Every year at the beach we search for strawberries in the sand. One of us will return from a long walk on the beach and announce, “I found six strawberries!” The others of us will admire the find and tell the lucky finder how pretty the strawberries are. Each day more of us will search and find our strawberries and we’ll talk about whose is the pinkest or which has its wings intact.
Strawberries in the sand are actually calico scallop shells and the “wings” are technically called ears. I’m not sure how the shells came to be known to us as strawberries but I can guess it’s because of the red, maroon, or rose colors found on most of them. However the “strawberry” name happened, it stuck. We even call the black scallops, “black strawberries”.
We throw the barnacle-encrusted strawberries back into the waves and continue our hunt. Our favorite strawberries are deep purples or vibrant pinks with no holes and both wings. If the colors are especially beautiful or unique enough, then holes and wings make no difference.
We’ve been calling them by the name for so long we forget that others don’t know about it. A newcomer to our beach gathering gives strange looks when we talk about searching for strawberries on the beach.
It’s just one of our things. Like chocolate gravy on Christmas Eve and stargazing in the back of a pickup on hot August nights, gathering stalks of cotton from the fields in October, or The Sound of Music the day after Thanksgiving.
Every family has those things.
What are some of yours?
I watch the moms on the beach slather their kids with sunscreen. Some moms use a gentle, nurturing touch when rubbing the lotion on the kids’ backs, little arms, faces and even tops of the ears. Other moms do it like they’re covering a piece of brisket with a special rub recipe. As thoroughly and efficiently as possible.
If Mom had used sunscreen she’d been one of the brisket moms. I never knew sunscreen existed when I was a kid. Maybe Mom didn’t either. On beach vacations we swam and played all day in the scorching Florida sun until our energy ran out and our baked bodies needed food. My face and shoulders always burned the worst. My face hurt but not like my shoulders. Every movement meant my shirt rubbed against my tender, red skin and this made trying to sleep miserable. My sisters and I lay there, legs wide apart, arms spread away from our bodies because we didn’t want any part of our bodies touching any other part of our bodies.
But the burn wasn’t enough to keep us out of the sun the next day. We wanted to be back in the water so Mom slipped a large t-shirt over our bathing suits. This provided no protection for our faces but at least our shoulders and chest didn’t re-burn.
By the time I was wise enough and old enough to rub my own body down with sunscreen I opted for baby oil instead. This fair skinned, freckled, strawberry-blond haired chick was going to be as tan as the rest of the girls in high school. Only I wasn’t and never would or could be. But I tried. As a young adult I paid to lie in a hot bed of tanning bulbs that turned my skin only slightly golden.
Thankfully at some point, I accepted my fair skin. I appreciate it and and care for it now.
I’m more efficient than I am thorough and I lose track of when to reapply sometimes.
After my beach trip last year, a friend asked me, “I thought you were going to the beach?” After I told him we were there for a week, he said, “Oh, you don’t look like you got much sun.”
I guess I’m more thorough than I think.
One of the best times on the beach is early morning. You may spot a runner or two, a few shell collectors, some slow moving coffee drinkers……but mostly the beach is clear. All you’ll hear is the sound of the waves crashing onto the sand….. and the sea birds close to shore.
The lifeguard tower is empty. No need for a rescuer in the early mornings on this beach.
But when the crowds come, the lifeguard stares out at the water. He watches the ocean, looking for the swimmers and the floaters and the heads bobbing up and down with the waves.
When the riptides are dangerous, the lifeguard stands tall in the tower to make sure no one is caught in them. The whistle shrills loudly when he spots a swimmer too far out. He waves the red flag motioning the swimmer to come toward shore. If the swimmer ignores the warning, the lifeguard waves the flag passionately and blows the whistle over and over. Sometimes the lifeguard climbs down the tower and runs to the edge of the water. He waves his flag forcefully while blowing the whistle until the ocean dweller obeys.
He is guarding lives after all.
This is a special place.
It’s not just the beauty here. Or the sound of the ocean here. Or the sunshine and the salty air here.
It’s not the awayness or that I don’t wear shoes and I feel the sand in my toes here.
It’s not just that I’m resting here and not working here.
It’s all those things but not just those things.
It’s the love here. From the people here. For fifteen years here.
It’s God here and what He does here.
My heart is especially open here in this place. Because of all those things. The beauty and the rest and the people and the time spent. The conversations and fun and laughter.
There are tears here too. And sadness sometimes. And hard stuff.
Because real life has happened and the beautiful sunrises and the waves and finding seashells doesn’t change that.
And the ocean won’t take away real life.
But to be with people that love you and know you and that you feel at home with in this place…..this place you love….. is good.
And it can heal you.
Because these people you love…..they love you back.
And God uses these people and this place to show you His love.
Because when you walk beside the ocean and the waves crash around your feet and you look toward the horizon and can’t see the end of it……….you see the vastness of it all. That God created it.
God feels big and that feels good.
And He loves you with an everlasting love.
In response to the Discover Challenge Finding Your Place.