December 04, 2012
When I saw it on Hotpads.com, I couldn’t believe it. I knew it was a gamble trying to find something in Atlantic Beach, Florida. But sure enough, there it was. On the higher range of the budget my best friend Alyssa and I agreed was appropriate for two college kids, but within our budget none-the-less. It was a lone listing, nothing around it on the map of places I was searching frantically in after God dealt me a hand in Orlando that I almost couldn’t handle. I drove two hours north to see if it was real, to look at the inside to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. It was a beautiful little town home, tucked in about two miles north from the main drag in a community filled with mostly retirees and new families. The community property itself sat right on the ocean. I was stunned. It was as if He knew I would need a place to pace, to wrap my head around the unwelcome and unbidden storm that chased me there.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but Atlantic Beach comes second only to the incomparable Paris in my book. It’s lush, loamy and green beyond the cool of the sand dunes and the immense stretch of ocean. But beyond that, there’s a deep richness abiding steadily there beneath the beat of the waves. This timeless quality of the atmosphere filled my journals and jarred me with creativity. I would go to sleep at night with my windows open, listening to the roar of the waves and breathing in the remnants of a nearby cookout mixed with the Jasmine vines in full bloom.
This house quickly became my home. The kind of home feeling that sticks to your ribs. It became that for a lot of 20-somethings around the area; given that I had recently discovered a long-dormant love for cooking, we could always be counted upon for a day at the beach, dinner and a midnight hang out around a fire pit in the back with laughter, wine and S’mores abounding. I wasn’t blind to the romance in it. There is no other way I would have preferred spending my mid-twenties. It was those nights that I felt, in full, the vitality of my youth pounding in my veins.
After three years, though, we had to move. God moved us both onward, closer to the seminary, closer to work. I obeyed with a burdened heart. So burdened that Alyssa, myself, and our friends would frequent the private beach access up there long after we left as if it wasn’t over. Savoring the memories. Like it was still ours.
It was. Until that one morning I decided to take my dog down to the beach for a walk, and the private beach access gate was closed and boasting a shiny, new lock system with a combination one couldn’t begin to take a guess at. It ended there. It had ended in a flash, like a brilliant shooting star that had broken the gluey darkness with monumental, momentary glory. I stood there, watching the ocean on the other side, surrounded in darkness once more.
I turned then, loaded Stella back in the car, and made the long drive back to the apartment.
I couldn’t deny God here. The whole, “closes a door, opens a window” cliché seemed appropriate after facing the locked gate. He can always be counted upon for many things, but in this moment it was a staunch reminder of two in particular. One: He truly is the great Provider. Sometimes there are beautiful, splendid blessings. Blessings that come exactly as you need them, when you need them most. For me, that little house was a refuge in those formative years of your early-to-mid-twenties. I needed a place, right then, where I could shake my fist, kick my feet, praise, extol, cry and adore Him as I grew and experienced my life. His presence was palpable in that place. But there was a time when it had to end, which led me to my final thought. He always keeps us moving to remind us we are constantly capable of more than we think. The closed gate was an open door to the rest of the possibility in my life that I am too tiny and insignificant to pretend to comprehend.
While the holidays are the hardest time to be away from the little beach bungalow, it is undeniable in me how true He is to what He says. How He promises He sticks with us. How I have true proof that no matter how far away He felt sometimes, He never, ever left.
And as for any lingering homesickness or anxiety about the future, His shoulders are broad. His arms are outstretched. His fingers counting the time to the next step in His plan when He can show me more of His wonders again.
Kate Hightower is writing to you in the midst of her Master of Divinity pursuit at Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville where she is also a Byington Scholar. She is a debilitatingly right-brained, born-in-the-wrong-century, introspective pseudo-nerd with passions that range anywhere from writing, to French cooking to Bob Dylan. These days she resides in Jacksonville with one mental foot in the GCTS Library downtown, and the other is beach-side with her Golden Retriever, Stella… the world's first dog superhero.