I had just passed through a pretty rough season in my life, and had found myself in a place I never thought I would be. I was defeated, beaten down, and discouraged. Life was not turning out the way I thought it would, and the gradual realization of that was almost more than I could handle.
A friend approached me one day and told me that I needed to get away for a day or two, and he knew just the place. The destination he had in mind is known as "Cat Island," just off the Mississippi coast. I was confused at first, because Cat Island is a largely undeveloped piece of land, with no accommodations whatever. But when he told me that what he had in mind was a one-night fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico, combined with camping on the beach, I was ready to go. We set a date and made our plans.
When the day arrived, we drove to the coast, and unloaded his boat. As we rode out to the island I began to relax and enjoy the many sensations that came flooding in over me: the sight of the sun on the water, the unmistakable aroma of salt water, the memories of time spent near the water as a child. The water near the beach was too shallow, so we rode up and down the island's beach until we located water deep enough to allow us to take the boat in.
Unloading the supplies from the boat and setting up camp consumed most of the remaining daylight, and that is when we enjoyed one of the most spectacular sunsets over the water I'd ever seen. Sitting in our chairs facing the water, we ate our sandwiches and engaged in small talk. As night fell, there came over me the calm sensation that my current situation did not change God's love and care for me. I dug my bare feet into the sand in front of me and looked up into the night sky, and felt God whisper to my heart: "It's okay. I'm in charge. You're out there on that tiny island, but I know where you are." Sensing that I needed this time alone, my friend crawled into our lean-to tent and was quickly asleep. I continued to lean back in my chair and enjoy being with God on this wild beach under a perfectly flawless star-lit sky. Sometime about two o'clock in the morning, I also found my sleeping bag and went to sleep.
Early the next morning, we were up and ready. We ate cereal and talked about our plans for the day, which included fishing on our way back to the mainland. We quickly loaded up our gear and trash, and climbed into his boat. But the motor wouldn't start. No matter what he tried, my friend just could not get that thing to work. After tinkering with it, and doing everything he could think of, he finally decided that he would walk further down the beach to a place he knew of where more boaters would be. I would stay with the boat and our stuff. He took off and soon was out of sight.
Interesting. Here I was all alone on an island beach with no other human in sight. The stretch of beach was long, so I decided to take my shoes off and walk along the water's edge. I could see the boat from a long way, and would be able to see if anyone approached via the water. So I walked, and I walked, and I walked. I used the time to thank God for the beautiful day and the opportunity to be alone like this. I prayed about the rough patch I had just been through, and wondered out loud about my future. I recounted to God all the difficulties of the past few years, and questioned if He would ever use me again in His Kingdom.
But I have always believed that God causes or allows things to happen for reasons we may not know. I believe that sometimes there are lessons God is trying to teach us through what we might call the "ordinary" events of our lives. Some might say I read too much into things, but God has shown me some pretty amazing things this way, when I got still long enough to listen to Him. So as I walked along, head down, taking in all the sensations of being alone on an island beach, I turned to God and asked "Father, here I am stranded on an island, with no other person around me. What are You trying to teach me? What is the lesson?"
The answer came immediately. There was no voice, yet I heard it in my spirit as if He had spoken it directly into my heart. Actually, that is what He did. He said to me, almost before I finished my prayer: "There is no lesson. It's a gift."
"It's a gift." And suddenly I knew: God loves me enough to send me to a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico, and keep the outboard motor from starting, so we could have this time together. He wanted to fellowship with me and hear me pour out my heart to Him. He knew how much I loved places like this, and that I would never have come here on my own. So He orchestrated the events to get me there, and get me alone, so He could reassure me of His great, incomparable love for me in a totally unexpected way.
In a couple of hours, my friend arrived with help. It was too late to fish by then, so our trip turned into nothing more than a camping trip on the beach. But it was just what I needed. God knew I didn't need to fish; I needed that walk of solitude on the beach. And since then, I have been frequently reminded of His love for me through little things that others might not even notice.
In about three months, Hurricane Katrina would come through, totally changing Cat Island and the Mississippi Coast forever. I may never get to go back to Cat Island, but that will be okay. I have those hours of sweet fellowship with God locked away in my memory where no storm-hurricane or emotional-can take them away.
The next time you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands, thank God for the gift. The next time you see an unexpected beauty in nature, thank God for the gift. When you see a smile light up a child's face, or receive a hug from a friend you haven't seen in a long time, or read an inspirational book, or hear music that moves your soul, thank God for the gift.
There may be a lesson, but there may not be. It just may be a gift from your Heavenly Father who loves you so much He went out of His way to give it to you.