Florida landscape flies by, as sandy salt water dries on my toes and ankles, remnants of a long walk along the Daytona coastline this morning. The beach has always been my place of solace, my place of magic, my place of refuge. I think I have always been able to imagine myself as beautiful at the beach, whether I was pretending to be a sea mermaid or body surfing in the roaring water. I’m a child of the Gulf Coast, born and raised to gather shells and weather storms. It is and always has been Gift.
Sand dunes and seaweed.
Crashing waves and receding foaming bubbles.
Seagull screeching and seagull flapping, soaring, diving.
Bits of broken shells, shards of sea creatures’ homes left in pieces on sandy shores.
Sand dollars. Pictures of pierced perfection.
French braided hair and slathered sunscreen.
Greasy Popeye’s fried chicken, corn on the cob, and biscuits. The taste of Galveston.
Conch shell to ear, listening to the vastness of open water wrapped in glowing pink innards.
A little over five years ago I invited you to cross the rickety beach bridge with me into my land of enchantment. You, incredible man that you are, took my hand and never hesitated. I doubt you tasted fried chicken when we parked my green Subaru near Pirate’s Cove beach. I doubt you heard the sound of waves and instantly felt at home. I doubt you saw mermaid tresses in straggling seaweed strands. I doubt you giggled as wave bubbles tickled your toes. That’s okay. That afternoon of our first date in March 2006 was accompanied by the roar of Galveston waves, the lulling sounds of scuttling crabs, and the feel of feet walking sandy coastline. Slowly, ever so slowly, we traced the path that I had traced as a child infatuated with sand castles, as a teenager fighting through insecurities and idealistic dreams, as a maturing woman working through anorexia and perfectionism, and now as a woman blossoming under the spell of true love. I’d never been in love before, never had my breath taken away by a man staring into my eyes and seeing what could be, what already was. You changed everything.
Your fingers found mine and held on. They’ve held on for years now and never once have I regretted admitting to you on that day long ago that I loved you. I said the words as we pulled out of my parents’ driveway, headed for the Gulf Coast shore. Tasted the powerful emotion that promising confession evoked. Knew that I was committing my heart. Knew that Prince Charming had found me in my sandy alcove and begun to reshape my castle of dreams.
As I walked alongside a dear friend this morning, feeling the ebb and flow of laughing waves, my fingers found themselves twining around your wedding ring hanging on my neck. Remembering our sandy walks. Remembering the storms we’ve weathered. I miss you, David. Miss you so much.
You’re going to walk a different kind of beach soon. At the most western tip of Africa, the Senegal border is formed by lapping Atlantic waves. It’s also scarred by the ghosts of slave ship ports. In the coming days, you will walk your high school students through the haunting hulk of a slave ship, see the chains in the bowels of rotting wooden decks that made fellow men captives to commerce and cotton. Experiences such as that memorial tour change us, as we tread amid the bonds and skeletons of Cruelty’s past. I pray that this trip – serving on the streets of Dakar, digging a cement foundation in the African bush, planting flowers in the desert, witnessing the remains of slavery’s Evil – empowers your high school kids to become world changers, to become the individuals who hear the cry of the poor and needy and work to provide succor and aid. I pray that they learn to not turn away from pain, but rather to embrace the refining power of its hot fire. May they become the fragrance of Christ to a perishing world.
Mileage markers and GPS indicate that we have nearly reached Jacksonville. Only five more hours or so until our car reaches Charlotte. I fly home to Denver tomorrow. I’m trying to be conscientious about my “hydration” habits, as my friend’s oldest brother warned us girls that we get “one bathroom break per state.” You would like him. Unfortunately, my lunch at Bubba Gump’s and my Café Americano from Starbucks are running right through me. The Chex mix and chocolate chips I’ve munched on since then probably haven’t helped out the situation. Glancing at the dash board, I groan as I realize that we are still half a tank away from needy a pit stop. The tightly packed backseat seems squishier, as my waistline grows tighter. Ahhh . . . the joys of long car rides with boys in the front seat!
Hopefully, I find Internet service in order to post this meandering love letter in the near future. Until then, I’m going to keep eating chocolate chips and missing you. Missing your groans during cross country trips, as I tour the American gas station bathroom offerings. Missing our matching sandy feet on the car’s floorboards. Missing the way you see the world as a mission field. Missing the way you wrap your fingers over and around mine, never letting go.
I love you, and I’m praying for you.
Your Crazy Girl,