March is here, and with it, the happy promise of spring. Wearing the same rotation of sweaters for a few months is what desert dwellers refer to as ‘winter’, and while I know this version is desperately distorted compared to many places in the world, it still requires great personal discipline not to grumble about the cold come the end of February. Most of the Phoenix calendar is varying degrees of summer – July’s variation being very close to hell – so when I’m tempted to complain about space heaters and heavy coats, I remind myself summer will be here soon enough and will stay for a very long time. Then I pull on a hoodie and snuggle into happy memories of the beach.
I think I was made for the beach. The waves, salt air, people watching, and swimming with creatures I cannot see – I love it all. But beach trips cost money and when the warm waters of the Atlantic are all you’ve ever known, it’s a struggle to accept California’s hotel prices knowing the best they can offer is the chilly Pacific. This reasoning kept our family from the beach for 6 years, but last summer, about the time temperatures peak and the city goes post-apocalyptically desolate, we booked a spontaneous weekend getaway.
We had the best time. Sure, the six of us uncomfortably filled every square inch of our tiny hotel room, but I rather enjoyed waking to the sight of my sprawling, slumbering children. We tripped over each other, ate more junk food than necessary, and regardless of how well we hung our wet bathing suits from every bathroom fixture, we never had a dry suit by morning. But did it matter? We were at the beach, scooping up buckets of sand dollars, basking in sunshine, and mellowing with the sound of the surf.
But there was another sound crashing with the waves. It was a grumbling sound, the noise of complaining. The affliction wasn’t the cramped room or the wiggling into damp suits – it was the sand. Specifically sand’s shocking ability to radiate fire on bare feet, its persistence in discovering every nook and cranny of a person’s being, and its endless victories in making a person look and feel like the slowest, clumsiest walker in the world. Sand was an insufferable tragedy and the laments surged in eulogy of all things wonderful. My children hung their heads above sandy towels, preparing to forfeit all happiness to the perils of sand, and I had no solution for ridding the beach of innumerable tiny grains, but I knew sand wasn’t the problem. The problem was discontent and its pervasive way of creeping into soul nooks, sucking every cranny clean of joy, and ridding the heart of thankfulness. I had a solution – an honest redirect.
“There are seagulls flapping, foamy tides pounding, and treasures being washed into salty pools. Babies’ toes are being kissed by the ocean for the very first time and their laughter is floating through swaying palms. The sun feels 30 degrees cooler here than at home, and its rays are rousing a shimmer from the shoreline as if it’s covered in diamonds. There’s nothing but brilliance and blue as far as the eye can see, and you’re telling me the luxury of enjoying all this isn’t worth the troubling cost of little sand? A day at the beach has its sand, but it’s still a day at the beach. Be thankful, and make the most of it.”
No indignation, no disdain, just a matter-of-fact reality check, not to silence or shame my children, but to redirect them from the miserable path of grumbling toward the better way of gratitude.
Truth is, sometimes I’m the kid on the beach, glaring away at small problems while missing the bigger joy all around me. Sometimes a loved one offers wisdom that redirects me from lifeless discontent. Sometimes my complaints are secrets of the heart and God’s Spirit nudges me with truth, back to the path of full life. But here’s what I’m learning every time I’m pointed back to Jesus: only a thankful heart can follow Him.
The sun set behind the water and each of us gathered our things and trudged through sandy heaps. Smaller heaps of sand were shifting in our suits, causing some to stride longer while the short-legged fell behind. I heard a little voice behind me. “Mom, I found a better way through the sand. I’m stepping in your footprints.”