“I’m not trying to be prideful, but I knew I looked good!” Sitting under the pier at Atlantic Beach last Friday, my friend and I burst into laughter listening to our other friend relay the details of her latest juicy story. Semi-annual beach trips have become a tradition with us, and one for which I am beyond thankful. Childhood friends who stick by you through thick and thin are hard to come by; and, I am blessed to have the opportunity to catch up with them twice a year while soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Atlantic Ocean.
The beach is one of my most beloved happy places. When I am there, it feels as though anything is possible. Perhaps it is the majesty of the endless waters or the joy I feel during a sunset stroll, but beach days bring out a version of myself I wish I portrayed every day. Being in the presence of large bodies of water motivates me to ponder life. In my reflection, it occurs to me that a visit to the beach can teach us a lot about love.
- No Two Days are Exactly the Same. Recently a friend of mine packed up her family and headed to the beautiful gulf beaches. The sand is like snow, the water is the deepest blue, and when the sun is out, it is paradise. When they arrived, the view was breathtaking. They enjoyed an amazing day, and then… a tropical storm intruded on their fun. The rains came, the winds howled, and the beautiful water which had been the source of such joy the day before became dangerous and angry. In my years as a wife, it has never ceased to amaze me how quickly my relationship with Eric can turn from sunny and joyous to frustrated, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking. During those marital hurricanes, I try to remember the storms we weathered in the past and remind myself that sunny days are coming again. We cannot let the clear days lull us into complacency. Even when there are blue skies and light breezes, we must be on guard for the next downpour.
- Calm Waters Can Be Deceiving. When my friends and I ascend upon the Oceanana Pier each year, we lather on the sunscreen, make a dash for the water, and in most cases stay out bobbing up and down in the waves for hours on end. Over the years, we have learned to test the waters slowly before we venture out too far. Small waves can be deceiving, and all it takes is a split second for an undercurrent to pull a person out to sea. What we see on the surface does not adequately explain what is going on underneath. Some of us are “good” at expressing our every thought and emotion with reckless abandon, but I would venture to say the majority of us hold back – at least a little. Eric, who is no stranger to confrontation, does not tell me every concern which passes through his mind; and, over the years, issues have brewed beneath his calm, serene surface only to pull me under and leave me breathless in an unexpected moment of conflict. The ocean is beautiful but needs to be respected as the powerful and complex entity it is, and people are no different. We can never take for granted that what we see in our mates (or friends, family, pastors, co-workers, etc.) is the whole story.
- Do Not Swim Alone. Twenty years ago, my friend, Nateefa (we call her Teefa), and I went with my mom to a small island near our home. The water was rough and Teefa was pulled underneath and rolled. When she popped her head out of the water, she began to complain that her leg was hurting, so she hobbled out to shore while I continued to “fight” the waves. Before I knew it, I could no longer touch the bottom. I swam with all my might, but I was not moving – at least not in the right direction. At that moment, with no lifeguard and no pier in sight, I wondered if I was going to be okay. I prayed and, in a little while, the waves rolled me slowly to shore. There was Teefa, half-panicked. “I could not see you. I just stood here and prayed! People thought I was crazy but I didn’t care!” Had I been alone, the water could have carried me off to a watery grave with no one to miss me until it was too late. At moments in my marriage, I have honestly wondered, “Am I going to be okay? Are we going to be okay?” and in those times of fear, it is a comfort to have friends on the shore praying. Marriage is not a journey to go on without support. Sometimes you need a determined hand to reach into your swirling waters and pull you out.
- If You Swim with Sharks, You May Get Bitten. It probably will not happen to me. Just because it happened to other surfers does not mean sharks are coming for me. I am going to take my chances and hope it all works out. A couple of summers ago, the coast of North Carolina experienced one shark attack after another which left the rest of us beach lovers a smidge leery of the big blue. Since our NC beaches are, as Teefa calls them, Carolina brown, there is little chance of knowing if a shark is in your midst until it is right beside you. Wading into the waters is a risk, but we can take precautions. Staying away from fishing piers, swimming in groups, and avoiding dawn and dusk swims are a few ways to lessen the likelihood of a shark attack. Just as preparing for marriage (e.g., counseling, speaking to mentors, studying God’s design for marriage, etc.) is no promise that your relationship is going to be easy and pain-free, it does give you a leg up and a better chance of success.
