The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the Lord,and let everyone stand in awe of him.
Psalm 33:6-8 (NLT)
Who else has held the oceans in his hand?
Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?
Who else knows the weight of the earth
or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?
Isaiah 40:12 (NLT)
I love the beach. Sitting here in November, reading books, blogging, or just talking with family is amazing. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is…I love the beach.
Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name.
The reason I came to be here is unfortunately a sad one, as my husband’s dad (Pop) passed away in September. This followed three other family deaths this year, including my younger brother who died in February. After my father-in-law’s funeral, a friend of my mother-in-law offered her a long weekend getaway, and I was blessed to be able to join her (Dianna or Nana), along with one of my sisters-in-law (Rachael) and my two daughters.
We haven’t been able to visit the beach in a couple of years, and I’ll be honest, it is disappointing because I’ve normally been able to go once a year, even if just for a weekend. This is selfish, and we have to keep our financial priorities in order, but coming here is such a time of renewal, especially in the fall when no one is here.
There’s just something about the expanse of the water and the endless horizon that reminds me of the beginning:
The earth of formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters… Genesis 1:2
So, the Lord is faithful. As always. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to make the trip until the last-minute because my grandmother was in the hospital all week. When we finally headed out, I was hoping for something – anything – from the Lord…peace, clarity, rest….a revelation.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.
Each morning I’ve been awake by 4:30-5:30 am, and it’s been a precious time of reflection, and silence. Oh, and finding shells. I love to pick up shells. It’s always been a special hunt for me to find a whole sand dollar, and I don’t mean one from Alvin’s Island. With the way the waves crash, all I’ve ever been able to find are broken ones. I still collected a whole ziploc bag of those, because piecing them together can still make something beautiful.
My back aches from bending over and picking up so many…ones that I just couldn’t live without after I spotted them during my morning walks. The bag of shells currently weighs close to ten pounds. I’m not joking. Did I need that many? Of course. I already have three craft ideas! At least, that is what I will tell my husband.
During these sunrise shell hunts, Rachael or Dianna would sometimes go with me, but yesterday morning I was alone on the beach. My iPhone was set to my Lauren Daigle and Winterjam playlist, and I found a line of shells that stretched as far as I could see. In all my 42 years of visiting the panhandle area, I have never seen so many different shells, pieces of coral, and broken sand dollars on a gulf coast beach.
At one point, it almost became too much to keep bending over and standing up, which is actually quite awkward for me. I kept tugging my shirt down to make sure nothing in the back was showing! It was like the scene where the kid buried his face in the chocolate river on Charlie and The Chocolate Factory!
I finally got the idea to use a kiddie net, and I just drug it along the sand gathering as many as I could, and then sifted the sand through to reach my treasures.
As I shook the net and let the sand fall through, a couple stopped their strolling to ask me what I was doing. Being a talker, and an over-explainer, I told them I was gathering shells to make crafts, including some for a Bible study group.
They told me they were from Canada, introduced themselves as Lo and Brian, and I realized this was the same couple that met Dianna and my girls on the elevator the day we arrived.
In true Keysha fashion, I ended up telling them about how sifting the sand through the net reminded me of how we, as Christians, can be sifted, referring to the account Jesus had with Peter just before He was betrayed. It was also like how gold is super-heated to bring out the impurities, the dross, so that what remains is pure and without blemishes.
To get to the largest, most desirable shells, I had to first shake them free them from the surrounding gritty sand and the tiny broken pieces mixed in the net, otherwise, I couldn’t see the best ones. As I shook the net, it looked like small piles of chaff from where I had gleaned wheat, coming to rest on the wet sand, until all that remained in the net were the intact shells and the “trash” was on the ground.
The wife, Lo, stayed to talk while her husband, Brian, walked on ahead to work on his knee rehab. The conversation was as easy and animated as if I was talking to any sister in Christ that I’d known for years, and at times we almost finished one other’s sentences. We talked about Jesus, and she mentioned several things from the Bible that I had just written on my blog the previous morning… it was like confirmation.
Those God moments are something else, aren’t they?
What are the odds that a Christian from Canada would be walking on my section of a nearly deserted Florida beach in the middle of November, and even pause to speak to me?
Between my Proverbs 31 devotion, my blog post ramblings and my new friend, Lo, the Lord gave me repeating messages that day that were beyond anything I could have imagined during this trip. I knew I was looking for something down here…a burning bush, writing on the wall, or just an unbroken sand dollar – anything to renew my weary body and soul from the last eleven months of grief, depression, drama and staleness. He knew what I needed.
