Topsail Island, North Carolina is famous for its amazing sunrises. There is something majestic about the sun rising over the ocean. Like a pampered queen, she takes her time appearing before her adoring audience. She never wears the same gown twice, so those in attendance are never bored.
I marvel at how anyone cannot be stunned into silence by such a show; but then I remember how much beauty I miss each and every day as I scurry about in a mad dash to get somewhere or do something. The journey is so much better when I slow down and take in all the wonders in my path.
Three years ago I had the privilege of watching the release of seven sea turtles on Topsail Island, North Carolina. The turtles varied in size, but their longing to get back to the sea was the same. I don’t remember the names of all of the turtles or what circumstances caused their journeys to be interrupted, but I do remember the last, and least, turtle because he was close enough for me to see the deep yearning in his eyes. I’m thankful for the image I was able to capture because it serves as a reminder of that miraculous moment.
Leonardo was the smallest turtle, and his flippers began flapping vigorously the moment he spotted the ocean. They did not stop beating until he was placed into the water. He was revving up his engine for a fast getaway and wanted to hit the ocean swimming. As I watched his handler trying to hold on to him, I understood the necessity of the restraints around the larger turtles. They needed four adults to carry them to the water. I’m sure ten strong men would not have been able to hold the largest turtle if his giant flippers were free to flap like little Leonardo’s.
This amazing pageant of healed turtles returning home humbled me in a powerful way. I was so happy for the turtles and so very thankful for volunteers, like the lady in line, who are willing to provide help and hope to injured travelers on their way home. I was watching a miracle and sharing the experience with those around me. It was a small crowd because the release took place the day after Labor Day. Tourists had returned home, and children were back in school.
I was standing near a woman deeply connected to this moment, but she was standing with the crowd and not with the volunteers. I could tell by the tone of her voice and her knowledge about the process that she was not just an observer. She told me the direction the turtles would swim and where they were headed. She also talked about the turtles as if she knew them well and loved them deeply. She represented the love that kept the hospital going. I wondered if she had known Karen Beasley, perhaps she was her mom. Whoever she was, she helped me see that more than turtles were being released that day.
I was on the beach that afternoon because God allowed my sister and I to overhear plans for the release as we waited in line for our afternoon coffee and smoothie. A lady who worked at the Turtle Hospital was telling her friend about it while we waited in line behind her. She was very gracious when we asked for details and told us when and where to be the following day. My sister was unable to go but insisted I go and tell her all about it.
Advent is a time of sweet longing as we await the arrival of Christ while remembering His birth. I can only imagine what those who witnessed that beautiful miracle first hand must have felt. I am still in awe when I think of those majestic turtles plunging into the ocean and making a sharp right turn as their built-in GPS directed them to the Gulf of Mexico. I got to see their longing satisfied, and it was amazing. Seeing the Messiah fulfill God’s promise is more than I can begin to fathom.
I long for the day when my spirit is released, and I am able to be with God; but I also long to be more aware of the miracles He places in my path each and every day. As I watched little Leonardo flap his wings in sweet anticipation, I found myself wanting to abandon all, jump in, and swim to the Gulf with him.
His longing was contagious! I pray mine will be too.
The following poem was in my room on Topsail Island. I can relate to the poet because the island takes me back to childhood and allows me to be the me God created me to be. I am so close to God on the island and feel a sweet sense of healing each time I go. My sister is a big part of the healing I find there. We play much as we did when we were children, and there is nothing better for my heart than finding that carefree kid in me “for one brief moment.” It carries me beautifully to the next summer.
There is an island at the edge of the great wide sea
That stands like a bridge to eternity,
Where a child long ago ruled and roamed
As conquering king and lord of the loam.
There from a dune he could look o’er to Spain
As he played in her sun and drank in her rain
With never a thought to the mainland’s cares
Or the march of time and the change of years.
Oh, but the secrets of those sands and place
Where plovers waltzed and blue crabs raced
And pelicans were all pterodactyls then
And every new face revealed a new friend.
A sand fiddler was more treasured than gold
And there was no sound sweeter than the waves on the shoal,
And every passing mast held a buccaneer’s sail
And every cloud that flew by was riding a gale.
