Awe and the Tide

This story is by guest writer, Angela Dicken. Her story is featured here as a collection from The Holy Ordinary Collective: A podcast + blog community of beautiful stories the articulate God in our regular spaces of life. You can listen to their story and interview on the podcast, and read more about them at the bottom of this page.

The walk to the beach is longer than it looked from our hotel room window a few minutes ago.  The sand is hot, too hot to walk on and I’m forced to redistribute the towels, boogie boards, and mesh bag of sun block and goggles I’m carrying to pass out the sandals I just collected on the boardwalk. I’d been hoping to keep the sand sprawl to a minimum. It is our first time at ocean as a family and I’m still trying to figure out how to manage all the sand and heat and expectations.

The beach isn’t crowded and for that I am grateful.  We chose to go at the start of off-season, because as a homeschooling family, we can. This year is our first year of homeschooling without a co-op, without a curriculum. Without a plan. This is the year I prayed and felt the Spirit tell us to walk our own narrow road as family with our eyes on Him alone. This is the year I felt the Spirit encourage us to be in the wilderness with our Good Father. So, this year we are having our first day of school oceanside.  I’m embracing the freedom we have, or I’m trying to. I’m trying to lean into what I feel He is calling us to, but it makes me anxious to have no exoskeleton of expectations and achievements to follow like road signs throughout the year. So here we are at the beach. It feels extravagant and questionable all at once.

Of course, leading it up to the trip, I couldn’t help but pull together a unit study on the ocean for my kids. I checked out a large stack of library books, marked pages in encyclopedias, and searched Netflix for documentaries.  We studied the mineral make-up of sand, marine zoology, and the tides. Now, as we walk along the burning sand toward the shoreline, I’m racking my brain to remember why is it exactly that coral is an animal and not plant, and which ocean life invertebrates we may be able to classify while we’re here. It occurs to me I don’t even know if it’s high tide or low tide right now.

My kids want to lay out our beach towels at the exact edge where the dry sand and the wet sand meet. I hope this turns out to be high tide then. I look around and realize everyone else has their stuff set up about five or six feet back. Should we move? And they have umbrellas. Massive sun umbrellas. I understand now that I am not properly prepared. Like so much of this homeschool year, I’ve never done this before. I look at our pile of supplies on the  sandy mermaid beach towel and then at the set up of the rest of the families six feet or so behind me on this beach and think I’m overlooking important things. Like sun protection. These are my first moments at the ocean with my children.

But when we arrived at the line where the dry sand meets the wet sand, my son walks up to the shoreline,  taking in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, and none of it matters. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t as prepared as the family ten feet over. It doesn’t matter that we spent a week on oceanic invertebrates, or memorized the major bodies of water on the planet.  What my seven-year-old said opened my eyes to truth of what God wanted to walk us through, and why He’d blessed us with this time at the ocean.

“I’m a little scared, Mom. The ocean, it’s so big and it makes me feel so small”.  I feel my heart rend in that moment, because my son is feeling the weight of awe for the first time.  I had planned to fill his mind; God had planned to encounter His heart. And I almost missed it.

This is a holy encounter, not an academic one. What God had planned for my son was almost lost on me, because the truth of my heart was that my trust had been in my ability to teach to my kids about creation.  My trust was not in the One who is the Creator of the vast expanse in front of my son’s eyes in this moment on the beach today.

I brush the sand from my shins and stand next to him. We hold hands, looking out at foamy blue waves together and I try to see what he is seeing. I try to lose myself in the bigness of the waters in front of us. I pray for the Spirit to make me childlike again. I want to see with new eyes. Or with the eyes I had  before the weight of everyday things interrupted. And maybe it’s the too bright sun, or the salty wind, but tears form at edges of my eyes. And I hope these are tears that make the heart soft and my sight more clear.

I hear a whisper in my heart while I stand with my toes in the wet sand, my son’s hand in mine, the wind carrying my daughter’s easy giggles toward us, “Trust Me. Let Me be large.”  My husband and daughter are already in the waves, yards from shore. She’s younger than my son, but unafraid. Or maybe she’s whole-hearted, alive with abandon, enthralled with her Daddy.  They are immersed in God’s wildness, His boundaryless love and presence. I want to be with them.

I don’t go in though. Not yet. Right now, it feels good to feel small and I want to feel it a little longer. I want to be changed by it. I want it for myself. I want it for my son.  God is inviting us to behold Him, to see this year through His eyes. My husband and daughter, bouncing in the waves, they have eyes to see. My son is seeing. I’m beginning to.

I understand later, after I am too am salty, wet and worn out from hours in the water,  God is showing me His provision not just for the wilderness of this school year, but for all our days. A provision that won’t lead to striving or comparison or a hope placed in achievement. My hope is in the largeness of a God I can trust with wild abandon.  If I want my children to trust in the Lord their God, I need to practice trusting Him myself. I want them to see me learning, reading, conversing, simply being a woman who lives with her eyes up, a mother who remembers how good it feels to feel small, released from the pressure  of striving and accomplishing, living free to pursue the heart & mind of the One who is Holy, Worthy and deserving of our awe. God’s provision on the beach that day was peace, rest, wisdom, presence and awe.


Angela Dicken is an essay writer and fanatical memoir reader who lives in southern Ohio with her husband and two kids whom she homeschools. Before she became a mom, Angela studied literature and creative writing, where she became convinced of the glorious power of stories to challenge and shape us.

These days if she isn't diving into her daughter's imaginary world, or her son's next science experiment, she can be found curled up on the couch with coffee, a podcast, and a blank page.  She shares her days in the squares of Instagram over at @angelavirginiawrites