The beach is deserted as far as I can see. Empty, boarded up summer homes look settled in and patiently waiting, like resigned wives of old salts out to sea. This is where I need to be to talk to God - and to listen.
Call it a sabbatical, or a time out; whatever soothes the most ruffled feathers. I feel like an imposter, a compromised shepherd to sheep who are offended by the truth… the unvarnished, raw truth that affects them for eternity.
I grab my old field jacket and jog down to meet the tide. I do not take time to unlock the little vacation home that has been in my family for generations. Sammy, over at the electric co-op, promised to turn on the power. There is a stack of wood on the hearth. This is my first visit since Annie’s death two years ago.
My calling as Pastor has become hollow, like a drum. There is sound - but no music. I trudge through my days and nights, marrying, burying, and counseling. I attend endless, boring meetings that would keep any Christian from remembering what we are about. I am compelled to readjust my direction.
After several turns up and down the shore I realize I am cold and hungry. The toasty warm house welcomes me; a hug to my exhausted soul. There is very little to remind me of the old days. Our grown children have repainted and the slipcovers look different.
I hear whimpering and a scratching sound on the back door. When I investigate, I nearly fall over an obviously starving dog. I can count his ribs and there are tiny cuts around his ears. His eyes implore me for help. I may be his last chance.
“Hey, fellow,” I offer in as gentle a voice as I can muster, “where did you come from?”
He doesn’t answer. I coax him onto the screened porch and fetch a bowl of fresh water. He cannot seem to get his fill. It’s as if he has never had water in his life. When every drop is gone he sits down, somewhat revived, and contemplates me with big puppy eyes. I cannot resist.
Under better light I see that more than anything he is just plain dirty. I get some old rags and wash him off the best I can, all the time speaking softly. He winces but seems content to accept my feeble offerings.
“ You poor lost doggy. I think I’ll call you Sandy.”
It sounds like he says, “Arf.”
I have to stop and laugh. “My Annie would have loved you, Sandy. “
I start to hum the famous song from that stage show - the one about the sun coming out tomorrow.
After the dog and I eat supper, he settles down on an old quilt. I put my tired feet up and gaze at the logs crackling in the fireplace. The waves rushing in and out are a soothing balm, a comforting sound that puts me to sleep.
The song was right. I awaken to unexpectedly pleasant weather, perfect for a stroll down the beach. I have been praying for hours and now I need to fill my lungs with fresh air. Sandy falls in beside me.
“It’s like this,” I begin, as if he understood, “There is a creator of heaven and earth. Will you give me that much?”
No one would believe me if I report he says, “Arf,” but he does.
“Okay, the question is, what’s it all about?”
I know the answer, but I need to hear myself preach to someone other than the choir.
He sits when I stop and point at him for emphasis.
“The simplicity may astound you, my big galumphing canine. ”
I am shocked by a sudden lightening strike to my spirit as I realize the answer really is exquisitely simple.
Sandy watches as I climb up on a sturdy rock and shout Truth into the roaring sea until I am hoarse. It is cleansing.
We saunter back to the cottage for some lunch. He spends the afternoon catching up on lost dog sleep. I can’t wait to begin fresh sermons. The clock is ticking and there are a lot of grave things to teach dumb sheep.
I take out paper and a pen and write across the top of page one, “Life Starts After Death.”
I hear Sandy heave a big sigh …or maybe that wasn’t Sandy.
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