The ocean coastline that lines the northwest is different than the coastline anywhere else: an almost paradoxical mix of ocean calm and wild unpredictability. Most of our beaches are lined with as many dark grey pebbles and jagged rocks as they are with sand. And for the vast majority of the year, you’d be more comfortable in a sweatshirt, rain jacket, and gumboots than in a swimsuit and shorts.
Yet, for all its ruggedness and moodiness, there’s something particularly peaceful about these colder shores. Something deeply and inherently calming about the early morning fog rising off the water, the sound of thunderous crashing waves, and the cold blue-grey hues that colour everything in this space.
Before moving here, I didn’t know I could love the ocean as much as I now do. I certainly didn’t expect that I’d come to crave it and need it like I have. I didn’t know how this saltwater air would start to taste like home almost as much as crisp high-elevation mountain air does. I didn’t know how I would fall irreversibly in love with summertime and the months when these beaches are golden and warm, when these skies light up with fiery sunrise and sunsets, and how much I’d come to cherish and hold tightly to the long days and summer nights; just as I would come to love the freezing drizzling days by the water and deep fog that settles over these trees in fall and winter. And, I didn’t anticipate all the ways that my heart would come alive in a particular way in the spaces where the blue of the ocean meets the granite grey or black silhouetted mountain range(s) on the horizon or the expanse: the backdrop to so much laughter and life and the place that caught so many tears.
This past week, I jumped on a ferry headed westward to a tiny coastal town on the east side of Vancouver Island. I needed to get away from Vancouver’s city streets. I was hungry for wilderness quiet, space to disconnect completely, and desperate for time with the Father. I needed space to process and pray and write and sleep and do nothing at all. I needed to escape.
I needed the ocean. The powerful, crashing waves and vastness of the ocean.
This past year has been a whirlwind: a perfectly maddening and yet stunning hurricane. Where my own plans and efforts failed and almost systematically crumbled around me. Where weakness became my default and where I started to move past all my well-intended but misguided “superhero” efforts of having and holding it all together.
I didn’t know that you could feel this tired. I didn’t know that my mind and my body and my heart could reach the point where they would simultaneously feel like they had so little to give. I didn’t know that I could feel so much like a ghost of myself. That I'd feel paralyzed by decisions and unclear of what to do or where to go. I didn’t know that you could cry so many tears and feel like you’re chasing a compass with a broken north. Exhaustion took the place of creativity and kicked vision to the curb. Dreams and passion felt distant and almost impossible to articulate, yet at the same time still so deep, real, and almost hauntingly alive.
I never thought I’d tell the story of a year when I walked away from the dream/goal that fuelled the past few years of schooling, became reacquainted with ongoing health issues, put grad school on hold indefinitely (with only my thesis left to write), quit my job without any back-up plan and no alternative income, and put in notice on my apartment before knowing where I’d move to next. I never thought that repeated failure and weakness and brokenness would start to feel like my normal.
And I certainly never expected that if that day would come, that I’d come to look at that space and story and be able to say - and actually believe - that it was/is one of the absolute best parts of my story. That this perfect storm of burn-out and weakness and sickness and grieving would become one of the very places I would be most thankful for. Where I’d cry so many tears because of how freaking hard it has been and is, but like wildflowers sprouting in a war-zone, those hard tears would lead to being continually blown-away by the beauty that - against all odds and in so many ways that seem utterly impossible - can sprout and grow out of such a difficult space.
It’s hard to describe a space where your heart has felt like it’s been repeatedly bashed against the rocks and yet the very place where it has (consequently?) grown deeper and come more fully alive. It's hard to articulate how the best gifts are often the ones that you find after you dig through a heck of a lot of dirt and mud. Or how the most precious gems often emerge out of places full of a lot of brutal and unwanted pressure.
Maybe it’s like the paradox of the northern coastline: Frigid and yet inviting. Rugged and yet comforting somehow. I never thought I'd come to love and need the ocean like I do. And I never thought I'd come to appreciate and recognize my need for this brokenness & weakness like I am starting to.
