They bring in a boombox like a weapon to send us away. Speakers shout out ugly songs, more obnoxious than loud Hawaiian shirts. A twisted face. A gruff voice. Arms crossed. Cigarette smoke clouds our space. Beer swirls with chlorine. Eyes glaze over like frosted glass at the sight of me and mine. There are things that can make the warmest of places feel so cold.
On the beach, it is quiet but not tense. The wind tosses my hair in my face, playful. The edge of the surf swirls up sand to pile over my feet, welcoming. Sails stretch at the horizon, inviting.
My husband shouts out and motions to the water right in front of me. A fin rises to pierce the surface. There have been reports. Shark attacks. But this gray slippery form is happy, snorting, squealing. I’m jogging like Baywatch through the waves. The thing swims nearer, just a few feet away now. So close but still out of reach. “I see you. Oh, I see you,” I say. It curves its spine, then twists to poke its face above the surface. It rises and spits into the air like a child playing chase.
I take it all in, on camera and in the memory.
Later, on a beach cluttered with guys in neon swim shorts, I see a poet walking. White linen shirt. Brown chinos. A fisherman’s cap. He could just as well be Pablo Neruda. I want to follow along behind and listen for lilting lines about the sea.
In low tide, tentacled starfish hide underfoot. I follow the children and find the markings in the sand. They reach fingers under and pull the stars up from obscurity. I dare my squeamish self to do the same.
This is the kingdom of God on earth. It peeks out from beneath salt and undercurrents. It swims past schools of jagged-toothed sharks. It stamps poetry in footprints. It lays in waiting, hiding underfoot, asking to be found. Little glimpses of glory on ground and in water. Invisible except to the eyes sharpened to see, pointed to beauty.
I sneak out early to comb the beach alone. There are a thousand unbroken scallops. But of the spiral shells I’ve come to hunt, I find only hollows and bones. One gentleman walks by and hands me a pristine Florida fighting conch and a lightning whelk, mine to keep. I hold them as a gift, yet I’m set on finding one or two on my own, like the friends of the woman at the well who just had to come see for themselves.
On the sand, an elderly woman kneels down to count those in her pile. I watch her as she rises, walks out into the rusty seaweed, shimmies her feet in the wet sand, then lifts her treasures into the open air.
“You can feel them if you take off your shoes,” she says.
I look down at my own feet, armored. I pull off the water shoes, like this is holy ground, and shuffle over the saturated sand. A smooth knob pokes up from the grit. Under the surface, an unbroken conch waits, glossy bronze and powder white. Then another. And another.
Sun-drenched and tired, I sit with my family on the patio of a Greek restaurant. My toddler lays her head on the table and moans. A band softly sings the good old Fleetwood Mac tune, “Time makes you bolder, children get older, and I’m getting older too.” I let a hot tear slip as my husband catches my eye and smiles. An olive-skinned waitress with deep-sea eyes approaches our table. She lays her hand on my toddler’s back, tenderly lifts her head, and places under it a make-shift pillow formed out of folded kitchen towels.
I ask her about her own children, her travels, and her heritage. Soon, her hospitality turns our table into a banquet spread. We have already ordered our food, but she brings out extras, a tray of kalamata olives and bowl after bowl of fresh fruit for my tired children. After an hour of being treated like extended family, my 5-year-old daughter pops up, turns toward the waitress and says, “I just LOVE you. I have to hug you.”
We sign the bill, and the waitress makes her way toward me, looks me in the eye, and puts her arms around to squeeze me. “God bless you. God bless you,” she says.
“He already has,” I tell her.
Those at the poolside are hard concrete and chemicals. They mean to make us outsiders. But they can never really have their way. Those near may cast us off, but “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” He invites us in.
Signs of His kingdom pop up in my periphery, like a dolphin swimming just out of reach, like Neruda walking, like strangers with seashells and kalamata olives, like the untamable wind. So are those born of the Spirit. You don’t know where they’ve come from or where they’re going. There’s this mystery and they are the clues.
Neruda says, “Everything carries me to you, as if everything that exists, aromas, light, metals, were little boats that sail toward those isles of yours that wait for me.”
You people of the kingdom, motion me toward the beauty ready to surface. Lavish me–I will let you. Lead me into poetry. Look me in the eye and reach out your arms.
I am looking for you, the saints of the earth in whom I delight. He loves on me through you, showing me His kingdom come. I’ll love you for Him, too.