June 18th, 2012 by Sarah Jackson
It’s late afternoon and I’m sitting with my dad atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He is absorbed in his book, but mine lays unopened next to me. I can’t take my eyes off the turquoise water. I watch it ripple and churn and lick the sandy shores.
For an hour and a half I watch the waves in silence. I move only once, to take a picture of the plant that looks like its center is growing into a unicorn’s horn. It belongs in fairyland.
As I slip my camera back into my purse I think about how much I’ve changed since I moved near these beach cliffs 20 months ago. Before I moved, ever driven by ambition and to-do lists, I wouldn’t have sat for more than an hour in still silence.
But not long after I moved I experienced drawn-out, often incapacitating illness. This season of loss changed me. It taught me to rest, and to live more fully in the present.
I don’t think my old friends—those who have scattered across the country—would recognize this new, laid back me that sits on ocean cliffs for hours. And I know my new friends wouldn’t recognize the old me that couldn’t sit still because there were programs to launch, mountains to climb, and races to run.
I’m thankful for many of the changes I see in myself, but sometimes I feel suspended between two different lives, stretched tight between two different me’s. Lately this suspension reminds me that nobody fully knows me. Not my friends back home, not my friends in this new city.
I guess this is to be expected in this life that is a steady ebb and flow of seasons. Jobs change, locations change, friends change, we change. Nobody ever fully knows us. It’s easy for me to get lonely with all this change.
In the days following my dad’s visit I try to assuage my loneliness by remembering true things about God. I remember that he numbers the hairs on our heads, and is the friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Somehow, though, the knowledge doesn’t lessen the loneliness.
And then I think about the sizzling summer days here in Orange County—the days I drip sweat and long for the relief of a swimming pool. There’s a pool in my backyard, but knowing it’s there doesn’t cool my overheated body. I’ve got to jump in, splash around, and luxuriate in the water.
It’s the same with knowing true things about God. It’s not always enough to just know them from a distance; we have to enter into the things we know, and splash around in them.
I’m learning that the best way to enter into the things I know about God is to interact with him the way I would an old friend.
So I head to the park and settle in a shady grove of trees where I invite the God-who-sticks-close to reminisce with me, and to show me how I’m known.
I remember aloud the time I laid in a huckleberry patch with Jake Long and ate berries until I was sick, and the time I stubbed my toe so bad in first grade it bled through my shoe.
I ask God to teach me true things about these memories, and then it hits me that 20 years ago God knew the tart zip of berries on my tongue, and my toe-stubbing dismay, because he was closer to me in those moments than the freckles on my little nose. And how many more moments in my 10,000 days of living has he been that close?
Then I remember hurdle races, break-ups, international trips, and doctor’s visits. With every memory I’m asking God what he was doing in that moment, and I’m seeing him cheering me on, grieving with me, exploring with me—changing me.
The reminiscing continues, and my heart—not just my head—begins to know deep and intimate that God is the Father, Mother, Friend, and Lover who has always been closer than the freckles on my nose, and who knows every laugh that’s carved wrinkles around my eyes, and every tear that’s dribbled down my cheeks.
I lean back and look up at the sky, and I hear that quiet Holy Spirit whisper, reminding me that God wasn’t just present in my experiences; he was working—painting these pixel-sized moments into his panoramic picture of redemption. I see with new eyes the way he has turned, and is turning, decades of difficulty and disappointment into grace that radiates glory.
And then I feel something cool and wet seeping into the dry and lonely soul-spaces, and I know it must be water splashing up from this pool God calls living water.
Image Credit: dkrcommunications.com