This past July, like most years, my family spent a week at the Oregon Coast. It is an annual tradition that we all look forward to very much.
Vacations are supposed to be relaxing and rejuvenating and for the most part this one was. However, at times, I was distracted and drug down by some situations that had been a discouragement to me over the last few months.
I desperately wanted to let go of the distractions and be in those precious vacation moments instead of stressing out. But, despite my efforts, it was proving pretty difficult.
One morning I was sitting outside, looking at the ocean, as I do many days, and feeling particularly discouraged. I started praying and asking (actually, it was more like begging) god to give me clarity and lift the feelings of worry and burden from my shoulders.
This doesn’t happen very often, but an answer came quickly in the form of a picture.
I realize, depending on your spiritual background or faith perspective, that experiences with the supernatural like seeing visions could seem weird. I totally get that and to be honest they are a little weird to me to. In fact, I used to doubt they even happened.
But I’ve had some very real experiences with things like this and over time have learned to really cherish them as a way that god sometimes chooses to communicate with me and others.
The picture I saw that day was of me standing on a dock in a large an ocean harbor. The harbor was full of boats of all different shapes and sizes. As stood there and lifted my gaze beyond the boats past the harbor wall out towards the horizon I saw a large hand reaching out to me.
Immediately I had the sense that the hand belonged to god and he was beckoning me to grab it and follow him out into the ocean.
It seemed like he was calling me to leave behind the burdens that had been holding me back.
As I reflected on the picture in the following days, some additional layers started to emerge. I got to thinking about the purpose of a harbor. It is a safe place to for boats to rest, receive protection and even get repairs while they are not in use.
But it isn’t the boat’s natural habitat. A boat should be out in open water doing its intended job. It is necessary to be in the harbor for a while but it isn’t fulfilling its real purpose there.
As I thought more about the picture, I realized the harbor might be Half Moon Bay (Pillar Point) Harbor in Northern California. The crazy thing is I had no idea what that harbor looked like. What I did know is that just beyond it, about a half mile off shore, lies a surf break called Mavericks that, in the right conditions, produces some of the biggest and most dangerous waves in the world.
So I got online and started looking at pictures of Half Moon Bay Harbor. Many of them didn’t look at all like my vision but then, suddenly, one jumped off the screen. It was almost exactly like the picture I had seen me! Maybe it is just coincidence, I’m not sure. Either way it is really cool to have an actual picture that reminds me of the vision.
I think most people can relate to the harbor imagery as least on some level. But for me it is intensely personal. You see, for me the ocean holds a place of huge importance. I literally grew up in and around it. It has always presented an interesting combination of fun and adventure and real fear for me – pure bliss, freedom and passion mixed with danger all at the same time.
The pinnacle of my ocean experience has been surfing.
When I was younger, I used to watch the surfers sitting way out past the breakers and dream of one day being like them, to conquer the waves and harness their power. Luckily it is a dream I’ve fulfilled and each time I surf I experience that powerful mixture of bliss and danger all at once.
So you can see how the image of the harbor and god’s hand reaching to me is an intensely personal one for many reasons. I’m amazed and humbled by how personally god chose to communicate with me in this instance.
The longer I’ve sat with this picture I’ve realized god may be saying that I’ve been in the safe harbor too long, that I can’t fulfill my real purpose there and that it is time to leave behind the things that have been tying me down and follow him out into the open ocean where an adventure beyond the limits of my imagination awaits.
Do I think he literally wants me to surf the giant waves at Mavericks? No. That would be really dumb. I don’t even have close to the necessary experience or physical conditioning required to attempt that.
But what if he’s saying that he wants to take me on an adventure that is similarly unbelievable? What if my vision for my life and what he wants to do with it has been way too small?
What if I need to be open to something that seems as implausible as a kid who once only dreamed about surfing conquering some of the world’s biggest and most dangerous waves?
The thought is at once exhilarating and terrifying.
I admit even now, as I think of following god out of that harbor into the unknown a sense of uncertainty washes over me. I don’t do so well venturing into unfamiliar places where the outcome is uncertain.
But as I think about that picture again and of the power of that hand reaching out, I remember it is a hand that provides strength, security and most importantly, love. If I grab on and let myself be pulled out it doesn’t mean I’ll be totally shielded from the effects of the ocean – the wind, the waves and the currents – but I also won’t sink or be overcome by whatever it throws my way. Instead, I will survive and ultimately thrive.
As incredible and impactful as this picture has been personally, I don’t think it is just for me.
All of us have things holding us down and keeping us from experiencing all that god has for us and becoming what we are meant to be. I believe god is inviting us all on our own special adventure, one that is tailor-made for us that uses the unique gifts he’s given us to make a difference in the world.
I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on this picture and consider what it would it take for you to make that step of faith and reach out for his hand today and follow him into whatever your unknown might be.