Everything was beautifully furnished, and the views of the beach were spectacular. I immediately loved the little bedroom that faced the ocean, decorated in turquoise and white. I opened the window to hear the ocean waves, breathed deeply, and let peace wash over me. The salt air, white sand, and a soft gray December sky gave me a totally different perspective for Christmas.
Gathering the family (my three brothers, our spouses, children and spouses, plus grandchildren) in a rented cabin at Christmas or Thanksgiving became a tradition after our dad passed away and Mom was living in a small apartment. It continued through the years she lived in Haiti and Ghana, West Africa. For my sister-in-laws and myself, the best part of not gathering in someone’s home was the community factor – no one spent hours cleaning and cooking. We planned the menu before we left home and divided up main dishes among us. Cooking meals was a group affair. Sometimes the guys cooked breakfast. For this trip to the Gulf of Mexico we made a grocery stop as we neared the rental and divided the cost later.
As soon as luggage, boxes and bags of food were unloaded and stored away, I headed out to the beach. Just standing at the edge of the water soothed my broken heart. The rhythm of waves, gently lapping at the beach, gull cries. God’s gift of sea and sky changed my perspective for this first Christmas without my daughter.
The days and nights ran together with a tourist stop at Fort Morgan to explore the old ruins. The girls managed a day at the outlet mall, and we ate out a couple of times, but winter at the beach has a totally different culture: fewer people, changing temperature, no swim suits, beach umbrellas, or sand castles. Sleeping late and lots of time to read or play cards. But the draw was always to the beach if weather permitted. The ever-changing sky, sunrise and sunset reflecting on the water, and those famous white sands that look like snow on winter days just eased my heart.
I did not expect my pictures to turn out so well – my camera was a digital (this was 10 years ago) and I’ve never been very good at picture-taking. I always have one of the beach pictures on my computer desktop. These pictures are my resting place – they can take me to that peaceful breathing space in the midst of my stormy days in 2002. Perspective. Moving from the space of home, a place of memories that could be joyful or remind me of the pain of loss. The perspective of place — I’ve read other parents’ stories about moving out of town or out of state after a child has died. I’ve never had that need — this place has all the memories of her days in high school and college.
Remember that post on “A New Habit’ the first of this month? The new habit I want to cultivate this year is a receptive stance – trusting God in every situation (Proverbs 3:5) (Jesus Calling, Sarah Young). By learning to depend on Him alone I learn to release and receive. Last week’s entry from Sarah’s book has one of those “aha” insights. “If everything is going my way, I don’t seek the peace that Jesus gives.” (Jan. 24) She says our spiritual blessings come wrapped in trials. Those trials are the hard stuff, the stuff I can’t see past: depression, chronic illness, grief. Just think your own list here.
Ann Voskamp calls this “hard eucharisteo“, the ugly beautiful. Look at these thoughts from her book:
- Suffering nourishes grace.
- Pain and joy are arteries of the same heart.
- All is grace.
- God is always good and I am always loved.
- Everything is eucharisteo.
The eucharist, the Last Supper, when Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and ate. Then He took the cup and did the same. His ugly, brutal death for me is remembered each time I take the eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.
The trip to the beach, a beautiful memory, in the midst of heart-wrenching grief. That’s grace in the ugly. I had no idea at the time that these beach pictures would be a resting place for me, a place in my memory but also a place to rest my eyes and soak in the peace again.
Check these links in my blog if you’ve just found me:
And here we are in the middle of winter. What is my perspective to be? I can’t forget that quote given by Lamar Alexander on the Day of Inauguration:
“Look for the good and give thanks.” Alex Haley
Can you see it in these scenes from my back door this morning?
Giving thanks today for
- the birds that spend the winter with us.
- sunrise in January
- an unexpected nest, hidden in the summer by leaves
- winter grasses