I think there’s something about the love of God that we struggle to understand or embrace until we’ve walked through some kind of loss or death. Whether it’s the death of people we love or the death of our ideas about what life could or will or should look like. The death of dreams or the death of thinking that we can be strong and hold it all together. The loss of our health or the loss of our innocence and romanticism. All of it. When the messiness of life bubbles over or crashes into our false ideas of strength and resolve and we find ourselves a bit tired and weak and feeling hopeless.
I don’t think the gospel mirroring a story about dead things coming to life and dry bones being given new life and wildflowers sprouting in deserts or dancing in torrential downpours mattered to me until I needed those pictures. Until I lived those pictures. Until I was sick and tired and broken and the only thing that mattered to me were the promises of a God who would and was making things new. All things new. Including my own broken heart and tired body and exhausted mind.
This past week, as I walked slowly along a foggy and remote coastal beach and listened to the firework crackle of the crashing water pulling back over the shorelines rocks and tried to detangle all the thoughts and feelings raging in my mind and heart, I felt God so clearly remind me that there are multiple ways to look at every story. We can surrender to the places where things didn't unfold the way we hoped or even worked for. We can grumble and we can lose heart. Or we can look to Him and remember all the places where this life of following God looked like seeing possibility, hope, and redemption where it seemed impossible. Dry bones or an army? A barren womb or the mother of generations as vast as the stars in the sky? Giants too big or the promised land and the leading of a God who could overcome? A pile of temple ruins or an opportunity to rebuild more beautiful than ever before?
On paper, this past year looks like failure after failure. In so many ways, that's true. On the surface, these decisions to step back and rest and wait for God to speak and lead look like complete (and possibly foolish) unknown. They might be. But in so many ways that don't even make sense to me, the small and major decisions I’ve started to make in the past year to say no to things and choose rest and slow down and more fully embrace the beauty of everyday and savour ordinary moments and step away from things and to start to construct healthier boundaries for myself are some of the decisions I’m the most proud of. The decisions that God's graciously given me the bravery to make.
Because, it’s here: in more yes to rest and space and time and margin and spontaneity and more no to hustle and pressure and packed schedules and stress and achievement-driven-trying-to-prove-myself ambition, where I’ve learned and am learning what it actually means to love and be loved (by God and by the people around me). Where it's starting to go deep in me that love isn’t something you can or have to earn. That love doesn't run or hide when things get messy. That perfection is both impossible and entirely overrated. That this crazy love of God isn’t just the stunning remedy for social ills and issues, and isn’t just the hope of the nations and the hope of all the broken hearts around me, it’s (also) absolutely the foundation of love and hope to my own tired, broken, weak, and wandering heart.
It’s been in this restless, weak, heart crashing against the rocks season where I’ve continually re-fallen in love with this Saviour who spoke of a Kingdom where weakness is strength, where foolishness in the world's eyes is true wisdom, and where it’s in dying that we truly find life. Where, even in the unknown and “what-the-heck-am-I-doing-here?!” my heart is more and more captivated by love of this Father who meets us and graciously lets us crash and run and rest and be a mess, without an ounce of condemnation. The same Father who sees all of our weakness and misguided efforts and still cares for us with compassion. This King who doesn’t demand anything of us, but invites us to make our homes - and ourselves fully at home - in His palace. Who knows us fully and still calls us His beloved. Who meets all of our unknown and hurt and frustration and brokenness with unrelenting love.
This love seems a lot like the vastness and power of the ocean: unpredictable and wild. So much bigger than we can imagine and so entirely enveloping. It crashes over us in waves that take our breath away at the same time that it teaches us how to breathe and shows us what it means to be fully alive. I never expected to need it like I do. I didn't anticipate that I would need to re-learn how to breathe and rest and heal before I could run again. I didn't think I'd need to take a step back like this.
But here I am: wrapped up in one of the messy and difficult and maddening and yet stunning best parts of my story. Where this tired and restless and yet-still-passionate heart is continually blown-away by the reality that - against all odds and in so many ways that seem utterly impossible - he's doing something truly beautiful here.