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TRUST JESUS TODAY
This is the first chapter of a manuscript I wrote this past year.
Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, “This far you may come and no farther, here is where your proud waves halt’?—Job 38: 8-11
The waves of the Atlantic hypnotically build and crash in a rhythm only God can explain. The world’s second largest ocean basks in the contentment of knowing its purpose. The life housed by the Great Ocean waits patiently as God Himself counts down the days until the world is made perfect once again. But until then, time rolls on, and the steady beat of Creation’s heart continues to submit to the One who provides its constant source of energy.
John Miller looked up from his devotional and inhaled the saltiness of the ocean air. He leaned his head back against the familiar lounge chair, knowing that he could be asleep in seconds if he didn’t move. The sound of the sea was as comforting to him as a mother’s whispers to her newborn baby. His forty something year old eyes appreciated the cloudless, powder blue sky acting as a canopy for the perfect afternoon. John closed the book and stretched, feeling a sense of contentment he only knew this time of year. The words of the author enhanced his state of awe while enjoying the week he loved more than any other. He and his wife, Kate, along with their two sons had been taking an annual family vacation for the last ten years. However, it was only within the last five that they had caravanned from Augusta, Ga to St. Augustine, Florida with three other families who made up their close circle of friends. These six days in August were always anticipated with much excitement by the whole group; so much that John even had an electronic magnet on his fridge counting down the days until the yearly excursion. Everyone laughed at him when he purchased it at one of the local gadget stores, but he didn’t care. The magnet was a calming reminder in the midst of chaos that a time with friends was coming soon. A familiar voice calling for justice interrupted John’s thoughts. “That’s a bogus call, Mom!”
“Cry me a river, Lee.” A parade of “Ooohs” followed the not-so-motherly retort.
John grinned, turning his attention to the volleyball game taking place to the right of the three large tents, otherwise known as ‘the city”. John looked at their rather expansive camp. Throughout the years, the small beachfront metropolis had become a phenomenon. Every morning he and the other men in the group drove the trailer packed with lounge chairs, coolers, and tents down to the beach and set them up for people in their group to enjoy during the day. The last ones to leave the beach repacked everything, just to be rebuilt the next day. Setting up the expansive village was work, but no one minded. It enabled both early and late risers to enjoy the waterfront at their leisure.
Another chorus of screams drew John’s attention back to the nearby competition. The volleyball game pitted the boys against the girls, and the action was getting heated. Apparently, Kate was the one responsible for making the calls, and their twenty one year old son, Lee, was not happy with the latest decision. John looked at the score scratched in the sand, and noticed the girls were winning, while the boys were screaming foul play. He was enjoying the sight of the familiar camaraderie.
“John!” John turned at the sound of Amy Bryant’s voice. “Look.” Amy, who he and Kate had known since their long ago days in high school, was pointing down the beach and giving him a knowing look. There he saw Grace Massey and his oldest son, James, holding hands, unaware of anyone in the world besides them. The two had been dating for more than a year, and unless his fatherly wisdom was betraying him, their relationship was progressing rather quickly. John looked back at Amy, who had gone back to reading her book, and sighed. Granted, he didn’t hesitate when James asked if his girlfriend could join them; for the last few years the boys knew an open invitation was extended if they had a steady. But Grace was different than any other girl James had dated. It was funny. Lee, the jokester of the family, always teased his much more serious brother that he would know he had found ‘the one’ if she made it through beach week. Ironically, the last two relationships James had ended within a month after their vacation. Somehow, if they didn’t fit in with his closest friends, James knew he hadn’t found the right girl. John had always appreciated his eldest son’s no nonsense approach to life; therefore, this time whenever John looked at Grace and James, he had a feeling he was looking into the eyes of his future daughter-in-law. He knew his kids were grown and he and Kate were facing empty nest syndrome; true, the prospect of daily life consisting of he and his wife excited John, but it also saddened him. He looked beside him and saw the Floyd children, eight year old Kimmie and six year old Alex building sand castles. It seemed like only a skinny minute had passed since his grown sons were that age.
