It was January, but the sun was bright and the wind off the Gulf of Mexico was warm. I scrunched my bare toes in the sand and gave my husband’s hand a squeeze. We were on the beach at South Padre Island, Texas, to celebrate our 38th anniversary and to escape the darkness and tempest of our Alaskan winter.
On our first day there, we noticed most of the people on the beach were retired. We still have two teens at home, the last two of six children, and retirement feels far away. But after a quick glance (and grimace) in the hotel mirror later that night, I noticed that we didn’t look much different than our companions. How can we be this old? I wondered.
I don’t get this way often, but just the month before, during the Christmas holidays, I felt a twinge of weariness: a sick-of-all-the-cheer ennui, a feeling of entrapment, as though I were stuck on a carousel playing the same old songs, riding that tired horse up and down. Nowhere to run, just a circle that shrinks tighter every year.
On our second day in Texas I walked on the beach, trying to undo the years, to unwind them all and escape the weariness from so many months of storms and darkness. Look how many people are here on this beach from far away, with pale bodies and out-of-state plates, I thought. Look at us, how needy we all are. All of us walk or sit in supplication with our arms out to catch the sun. Hopeful men stand with fishing poles, throwing lines in the surf, waiting for hours to lure a catch from the sea. Beachcombers search for treasures washed ashore. Our winter bodies pump and beat the air, all of us inviting, begging, praying.
We all journeyed to this place where worlds intersect, where land meets water, where the sun shines and the ocean comes ashore to play, delivering joys and marvels. We are searching, all of us, for some small jolt of life—for some fragment of youth, hope, and wonder.
And it came. As I was walking, a strange fish—a gar, I later learned—rolled in the surf and landed at my feet. I stopped, astonished. It was almost two feet long, with a thin, strange body, huge coarse scales, and a mouth like an alligator’s. I touched it, and suddenly that alligator mouth gaped at me. It was alive! But not for long. So I picked it up carefully, its long body shimmering like an opal in the sun, and walked it out to deeper waters. I set it gently in the wave and let it go. It nosed through the foam of the surf, dazedly dove down through the next roller, and was gone with a flash of its tail.
We are searching, all of us, for some small jolt of life—for some fragment of youth, hope, and wonder.
I stood entranced, enamored of its rainbow armor, delighted to see the dead brought to life again. I laughed out loud, and after the experience, I felt stronger in those last two miles. Nothing had changed about my surroundings. Just birds, kites, old lovers. But these things were suddenly strange and wondrous to me. Yes, this is why I came: to feel alive and hopeful again.
The next morning I sat on a balcony over the beach, studying the Bible. I was in the eighth chapter of Matthew, reading about Jesus calming the storm, when the tears came. More than usual that morning. I confessed my own storms, my fear of aging, my lack of faith, my struggle with the isolation of winter. I sat still in the calm of Jesus’ words, in the security of His sovereign power and the quiet of His certain love. I looked out over the beach and the people enjoying it, and knew I could leave this sunny oasis in three days and take some of its peace with me.
Every morning at home, I do the same: I bring this aging body to God’s Word to walk through its pages. And there, among those stories, I am awash in wonder. Jesus sends Peter to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth. Jesus heals an outcast woman who touches His cloak. Jesus eats dinner with sinners and forgives those who crucify Him. I am humbled, renewed, and expectant. What might He do in my life today?
This is how I’ll stay young, I believe. Though that doesn’t mean I won’t get old. But as long as I tread in God’s Word, His mercies will remain as fresh as a morning walk at the edge of two worlds.
Illustration by Jun Chen