By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 3, 2018
When I was a child living in Miami, weekends meant trips to the ocean, where we’d spend the day swimming, sunbathing and foraging for treats from my mother’s well-stocked picnic basket.
The adults sought shade beneath a palm tree, while my sister and I created miniature cities made of sand. We shaped shell-studded castles, complete with moats that filled with water when the ocean’s fingers crept upon the shore.
We built walls around our cities to protect them, but at some point, the tide rose and the waves became angry fists, knocking down the barriers and crashing into our castles.
As our city dissolved before our eyes, I recalled Sister telling us at school that Jesus warned people about building houses upon sand.
Even if I didn’t quite get the symbolism, I definitely understood how fragile seaside castles were, and how quickly they could crumble.
Sometimes I’d lie on my back and squint upwards at the sky and see huge dragons and dogs made out of clouds.
In seconds, the wind shifted and a castle appeared, which I imagined was heaven, where Jesus lived. Because, you see, Sister had also told us about the Last Judgment, when Jesus would appear upon the clouds of heaven.
The peaceful sounds of the surf, along with the comforting hum of my parents talking, lulled me to sleep. I was safe and happy by the sea.
In his poem “Sea Fever,” John Masefield writes, “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky. And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”
Surely I’ve had sea fever all my life, because the beach is so ingrained in my heart that I often dream I’m swimming or walking along the shore.
There’s an annual family reunion at Daytona Beach, where this dream comes true, as the little kids continue the tradition of constructing miniature cities—and the adults relax in the shade beneath umbrellas.
On this past trip, I spied tall shrimp boats on the horizon, and thought about Jesus and the disciples throwing out nets to gather fish.
Dark clouds swooping along the shore reminded me of the storm that terrified the apostles, while Jesus slept peacefully in the boat.
The clouds also brought to mind the last time my husband attended the family reunion.
He and I walked along the shore each morning, glimpsing ships on the horizon. In the evenings, we marveled at rhinestone stars and a moon as round and white as a Communion wafer.
And then, a few days after we returned home, he died of a heart attack—and my world crumbled.
How I anguished! Had I built my security upon the sand of my marriage instead of the bedrock of God? His death was the greatest storm I’d ever faced, and I was frightened, like the disciples were when the sea lapped angrily at their boat.
I cried to Jesus just like they did, “Don’t you care? I’m going to drown!”
And somehow, as the days and weeks and months wore on, I realized Jesus was there, picking me up each time waves of grief battered me—and whispering, “Be still.”
The beach will never be quite the same for me, a place of happiness and safety. But it still evokes tender memories of the little girl asleep on the blanket and the last walk with my husband.
It also gives me a foretaste of the day when I hope I’ll meet Jesus in that castle in the clouds.
Lorraine Murray has written eight books, most recently “Death Dons a Mask,” a comical mystery set at a Decatur church. Artwork is by her late husband, Jef. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.