The salt hung sweetly in the air as I took a full breath in and slowly let it out. The waves gently crashing on the shoreline were enough to drown out the noise of the passing conversations that traveled up and down the beach. As the sun kissed my face, I felt my soul being revived from the longest, harshest season I could have imagined navigating. Cliche, certainly, but the ocean was bringing me back to life.
It had been two months since Daryn passed. I couldn’t remember the last time I sat with no agenda or responsibility. I had spent the previous year and a half caring for Daryn as his health faded and our life shifted. Our pattern seemed to fall into ‘one step forward, 3 steps backward’ as we navigated his cancer fight. Ever so slowly, almost without noticing, our combined life duties shifted to me, exclusively: paying the bills, conducting the kids’ schedules, taking out the garbage, overseeing home repairs, running our shared business, etc. The demands of being a full-time caretaker and medical interpreter had run its course on my mental and emotional energy. After honorably serving and caring for my family as I lovingly vowed I would, I was in desperate need of some R&R.
A week before I left for the sea, I was in my kitchen having a conversation with a dear friend who called out my predictable agenda. He gently reminded me that perhaps the best ‘to-do’ list I could have on my trip was an ‘un-do’ list. As a girl who constantly rotates through high expectations of herself the thought of having nothing to accomplish quickened my heartbeat and made my palms sweat. I knew he was right, however, and that the best gift I could present myself was one with no expectations at all.
Once I arrived in Clearwater, I got the keys to my rental convertible, an item from my childhood wishlist, and made my way to the coast. As my hair tossed around in the wind, I couldn’t help but feel lightness start to expand my spirit. It was a foreign feeling, but like reconnecting with an old friend, I was surprised how quickly we picked up where we left off. I had never taken a vacation by myself. As a hyperaware introvert I couldn’t think of anything more satisfying than quiet reflection, beachside.
For the next three days I took up residency in a cabana on the beach. In between my strong rotation of napping, sunbathing and beach strolling, I found myself deeply engrossed in a book recently recommended to me, Matthew Kelly’s ‘Rhythm of Life.’ I couldn’t have imagined a book more appropriately aligned for me in that exact moment. The major theme of the book, knowing and seeking the best version of yourself continually, held my thoughts captive. With a full brain in need of processing, I took to my beach strolling rotation. There is something about being in literal forward motion as a conversation rolls around in my head that provides such clarity.
However, as quickly as that thought entered it was followed by the same, still whisper from God.
“When have I been the best version of myself?” I wondered as my toes sunk into the sand slightly with the pressure of each step. My heart was flustered and was met with instant emotion as my answer completely took me off guard. Right then, in that exact moment, I was the best version of myself.
I abruptly pushed back against my inner dialogue. How could I possibly be the best version of myself without my better half? After walking through such tragedy and grief, how could this version of me be my best? Guilt and gratefulness traded places as I kept reviewing the answer my heart so clearly knew but my brain did yet not believe. I turned my questions over and over and looked to God for the answers I couldn’t place.
I watched the water dance on the shoreline as I tried to dodge the border it was creating when a large, white shell caught my eye. There were no other shells around so I picked it up and turned it over in my hand as I tried to untangle my knotted thoughts until a voice cut through.
“Daryn’s gift is for you to experience the fullness of life that can only be known through great love and significant loss. The spaces filled with noise, heaviness and earthly perspective would be stripped away and the ownership of deep joy would remain for you. His short life freed you to step into the fullness of yours, your best self.” I was immediately overcome with guilt. The sacrifice of someone’s life for me to walk in freedom was too much to receive.
“Becky, when I sent my son to sacrifice his life for yours the intent of the gift was never guilt, it was freedom. Gifts are never given wrapped in guilt but in grace.”
I wept as I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt like I was given the smallest opening into a larger picture, a timely portal to the many ‘whys’ I had been collecting. There, in that moment, I was set free. Free from the exhaustion and complexity of my life in exchange for rooted joy and fullness of life. There was no greater gift I could ever be given.
As my tears subsided, I glanced down to my feet and was surprised to find a clone of the white shell I had picked up earlier. It was mid-afternoon and all the ‘collection worthy’ shells had been gathered by the early risers that morning. I was surprised to find one large shell, let alone two. I picked it up and held the two shells, one in each hand as I felt God impress one final thought into me.
“You will know great love again. You may feel the ‘collection worthy’ men have been taken but I have orchestrated a plan far greater than you could ever imagine. Continue to pursue your best self through me and I’ll lead the way because this adventure depends on it.”