Recently someone whom I love very much (and who amazingly, still loves me!) sent me to Florida for a little self-care weekend. She asked me what I needed – I told her the ocean speaks to my soul – so she sent me there. She is a life-giver. Though she doesn’t want any credit, I am beyond thankful that she gave me this gift.
For as long as I can remember, the beach has been a source of wonder for me. From childhood through adulthood the awe has never faded, the fresh saltwater air begs you to breathe deeply and just “be” when you take that first barefoot step on the sand. Staring out at the ocean I am always small and reminded of how big the world is. The anticipation and excitement in finding beautiful shells takes me to this place of “I have no clue how these are made” – and I’m realizing I love that place.
Admittingly, I was a little nervous about how I would handle the flights. For the last several years I struggled with having panic attacks on planes as we flew back and forth overseas – as I was always terrified that God was going to let something terrible happen “for a reason” and we would all surely die. Yes, this fear is irrational, as most of the fears we deal with are – but anything is possible, and my view of God (based on the Bible and experiences with leaders in ministry) had produced much fear in me.
This time around as I boarded that first flight I decided to take God out of the equation (bear with me here). These pilots had surely flown thousands and thousands of hours before landing a job with a commercial airline, so they must be good and trustworthy. They are well equipped to handle the weather and do not want to crash the plane – as they likely have families to go home to. We will all be fine, and I will be in Florida soon.
And you know what?? It worked!! No Xanax needed, no panic whatsoever. I was fine. I had accepted and trusted their knowledge, intentions, and capabilities – and though there was turbulence, I felt no fear. This was mind-blowing for me. I cannot even remember the last time I did not panic on a plane. I had discovered something new.
For the rest of the trip, I decided I would have no fear. I honed into my inner doula – I would treat the earth as I treat the birth process – with respect first and then trust. Knowing that things could go wrong but they most likely won’t – and if they do I will call 911. 😉 I decided to respect and trust my surroundings with carefulness but with a sense of adventure – not allowing the “worst case scenario” to creep into my mind at any time.
And yes, it was amazing.
I explored endless beaches. I visited places that were familiar, I visited places that were new. I went out into the ocean over and over again, not afraid of what I could not see. I did bucket list activities, including kayaking ( I have always wanted to – never thought my first time would be on the ocean alone!!)
It was truly beautiful out on the water. My heart was racing, but I told myself “You are not bleeding, the sharks want nothing to do with you.” I was all alone – but I was fine. I loved the experience…but learned that next time I would rather share it with someone.
For sentimental reasons, I drove by my grandparent’s old house in Longboat Key. It didn’t look the same, so I didn’t take a picture of it – but I know my family will enjoy this shot of the street sign 🙂 Lots of feelings, lots of memories.
Most importantly, I had loads of time to just walk the beach by myself and think. I tried laying out on the sand and being still – but apparently I’m not so good at that – ha. I preferred to explore while processing life in my head…and that worked just as well. 🙂
As I pondered many things, what I found that I kept coming back to is that I am deeply wired to be honest. When I looked back on my life, this is how I’ve always been. And this is what has gotten me into trouble time and time again in Christian circles and in ministry – my honesty. In college I changed my major and devoted all of my time, energy and heart to loving others through the outlet of campus ministry. When I applied to join staff I was asked to wait 6 months and re-apply because I was too honest on the application and over-shared. Were they just in asking me to wait? No. Had I done anything wrong? No. Am I so glad that I was not accepted onto their staff team? YES.
The cycle continued over the following decade of my life, as I lived honestly and was repeatedly reprimanded, asked to change things about myself (that were just part of who I am), asked to wait, asked to leave, etc. etc. etc. Being alive and being honest was always wrong, even though my heart and my intentions were good, and I loved Jesus and people more than anything.
As I struggled through questions regarding the character of God in the Bible and the truth in stories such as the book of Job, and in the whys of what happens to people on this earth I was constantly hushed, told to just “have faith” and un-friended in subtle ways. I have struggled for years with the character differences between God & Jesus yet was told over and over to believe they are one in the same “because the Bible says” – and I need to not question these things. I need to just keep believing that “everyone needs Jesus” and then they will be fine – end of story.
But I had Jesus, was fine for a few years and then not fine. My soul has been empty and unfulfilled, even though I have a family and a home and we’re doing “ok.” I spent years living under the mindset of “You must die to yourself, Melissa! So that HE can live!” But guys, this was getting me nowhere. I tried, I really did. “Oh, it’s because you need to let go and let God!!” Ok, but what? What does that mean? Go live out in a village and don’t complain about the squatty potties and just accept the fact that every single person here is going to hell unless God uses you to save them?!?! Otherwise, damn. Too bad.
And so I thought about all of these things during my self-care weekend. I thought about how over the last half of my life I had lost myself…because I believed that sacrificing our wants and needs for the greater good is what’s really important. But is it so selfish to want to be happy? Is it so selfish to want to (occasionally) spend time in beautiful places? Is it so selfish to want to discover who you really are – and to start truly living?
On the last morning of my trip, I knew what I needed to do. I woke up early to a storm, drank my coffee and got ready. As the storm passed I got in my rental car (did I mention I rented a car by myself?! Little firsts..) and drove to a familiar beach that I had not been to yet on this trip. I had yet to “hear from God” or “feel his presence”… but what I was really longing for was to have an experience where I felt my grandma’s presence, too – because Florida was such a special place for her and cancer is a jack-ass and took her way too soon.
So I did what she would have done – I went out to a sandbar after the storm.
“The treasures are just under the sand” she used to tell me as we would look for sand dollars together. I stepped up to the sandbar, took a deep breath, looked up to the sky and then looked down. And there it was —
Right when I saw it I started sobbing – as I bent down to pick it up I immediately felt her presence. I looked up at the sky and said “Thank you, Grammy! Thank you so much, I miss you so much..I know that you’re here…I miss you..” In between tears I would walk and see another one, and another, then another. As I stacked the sand dollars on my hand I remembered her smile when I found my first “treasure” as a child – the excitement we shared was mutual and I felt the joy of discovery at 36 just as I felt it at 6.
And so, it’s ok. It’s all going to be ok. I still don’t know what’s true – and that’s ok. I’m at peace with that. Maybe there is an after-life…but I don’t have to believe there’s an eternal punishment. Maybe there is a God…but I don’t have to believe in a book written solely by men in a patriarchal culture. No one knows for sure what is true – and the freedom in accepting and embracing that reality is a freedom I have never felt before. Everyone’s life is different – and the best we can do is live each day being true to ourselves and good to others. Honesty is what brings us back to discovering who we are, life is too short and frail to pretend anything else.