- Sometimes Tides Turn and You Have to Move Quickly. Most days are relatively boring around our house. I can predict how Eric will wake up, when he will eat his breakfast, and what he will do after he returns home from work; and, there is little I do which also catches him by surprise. We know each other quite well, yet sometimes we run headfirst into unexpected winds. Some beach days are beautiful, sunny, and picture perfect – at first. But, sometimes, dark clouds roll in and start swirling the waters. Even if the rains do not come, the tide rolls in quickly. If we are not careful, our belongings on the beach can get drenched, or worse, we ourselves can wash out to sea. Never let fun or your comfort distract you from keeping a watchful eye on your relationship.
- It Is More Fun With Friends. Occasionally, a solo beach day is comforting. You can lean back and take in the feel of the sun on your face, the sound of waves crashing, the seagulls begging, and the smell of sea foam. It is a perfect way to unwind and clear your mind. If you have a big decision to make, the beach is a great place to contemplate. However, more often than not, a day at the beach is more enjoyable with companions. Picnic lunches, walks on the beach, splashing in the waves, and sharing funny stories make a beach day memorable. At the beginning of a relationship, it is normal for couples to focus on each other; but, if this exclusivity becomes habitual, loneliness will be the consequence. Just like being alone for a short time at the beach is wonderful, after a while, you want to share your life with other people. Beach excursions are more fun with friends – and so is marriage. No matter how much a couple loves each other, they need more than just each other – regardless of what our favorite love songs tell us.
- If You are Unprepared, You Might Be Miserable by the End. As much as l love a day at the beach, I hate getting ready for the beach – packing the beach bag, packing the chairs, packing the snacks, applying sun screen to every inch of my exposed skin, and hauling all my beach gear from the parking lot to the sand to our designated spot. However, if I were to simply jump in the car and go without any thought to what I might need when I get there, I would end up hungry, sore from sitting on the ground, dripping due to my lack of a towel, and severely sunburned. The preparations may not be fun, but they are necessary and allow us to have fun later. Marital preparation can be tiring and, at times, grueling; yet, getting the path to matrimony cleared and paved ahead of time only makes your time together sweeter once you arrive “at the beach.”
- Despite All the Preparation Time and Work Required to Get There, it is Worth Every Moment. When you climb to the top of the dunes and see the beauty in the distance, the journey getting there no longer seems so rough. Do not lose heart in the dating and engagement phrase of your love story. If you slow down, take care to prepare, and seek to love each other more than you love yourselves, the waiting and working will pale in comparison to the loveliness of your infant marriage.
- You Are Going to Get Knocked Down Sometimes. (There is no if, only when.) You are going to fall – a lot. Little waves sometimes pack a mean punch. Big waves can sneak up on you and momentarily render you a slave to their will. Love is magnificent and powerful – and sometimes it will hurt you. Why do you think so many people are afraid of dating? We hate rejection. It stabs us at our core. Going into your love story, expect some pain. Be aware – you will have some stories to tell future generations. Know that every beach day will not be the best beach day. Some will bruise you, and some will burn you. When you get knocked down, get back in the water. If not right away, soon. Do not let the waves dictate how you live going forward.
- Appreciate the Joy of a Peaceful Walk Along the Shore. Love in the correct context, carried out as God intended, is both powerful and peaceful. Take the time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life together. In fact, most of life comprises of the every day “mundane” activities… but, it is precisely those activities with which we fill our lives.
- Someone More Powerful Than We Can Comprehend Created It. Perhaps the most important point to remember about love, marriage, and our beautiful beaches is that someone so much greater than us created them. The same God who spoke the land and seas into existence created man, woman, and the institution of marriage. Knowing who formed the oceans’ waves and the marriage bed gives us pause and hopefully encourages us to respect them. Everything which exists – both physically and emotionally – ultimately belongs to Him for His pleasure and His glory. The beach we enjoy is not about us – it is about Him. Our marriage is not meant to serve only us; rather, it was created to bring God glory and to show a reflection of His image.
Before leaving the beach each summer, I turn one last time and try to commit a picture to memory. As I walk away, I feel as though I am leaving an old friend. God’s creation is full of lessons if we are ready to receive them. Parallels are everywhere and I love finding encouragement for my life while appreciating God’s handiwork.
Where is your happy place? Where do you go to regroup and adjust? Where do you feel your absolute best – as though you could conquer the world? Next time you are there, look around and ask God to show you something you have never seen.
“Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!”(Psalm 93:4, ESV)
Where is your happy place and what can it teach you about your relationship?