|The Okaloosa Island pier at night.|
I lie on the beach, quietly listening to the waves lapping endlessly on the shore. The seagulls have all bedded down for the night yet somewhere out in the surf, a loud splash can be heard. A fish jumping? A shark? It’s hard to be certain. Above me, the stars shimmer brightly while a meteorite arches across the sky leaving a flaming trail in its path. More and more shooting stars begin to shower down around me as if I had a front row seat to an enormous fireworks display. Almost as soon as it began, it ended with just a few pinpoints of light streaking across the night sky. I turn over on my blanket and soon fall fast asleep while the ocean breeze blows across the sand.
Each year, I like to take what I term a PRG: Personal Retreat with God. Sometimes it’s only a few days, sometimes it’s a week or more. I usually take it in the Fall, just before I start school again. This year, I decided to take a week PRG down in Florida to connect deeper with God and spend quality time with Him. It was a phenomenal experience, as always! As a college student, I don’t have that much money so decided to camp out on the beach at night and buy food as cheaply as possible from the grocery store. I spent most of the week on Okaloosa Island, spending time in both Destin and Ft. Walton. By the end of the week, some of the workers at the beachside shops knew me by name as I’d stop in every once in awhile and chat for a couple hours at a time. I found out about the best places to visit in the local area, the highschool rivalry between Ft. Walton High and Choctaw High which is rated among America’s top ten highschool rivalries, what Destin’s like during the off season, how many shark attacks there have been recently, and other random local and not-so-local facts. It was always fun to connect with different people, listening to their stories and sharing experiences. Every time, the conversation would steer towards God and how He’s been working in our lives. Some of my new friends were Christians, some weren’t, some didn’t know what they thought of God or His dealings with people.
I especially remember one girl that I met on the beach. I was intently skimboarding (or attempting to, at least) near the pier when she came walking down the shoreline. We exchanged greetings and then spent the next nine hours together sharing our faith, our mission experiences, and what the Lord has been teaching us over the past few months. As she shared some spiritual insights she had learned during the past year, I was amazed to hear answers to questions I’d been specifically wrestling with and asking God about. Looking back, I can see how God perfectly arranged for us to meet up and encourage one another in such a powerful way.
A week is a long time. There are so many stories, so many experiences, so many God moments. I can’t share them all hear nor do I want to since it was my personal retreat with God. I could see Him everywhere, wrapping His loving arms around my life and drawing me closer to Him. The people I met, the ocean, the sunsets, the wildlife. It was all so beautiful. And the dolphins… I love watching dolphins play and I got to see lots of them this past week. I climbed out on the jetty near Destin one day and jumped into the surf past the end of the rocks. A couple curious sea turtles swam near and then dropped into the shadows of the ocean. A school of fish was swimming frantically past while a couple lazy dolphins swam nonchalantly behind them. With my snorkel mask I could see them, lost in the deep grayness of the ocean, as they glided past not ten feet away from me. They were huge, the ocean was huge, the rocks were huge, and I felt so small in the vast power of it all. Suddenly, the words from Where Feet May Fail came to mind: “Your grace abounds in deepest waters, Your sovereign hand will be my guide. Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You've never failed and You won't start now.” Even when I’m tossed in the depths of life’s turmoil, God’s grace will never fail me.
The waves are still lapping on the sand as breaker after breaker race toward the shore. Storms come and go. The tide rushes in and then quietly recedes. Never ending, never failing, always changing yet always the same. Our relationship with God is similar. We spend our lives trying to discover God, understanding who He is, pursuing Him with intense desire. To us, God is powerful, mysterious, always new, ever deeper, and mightier than anything we can create. Yet we’re good at creating boxes. Boxes for people, boxes for God, boxes for ourselves. We label them. We cling to them. We fear any deviation from our reality. God is calling us to let go of our ideas, to throw away our boxes, to experience Him for who He really is. How you relate to God may be completely opposite from how I experience God. But that’s the beauty of it. He wants to meet you where you’re at, whether lost at sea, enjoying His blessings near the shore, diving into the depths of His love and mercy, or questioning His very existence. He’s waiting for you. Perhaps a PRG may be just the thing you need to connect deeper with God.