An object lesson God used to drive that point home
“The outside excitement is calling you,” God said to me this morning. “Let me watch you rejoice in my creation. I will be with you and speak to you.”
Tropical Storm Eta had ravaged the beach for 24 hours, but now I saw hints of sunshine between the bands of clouds as the sun rose. Perched in a wet chair on the balcony overlooking the beach, I had been reading Scripture and writing in my journal as I talked with God. Clearly, He saw me more like a child looking wistfully out the school window, waiting for the teacher to call “Recess!”
With His blessing, I exited our vacation condo and went to the beach. Unlike the day before when Eta moved along the coastline, this morning’s waves were not rolling and well-defined or taupe in color. Instead, these were roiling and frothy, gray tipped with white, too unpredictable and chaotic to draw the surfers who had congregated yesterday. Tropical Storm Eta lingered still.
I wanted to walk while some of the fury remained, perhaps to taunt the bully storm as she departed — as if I had been brave all along.
A surprisingly large number of beachcombers beat me to the water’s edge, scouring the beach for shells and treasures uncovered by Eta. None were walking or running to exercise, as they had done on previous mornings. Neither was I. Instead of running shoes, I walked barefoot, careful to avoid wood, broken edges of shells, and other storm debris.
I saw nothing of value I save in my pocket. I was looking for wisdom I could save in my heart. And I saw it in the sand dunes, which had served as the barrier between the sea and the buildings behind them.
Quite simply: Where there were sand dunes, the surging Gulf of Mexico had stopped. Where there were no sand dunes, the surging water encroached another 20 or 30 feet toward the unprotected homes. It was a picture of the boundaries God was encouraging me to build to protect my life’s calling.
Dunes protect buildings
When I was in high school, I participated in Youth Conservation Corps one summer. Along with other students from various high schools, I helped build a beach walkover and plant dune-loving native grasses and shrubs that would begin the first sand dune ecosystem at Siesta Beach in Sarasota.
At that time, developers had begun to realize that sand dunes provide a protective barrier to the valuable buildings behind them. During a storm, coastal sand dunes are a buffer between surging waters and what lies behind the dunes.
I’ve never thought sand dunes particularly attractive. It could be because when I was a child on the west coast of Florida, the perfect beach was sugar-white sand that ran from the parking lot to the gulf. Sand dunes often block the view of the water and are covered with unappealing bushes and weedy-looking plants.
Since I now more often visit the eastern coast bordering the Atlantic Ocean, I’ve become accustomed to the numerous and large sand dunes blocking homes and condos from the beaches. Indeed, I have enjoyed watching rabbits and birds and snakes as I’ve leaned over the railings on the wooden walkovers that protect the dunes.
But today, after experiencing my first tropical storm while staying in a condo right on the gulf beach, I saw the effect of the sand dunes. Though the water sliced away some sand and plants, the dunes stood strong still, some roots exposed, showing their tenacious grasp on the sand that makes the dunes strong.
The dunes stopped the water. More than that, none of the buildings behind them were compromised by the storm surge.
Only one complex had no sand dunes, and the water had encroached much further ashore than the dunes had allowed. The contrast was measurable.
Boundaries protect time
The dunes are a picture of what we must build in our lives to protect what God is building. We need to build boundaries to both internal and external forces that prevent us from accomplishing what God has called us to do. We must put our roots down securely to anchor otherwise shifting sand so that when the storms come — and they will — we are able to fight and stand strong against them.
For me, this is a personal message. I believe God is telling me it’s time to protect my writing, what He has called me to write. To do that I have to protect my time.
Just as I don’t find sand dunes particularly attractive, others may not find the boundaries I create to protect my time beautiful either. I need them anyway. Just as we build wooden walkovers to protect the dunes from human foot traffic, I need to protect the boundaries that I create — to protect the time to answer God’s call in my life.
This is what Paul said to his disciple Timothy:
“So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you. It’s as sound as the day you first heard it from me. Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us.”2 Timothy 1:13-14, MSG
Right now, I’m not sure what those boundaries look like, except that I’m intentionally putting God first. I will spend time in His Word and journaling my prayers and conversations with Him — before I hit the gym. (More on that in a future post.)
As I return to work, leaving the beach behind, I take heart in knowing that a single, rooted plant is enough to begin the collection of sand that will begin a dune strong enough to thwart surging waters.
I can start by planting that intention to put God first and build from there. Ultimately, I believe it will involve scheduling time blocks to better reflect my values and goals for work, relationships, and myself. It will definitely include time to write daily.
And then I will see what God will do through me.
For anyone who has discovered the Enneagram, I am a Nine, motivated to keep the peace and place others’ needs before my own. So creating boundaries is not my forte.
That is why God sent me to the beach to see the lesson of the sand dunes this morning. They were the treasure Tropical Storm Eta left for me.