As much as I would like this to be a beach study taken by me on my little mobile phone, I’m giving the credit where it’s due; this wonderful photo was taken by a friend, a professional photographer, Tony Long.
I don’t know how you all read this blog, whether it’s on your phones or desktops or tablets, and I don’t know if you see the photos as I see them, but I hope you do. Regulars will be familiar (bored?) with my local beach because I just can’t get enough of it! And I can’t help sharing it, like some sort of weird cultist, desperate to show the world that my weird little life should and must be enjoyed by everyone. I’m so evangelical about this small strip of sand that it may seem I’m just a step away from handing out the Kool-aid (you’re OK, we don’t have Kool-aid in the UK). Nearly every morning I’m so eager to share the experience with someone, anyone, that I post a pic on Instagram. If you listen intently at 8am, you can probably hear a fusillade of sighs and groans from places near and far as phones reveal yet another Poppit sky.
Often when I step onto the beach I’m at my loneliest, needing to share the moment (hence the Instagram) but by the time I come off the wooden walkway heading back home with my two muddy dogs, all sense of solitude has melted away.
I’ve come to realise that loneliness is real and unavoidable, but it’s not inevitable. Does that sound contradictory? It’s unavoidable but it isn’t inevitable. When I’m lonely, it’s a valid feeling, a rational reaction, because it’s a true reflection of my life. I’ve been alone for 27 years now, with no one to share the ups and downs, no one to share a moan with or bounce ideas off, no balancing counter-mind to dilute my daft ideas, no steady breath beside me, no hand to hold. It makes for vulnerability, works against resilience, ‘two together are stronger than one alone’ and all that. It makes for an unbalanced life. So, yes, sometimes living without a life partner brings an unavoidable ache of loss and longing. Unavoidable.
But not inevitable. I’ve learned that staying in that lonely state is a choice. Sometimes I’m a bit tired and a bit weak and I do stay in it, cranky and unreasonable, for most of the day. But I don’t have to. I can get out of the puddle and step onto the rock if I choose, if I have the sense, if I turn to the God of my heart and ask for help.
When I go down to the beach in the morning I’m a busy, busy beaver. I have a pocket full of leads, and poo bags (sorry, were you eating?) and in my hand is my phone, and at my feet (or thereabouts) the dogs. There are prayers to be said, the sky to marvel at, the sea to gaze upon, the wind to feel, the cold pure air to breathe. There’s sand beneath my feet, or shingle or rock, or dune grass, and sometimes the swirl of waves as the sea plays around my ankles. There are boulders and tree stumps to sit upon, birds to watch, and occasionally a seal to stare back at me as I stare at her. It’s bloomin’ exhausting, I tell you! There are rare orchids in the Spring, swallows in the Summer, great clouds of Canadian Geese in the Autumn, and horizontal rain in the Winter. David Suchet is a click away on my phone, ready to read to me any book of the Bible that my heart desires, and I can listen to “Oceans” or Bach’s Mass in B Minor, or anything else I fancy. All life is here.
Most of all, God. My God is everywhere but I am deliciously, delightedly aware of his reality when I stand, insignificant but treasured, on the curve of his Earth, under the dome of his sky.
Lonely? Yes, of course. But not for long.
I’ve been pole-axed over the last few months by one verse in particular in the Bible, and it’s Jeremiah 33:3. I’m not great at memorising, and I’m hopeless at remembering where verses come, but this one I think will be on my heart and I hope on my mind as I die. I’ve written about it before (repetition seems to be the theme here) but here we go again: “Call to Me, and I will answer you. And I will show you great and wonderful things which you do not know.”
That’s bloody amazing! Do you get how amazing that is? It’s more amazing than the sky and the sea and mountains and the Hadron Collider, the Grand Canyon, the Vatican, the Taj Mahal, and a new born child all put together in a great big fat pink gift box. It is! When I turn to God, and call to him, he answers. I know it for a fact. He does. He has.
But you don’t need the beach, he’s there wherever you are, desperately down down down in the belly of the whale like Jonah, or running across the mountains singing with joy like Julie Andrews…. wherever you are right now, he’s there. And he loves you. Right now. Call to him. He will answer.
And ignore me when I warble on about the morning. I’ve walked the streets at midnight and God is there. Look up into the depth of the sky (Pembrokeshire skies are velvet black), listen to the call of the owl, notice the glow of a lamp in a cottage window, hear your footsteps echoing down Church Lane…. God is there. Call to him. He will answer.
If you’re in a pub, a club, in the middle of some distress, lost in drink or drugs, if you’re in the gutter, in A&E fighting for breath, under the fist, with a split lip or an aching heart, in poverty and hunger and illness, God is there. Call to him. He will answer.
In depression, deep in fear, in shame, in guilt, in confusion, in illness, in bereavement, God is there. Call to him. He will answer.
That’s not my promise. It’s His.