Sometimes when the breeze blows ’round just right
And the moon shows up with his ole pal the night
With the whiff of hushpuppies riding the air
A veil covers time and once more I am there;
At that edge, by the sea where I long to be
Where the blue and the deep ever call to me,
And the wind still blows in from the distant Spain
I love searching for shells, smooth stones, and sea glass on Topsail Island. I keep my treasures on a wooden tray in my bedroom because the girls love playing with them. Looking at the shore for shells relaxes me as nothing else can. I love cleaning and sorting my stash because I wonder at the beautiful diversity before me. The entire process heals my heart and soothes my spirit.
I had to laugh while Edie and I were out searching. She’s younger and far more agile than I am, so she bends and stands back up easily. She was bending over, finding beautiful shells, and handing them to me at a rapid pace. I found myself watching her rather than the shore. I wasn’t getting my normal stress relief, but I was getting a kick out of her generosity. When I began pointing out shells and telling her to pick them up for me, she cut her eyes at me as only she can; but when she saw my grin, she knew I was messing with her. We both laughed and experienced an even better kind of stress relief.
Combing the beach takes a lot of effort; in fact, there are those who do it for a living. A decision has to be made in regard to each object in the sand. Is it really worth the effort bending over and picking it up with cost me?
God made it clear this week that He loves all His children and bends over backwards to pick up each and every one of them. He starts with the broken ones because they need His love the most, but He never wonders for a moment whether or not they are worth His effort. He knows they are!
I was humbled when I realized loving like God would mean picking up every tiny piece of shell on all the shores in the world. I couldn’t do that on one stretch of Topsail Island in a lifetime. I can, however, make an effort to pick up some of His broken children by being a loving presence in their lives. It takes effort, but it is worth bending my heart down and picking it back up again to experience the kind of love God desires for my heart. We wiggle out of His hands or bite like those pesky little gnats on the beach, but God picks us back up and loves us anyway. He always will, no matter what.
I could spend a lifetime searching for the perfect shell, but God knows I won’t find it if I pick up every shell on every beach in His world. They is no such thing as a perfect shell or a perfect person. He did, however, have one perfect Son, who made the effort to bend down in loving obedience so He could pick me up off the shore. I wiggle when I’m worried and bite when I’m angry, but He loves me anyway. He holds me especially close when I’m hurting because He understands my pain like no one else can.
I plan to tell Lilly and Mylah about all the shells, stones, and pieces of glass I found while at Topsail Island; but I want them to understand that shells, like people, need more love when they are broken. I think we’ll make a little shell hospital so we can wrap up the little hurt shells and give them the extra love they need.
As I watched Mylah fall asleep in my arms after a full morning of play, I thanked God for the sweet perspective she and Lillyann give me. Since coming home from Topsail Island, I’ve had a new sense of direction. I knew I needed a sunrise when I went to visit my sister, but I didn’t know why until this week. What I needed was a new beginning, and the amazing sunrises on Topsail Island were God’s way of telling me it was time to head home. I was sinking in a sea of guilt, and my heart needed to stop floundering on the shore and head to higher ground.
Each morning I was on the island, God arranged a spectacular sunrise. I needed to stop, rest, and be filled before beginning the next leg of this journey. Bad choices left my heart filled with hurt and guilt. Neither are part of the love God has in mind for His children, and that lesson was crystal clear each morning as I started my day in His presence. I’ve drifted from His presence often on this journey, and I’m sure I will again before arriving home; but I was as close to Him as I’ve ever been while on Topsail Island.
Life is about loving and connecting to others. I’ve made too many unhealthy connections, but I pray I’ll listen as God shows me a new way of connecting in regard to relationships. I see now that I am His daughter, and that makes me see me and His love for me in a whole new light. Tuesday evening as I met with a small group of women interested in drawing nearer to Christ and to one another, I knew I was right where God wanted me to be. The women ranged in age from nineteen to ninety-one, yet we all were in sweet accord. I’ve never felt anything like it before, but I have the feeling it’s only the beginning of what God has in store for my heart.
I was tossed upon the shore in a way that left me out of breath and gasping for air, but I’m breathing and connecting deeply for the first time in a very long time.