“Migration! Migration!” Seventeen year old Chase Bryant was bringing up the rear of the ocean-bound pack, clearly excited by the spectacle that was about to happen. John groaned and sunk down in his chair, covering his face with a magazine. He didn’t want to watch as the other men in his party, including his own sons performed the dreaded “white tail migration”. For the last five years, the migration had graced the shores of St. Augustine as the men of the Augusta Caravan swam about two hundred feet off shore; put their swim trunks on top of their heads, and dove, posterior up, in and out of the water forming a line of “white tail” whales. The spectacle drew many giggles from the unsuspecting tourists, especially the elderly community. John acted like the more mature, embarrassed father figure, but he really thought the whole scene was hilarious. As if his son read his thoughts, John’s magazine flew to the ground as Lee was hoisting his old dad off of the well-worn lounge chair. “Come on, Dad! No getting out of this one.” John found himself being dragged to the ocean, but secretly, the closer he got, the more his inner twelve year old boy came to the surface and whooped for joy.
Kate Miller tried to withhold laughter as the gruff voice of Philip Bryant accosted her ears. Five minutes ago, Philip had been snoozing with a Sports Illustrated spread across his snoring face. Now, apparently he was awake. She smiled, not moving. “What is it, you old bear? Go back to sleep.”
Philip’s country drawl teased, “Kate, there is at least a million miles of shoreline up and down this beach. Why is it that you choose to stand in the one foot of sand blocking my vision?”
Kate pretended to ignore him as she bent down in the ice chest, filled her cup, and then threw it on her good friend’s bare back. Philip jumped up off the hammock, and Kate laughed hysterically, running down the beach away from Philip, and his newly filled cup of ice water. Amy encouraged the good natured feud. “Get him, Kate! Don’t let him talk to you like that!”
Maddie Grant laughed, and grabbed a diet coke from the ice chest, attempting to dodge the sand war now taking place between a doused Kate and soaking wet, sand-covered Philip. Maddie milled through her beach bag, found her magazine and sat in the lounge chair next to Amy. Maddie bent down, trying to look at the cover of Amy’s book. “What’ya reading, Amy?”
Amy showed Maddie the cover. “It’s an easy beach read, a mystery. Mary recommended it.”
Maddie smiled, and leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes wanting the warm sun to lull her to sleep. She had always admired Amy Bryant. Nearing middle age, Amy was a picture of grace and maturity. She was beautiful, classic and full of exuberant energy. She ran at least three miles every morning and swam laps every day at home. She was smart too; Amy was a former journalist who had taken up the cause of being a parent advocate for students with disabilities. Maddie especially admired the relationship Amy had with both of her girls; Amy was the kind of mother her daughters could tell anything to without fear of motherly justice taking the place of unconditional love. Maddie raised her head, suddenly curious about the girls.
“How is Mary doing in school this year?” Maddie knew the younger of the two Bryant girls had experienced some difficulty since attending The University of Georgia.
Amy closed her book and took a deep breath, looking down the beach where Mary and little Kimmie were taking a walk, collecting shells. “Her grades have actually improved. I think since she decided to major in education, her level of motivation has really increased. She’s more interested and sees the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.” Amy adjusted her sunglasses, her voice taking on a different tone. “Although, lately, she has been going out with this one particular boy for a while; Philip and I are a little concerned that she might slip a little if she gets too involved.”
Maddie was silent for a few seconds, watching the white foam of the choppy waves. “Have you met him?”
Maddie nodded her head.
“Yes. His name is Bryce Jones. We met him when we went to visit Mary about a month ago. He seems nice enough, very clean cut. He is a pre-med major. He seems to really like Mary…”
Amy shook her head slightly and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. It’s probably nothing. We’ll see what happens.”
Maddie took the hint, ending the topic of Mary and her boyfriend. “And how about Carly?”
Amy beamed proudly at the mention of her older daughter’s name. “She’s doing great. Carly is so focused. She receives her marketing degree in May. She is talking about taking a job with Chick-Fil-A Corporate in Atlanta.”
