By Kelly Johnson
We fell in love with the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1995, and we’ve returned almost every summer since. Each time we cross the Wright Memorial Bridge, the three-mile span that serves as the unofficial entrance, we roll down the windows and turn up our favorite Jimmy Buffett song. The smells, the sounds, and the sight of familiar landmarks all conjure up over twenty years of happy memories. As we cross the bridge each year, I feel as though I’m going home.
Life is different at the beach. Time moves more slowly: rest and relaxation is not only allowed, but encouraged, perhaps even required. The rhythms of our days begin gently, with no rushing. Mornings are a perfect time for a walk on the beach with God. Because the smell of the ocean feels like a miracle to me, I breathe more deeply, more slowly, more intentionally. As the sun gets higher in the sky, I find myself with a book in my lap, staring at the ocean, watching children playing in the sand, listening to the sounds of the seagulls overhead. Fully present, fully immersed in the moment, fully aware of my surroundings.
I say yes more often when someone asks me to play, despite my awkward boogie boarding and Kubb skills. With no agenda, my loved ones and I talk about everything and nothing in between chapters, naps, and dips in the cold, salty, always-changing sea.
When our children were little, the beach was a bit more work. Just the process of applying full body sunscreen to wiggly, excited little girls demanded patience, not to mention the constant vigilance required to keep multiple children from being carried out to sea by the waves they eventually learned to respect. In those days, rest and relaxation meant teamwork from the adults. Watch, feed, redirect, entertain, and reapply sunscreen to whichever child was within your reach. There was no such thing as someone else’s child.
Although we occasionally venture out to a restaurant, most evenings involve cooking dinner with the whole crew. While it might be someone’s night to plan the menu, preparation requires all hands on deck. Because the music is turned up, spontaneous dancing while peeling potatoes or setting the table is highly likely. As the kids get older, they take on more and more of the clean-up duties when dinner is over.
Even rainy days at the beach are different. One group surrounds the jigsaw puzzle table, another plays a board game or cards. No one needs permission to curl up in a corner with a novel or slip away for a nap. In the slower rhythms of beach life, watching the powerful beauty of storm blowing in over the ocean is all the entertainment I need.
The end of our time at the beach is always bittersweet. Each year when I leave the beach, I want to wrap up every morsel to take home with me. Although I can’t figure out a way to bottle the smell of the ocean air, I wonder if other lessons from the beach are more portable. How might we blur the lines between beach living and ordinary life?
Here are a few ideas on my list:
- Take walks with God every day.
- Breathe more deeply.
- Live in the moment.
- Notice the beauty around me.
- Be with my loved ones with no agenda.
- Talk about everything and nothing.
- Play more.
- Say yes, even when I look awkward.
- Love, protect, feed, and play with the everyone’s children.
- Remember there is no such thing as someone else’s child.
- Live in community.
- Dance spontaneously.
- Help do the work.
- Clean up the mess, even if I didn’t make it.
- Embrace the stormy days for their unique beauty.
- Take more naps.
- Read more books.
- Do more puzzles.
- Play more games.
- Be deeply grateful.
Summer is drawing to a close, but I plan to take this year’s lessons from the beach into my busy fall. Would you like to join me? If you’re a beach lover, what would you add to the list?
Kelly Johnson is a counselor, writer, speaker, and advocate. She leads a weekly Bible study and serves as chair of the board of directors at a local shelter for the homeless. Married to her high school sweetheart, she is the mom of two college-age daughters. Kelly writes about life, faith, and her newly empty nest at kellyiveyjohnson.com.
Photograph © Bethany Beams, used with permission