that changed at the last minute and sent me into a tailspin – maybe God was telling me there was a better way. The situations that seemed out of control – maybe God was teaching me patience and testing my faith.
If I could stop managing every second of my life – maybe I would have more peace. If I could let those relationships go without grasping to hold onto them. If I could go with the flow when plans changed, see the beauty in the unexpected, and boldly walk in the new direction. If I could relinquish control of those situations I couldn’t change, that I couldn’t fix….oh, how light my heart would be.
So, I prayed differently. I didn’t pray for more energy. I prayed for more tolerance of last-minute changes, more peace in the middle of the unknown, and more acceptance of changing relationships and situations. I knew it would take some work but I was up for the challenge and I knew God would show me the way.
When we had an opportunity to tag along with Mike on a work trip to Ocean City, Maryland, we jumped at the chance. I pushed back the nagging thoughts about the kids missing school, the extra homework they would have when we got back, the loss of the weekend before my son’s birthday. Embrace this opportunity. Enjoy the blessing God placed before me. Find peace in the change of plans. I happily packed, alerted their teachers, and promised myself that this weekend I would put those things into practice.
Typically, I planned our whole trip in my head before we got there. What days we would go to the beach, the boardwalk, ice skating, the indoor pool. What days we would eat in at the condo. What we needed at the grocery store. Which days we would eat out. Which restaurants. I had it all figured out. And typically, when that plan was altered by weather, whiny children, or an impulsive husband – ugh. I was anxious and stressed. I vowed this weekend would be different.
I prayed and talked myself through it during the long drive to the beach, determined that I was going to rest in Him and go with the flow, enjoy what happened as it came. I stopped myself from forming an itinerary. So when I saw the ocean, strangely calm, I knew God was encouraging me and delighting in my obedience.
“I heard you the first time, Lord, but thank you for the reminder,” I said to myself. God really does have a sense of humor and He knows I often don’t get it right away. He calmed the seas just for me.
That afternoon, we planned to relax after the long trip while Mike went to work. We unpacked and I just sat down on the balcony to enjoy the view and write in my journal. Moments later, the kids came out on the balcony and asked if we could walk to the convenience store for drinks and snacks. Now, they had just eaten lunch about an hour or so before and we planned to hit the grocery store after dinner that night. We all agreed that we would take it easy after getting up so early and enduring the car ride. My initial reaction was to remind them of our original plan, but then I caught myself and looked out at that calm sea.
Embrace the opportunity. Find peace in the change of plans. You promised.
“Let’s go,” I said.
I grabbed my purse and the key and we set out down the street. It was windy but the sun was shining. We laughed and talked. It felt good to stretch our legs and move after being in the car for so long. We breathed in the fresh ocean air. We had a great time.
And I almost said, “no”.
“See, God. I am trying,” I said to myself as I looked up at the blue sky. They picked out candy bars and chips and soda. Too much junk, but I let that go too. I watched the kids smile and listened to their laughter carry over the sounds of the street. When Mike got home, we went to dinner and the kids chose our favorite pizza place. We had a wonderful first evening.
The next morning, I woke up to a glorious sunrise. Bright oranges and pinks saturated the horizon, the blue sky peeked out behind the clouds. I stood there taking it all in. Within minutes, the colors faded and a bright blue sky emerged as white clouds floated in the sky. Normal waves crashed into the shore. The weather was perfect and the ocean inviting.
We spent a good portion of the day on the beach. I stood at the water’s edge and listened to the waves. I felt that peace I had been missing for weeks. I walked with my son down the sandy shore stopping to pick up seashells that caught our eyes. Because it was such a gorgeous day and the resort was hosting a beachfront wedding that evening, the tiki bar was open even so late in the season. Mike took the kids to get fruity drinks (non-alcoholic, of course). I stayed on the beach with our stuff and enjoyed a few moments to myself.
I was changing the music on my phone when I got a text from Kalea. It was a picture of her enjoying a fruity drink at one of the tables on the deck. It was a re-enactment of a photo I took of her five years earlier when she was only 8 years old. I searched my phone for the old picture and compared the two. Oh, my heart. The tears welled up in my eyes. She had changed so much. I couldn’t believe that was only 5 years ago. I did the math in my head and figured out that I only had 4 and 5 summers left with my kids. Where did that time go? Those previous 5 years went so fast and the next 5 were sure to go faster. That thought made me more determined to enjoy the moments and not let a little change in plans alter my mood or my enjoyment. Time was too precious. I knew that but I thanked God for the not-so-gentle reminder.
When we were trying to have children, it wasn’t easy for us. We moved into that big house and we were desperate to fill it with our family. I kept the small room next to our bedroom empty. It would be the nursery one day. No box, no suitcase, no spare bedding was permitted in that room. Each week, I ran the vacuum and then fell to my knees and prayed for God to make us a family. Things weren’t happening the way I thought and definitely not as quickly as I wanted. In His time, God gave us the family I prayed for in the middle of that empty room. We were blessed with two tiny babies within the same year. I prayed. I trusted. God put the desire on my heart to be a mom. He kept His promise. Even when I had to wait, God was working on my prayers.
