We were back at the place that holds my heart. I know a lot of people love the beach. I'm sure for the same reasons that I originally fell in love with the beach, too. Six years ago, however, the significance of the beach and, even more specifically, St. Simons Island took on a whole different meaning to me. It was a season in my life when God took me by the hand and told me it was time to sit down. It's the place where God first called me to rest. It's the story I told earlier about my year of sickness. Now, when I have the opportunity to go back to visit this island, it takes me back to that period in my life that helped to define my relationship with God and the importance of listening to His voice.
Every time I get to come back to St. Simons, I know I need to grab my kicks and hit the beach, not for the purpose of physical exercise, but for spiritual exercise. I love going early in the morning when the sun is doing some amazing things above the water, when the beach is fairly empty, when the heat hasn't reached it's peak and where I feel like I have the head space to listen to what God has to say to me. On this particular morning, God had a lot to say and that's what I want to share.
I was walking (just for the record, I'm so not the running type!) and listening to my playlist of worship songs when two sets of footprints caught my attention. One set of prints was clean, a clear outline of the entire foot, shallow and precise...made by someone out for a walk. The other set dug deep, made by a runner. It shouldn't necessarily have stood out, but I have learned over the years to recognize when God is very clearly getting my attention, and this was one of those times. Straight path, smooth prints. The prints of a peaceful walk in a beautiful and serene setting. The second set not at all smooth and flat. They had some depth to them, not so neat or clear... and there was sand kicked up all around. As I kept walking, I began talking to God (in my head, so I didn't look like a total crazy person). What did He want me to know from seeing this? What was the importance of the two sets of prints? Looking long and hard at the footprints on the sand, it suddenly struck me. The footprints from the shoes resembled what it too often looks like to be a Christian. They were the ones that were smooth, as neat as footprints can be in sand. They walked in perfect order, a set stride. Definitely nothing too crazy or out of the ordinary. Much like what I see many of us, as believers, doing today. We like the comfort of an easy stroll. I know, I'm right there - I NEVER run on the beach. It's too hard, it makes me sweat and there's definitely a chance I might wipe out with the coordination I have! And in life, I haven't always liked my stride to stand-out or look different. Tears started to roll down my cheeks as I began to realize the impact of what God was showing me. He never intended for us to walk with an easy stride or to walk with a stride that was exactly like someone else's. That there was purpose in the scripture that says "For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them." - Psalm 139:13-16
God knew what He was doing when He created us individually to be unique, to stand out, to look different than the world. That the different stride is where the change lies...in each of us as individuals and in the difference we can make in someone else's life. As I was walking that morning and the tears continued to flow, I couldn't help but wonder - at what point did our stride get so in-sync with the world and stop being unique? What was it that changed our stride? Fear? Pride? Uncertainty? Comfort?
I started asking God what happens if our stride doesn't look different? Can anything change? What if it does look different? What changes then? As I walked and talked with God that morning He slowly started to form thoughts in my head. If our stride isn't different, nothing changes. Everything stays the same. My mom always says to me "nothing changes if nothing changes" and this picture in the sand seemed to illustrate that for me. Nothing changes. Period. The path remains easy and smooth, and the lost stay lost. The lonely remain lonely. The jails continue to fill and families continue to tear apart. But then God brought into my sight the prints that were dug in deep and reminded me that it could be different, if we were willing to be different. If we were willing to put in the effort and the risk of a messy run.
Suddenly, story after story flooded my memory from my recent weeks of outreach in Ohio - perfect pictures of people willing to change their stride - believers and nonbelievers...a young girl who took a stand for what she believed even though it went against the grain and threatened a failing grade, a group of people driving 6 times through a Brew-Through just to be able to share the Gospel with a man that worked the cash register, a Judge making a call to fling open the doors to a jail and juvenille detention center that weren't even in her county, a young man taking time off of work to drive 9 hours because God said "Go", a boy trapped in a life of crime and drugs giving his life to Christ and completely changing his walk, a family willing to take the leap together and walk as a family - differently than before...a week where God started changing up the strides of people who already had their strides set. It definitely got messy, with "sand" kicking up everywhere, but it was pretty cool to see. And the lives that were changed because of it - was absolutely priceless.
God is slowly showing me how to change my stride. It's not always easy and I've certainly wiped out a few times, but the pace is so much more fun and rewarding. I've seen things I wouldn't have otherwise seen, I've gone places I wouldn't have otherwise gone and it's all totally worth it. It's time to change our stride. I mean, who wouldn't want Jesus as their running partner?!
"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win." - 1 Corinthians 9:24