I witnessed a resurrection today on Topsail Island as I watched six healed turtles released into the sea. They all headed in the same direction, toward the point on their way to the Gulf of Mexico. What an amazing sight it was to behold! I marvel when I think of the way it all happened. I told my little granddaughters that I was going to visit the sick turtles while I was with my sister on South Topsail Island and promised to bring shirts and some toy turtles back to them. When I got to Edie’s, she told me the new hospital wasn’t open. She said she thought I could get some shirts at the Quarter Moon, so we biked down to the gift shop.
The store was closing when we got there, so I quickly grabbed five shirts and asked them to hold them for me until the next day. They didn’t take a credit card, and I didn’t have any cash. We were biking back the following day and noticed the door to the old hospital was open. The turtles were still in there so volunteers were busy at work. I asked if they had any shirts or toy turtles for sale. They told me that the new hospital gift shop was open on Monday and Wednesday for a few hours each day. Edie and I decided to go to the new store and went by the Quarter Moon to tell them I didn’t need the shirts.
The lady in front of me was getting a smoothie and telling the woman behind the counter that she was heading out and would smell great when she got back. My sister and I laughed at her remark, and she told us that she was a turtle hospital volunteer. She told us there was going to be a release. We were beside ourselves. It’s very rare to see a release, and Edie had always wanted to witness one. Unfortunately, she had to have carpal tunnel surgery in Chapel Hill today so she didn’t get to see the sweet miracle.
All of the turtles did the same thing as they were brought down to the sea, they flapped their legs as if they were flying. Their excitement was contagious, and the crowd cheered them on as they made their way down the beach. Each turtle had a beautiful resurrection, and I thank God for allowing me to witness each. God has a resurrection in mind for all His children, and He gives us the same joy and excitement I saw in those amazing turtles today. The turtles have a very unique GPS that allows them to navigate the globe, and I’ve got the Holy Spirit to help me do the same.
There just aren’t words that describe the sweet feeling of freedom I saw in those majestic creatures today. We all are looking to be released so we can go where we know we belong. God taught me a beautiful lesson today with the help of six turtles and the folks at Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital. There is such great work being done by the folks who work there. As I watched them working so diligently to get the turtles back into the water, I realized the turtles weren’t the only things that were extremely large. Their hearts were even bigger!!
Every time I pack for a trip, I’m reminded of how the process forces me to make choices I just finished packing for my trip to Topsail Island, and it was not like any other packing experience I’ve ever had. My focus was not on what I needed, but on what I loved and wanted with me. That changes the packing and the journey. I’m usually worried about my car, the traffic, the directions, how much money I’ll need, and a lot of what if’s. This time, I’m looking forward to every mile and every minute of the next eight days. The difference has to do with what I’m not taking with me on this trip. Guilt is not going, and that makes packing a pleasure.
Grace and guilt cannot exist together. Like love, grace cannot breathe in an unforgiving atmosphere. Both will suffocate and die, and that’s exactly what my heart has been doing since 1964. I found myself lost at sea and searching for a shore upon which to land. I heard “Love Lifted Me” being sung as a hymn of invitation and grabbed the life raft being offered to me. Like the words in the song promised, I was saved. I didn’t understand completely what that meant, but I knew I was out of the waters and on a life raft. It wasn’t the shore I had in mind, but I was safe and dry.
I’d like to say I was surrounded by love and supported after my decision to accept the love Christ offered me, but I can’t. My family stopped going to church shortly after I was saved, and as far as everyone was concerned I was going to heaven. That’s all that mattered. Once saved, always saved, end of story. That was the theme of my new journey. The problem was the guilt I began to feel about every little thing. I couldn’t do enough or be enough to deserve being pulled out of that water, so the load I carried got heavier and heavier with each passing year. The raft was heavy laden and at the point of sinking last month.
God used a sweet novel and a beautiful lighthouse to get me to His shore. It wasn’t easy to leave the safety of the raft and get back into the water, but God made sure to put love in the water and on the shore to guide me. The swimming was easy once I let go of the guilt I was carrying. It was like replacing a concrete block with a pair of water wings. I don’t know where my journey will go from here, but I do know that I have everything I love packed and ready to go