Maddie took her friend’s hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze. “You and Philip should be proud. You have such a great relationship with Carly and Mary. I hope Sam and I can have that kind of relationship with our children--.” She had to stop and swallow the emotion that welled up in her throat. “--one day.”
Amy returned the squeeze and looked intently at her friend. “You will, Maddie. It’s only been a few months.”
Maddie sighed out of frustration and flipped through her magazine, looking at nothing. “It’s been twelve months.”
Amy shrugged her shoulders. “That’s ok, sometimes it takes a while. Have you asked your doctor about it?”
Maddie nodded her head. “Yes. She said we could explore fertility after another few months. I hope we don’t have to go that route, but we’ll see.”
“You’re young Maddie.”
Maddie looked doubtful. “Thirty-two..”
Amy smiled, a glint of wisdom lighting her eyes. “Like I said, you’re young. Give it time. It will happen in God’s timing.”
Maddie looked away, not wanting to think about the year of disappointment she had just lived. The mention of God’s timing gave her a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach. If there was a God, why would He withhold a child from two potentially loving parents? Every day she heard of young girls having babies out of wedlock, or worse, mothers doing heinous acts against their innocent children; she and Sam would cherish a child above all else. Where was the fairness in it? Maddie was relieved when Kate came running up to them and plopped down on the sand. Everything from the top of her head to her modest sherbet green bathing suit cover was soaking wet and covered with sand. She breathed heavily from running. “Amy, I love you but your husband is a jerk.”
Amy laughed, and nodded out towards the ocean. “He can be. But, I wouldn’t talk too much. Yours is migrating in from the ocean as we speak.”
Kate closed her eyes. “Before I turn around, please tell me he is fully clothed.”
Amy and Maddie laughed. Maddie grimaced. “Uh-uh…..You’ll have to turn around and see for yourself.”
Kate turned to see her husband with his hand outstretched to help her up; he was glistening from the water and breathing heavy, but smiling from ear to ear. “Come on, love. Let’s go for a walk.”
Despite his silliness, Kate gave him an adoring look and began to walk down the beach, hand in hand, with her husband of twenty years.
Amy and Maddie watched them. Maddie sighed. “I hope Sam and I are like that after twenty years.”
Amy looked up from her book. “You’re like that after ten, what makes you think you won’t be like that after twenty?”
“I don’t know. Life happens, sometimes.”
Amy didn’t comment, only looked far off in the ocean, finding comfort in the rhythm of the tide.
John watched his wife’s face as she looked towards the ocean. “Look, John. Dolphins!” Kate was pointing to a spot about a hundred feet off shore, and sure enough there was a line of dolphins, gliding in and out of the water, the picture of synchronistic movement.
“Isn’t that amazing?” She looked up at him, her blue eyes reflecting his soul’s serenity.
John put his arm around her waist, and circled her towards him. “You’re amazing.” And he meant it; his wife was the sweetest, most caring person he had ever encountered. Before they married, she was in medical school, training to be a nurse. She would have made an excellent one too, but they got married and had their boys before she graduated. Sometimes he thought she might have regrets, but Kate always reassured him that she wouldn’t trade her life in for any other scenario.
Kate laughed and hugged him back, looking full into his face. “The beach always makes you like this.”
John raised his eyebrows. “Like what?”
She buried her face in his chest and breathed the scent of him. “You know, all mushy and stuff.”
John through his head back and laughed heartily. “Mushy, huh? Well, if that’s what you want to call it.” He bent down, kissing her neck.
Kate flushed and giggled like a girl, looking around. “John, what if one of the boys…?”
He drew back. “Kate, our boys are grown men, if they don’t know how they got here by now, then we’ve been paying too much for their education.”
Kate took his hand, diverting his affection, continuing their walk. John groaned, but followed.
“Speaking of the boys, John… Did you notice James and Grace at dinner last night? They couldn’t keep their eyes off one another.”
