I LOVE the ocean. It energized me and stirs my heart like nothing else in nature. I love the sound of waves pounding the surf, the salty water swirling around my feet, and the feel of sea winds blowing forcefully against my face and whipping my hair all around.
For many years I have had this recurring dream of traveling to an unknown town to stay at a hotel within walking distance of the ocean. In the dream, I somehow lose so much track of time walking about and accomplishing tasks that it is only a couple of hours before the whole week is over and I have not walked the distance to the sea yet. I end up feeling very disappointed and anxious, as I am trying to squeeze in some last-minute time before I have to leave and return to a home that is hours and hours away from the crashing waves. The first couple of times I had this dream, I woke up feeling puzzled by its meaning. The mystery of the dream’s meaning ended when I took the dream to prayer.
While meeting with God, I realized that this dream was about the state of my relationship with Him the days before each dream would occur. The ocean has some of the attributes I would use to describe God, so for me, the ocean had become a symbol of Him. He is powerful, deep, mysterious, beautiful, full of life, and the list goes on. I believe my spirit was crying out in the dream, feeling the loss of precious time with God. I am not talking about the neglect of routine devotional time where I may read a few verses, offer up some prayers for the people I care about, and sing a couple of worship songs as I work through my day. I am thinking of the undistracted time when I also sit unhurried, pour out my heart, listen to Him very carefully, and usually with a pen and paper in my hand. I am referring to the moments when I sing a song alone with God while deeply celebrating every word that expresses love to Him and the goodness of Him. Now, when I have a dream like this, I examine the depth of my time with God.
This summer, my dream almost became a literal reality. This is how it happened:
At the end of July, my family and I loaded up our car and traveled a long way to our favorite vacation along the Atlantic Sea. Most likely because of the twisted position of my back in the passenger seat while sleeping on the way there, I had severe muscle spasms along my spine the morning after our arrival. I could barely walk a couple of steps without shooting pains, let alone take a stroll down the boardwalk to the beach. When healing didn’t come quickly I was fighting discouragement and disappointment. As my family ran off to the beach with boogie boards and towels, I was stuck sitting still on a couch in a small and slightly musty-smelling rental condo. The sounds and view of the beach were blocked by tall tropical shrubs ground on many yards of sand dunes. I was a stroll away from my most favorite place on earth and I couldn’t get there.
I don’t believe God punishes us. I do believe that He allows natural consequences that will help us learn to love others and take care of ourselves better, and He never withdraws His love in the midst of our learning. He also heals and restores. My obvious lesson was not to sleep in an unnatural position and maybe stretch my muscles every time I got out of the car! However, I was still fighting some crazy thoughts and I was feeling very downhearted. Was there something else I had done terribly wrong? We prayed about a lot of decisions this year including whether or not we should take this family vacation. Did we take a wrong turn somewhere? To silence my thoughts that contradicted what I knew was true about His goodness and mercy, I asked God directly, “Is there anything I am supposed to read into this?” I could almost hear Him gentle laughing in delighted response to my reaching out to Him, and I sensed Him saying, “Only that I am going to take good care of you.” Soon I felt prompted to say out loud: “Jesus loves me. He wants me well. He wants me to enjoy my vacation with my family.” The words fueled my faith and strength.
I was still stunned by my predicament and wasn’t sure what to do next. Suddenly I remembered my earlier-described repetitive dream of missing time at the ocean. I sensed God say in response to my recollection of the dream, “You can’t get to the sea but you CAN get to ME.” Then, I felt like we shared a smile as I remembered that the dream was really all about being with Him anyway. I knew exactly what to do next. I spent a long and wonderful and refreshing time with Him, reading and listening and learning and singing. It was just him and me, alone and undistracted, and I will always remember it. God’s presence is a wonderful place.
And like He said, God did take care of me: He directed me to make some phone calls for help. Amazingly, a licensed massage therapist in town had an opening the next day. She was able to loosen a lot of knotted up muscle tissue and recommended a chiropractor to make some needed adjustments on my spine. She and I had a great conversation. As I was leaving, I told her about my new book, and she opened up to me about some challenges she was facing. She let me give her a big hug and pray for her. I felt honored. Due to a cancellation, the recommended chiropractor had an opening the next day! He had years of chiropractic experience and did wonders for my back! Just like the massage therapist who I found randomly in an online directory, he happened to be a Jesus follower. He and I also had a wonderful conversation. We talked about the goodness of God and about writing. I told him and his wife about my book. They were very encouraging and happy to share my business card and information with other people they knew. I was watching God do His thing of working all things for good :).
I began to feel a little better each day and soon I was swimming, enjoying time with my family, and taking long prayer walks on the beach. As I was walking, I noticed people smiling at me with a questioning look on their face. It was then that I became aware that I was grinning the whole time I was walking. My constant smile probably looked a little strange and amusing to people, especially since I was walking alone. However, it actually only appeared that I was alone :-). I was actually heart to heart with my Creator, enjoying the recent reminder that His presence overwhelms me with peace and love beyond what the most refreshing destinations can ever give me. I actually was led to a wonderful place because I remembered the recurring dream.
I would rather spend one day in His presence than thousands in the most beautiful places without Him.