Later, Mike played football with the kids. They had a blast. Mike was a big kid and the joy on his face made my heart sing. He had been so stressed lately and this weekend was just what he needed. As I watched him teach Kalea how to throw that perfect spiral and high five Kade when they scored, I fell more in love with him. After that tense football game, the winds picked up a little bit and the sun went behind the clouds. The kids decided to go inside but Mike and I weren’t ready to call it a day. I grabbed a sweatshirt and Mike turned on some music by Jack Johnson. Those were ‘our songs’. We sat next to each other on the beach and listened to the waves and the music.
God sent Mike to me at the perfect time. Shortly before I met Mike, I had gone through a pretty awful break-up. As a heartbroken young adult, I thought my life was over. I couldn’t see past the next day because the fairy tale I wrote in my head vanished. What I didn’t realize is that God had an even better story planned for me. The plot twist was sudden and unexpected, but necessary. That detour in my life turned out to be the best thing that happened to me. Since then, I have been blindsided many times in my life, and while I felt the pain during those intersections, God always showed me a new beginning.
There were several things we wanted to do that weekend. Mike asked me what the plan was for the rest of the day and I told him I was up for anything. We had a great day at the beach, then went go-kart racing, walked the boardwalk, and went to dinner. We even had time to hit the game room that night. It was a super fun day. It was more fun because I didn’t carry the weight of keeping a schedule or keeping everyone on task. Going with the flow was growing on me.
While everyone slept in the next morning, I got up early to watch the sunrise. The sky blended in with the sea and I couldn’t see the horizon. There were no bright oranges and golds, pinks or purples. Only grey. Still, I stood out on the balcony, wrapped my sweater around me, and looked out over the ocean. The waves were crashing and the wind was blowing. I received God’s message. He was calling me to stay inside, to spend the day talking and laughing and resting. The message took the sting out of the dreary day as well as the raindrops now pelting my skin. I went back inside.
Another time, I might have been angry and disappointed that our last full day at the beach was such a dismal one. I might have even sulked about the lack of a sunrise, the change in the plans I mapped out days before, and the disappointment in the kids’ faces. Not today. Even the kids were okay with it. We spent the day completing a puzzle, swimming in the indoor pool, and preparing and sitting down to Sunday dinner. That day was a gift. Of all the times we had visited Ocean City, we never had a day like that. Always so determined to ‘fit it all in’ and ‘make the most of it’, we rarely relaxed much on a weekend getaway. It was nice not to rush from one thing to the next. It might have even been my favorite day. Or, at least a close second.
The following day, I woke up to watch the last sunrise of our trip. That morning the clouds still hung low in the sky but oranges and pinks peeked out over the horizon before the sun’s arrival. Although the sky was grey, the ocean was still beautiful. The waves crashed. The wind blew. The ocean showed up in all its glory to say goodbye.
I sat outside on the balcony and took in the view. I closed my eyes and listened to the waves as I reflected on our weekend. I thought about how differently things could have been if I had clung so tightly to a rigid plan in my head. I was more relaxed and I enjoyed every day more than usual. We had done all those things dozens of times before but that weekend, they seemed more special. Saying goodbye to the ocean was always hard, but even that was easier than usual. I knew I would be back and the ocean would be waiting for me.
On the way home, I had a conversation with God about how I was feeling and why I needed to plan things so much. Always a nagging feeling in my heart about things being my ‘last time’, I was scared that this might be my last birthday to celebrate whether it was my own or a loved one’s. I was afraid it might be the last time I saw the ocean. I was fearful all the things we did would be a memory for my kids and I wanted things to be absolutely perfect – but perfection was unattainable. Perfection was sometimes boring. It was often the rainy day that brought us all together in the living room snuggled under blankets to watch a movie. It was often those canceled plans that brought us together around the dinner table eating a meal of whatever we had on hand. Those were the moments that became lasting memories – not the carefully planned, meticulously scheduled events that never lived up to their expectations.
I promised to remind myself of that trip every time my plans became unglued. I would picture those ripples dancing across the calm sea and remember what a wonderful time we had. I would never forget the peace and joy I felt that weekend. God saw me through some pretty big detours in my life, even the scary, sad, and overwhelming ones. God made sure that even the bad things that happened led to something good. That was true for the unexpected road closures, one-way signs, and construction in my daily life too.
When my car didn’t start. When my husband was in a less than sunny mood. When one of my kids remembered at 9 pm a project that was due tomorrow. When people let me down. When plans got canceled. When I was out of milk. When the package didn’t arrive on time for the birthday. When I forgot to set the chicken in the fridge to defrost. When the ride we came for was closed for maintenance. When the ice cream shop was out of chocolate and peanut butter ice cream.
None of those things were worth sacrificing the peace and joy in my soul.
On those days when my side effects and daily life got to be too much, when I was too tired to complete those things on my never ending to-do list — I would no longer pray for more energy. Instead, I would make myself a cup of tea, curl up on the couch, give myself some grace and rest. On those days when things didn’t work out the way I thought, I would reset my GPS and take the scenic route trusting it was all going to be okay … and know that I would see something beautiful along the way.