By: Jana Greene
As some of you know, I’ve recently had major surgery. Before my post-op appointment with the surgeon, I formulated a list of questions to ask him. At the top of that list was when I was cleared to visit the beach and swim in the ocean. To my delight, he advised me that it would be just fine to do so now, just as long as I am careful not to get hit in the chest with a full-on wave. I went to the beach the very next day.
The waters are calm, except for the roll of waves near the shore passing over an underwater sand bar. Those waves, known as ‘breakers’ for breaking over sand, can be quite high and strong, even as they form in otherwise calm waters. Still, my need to be suspended in the ocean is great.
It’s been that way since I got sober nearly 15 years ago. The ocean was my church in some of the more difficult early times of recovery. My daughters and I lived in a tiny garage apartment across the street from the beach for some of that time. In periods of great stress, I would venture to the waters and swim until I exhausted myself and my means of anxiety. In times of pain – physical and emotional – swimming became therapy. I’d swim out so far that the houses on the shore appeared like tiny, colorful boxes instead of million-dollar homes. My problems shrunk much the same way. It gave me perspective. Seawater had an almost tranquilizing effect on my spirit. And that I could commune with God on a whole other uncomplicated level out there in the water. A passer-by walking on the beach may have just seen a little head bobbing around out in deep water, a crazy person talking to herself. But God always meets me there in the water. Sometimes the crazy person talking to herself is just pouring her heart out to The Father in prayer.
When my children would suffer a scraped knee or a bout with eczema, my answer was the same. “You just need to get salt water on it.”
Salt water heals everything.
But today – in order to reach that place of suspension – I have to get through the rough breakers without disobeying doctor’s orders. I have to get to the good place by going through the bad place (where oh where have I experienced this phenomenon before?)
Donning my standard-issue, middle-age woman black one-piece bathing suit, I approach the edge of the sea. At the edge, the water is ebbing and flowing in calm and clear. My toes rejoice at the familiar chill and I cannot wait to go deeper. Ankle-deep now I stand, watching the sand gently sucked out around my feet at each tidal recession. It is a warm day, and the coolness of the water is beyond refreshing. At knee-depth, the waves start to get a little rougher, I am only several feet from the sand bar that is causing their swelling. I reconsider this foray into the ocean, shrinking back a bit from the prospect of the breakers and their impact on my still-tender surgical wounds.
But I can see the waters on the other side, and they are resplendently lake-like! They are smooth and perfect. I wish I could just jump over the harsh breakers like a dolphin, skip over the rough and powerful waves. Or walk through them careless of the consequences, all que sera sera-like. I try to will them to calm, angry that they might send me home without my satisfying swim before I ever get the chance to have it.
I just need to get salt water on it, on my spirit. (Oh, and my surgical wounds too, salt water heals everything.)
Nirvana is just past this sand bar!
I cannot see the sand bar under the waves that is causing the ocean commotion, but I know it is there because of what I see manifest. High waves, churning waters. I’m afraid to move forward in case a wave slams me and afraid to go back and miss a great thing.
Eventually, the desire to move past the crashing breakers is greater than the desire to be afraid to go through them. I turn my back to the ocean to take the waves to the least painful part of my body, but I press on, walking backwards. I can hear them forming behind me, a great sizzling – the sound of water stacking more of itself on high.
Up against my backside. I feel the bar of sand rise as the water gets shallower. Move faster now, I tell myself. The longer you hang out on the bar, the more opportunities the waves have to knock you down. I keep walking backward.
More water, nearly knocking me over. I balance myself the best I can, and keep going. The last wave over the breakers is powerful, nearly taking me with it toward shore, losing all that ground. But then, one more step backward and I float back into complete calm. It is as if I had fallen into a brand new fluid venue. The breakers are still breaking, but they are none of my concern now! Every muscle in my body un-kinks and oxygen fills my lungs. Ah, I just needed to get salt water on it.
I lie back and float, enjoying the weightlessness of both my body and soul. The only sound I hear is the a gentle water moving over my body. Like a band of angels playing the triangles. This is the only place for me that quiets my mind long enough to hear angels play triangles. My mind hardly ever shuts up.
On this day, I’m not able to swim like I am accustomed to yet – making great arcs with my arms and wide kicks with my legs, and actually getting from one spot to another. My body is still healing, so I make only little motions. A head bobbing about awkwardly in the Atlantic Ocean, making little velociraptor-like arm movements and talking to herself. No matter. The healing is the same.
And right on schedule, God meets me there. He had been with me in the breakers, too. Otherwise I wouldn’t have ever made it to the other side! He is ALWAYS in the breakers with me. But in this place of having come through, I could feel His presence fully.
The beach is my big, messy prayer closet. I can try to talk to God in my living room, and I often do, with mixed results (thanks, ADD.) But covered in sand and swimming in the sea? I can tune into the frequency of The Creator. My noisy spirit communing with God on a whole other uncomplicated level out there in the water. Truth be told, it is one place where I am not finding fault with myself. I’m weightless, floating in an amniotic sac of what feels like pure love. The sun is warming my face, kissing new freckles to the surface. I am not finding fault with myself, I am too busy loving God.
There are a million breakers we all must somehow overcome. Addiction, divorce, abuse, depression. Perhaps you cannot see your own private “sand bar” under the waves that is causing the instability, the commotion. You only know it there because of what it manifests in your spirit.
Looking at the shore from my new Heavenly vantage point – the colorful boxes – I am considering the importance of occasionally distancing oneself from the usual. I think about The Breakers in life, the rolling and smashing seasons that every single one of us has to move through. Try as we might, we cannot casually leap over them, or barreled through them on our own terms and come out in one piece. These times when we feel we are getting sucked under and smashed? Giving up and turning back isn’t always an option, nor should it be.
Do you feel that pull on your spirit? The desire to move past the crashing breakers steadily getting stronger than the fear of going through them? Guard your most painful parts, but press on. You may get knocked down. Get back up. God is not just waiting for you in the calm waters but accompanying you in those crazy, awful waves that take you from one place to another. He doesn’t expect you to do it all by yourself.
Can see the other side. Isn’t it resplendent?
For each of the million waves trying to knock you down, there is a place that your spirit lets down it’s guard. It’s where your body un-kinks and oxygen fills your lungs. You will know you are there when you are too busy loving God to find fault in yourself.
It is the place or activity that brings you peace! You will only know where that space is by going through the breakers.
Perhaps gardening in soft, warm dirt, if that’s your thing. Or working with animal rescues, or in creating needlework. Or perhaps while wearing hiking boots, or picking up pen and paper. Find that sweet spot and go there every chance you get. GOD DELIGHTS IN YOU.