My one request for my forty-fifth birthday was to go to the ocean.
My husband Shawn and my three daughters took me to a little beach town along the central coast of California called Cambria. I didn’t realize until we arrived that this was the same town my late husband Ericlee took me for my birthday almost twenty years ago.
The memories flooded back. We were barely married a month when Ericlee told me to pack a weekend bag because he had a surprise for me. We drove three hours and checked into the same quaint lodge near the coast.
Suddenly, I was a twenty-something married girl again, walking along the ocean hand-in-hand with my love. We had our whole lives ahead of us. We made footprints in the sand and dreamed of what our lives might be like in twenty years when we had kids, ministry, and full careers. I never imagined he would graduate to heaven ten years later.
Not long after he died, I went to the beach, and while my young daughters built sand castles, I watched the waves for hours. The rushing waters flowing in and out brought me surprising comfort. God welcomed my tears, my questions, and my fears as I burrowed my toes in the sand and wondered what my future would hold.
The ocean has been my place of refuge since I was a young girl, when I would sit before the crashing waves and write poetry. Maybe it’s my Polynesian/Pacific Islander heritage or the fact that our family would make a point of going to the beach when we traveled for family vacations. The ocean has always been a place of grounding, a place where I feel most at home and closest to God.
Psalm 19:1 tells us the heavens declare the glory of God, but I believe the ocean is part of that same symphony too. Somehow I always get lost in the swirl of colors — the dance of the deep navy swell with the turquoise waters before the ocean lifts her head to kiss the azure sky and melt back into the arms of the sapphire blue horizon.
God meets us in the nuanced glory of the water and waves.
The ocean speaks of God’s awesome power. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us: “This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar — the Lord Almighty is his name” (Jeremiah 31:35 NIV). This prophecy reminds us that God is the one who controls creation. He can stir up the waters and harness tsunamis because He created it all in the first place.
I can’t help but think about that story in the New Testament when Jesus was taking a nap in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. When a wild storm rears its ugly head on the water, the disciples wake Him trembling with fear.
Jesus responds, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then He gets up and rebukes the wind and waves, and suddenly there’s a great calm (Matthew 8:26 NLT). Jesus demonstrates His power over nature right after He heals several people.
God is at once the masterful Creator, our loving Father, the ultimate Judge, and our caring Shepherd.
Back on the shore in Cambria for my forty-fifth birthday, I marveled at the ways God had met me through the years at the ocean and how my dreams had unfolded. My daughters, who are now ten, thirteen, and sixteen, napped and read books with me. They are ocean girls too — at home in the salty air and dancing in the waves.
In many ways, I’m living the life I dreamed of twenty years ago, but the waters I had to navigate to get here were nothing like I’d imagined.
God speaks in whispers, through the wind, and through the waves, and I’m deeply grateful for the ways God calls me to remember these moments and experience His presence every time I return to the ocean.