Beauty and the Beach
Jeff pulled a red wagon full of beach stuff to the same spot each day of our beach trip. Despite that, each day we stepped into change. Some days the waves rolled calmly, the water like liquid jade. Other days the waves forced their way to the shore as if they were jockeying to be front of a line. One morning offered an overcast sky; other days the grands and I named the clouds as they floated like sheep grazing in a vast blue pasture. Thunderclouds billowed up late one afternoon after a mostly cloudless day. We became witness to a sunset that laid down its tangerine rays on shallow waves smoothing the powder sand as they rolled back to the "deep end" (the girl's reference to water up to their chins.)
The afternoon of the storms, Olivia helped me cut the tough ends off of brussels sprouts we were preparing for supper. Through the kitchen window, I noticed the clouds building. Later, after we finished eating, an orange glow filtered into the great room of the beach house. The rain had come and gone.
We debated for a moment whether or not to head down to the beach. We knew we had to hustle because once a sunset starts it doesn't last long.
I grabbed my camera and we scrambled toward the door and down the street to the beach access. Jeff perched Olivia on his shoulders so we'd make better time. We weren’t sure we would make it but it was worth a try.
As I headed down the boardwalk in the shadow of scrub bushes creating a natural tunnel before opening to a panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico. I met a woman walking toward me. I thought we had probably missed it since she was leaving. Instead, she commented as she passed, “I’ve got to go get my camera.” I picked up my pace.
High above the beach that was a blinding sugar white earlier in the day, the landscape softened to a warm glow, peach and pink and luscious. The low clouds on the horizon, the place where the sun was setting, glowed fuchsia. Another huge thunderstorm seemingly boiling out of the sea appeared to be illuminated from within.
Lightning streaked from the storm but at a safe distance. We stood on the edge of the salty sea and watched the show in wonder.
Naomi and Olivia were wearing white tees I had bought them earlier in the day. Naomi’s shirt pictured a mermaid with wild curly hair not unlike her own, and Liv’s had a yellow polka-dotted wiener dog in profile across her chest. The tails on their shirts were long so they wore them like dresses. They ran circles in the shallows in their panties as the light faded on the day.
That evening on the beach, I felt the power of beauty. The emotion was much like the feelings of loving and being loved.
Beauty begs the heart to be present because the moment will never come again in exactly the same way. It should be acknowledged as a gift from God. I recently read thoughts by poet Luci Shaw who reflected on how God could have made the world only functional, but in his grace, He made his creation beautiful. Beauty is a gift given, above and beyond, out of God’s own love for beauty. He gives good gifts to his children.
Why did we race from the house to the beach? We did it for the chance to step into beauty. We could have missed it that September evening. We could have stayed in and numbed ourselves in the flickering light of the television. Jeff, Annie, the girls and I chose to hurry back to the beach filled with hope. Hope did not disappoint. In fact, the beauty outdid our expectations.
I learned a similar lesson about beauty when we were in Switzerland this summer. The mountains captured my attention and made my heart leap with gratitude on the crystal clear day we rode the trains from Zurich out to the snowcapped Alps. The forecast called for a change in the weather. It came as predicted. Several days later the clouds moved in. The morning we hiked into the Gastern Valley the cloud deck lowered as we walked the level path through the narrow valley. The peaks were obscured from view though occasionally we saw through the veil to the massive rock walls in the hanging valley. We stood in one place and counted eight different waterfalls within our sight.
The temptation was to be disappointed in what we could not see. Instead, we entered the beauty of the earth and clouds, the mountain stream carrying the white silt of glaciers carving a vein into the valley floor. The cold water rushed away to gather itself somewhere we could only imagine—a place where it would enter again into the circle of life to be resurrected to fall as rain upon the sea.
I’m in awe at how God takes the water from a glacier and drops it into the sea. We think we only want sunny days but it’s the clouds that often bring the most arresting beauty.
Life is fullest in sunshine and cloud.
Artists try to capture beauty with paint, the words of a poem, a photograph, the notes on a keyboard. Beauty moves the soul to record what is quickly fleeting, to acknowledge the gift before letting it go. We can choose to gather up the beauty as artists, to remember the day when baby girls grew into their curls, ran in circles like sandpipers on the shore as the sun slid away, another day.
The response to the gift of beauty is always gratitude.
Night falls; beauty turns the page and we whisper the simple prayer, “Thank you, Jesus.”
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17 ESV)