the journey & the shared experience

On this life journey — like it or not — we’re all taking together, I’ve never really wondered if God existed. With total respect to my more skeptical friends, let me add that God has certainly felt far away at times. But for me, over the course of my life, I’ve come to conclude that’s usually more about me than it is about him. I’m still learning.

Some things are just too big for me to believe anything else.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the ocean…

We actually lived far away from any coast — more in the middle of the Midwest. And summer vacation was typically a trip to see relatives in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” or “America’s Dairyland.” So while born on the shores of Lake Michigan, the great lake still felt different to me than the ocean. I was 19 when I finally saw it.

It was my sophomore year of college, and once our Spring Break shenanigans had settled for the day (with a special shout out to my sororal ride-or-dies), I found myself sitting alone one night on the edge of the Atlantic, with the Southeast Florida sands sprinkled amidst my toes.

I can remember looking at the ocean and thinking, “You are so big!”

And almost instantly, without thinking, the subject of my sentence changed, God, you are so big!”

As I saw the enormous expanse of the sea and recognized that sort of straight across from me — latitude-speaking, of course — lie Morocco and the Western Sahara, I couldn’t get over how huge it was and how someone must have intentionally made this.

Teemed, too, with such a vast variety of fish — the massive and the minute — I was blown away. It was actually overwhelming. I thus made God a promise that night that every time I saw the ocean, I would acknowledge him; thank him; and smile about how big he is. I sense his presence clearly there.

Having moved three years ago from the Midwest to “The City Beautiful,” the sandy shores are significantly closer — only a glorious 40 minutes away now. Hence, we visit often, finding the sunshine and the respite to be healthy and good.

It’s been a little more complicated this spring and summer, as at first the beaches were closed and now parking is limited and people are appropriately distanced. The sunshine and respite graciously remain, no less.

Last week’s visit was especially encouraging. My three sons and I made the jaunt…

After we had sat for some time, each taking turns wading into the now-warm-enough waters, my older two guys picked up the football, deciding to toss it around.

My guys are excellent athletes and have pretty good arms, and they were zinging that pigskin back and forth, seemingly with ease.

Maybe only three, four minutes in, a couple, additional, observing young men asked if they could play, too.

“Of course,” was the instant smile and nod.

And for the next forty minutes, the now foursome took turns with one man throwing, one man receiving, one man defending, and the other resting, awaiting his turn.

It was fun to see them each enjoy each other… each have times besting one another… and each congratulate another when they were the one bested. They had moments of success… and moments not. They played hard, ran fast, often diving in the sand. Quickly, one would notice they had varied skill sets — some who were faster, some who threw farther, some perhaps who were stronger. And while the socially-distanced summer didn’t allow for the typical hugs or high-fives when finished, they affirmed one another, thankful for the shared experience.

How beautiful to see a group of gifted young men, white and black, genuinely and sincerely affirm one another for who they are.

Every time I see the ocean… yes… I sense God’s presence clearly there.