John shook his head, looking down at the sand. “Kate, you know as well as I do, that James has known what he’s wanted since birth.” Seconds passed as he focused on a spot out in the distance. “I’ll never forget when he was two years old and told Santa he wanted a gavel for Christmas.” John looked wistfully at his wife. “I still can’t believe he’ll graduate from law school in a year.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Anyway, if he has found the one, rest assured he’s seeking wisdom. He’ll do the right thing—whatever that may be.”
Kate teared up and shook her head. “I know….I just hope he and Gracie will wait until…especially with her….”
John stopped and gently turned Kate to him. “Be anxious for nothing….”
Kate smiled and remembered the passage in Philippians she so often quoted. “I know, John. I know.” She hugged her husband, seeking assurance in his embrace.
“I can’t believe this week is almost over. It’s like it takes forever to get here, and once it arrives, it always goes by way too fast.” Ann Floyd looked at her husband, Ray who was wading beside her in the ocean.
“I know, babe. But, isn’t it great that we get this week; I mean the kids have been having a blast!” Ray laughed as he sunk neck deep in the saltwater. “It is nice to have all this free entertainment around.”
Ann laughed and agreed, appreciating her husband’s optimism. She looked back towards the shore and noticed Kimmie throwing a Frisbee with Carly and Mary. “The girls are really good with her.”
Ray was looking up at the sky while floating on his back. “Sure they are. Why shouldn’t they be? Kimmie’s a lot of fun.”
“I know, Ray. But you know what I mean. They’re pretty patient with her, especially when she completely shuts down.” Amy watched Kimmie, who had been recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of Autism. She and Ray were still learning so much about the characteristics of the syndrome, but they really tried hard to focus on Kimmie and her abilities, instead of disabilities. Her melt downs, as she had come to call them, were mild in comparison to other children with AS. But, still, they were troubling. Their friends were extremely supportive and seemed on board with anything Ann and Ray wanted to try with her. Ann was thankful for the older girls on the trip; all of them were excellent role models for Kimmie. Ann got so lost watching the girls play, that she didn’t notice Ray had disappeared. Panicked, she began to look around until she felt something grab her legs. She started to scream, but then her husband’s face popped up in front of her. Confident both of them were ok, she then began yelling. “Raymond Floyd, you scared me….”
Ray stopped her with a kiss.
“I love you, Gracie.”
Gracie looked at James’ fingers intertwined with hers. They had walked down the beach for the better of an hour. None of the tents were visible from where they were standing. Gracie shyly looked up, not wanting for the moments to pass. She held his face with her eyes. “I know.”
James bent down and kissed her tenderly.
She released his hand and wrapped her arms around his waist, falling in to the protective way he put his arm around her shoulders. They continued walking; Gracie loved the way that James was comfortable in silence. He only said things that had meaning, and she loved that everyone around him seemed to listen when he did comment or express his opinion.
He stopped walking, directing his face to hers with an index finger underneath her chin. James had been deep in thought for weeks. She joked with him often, trying to get him to relax, but she could tell there was something there. He looked in the distance until he found the words he was looking for. “Do you ever get scared about the future?”
Yes. Always. But fear was something she had struggled with since she was a child. God had taught her how to wrestle with it, not using her own strength, but His. When it reared its ugly head, she had a few key verses she repeated to herself. James knew this. After months of dating, there were very few topics they hadn’t talked about. But, now she was determined that her boyfriend should lighten up a little bit and relax. She punched his arm lightly. “Vacation, remember? You are supposed to be relaxing.”
He looked down at the two inches of water they were standing in and then back at her. The smile he gave her made her giggle like a six year old. “I know. But, being here with you, watching all these happily married people, I….”
Gracie reached up and placed her index finger over his mouth. The future held a lot in its hands for them; they both knew that. Law school. An MBA. The sky was the limit. But it would all come in due time. She was determined not to rush anything. The impish grin that crossed her face told him that it was time to put the future to rest and concentrate on the present. “Race ya.” And off she went wading into the ocean. She looked behind her. It had worked, because he was coming after her, laughing.