It should be no surprise that after she left to catch up with her husband, who knows how far they walked, that I was still sifting shells when they returned my way. Lo stopped again, and our conversation continued.
We talked about the Bible, the state of this world, children, salvation, sin, the enemy’s schemes, God’s grace, divorce, forgiveness, blended families, marriage, mental illness, kingdom work, and seashells. We exchanged room numbers before heading inside and I told her how to locate my blog so we could keep in touch.
My family and I went out for the day to explore Mexico Beach and eat lunch, because Dianna knew there would be a jackpot of seashells there. How have I never been to Mexico Beach?? Right behind the restaurant, Toucan’s, was the Florida lottery of shells. I could have camped out there all day to examine each one. All four of them helped me explore and gather until I said, “This is the last batch,” about four times. It was like when Melody has to escort me in Hobby Lobby, because if I go in alone, time would pass as if I was in the land of the lotus eaters, forgetting all concept of time.
When we came back there was a note taped to the condo door from Lo. She couldn’t find my blog, but she left her email address. So sweet!!! I emailed her the link, feeling special that she reached out to me, and then we went down to the beach to read and relax on a partly cloudy, cool, beach afternoon.
I had taken a picture of the book I started reading with the waves in the background (typical Instagram post, I know), and I couldn’t even remember where I got it. Someone gave it to me months ago and I only decided to take it to the water’s edge because it is titled, How To Survive A Shipwreck, by Jonathan Martin.
That sounds like a perfect beach-themed book – especially when you feel like your life has been shipwrecked over the last year, right?
- My husband lost one of his best friends in early December.
- I broke my leg two days before Christmas, had surgery (insert metal plate and nine screws), was disabled and unable to drive or get around my house for 3-4 months, and I’m still recovering almost a year later. My swollen ankle did not appreciate all of the shell searches, but I’ll consider it physical therapy.
- On February 25, my only brother died from a stroke at age 39.
- A few weeks later my husband lost his aunt, and then a month later, his uncle.
- My oldest daughter graduated from high school in May and we moved her to college in August. With student loans.
- My girls are witnesses in a criminal trial against a family member, who would not show up for court, or either have his lawyer get it rescheduled – normally when the girls and I were already sitting in the courtroom, unaware we didn’t need to be there. This has been pending for 14 months.
- I had a mini-stroke in September (something called a TIA), and was in the hospital for three days. I now own a pill organizer for bp meds and various vitamins and prescriptions.
- Two weeks later, my father-in-law passed away on September 25.
- In the midst of all this, it was nearly fiscal year-end in my bookkeeping job and a time I normally can’t afford to be absent from work. Obviously, family and health take priority, but it only increased my stress level of balancing all of the spinning plates in the air.
- The day before the trip I was involved in the craziest misunderstanding among some friends. Feelings were hurt. The enemy prevailed (so far), with his confusion tactics and gossip. I felt like I had been hanging from a rope – just waiting to get away from everything at home – and the last strand snapped hours before I was supposed to leave. As I was falling… I went home and cried.
Whoa. Sorry, but you needed to know some of the details of various shipwrecks to appreciate this post. Unfortunately, there was more I didn’t share, but it doesn’t matter how much I’m facing. We are to expect trials and remember that nothing catches the Lord off guard.
So, I’m looking out over the water, and there’s a picture of a boat in stormy seas on the book cover, so it seemed to fit in with my surroundings and recent state of mind.
Oh, but it was much more than fitting. It was snug tight all over me, like fleece-lined leggings for my depleted spirit.
There…on page 31…the writer quotes Jesus telling Peter that Satan has demanded to sift him like wheat, but that He has prayed for him, prayed that his faith would not fail, and once he turned back would be able to strengthen his brothers.
This book, the one that has been on my nightstand, in a drawer, on a shelf and in my car, would be the one I carry with my beach blanket on the same day where I was sifting sand – talking about this same verse – just a few hours before – with a complete stranger – from Canada.
“I have prayed for you – that your faith would not fail.”
“Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat.”
Wow. Let’s stop for a minute and have a brief overview of what is actually involved in sifting wheat.
