don't fight the ocean.

The beautiful expanse of the Pacific, it never gets old to me. The way that the waves swish and crash, or how the bubbles of the water’s edge crawl up and back down the sand all day long, as if they are playing a game they never grow tired of. I could dig my feet in and roll sand around between my toes, just sitting, watching, listening to the ocean for hours. I love that I can stare at the horizon, or scan as far north and south up the coastline as my eyes will let me, but still never find the end. I love that it is quiet but never silent, peaceful but never still.

I’ve never been one to be afraid of the ocean. It could be because I grew up in California and beach trips were not uncommon. Or maybe my parents instilled a healthy sense of fear so that I knew to respect the water, but to still get in, to let a wave carry me effortlessly all the way back to shore. I remember being cold, certainly. I did grow up on the Pacific Ocean. I remember being disgusted by a mouth and nose full of salt water. But afraid, no, not really. The ocean has always been a place that was so much bigger than me but good enough to let me in to experience it. And it still is.

One of the first things a veteran swimmer will tell you is that you cannot fight the ocean. It will always win. Waves and tides and winds are stronger by far than our kicking arms and legs, and any attempt to overcome the will of the water is probably futile. You can, however, swim with the ocean, you just have to wait for it. When the tide pulls you under, wait for the wave to crash, and the same force that swirled you down below will push you to the top again. It’s magic. The cadence of the ocean is one of power then peace, force then grace. You can’t fight that.     

There is a very special stretch of beach just southwest of where I grew up, in the small town of Half Moon Bay, California. If you take the highway all the way to the end, turn left and then right, you’ll find a place to park and paved steps all the way down to the water. It’s perfect. Not huge, and not great for surfing because the waves break late and rocks peak out just a few dozen yards off the coast. But to me, it’s perfect. The sand on those shores has been sacred ground in my life, especially in the last ten years.

This is the place I went at twenty-two years old after six failed knee surgeries and the looming prospect of walking with a painful limp the rest of my life. It’s where I went and watched the sky grow warm with the light of the sun coming up behind me, crying over an early morning phone call about alcohol and infidelity from a man I loved so much. And it is where, almost three years later, that same man and I took our baby girl, tossing her in the air and laughing as she shoved sand in her mouth, reveling in the joy that comes with forgiveness and healing. 

The ocean has been a faithful friend in my life as far back as my memories will take me. And I think that’s because it’s perfect rhythm reminds me that it is all going to be ok. The pace of life is so much like the waves: power then peace, force then grace. Sometimes, the more I fight against the turbulence, the more I get pulled down with them. So I am learning to wait, with pleading prayers and the words of friends and wisdom of mentors, waiting for the grace to show up after the force. Because it will.

When my babies are older, I want to take them again to my beach, and I want to tell them about the humility of their daddy, how the bravest thing he ever did was tell the truth. I want to tell them about the power of prayer, and that when you can’t hear anything else, you can be sure that the crash of the waves again and again is the affirmation that He is listening. I want to tell them that salt water tastes terrible, but it can help heal cuts and clean wounds— and life will give us no shortage of something bitter making us stronger. And I want to tell them that the ocean has a special way of making us feel small, and sometimes, that is exactly how we need to feel: awestruck by what a big, beautiful world this is.

Don’t fight the ocean, my sweet babes. Wait for the peace, and trust that the same force that brought you under will turn to grace, then spread out your arms and let it carry you back to the shore. 

Written by Katie Blackburn. Photo by Ashlee Gadd