I have a confession to make.
I am the worst Southern California girl in the history of ever.
Why, you ask?
Let me tell you. I have lived almost all of my life, for 30+ years, within 15 minutes of the beach.
I don’t actually like the beach that much.
Listen. In my defense, I grew up with some pretty gross beaches. The sand is gritty, the water is icy cold, even when it’s warm and sunny inland the beaches near me are usually overcast and cold (not to mention windy), you can’t see the bottom through the murky mix of sand and seaweed and foam, and there are so many brave and obnoxious seagulls that I’d rather just chill out at a swimming pool. I have curly hair and and even when it’s pulled back tightly, little frizzy curls escape and I look like I’ve been moderately electrocuted when I spend time at the beach, its heavy and wet air messing with me. Even if it’s cool, walking in sand is practically the more difficult exercise on the planet and by the time I get back to my car, I am sweaty and clammy and my legs and lungs burn. It doesn’t help, either, that I am fair and freckled and red haired with blue eyes. I’m like a billboard for sunblock. A doctor once told me, “Your body was made for a cloudy island called the United Kingdom.”
I was just not built for the ocean.
Now, if we had beaches like they have in Hawaii, I would be all over them. But we do not so mostly I avoid them. And I’m okay with that.
I have classmates from high school who would go surfing or bodyboarding before first period. That means they’d have to get up at 5:30 in the morning, before the sun came up, to get a good spot in the water. And then they had to sit through a full day of classes. That seems like basically the worst thing I could ever do, but more power to them. These are the same classmates who have kids now, and they post pictures of their families smiling outside their RV at a beach campground. I love nature and find myself in awe of trees and bright blue skies and mountains and flowers, and I even like looking at pictures of the ocean, but I just don’t love going to the beach.
Sometimes, though, I find myself longing for the beach in ways that seem illogical, considering I don’t actually like it most of the time. It calls to me to the point where I don’t want to be anywhere else and I have to make a way in my busy day to get there.
When I was a kid, we went to the beach pretty often. As an adult, I find the beach no bueno (please reread the last few paragraphs if that wasn’t clear), but when I was a little girl, I love beach days. The city where I grew up wasn’t nearly as developed and so many lots that have big houses down near the ocean today were just air and sky and sandy parking spots 20 years ago. We’d pack up a cooler and grab towels and head down the beach, driving slowly down the alleyways of side streets until we found an open spot on an undeveloped lot, and then we’d lug everything we brought down to the sand. The kids would race to the water, so very cold, and shriek with joy as it splashed up against our legs and torsos.
When I wasn’t in the water, testing how far the adults would let me go without one of them shouting for me to turn around, I sat in the sun-warmed sand drinking Orange Crush sodas from the can and eating bbq potatoes chips gritty from the sand sticking to my fingers. I built sand castles and yelled in disgust when I saw the tell-tale air bubbles of sand crabs. My hair curled and tangled up as it dried, the salt making it sticky. I picked at the tar stuck on my feet.
Finally, we’d pack everything up and make our way back to the car. We’d try to brush off all of the sand, but sand is very clinky and the floor of the car would be covered with it before we got home. What I loved best about leaving was getting into the hot car. Sweat would bead along my hairline and the warm, stuffy air would make me drowsy. Usually we’d get ice cream cones on the way home and I’d drift off to sleep for a few minutes in the car before coming home and cleaning up.
Somewhere along the way, these things lost their appeal and the beach became a chore, not a fun visit. I realize lives change and people’s likes change, and so I became the Southern California girl who preferred to stay home from the ocean.
As I get older, I’m discovering there is something curative in the ocean. Surely you’ve heard the quote that goes, “The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea.” I hate being cliche, and it feels like every girl who’s grown into a woman around me has posted some pretty version of this quote at least once, but I think maybe it’s cliche because it’s true. I cry a lot (I’m the self-proclaimed “most cryiest person ever”). Sweating and physical activity, while not fun, always makes me feel better. That’s science or something.
And lately, the sea has been healing me and my heart beyond what I could ever expect it to do.
Maybe it’s the water that most days seems so cold, the water that makes my bones shiver with ache. Every once in awhile, the waves that slash and froth around me don’t seem unwelcoming with their chill – they seem refreshing, like I’ve been panting and I’m hot and scorched, and they cool me and satisfy my thirst. The extinguish the burning, yearning of my heart, heat that I can’t bear to carry on my own anymore.
Maybe the solace I find on these hard days is in the sound of the ocean. I hear so many things, but they all blend so perfectly together into one noise when I stop and just listen. Apart, it might sound like a cacophony, but together the noise rises in perfect harmony as the waves crash and the gulls squawk and the children shriek and laugh. It’s a lullaby to a mind roaring with words and big, passionate feelings.
Perhaps it’s the sand. Mostly it’s the sand, I think. All that sand, whether it’s the soft, fine sand of a Hawaiian beach or the rough sand of my local beaches: it was once rocks, big and small and medium, and the ocean pounded those rocks together for hundreds of years until they broke, broke, broke into smaller and smaller pieces that now line the shore. I see myself in that sand, the breaking apart into pieces too small to count, yet moldable like clay when the conditions are right.
And if it isn’t any of those things (though I’m hedging my bets on the sand), it’s the scope. The ocean makes me feel so small. When I went to Hawaii for the first time, I went snorkeling with my family. The entire time we were on the boat, our hotel was within sight. It was how I figured out where we were; the hotel was my constant point of reference. The first time we were able to get into the water, we snorkeled above huge underground caves. Fish and sea turtles swam below and around us. Flowers and plants grew in the water, things we could never see from above the ocean. At one point I looked down and swimming into the cave far beneath me was an enormous stingray. I couldn’t shout for anyone to look with me, so I just watched, in the cushioned silence of the ocean, as it glided into the cave. The waves moved my body up and down, gently, as I pushed my hands through the clear water.
When I came home from Hawaii, everyone asked me about our trip, and that day in the ocean was the thing I talked about the most. “It made me feel so small,” I said. “Not small, like insignificant. But small, like I understand better how big and huge God is. All I see is what’s above, but there’s a whole world of life below. I’m just one tiny piece of it His creation.” And that was just one part of it. There are hundreds of thousands of miles I’ll never see. There is a whole world underneath the sea out of the sight of my Hawaiian hotel.
That is really it, then: the scope. When I am filled big with fear, when my emotions seem to multiply to the point where everything feels uncontrollable, when I fall asleep and wake up crying with sorrow and even with joy, that is when my bones hunger for the ocean. When I begin to feel big in my power to control things, when I want to take charge and when grief takes me over, I feel like that giant ocean calls to me, just like a magnet, to humble me and give me perspective. I need to go and sit on a blanket on sand that clings to my legs. I need to stand in water that makes me shiver as it rises up my calves and thighs, soaking the hem of my shorts with salt and foam. I need to hear the sounds rise and mix together.
Mostly I need to sit, cross-legged with a Bible and journal on my lap, the Psalms opened in front of me, with no cell phone reception, no way to Instagram the moment. I need the time to cry and weep and be still with God and let Him speak to me. The last time I spent a morning at the beach, feeling utterly wrecked with sorrow, I flipped the Psalms open and read these words:
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
(Psalm 62:5-7, ESV)
He is the rock Who made that beach, Who made those waves, Who made my tiny wild heart that beats with passion, Who shattered giant rocks into miniscule grains of sand, and Who ultimately calms and quiets everything big in me by taking me to a place that will, so quickly, remind me of the beauty of my smallness.