I was born in a Chicago suburb, surrounded by generations of family. We’d drive station wagons and family sedans along paved roads through gentle slopes lined with lilac blossoms in spring, and various maples, oaks and elms year-round. Every weekend the entire family gathered at one or another’s home.
Family gatherings gradually changed after we all moved to Phoenix. My grandparents and aunts settled a half-day’s drive away, my parents, siblings, and I into a square pink house. Brother and I started school in a dry, hotter climate walking by ocotillo, acacias, and towering oleander walls.
Our playgrounds gradually replaced weekly visits with family. For weeks we explored livestock pastures, citrus groves and our favorite toys were ropes tied to enormous, friendly trees which we climbed to swing across the canals. Later we practiced lying about swimming in the precarious waters.
Late in the summer before I was to become an upperclassman at our grade school, we left my grandparents and aunts’ families behind. In two cars with trailers, our parents drove my five siblings, our German Shepherd a box full of her 12 suckling pups and me across the dessert to southern California. Home became a three-bedroom apartment where there were more trees, but no yard. Dad and Mother both went to jobs immediately.
Very used to caring for one another, my siblings and I faced the new climate, society, a much faster pace and being strange, new kids in metropolitan schools. Brother and I entered junior high.
Cool wasn’t about the weather anymore; either you were or you weren’t. In jeans, t-shirts and gym shoes, my main concern was hand washing laundry and having dinner ready before bedtime. Brother became cool. He stopped being my pal and was mean sometimes. I was not cool. To him I became nothing. Still, we had four other siblings and the dog that didn’t care about cool. We somehow got through our new life together, day by day, some days worse than others.
After an eternity of a few months we moved into a house in a much nicer suburb. Eventually Brother discovered the bus lines to the beach, and he went there often. Though I missed him, I appreciated his absences.
Two years after coming to Los Angeles, one midweek day Mother pulled us from school and took us to Crystal Cove near Newport Beach. The fresh ocean air lifted me from our life and for the first time in months I could breathe. Tide pools, waves, kelp beds, sandpipers and sea gulls sent my senses and my imagination soaring, changing everything.
Through the following years I didn’t get to the shore often enough for my liking. Whenever I could, I dug my feet deep into the sand as though that would keep me from spinning off the planet. The beach became my sanctuary and the God I knew as a kid in the dessert met me there.
Often enough I came with nothing, only to gaze where the sky meets the ocean. Between that horizon and my feet I found everything I needed.
“In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
he saved me from all my troubles.” Psalm 34:6 (NLT)