God was turning the lights out. Philip smiled as he thought of the expression Chase used to use when he was a toddler. Since then, whenever he or Amy witnessed the miracle of the setting son, one of them would look at the other and say the precious phrase from years before. He smiled to himself at the memory and looked around at his best friends in the world. Unlike his very social and caring wife, he had never been one for close relationships in the past. He cared about people, but wasn’t always good at showing it. But this group of people was different. Philip felt that God brought them together; they were in his prayers day and night. The sun was setting marking his favorite time during the day. The last ones to go in for the day, usually him, John, James, Ray, and Sam would stretch out in their chairs and talk about everything and nothing. The wives would joke and say they were solving the problems of the world while they were preparing a feast for the hungry brood. But that wasn’t true; they just laughed and chatted and enjoyed one another. Tonight was different, though, because it was the last night for another year. A sense of melancholy had pulled up a chair among them. Sam had stretched out in a chair, watching James and John play a game of beach golf. The game was one the group had invented their first year together. They dug two holes opposite one another and rolled the golf ball to see who made the most shots. As Philip watched, he remembered Sam had been the engineer behind the game.
Philip had always admired Sam for many reasons. First, he was a man of integrity in the business community. There were a lot of crooked contractors; Sam handled every transaction as if he were building a home for his own father. Second, Sam was the kind of husband Philip really wanted to be but didn’t know how. He doted on his wife, Maddie. Philip admired that; although, he loved Amy more than life itself, he didn’t always know how to show it. Thankfully, she overlooked his inability to communicate and loved him anyway. Philip watched the bantering between John and James and joined in the laughter. Apparently, a stray golf ball had become a beach mutt’s best friend. There was no way they were getting it back. Ray was coming in from the ocean and tried to retrieve the ball from the playful pup, but after an unfriendly growl had forfeited it good-naturedly. Sam was giving him a hard time about it.
“Oh, look at the tough football coach! Are you kidding me? That thing is a puppy.”
“Say whatever you want to, Sam. You didn’t see that ‘pup’ show its teeth at the idea of giving up its precious possession.” He shook his head and plopped down on the sand. “You’re out of luck.”
A choral of chicken calls came from the group and Ray waved them off. “Whatever, guys.”
Philip turned up his coke and reminded himself to remember what complete relaxation felt like, because this time tomorrow it would be a precious memory. With the girls in college and Chase in the throws of being a full fled teenager, it was rare he got them in all in one place for more than a couple of hours at a time. He loved knowing when he went to bed each night this week, all his children were safely under one roof. He was proud of them all for different reasons: Chase for his sense of humor, Carly for her ambition, and Mary for her heart. Out of all his children, Mary was the most like Amy. She had a heart for people; Philip prayed everyday God would send her down the right path to meet someone intended to cherish her as he did. He didn’t know if this Bryce was the one; but he prayed God would give Mary the wisdom to know what he couldn’t.
Mary busied herself helping her mother prepare dinner for the hungry beach combers, but her mind was on anything but food; it was on Bryce. She had spoken to him on the phone just minutes before, and the sweet sound of his voice still rung in her ears. He said he missed her, and she knew he meant it. The thought of him warmed her all over. Mary had boyfriends in high school, but never one like Bryce. Bryce gave her the assurance she needed to make it through everyday away from home. Mary had always been a home body, even in high school. She was popular enough in clubs and sports; she even followed in her sister’s footsteps and cheered, even though it was against every natural inclination she had. But when it was time to choose a college, Mary wanted to stay close to home. Carly had been the one to talk her out of it. She remembered the night before she had to make the final decision; she and Carly were sitting on her bed at home sifting through the massive pile of acceptance letters and brochures.
“Come on Mary. You don’t want to stay here forever, right? Go and have fun. UGA sounds great; and besides, I’ll only be an hour away in Atlanta.”
