In the summer, you can sometimes feel the daily variance of the weather in your own soul. Florida can capture the heart like that. One particular summer held for me much more than a moodiness tied to the ever-changing skies, however. It held a journey, a pilgrimage, magnetically pulling me in, yet causing my heart to tremble.
I’m not sure why I always seemed to walk through life in unconventional ways, taking back roads and elusive paths. I just know that as an 18-year-old high school graduate, I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. It seemed colorless to me; and vibrancy appealed to my heart. I desired an original, unique, different story. At the same time, though, I didn’t want to be seen as the oddball. I wanted to be different and stand out while simultaneously being as normal as anyone. It’s an odd, hard-to-grasp, balance.
Maybe we’re all familiar with the same desires – wanting to blend in and stand out. They seem to contradict one another. So we are forced to choose. Which is it? Do you want to be normal, or do you want to be you?
An interesting truth about life here is this: No one is normal. Yet everyone is normal.
Could it be that not being normal is what makes us all normal?
I chose to go places that captivated me, and do things that made my heart skip a beat when I thought of doing them, rather than what my culture and the people who cared for me expected.
To be honest, I did feel like I was disappointing a lot of people, and causing others to question my sanity. The responses I got were discouraging and negative at worst, or curious as to why I was choosing this at best. I don’t actually remember a genuinely excited response to my decisions. While those closest to me were 100% supportive of me, and happy (eventually) it took some getting used to for them to fully be at peace, and to this day, I’m not sure if they ever were fully at peace.
But the thing is, I remember walking along the seashore with an anxious heart and racing mind on a particular day in 2011, and it got foggy. Before I knew it, I could barely see more than a few feet in front of me. It seemed as if all of nature in that moment intertwined with my heart, picked up its very essence, and then responded by painting an exact picture of it, and engulfing me within it.
All I knew was, I didn’t know anything. I had come to the beach on this day with a rising sense of anxiety and urgency about my decisions, my direction, and my time. It felt as if each path I chose would be a mistake, because in choosing one I would be forsaking something amazing to be found on another. It also felt to me like time was running out. I was already 4 years out of high school, and still had no direction long-term. Everything I had been doing so far was for half a year, or a few years at most. I hadn’t yet figured out the sustainable, long-term calling I was made for.
And it made me so afraid.
What if I never found it? What if I waited too late?
Nothing about my decisions thus far had been logical. They had all been made because they had been felt in my heart. And I was beginning to think that this could be problem.
I couldn’t keep floating through life letting my heart lead me everywhere, could I? That’s a dangerous way to do this thing.
I kept walking along the beach, feeling the anxiety in my heart, the fear of the unknown, the dread of uncertainty, all at once, it seemed, and I felt them all begin to leak to the surface in the form of salty tears mimicking the salty ocean and the salty air.
I couldn’t hide from this anymore.
God had lured me here, and drawn me in. He had gently tugged at my heart and then beckoned my feet to take steps, one in front of the other, through the endless stretch of grain we call sand, to a destination I was unsure of.
As I kept walking, a familiar melody slowly made itself heard in that background of my racing thoughts. Almost inaudible for the constant barrage of “what if”s tumbling through my mind, I heard it like a whisper. I turned my attention ever so slightly, as much as i could, toward this melody. It was hard not to let my thoughts consume me in a cloud of fear like the tangible fog around me. But as weak as I felt, I knew I needed to fight.
I began to try to dwell on this melody. It didn’t come quickly, but as my feet took step after step down that stretch of land and sea, slowly the melody began to overpower the storm of anxiety. I began to sing it out, with a weak and shaking voice, as I walked further into the fog.
It was a quiet song that I had barely noticed when buying an album a while back. But it was here, now, and I felt the spirit of God on it, and with me.
“You know me, and I know you
You’re the God who calms all my storms
You’re the voice inside my head:
‘Don’t give up, don’t let go.
Don’t lose trust, don’t lose hope.’
You can have all my fears, God
You can have all my sins
You can have all my weaknesses
I know you’re with me to the very end
I know you’re with me to the very end”
How many times those lines were repeated that day, I will never know. But in that moment, I knew that He must have all of my trust. He must have my full surrender. He must be worthy of my saying yes to uncertainty and unknown, with no promise of a lighthouse in the fog to guide me home.
As these truths began to clear out the swirl of my loud and restless thoughts, I felt it:
It washed over me, born from the knowledge that His presence was near.
When the Father is near, there is peace.
I felt this peace, even having received no answers to my questions. I felt this peace, even with so many prayers left unanswered.
Something we often forget is so simple, yet so profound: His presence changes everything.
What He wanted me to know was this: He was near, and that made everything ok.
With Him, I can move mountains. As long as His presence is with me, then it matters not what may stand in my way, or what may lie ahead.
After this awakening, I chose a path. And I started walking down that path. And that path has led me here, now. And what I have learned is that when He is with me, I can’t go wrong.
No decision I make is powerful enough to alter my destiny, not even a bad decision. Because my destiny is Him. Mistakes aren’t powerful enough to ruin my destiny, not even terrible ones. Because my destiny is Him.
As long as I love Him, as long as my heart is warm toward Him and not cold, even the mistakes I make will lead me straight back to where I belong.
Is He not sovereign, powerful to gently correct my steps if they begin to veer away? Is He not powerful enough, good enough, to redeem wasted time, wrong decisions, dark paths?
And with this, I breathe in the salt air, and breathe out “Thank you.”
Because “He is with me. He is with me. He is with me.”