Finding God in a Walk on the Beach

It is 6:30 in the morning, and I find myself in a hotel room at the beach with five relatives sure to sleep another three hours and a baby who refuses to sleep another minute. So I get ready quietly and do the only thing I can think to do—take the baby on a walk.

I have never been to Myrtle Beach before, and so I don’t know exactly what to expect, but we soon find the boardwalk and begin to walk briskly along the concrete pathway. In a couple hours I know it will be teaming with tourists, venders, beach bums, and families of all races and origins. But for now it is empty save the few die-hard joggers eager to beat the day’s heat.

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This means I can talk playfully and giggle at my sweet little boy without too many awkward stares, and so I start to engage in the kind of one-sided conversation mothers around the world all must know.

Me: “Look, Sam! We’re at the beach! Aren’t you excited?”

Sam: Big grin, smile, coo.

It doesn’t take long for our dialogue and my thoughts to shift from the material to the spiritual.

Me: “Sam, can you believe that the same God who made your precious little body also made this big, enormous ocean? Aren’t you a little miracle? Isn’t God’s love amazing?”

Sam: Big grin, smile, coo.

Suddenly, the melody of a song comes to my mind, and I began to sing its words to my baby:

“Christ is risen from the dead/ Trampling over death by death/ Come awake, come awake!/ Come and rise up from the grave/ Oh, death, where is your sting?/ Oh, hell, where is your victory?/Oh, church, come stand in the light/ Our God is not dead/ He’s alive! He’s alive!”

Singing this song brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me of the first time I heard those words. It was Easter Sunday of this year, the day Sam was baptized. For the past week, my life had been turned upside down. I thought I had been prepared—as prepared as possible, at least—for the birth of my second child. Nothing could have readied me for the events of March 25th, 2013.

After a day of excruciating and unproductive labor, I had to make the painful decision to have another C-section. By this point, my mind and body were exhausted. I spent the entire surgery squeezing my eyes shut to block out the bright lights of the OR while trying unsuccessfully not to vomit, a task made more difficult by the oxygen mask being pressed over my face. “Is he out?” I asked at one point. “Yes,” someone said. My husband’s eyes were filled with worry. “Why isn’t he crying?” one of us asked. We were both thinking it.

From the very beginning, we knew something was wrong. His color was not pinking up. In fact, he was turning blue. His body was not getting oxygen. There was something wrong with his heart.

I didn’t cry in the recovery room. Instead, I felt the most remarkable feeling of reassurance. I later learned that my husband had been convinced our son would die. He revealed to me that he had already started to think about where he would bury him in the little cemetery plot by our house. But in those first uncertain hours, this knowledge came to me: “He will be okay. He will live. It will take a surgery to fix what he has, but he will make it.”

For what seemed like an eternity, we waited for the paramedics to prepare Sam for transport. The hospital I’d delivered in lacked a NICU, but there was one across town. The doctor wisely decided that instead of being transported to Roanoke Memorial, Sam needed to be taken to UVA Medical Center as soon as possible. Before he left, I was allowed to reach through the little plastic circle and touch my son’s hand. It would be another four days before I could hold him.

Still, I didn’t cry. I wouldn’t cry until the next night, when I heard a baby crying. Somewhere another mother was holding her newborn. Why was I stuck here recovering from my surgery, unable to even hear my baby?

Once I was able to join my husband at UVA, we were filled in on the particulars of Sam’s condition. He had been born with a congenital heart defect called transposition. His pulmonary artery and aorta were switched, resulting in a lack of oxygen-rich blood to his body.  They had stabilized him by putting a hole in his heart to allow the blood to mix, but it would take a day-long open-heart surgery to correct it.

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Sam was baptized on Easter Sunday with a little vial of sterile water in the NICU at UVA because we were not sure he was going to make past his surgery on Wednesday. Except, for some reason, I was. I had faith in the doctor, one of the best pediatric cardiac surgeons in the country. But I knew that it was the power of prayer that had gotten him this far, and that God would take him the rest of the way. We later learned that the transport truck had broken down en route to UVA and a 2 hour transport had taken 4 hours. When Sam arrived in the NICU, he had been more dead than alive, his oxygen saturation hovering in the single digits. But already thousands of people were praying for him from around the country, including our community in Roanoke, the students at the University of Dallas where my sister is a student, and the students at a small school in Minnesota that my mother had hosted for a football game.

Sam’s surgery was a success. He made an amazing recovery and is a great baby. We decided to call our son Sam (his first name is William) after learning that it means “God hears us” and reading this passage during his surgery: “And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart, and all those signs came to pass that day (1 Samuel 10:9 KJV).” In the bible, Samuel’s mother was barren. She prayed to God for a child, and when he answered her prayer, she dedicated his life to God’s service.

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When I heard the words to that song in church that Easter morning, tears streamed down my face uncontrollably. I wasn’t crying because I was worried for my son’s life. I was crying tears of joy and hope at Christ’s resurrection. God’s Son died and came back to life. In a similar way, I knew my son was going to be given a second chance at life. The reality of Easter hit me so powerfully that morning that all I could do was cry.

Which brings us back to the beach. Sam has already dropped off to sleep, lulled by the constant motion of the stroller and the salty sea air. He doesn’t see me crying all over again in gratitude for his life as I sing these words, to myself now:

“Christ is risen from the dead/ Trampling over death by death/ Come awake, come awake!/ Come and rise up from the grave/ Oh, death, where is your sting?/ Oh, hell, where is your victory?/Oh, church, come stand in the light/ Our God is not dead/ He’s alive! He’s alive!”

For the second time since Sam was born, I am overcome with the experience of God’s amazing power and love. I realize that if we could ever really comprehend the blessing of God’s love and his incredible gift of life, we would be too overwhelmed to even go about our days.

I remember my dad telling me a story about his friend’s three-year-old son seeing the ocean for the first time. The child was so filled with awe upon gazing at the seemingly infinite sea that he dropped to his knees and lifted his tiny hands upward in a gesture of worship.

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Religion comes naturally to children, just as worship comes naturally to mankind. You could almost say we are programmed for it. The earliest human societies painted designs on caves and carved figurines out of stone. Even atheists and secularists who cannot abide the thought of worshipping a deity direct their worship elsewhere—the state, the environment, science.

You cannot stand gazing out at the beach—observing the curvature of the Earth, feeling the wind and Sun and water—without experiencing the Spirit on some level. Perhaps the millions of people who flock to the shores each summer are actually seeking spiritual renewal as much as material relaxation. Perhaps they are pilgrims without even knowing it.

Proving God’s existence is like proving the existence of wind. You can feel it and see it working on people and objects, but you cannot observe it in isolation. The wind is the Holy Spirit, calling us to the water’s edge. God’s love is vast and eternal like the ocean, connecting all things. And Jesus Christ is the Sun, whose brilliance warms our bodies and souls and whose resurrection renews our hope each day in rising.

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4 thoughts on “Finding God in a Walk on the Beach

  1. An absolutely beautiful story grounded in the faith that we have in our Creator and Our Trust in his love and the certitude he gives us!

  2. Dear Lauren
    My name is Mike Yates, a friend of your dad and although you don’t know me; your faith has made a dynamic change in my life. When Scott told of Samuel’s condition early on the morning of his birth, he also told me of the spiritual peace and confidence that you had. Our God is an Awesome God and He alone reigns from His heavenly throne. I believe that God has a special calling for all of us, you seem to have found yours. God Bless You!

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