Mary thought about it, not wanting to succumb to her sister’s pressures, but knowing she would. Carly was her best friend, but they were so different. Granted, they looked like twins. Both girls had the same dark hair and eyes. They were average height, but built like athletes. Mary thought how the old adage, looks can be deceiving, illustrated she and her sister perfectly. Carly was always up for an adventure; so sure of herself, where she was going, and what God wanted her to do. In contrast, Mary didn’t have that same sense of adventure or direction. But she didn’t want to disappoint her big sister; therefore, she decided to suck it up and attend UGA. But when she got there, she felt a pervasive sense of homesickness. Her room mate was nice enough, but between the overwhelming class load and all of the typical peer pressure that came with going away to college, Mary slowly became a permanent fixture in her dorm room. On the rare occasion that she did drive to Atlanta to see Carly at Georgia State, she would always receive a pep talk and return to Athens determined to stick it out. But finally, right before her junior year, she had almost decided to give it up for good, when she met Bryce. Her room mate had forced her to go with her to a frat party. Mary got there and was extremely uncomfortable with the whole environment. She had never been much of a drinker, and it seemed socialization without a drink in her hand was going to be out of the question. Mary was on her way out the door to walk home when a guy came running up to her, asking her to wait up. It was Bryce Jones. Mary knew Bryce from some Baptist Student Union gatherings. He was kind of a jokester, and was constantly surrounded by girls. Therefore, she had always kept her distance. But, secretly, she did admire his gregariousness during the skits the team would perform before worship services. Bryce seemed like the kind of guy who could be daunted by nothing; he exuded confidence. Bryce offered to give her a ride home in the Designated Driver van, apparently an added service provided by Greek row. She laughed, and said she hadn’t been drinking so she didn’t think she qualified for the ride. Her soberness proved to be appealing to him, because apparently he wasn’t a drinker either, therefore always getting the assignment of designated driver. She ended up riding with him, taking a lot of drunken people home that night. They laughed at the crazy antics, but also ended up talking all night. He asked her out on a real date the next day, and from that point on they had been inseparable. That had been six months ago. This week was the longest they had ever been apart, and it made Mary know she loved him that much more. To make it worse, she would be away another week visiting her uncle and his family—all the way in California. She really didn’t know if she could make it. Mary sighed aloud, drawing a questioning stare from her mother. She continued chopping vegetables, not wanting to reveal anything just yet.
Granted, her parents had met Bryce, and they seemed to like him. But Mary knew her mother, and she was positive Amy Bryant knew something was different about this relationship. She had, on more than one occasion, gently cautioned Mary about getting too serious. Mary knew what part of the relationship her mother was referring to; she had always been open with them about sex, and God’s plan for marriage. But Mary couldn’t help think what it would be like to be with Bryce; they had even talked about marriage and Mary couldn’t imagine anything or anyone who could break them up. Mary stole a glance at her mother standing beside her, pouring iced tea in glasses. Mary wondered if her mother had ever felt this kind of longing for her father. Mary’s face brightened at the idea of her mom and dad exchanging more than a hug and kiss. She shook her head, shooing the thought away. Time would tell what she was supposed to do; but in her heart she knew nothing was more important than getting back to Bryce.
“All right guys, we are all loaded up. Everyone ready to head home?” A collective “no” sounded from all in the party. John smiled, despite his common dose of mild depression that always accompanied him on the last day. He watched as his friends checked one last time for forgotten items, making sure everything was secured, and ready to roll six hours up the road to Georgia. “Ok, everyone agreed, we’ll stop in Savannah for lunch?” He noticed the long faces of his friends and family. Kate was standing beside him holding his hand. James, Lee, and Grace were standing together near James’ truck, ready to pile in. Philip, Amy, and Chase Bryant were locking down the trailer containing all the beach paraphernalia. Sam and Maddie Grant along with the Floyd family had carpooled and were loaded in the Floyd’s van; Mary and Carly caught a flight early that morning to spend a week with family out in California. John took a deep breath and tried to be positive. “Come on guys, 365 days from now, we’ll be right back. No telling what will happen between now and then.”
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