- The first step in the process of sifting wheat is to loosen the chaff from the edible grain, which is called threshing. The old-fashioned way to do this is to spread the wheat onto a floor made from stone, concrete or tamped earth and to beat it with a flail. Another reference I found of threshing was to pile it on the threshing floor where cows or oxen were driven back and forth over it. Their feet “threshed” the grain from the stalk.
- The next step is called winnowing, where the loosened chaff is removed from the grain. They would throw the grain in the air, the wind blew the light pieces of stalk to the side, while the grain, which was both heavier and roundish, fell almost straight back down.
- Just before the grain was ground into flour, it was sieved. Webster’s describes a sieve as: A utensil for separating the finer and coarser parts of a pulverized or granulated substance from each other. It consist of a vessel, usually shallow, with the bottom perforated, or made of hair, wire, or the like, woven in meshes.
- I also read that the winnowing process did not get all the chaff from the grain. In picking the grain off the threshing floor, dust and pebbles were mixed in with the grain…kind of like the gritty sand with my shells.
Can we just let this sink in for a moment? Satan has required for Peter to be sifted, and his faith tested…which involves beating, tossing about, being shaken and pulverized. Jesus knew this was going to be painful for Peter, but He also knew it would refine him for the work ahead, so He allowed it to happen, but He also told him that He had prayed his faith would not fail.
Peter, sadly, would deny knowing Jesus before the rooster crowed. The writer goes on to say, “But while Peter would fail spectacularly, on the surface of things, there is something at work in him that is deeper than his failure. The waves will overtake the man and his blustering ego, but in the depths of the sea within Peter is a stronger, more ancient current that did not originate from him – a current that need not be shaken by his failure on the surface: his faith. I have prayed for you, Peter, that even though you will fail (in fact, be known for the most famous failure in the history of the church), your faith will not fail. The tsunami will come, and take your self-reliance and your pride; humiliation will wash over you. You will fail, but I have prayed for you…that your failure would not destroy your faith but deepen it. I have prayed for you that the very thing that was intended to kill you will make the faith already planted in the deepest soil of you even stronger.”
As I write this, I didn’t get far past page 31 yet, because my mind has been swimming all afternoon at the sweetness, conviction and clarity of it all.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. Psalm 42:7
Maybe I am being sifted.
Maybe the enemy crashed my boat and wanted me to be stranded on the island of depression, withdrawing from the areas where I try to serve the Lord and ending my teen/young adult ministry. If he could keep me isolated on that island, then my testimony of what God has done in my life is cut off. His glory is silenced. I am silenced.
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?
And how will they hear about Him unless someone tells them?
Maybe I was distracted at the helm and the crash was my fault… Instead of faithful prayer and study, what if I was below deck, gripped with fear and unbelief? Not that I don’t believe in the Lord, but do I always BELIEVE Him (best quoted by Beth Moore). How many days did I coast along as lukewarm or complacent and didn’t notice the warning signs of an impending storm?
Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity
And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in unchanging love.
He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea.
While I figure out all of this in the coming days, I just had to write about this experience, to document what God does, how He speaks to us, surprises us, loves us.
A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.
As Rachael and I walked beside the water on our last morning, I tried my best to refrain from picking up shells. I didn’t even take a bag with me so I wouldn’t be tempted. Of course, I would see one that had a unique color or shape, and before long my bluejean pockets were filling with sand and shells anyway.
We were almost back to the condo when I looked down and there it was…a perfect sand dollar. I looked at Rachael and laughed, saying maybe Dianna followed us and dropped it there for me to find. Dianna told me several times she had been praying I would find a sand dollar. Now, that might seem insignificant compared to all of our prayers in the world, but that sand dollar was like the period at the end of a sentence. It was God’s final statement of what I realized during this trip, He had given me new perspective, and now I needed to do something with it, because it is rare, and it took me a long time to find it.
I joked with my sister-in-law that what happened on the beach this weekend was just beyond my comprehension. It was so God-ordained that I felt at any moment someone would come riding by in a chariot like the Ethiopian eunuch, and Philip would be baptizing people in the gulf! I felt like I was in another world, for just a few days, and it was amazing.
I’m still processing everything, but I pray that I do not waste what the Lord gave me, and that I will see clearly, with spirit eyes, where to go from here.
Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?
Who holds the wind in his fists?
Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?
Who has created the whole wide world?
What is his name—and his son’s name?
Tell me if you know!
Every word of God proves true.
He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.
Proverbs 30:4-5 (NASB)
Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
Acts 8:26-40 (ESV)
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”[b] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
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