I recently wrote an article for YMI, a division of Our Daily Bread ministries. The article is about a blind date I had a long time ago and what it taught me about my approach to God. Follow the link if you want to give it a read…click YMI.Today
Below is an article about finding surf in Wales that The Inertia recently published. To see the full gallery click here
Fresh Perspectives in the Old World
The white of the sheep stood out against the green of the hills as I drove the countryside toward the coast. Narrow roads meandered under shadowed tunnels created by the canopy of trees overhead. It felt odd to be looking for surf in Wales. Passing numerous inns and old ruins, it definitely wasn’t what I was used to on a surf trip. But perhaps that’s what charmed me about it.
Wales is a small country but still boasts roughly 870 miles of coastline. Partly due to a small swell window and partly due to the proximity of more consistent surf zones in nearby Scotland and Ireland, Wales is rarely mentioned when talking surf. But it does in fact have waves. I didn’t really know what to expect when I set out for the Welsh coastline. My friend and host Mike Taylor simply told me to bring a small wave board and keep my expectations low. Not exactly the kind of advice I hoped to hear, but I appreciated his honesty.
The topography of the Welsh coastline can vary drastically and is largely undeveloped in most parts. It is currently the only country in the world to have a continuous coastal path stretching its entire length; it’s called The Wales Coast Path. And with so much coastline undeveloped yet accessible it’s no wonder the Welsh created their own sport, Coasteering, that blends rock-hopping, shore-scrambling, swell-riding, cave-exploring and cliff jumping. But I wasn’t hoping to go Coasteering in Wales, I was hoping to surf.
Mike has been surfing the Welsh coastline most of his life. If there is a hint of swell in the water he knows where it will be breaking best. He has spent a good portion of his life serving the people of Wales; first as a trauma nurse and now as a pastor. Having grown up in what some would call a rough area, he’s seen the best and worst people have to offer. It has made him about as genuine and down-to-earth as they come. Mike’s help proved to be invaluable in finding waves in Wales.
At first it was a familiar scenario: one spot had some swell but the winds were wrong, another was clean but lacked swell. We checked numerous spots, and drank too much tea (like their English neighbors, the Welsh enjoy their tea). As we drove Mike would give me mini history lessons about the area. Unlike the U.S., Europe is old. The countries that make it up are full of history and legend, and Wales is no different. Some of the towns date back centuries. It’s not uncommon to see ancient castles along the side of the road as you drive. It sort of makes you feel as though you were looking for waves on the set of Robin Hood. It has a way of adding a certain romance to the search that makes finding waves a little less important yet somehow more exciting.
We drove slowly over the narrow, cobblestone road. I didn’t need to ask to know that the town was probably as old as America itself. Farmers still used the stone fences that had been erected in the fields long ago, their sheep not seeming to mind the rain. The road eventually made its way along the cliff-lined shore, down a hill to a carpark fronting the ocean. We stared at an empty beach with a headland off to our left.
“Does it ever get crowded?” I asked.
“On weekends it can,” replied Mike.
It wasn’t this day.
I watched for a set as the rain gently washed across my face. Off in the distance the hills grew slightly darker as the storm approached. I glanced back to shore to see the carpark nearly empty. Just past that stood the ruins of an old estate overlooking the headland. I clocked back toward the horizon. As dusk approached I knew it was time to go in. But the waves were quite fun and I had the headland all to myself. I waited for one more.
Being flawed doesn’t disqualify us from living a life of purpose. We might make mistakes, but God doesn’t. And the very fact that you are alive on this earth proves that you have a divine purpose. But it’s unlikely we will find purpose and fulfillment in life by looking for it on social media or the internet. Chances are we will get anxious and discouraged as we compare our lives to everyone else’s highlight reels. I’m not saying social media or the internet are inherently bad (I obviously use them regularly), but they shouldn’t be our barometer for what is normal or fulfilling in life.
One of the first lessons Jesus began to teach when He started His earthly ministry was that we have to start thinking differently from the way this world does. The kingdom of God operates in a completely different manner than how the kingdoms of this world do. So it stands to reason that in order to find the fulfillment and purpose God intends for our lives we can’t expect to find it the way popular culture has taught us to. We are constantly being told to strive for wealth and horde whatever resources we attain, to look out for self above everything, to scratch and claw our way to the top. Self-promotion takes the place of healthy ambition, and building our own empire takes the place of encouraging others.
Jesus said to truly find life in this world we must be willing to lose it. He wasn’t simply referring to martyrdom, He was referring to our ability to remove ourselves off the throne of our own heart. In other words, are we willing to kill narcissism in ourselves? True fulfillment cannot cohabit with narcissism, the two are incompatible. If we live life with the goal of magnifying and promoting self we will find in the end we have pursued a futile endeavor, devoid of the capacity to provide anything resembling purpose and fulfillment.
I love December. Christmas is around the corner and everyone seems a little festive. Plus where I live we tend to get beautiful, crisp autumn days during December. It’s hard not to enjoy Christmas.
Some years ago just days before Christmas a few friends and I backpacked into an isolated surf spot to camp. We set up our tents on a ridge overlooking the waves. The sunset looked as if heaven itself were casting it’s light over the vast Pacific; the colors were magnificent.
The hike isn’t super long, but it can be a bit grueling. Due to the landscape it is easy to draw comparisons to somewhere in the Middle East. And since we returned home on Christmas Eve it’s not surprising my mind went to Mary and Joseph and the trek they made to Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. For a long time now I’ve been quite fascinated by what it cost them (particularly Mary) to birth and raise the Savior of the world.
Just getting to Bethlehem was a miracle in itself. When they made their trek to Bethlehem Mary was almost nine months pregnant. It’s not like there were cars in those days, and they weren’t wealthy enough to have some sort of coach transport them. They would have made the five day journey by foot and the aid of a donkey. Imagine being almost nine months pregnant and having to backpack through the desert for five days; it’s hard to comprehend, yet they did it.
Beside the logistical nightmare of getting to Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary would have to endure heavy disdain from their peers due to Mary’s miraculous conception. Rather than believe the miracle that took place, most people assumed Mary was promiscuous and got pregnant the old fashioned way. She would have to carry that stigma for the rest of her life. In that culture it wasn’t something people would forget and move on from. Joseph would have to carry a similar stigma, his peer group questioning his wife’s faithfulness and love. And even Jesus would have to endure a lifetime of ridicule, being mocked about not knowing who His dad really was.
Joseph and Mary would have been aware these things would happen to them by saying yes to the Lord in this matter. Something they likely wouldn’t have realized though was the fact that Jesus would have to ultimately die in the most humiliating and demeaning fashion possible. Mary would have to helplessly watch as her perfect son was falsely accused, given a mock trial, beaten senselessly, and ultimately killed as a criminal. But yet, they said yes to the Lord and it resulted in salvation to the world.
I often think about what I will say to Mary when I see her in heaven. I know it is Jesus who forgives us and takes our sin away, but I can’t help but want to apologize to Mary as well. You see, it was my sin that made it necessary for her firstborn to be crucified. It was my sin that He came to pay for. It was my sin that caused Him to be hung on that cross while Mary had to watch on in horror. In the divine plan of heaven Joseph and Mary were ultimately rewarded far more than any hardships they had to endure here on earth. But still, it’s hard for me not to feel responsible for the agony Mary had to endure while her son was crucified.
Joseph and Mary give me hope. They were as human as you and I. They had the same shortcomings, the same temptations, the same failures. Yet God used them in the greatest miracle He’s ever performed on earth. He used them because they said yes. I can only hope and pray that I will respond to the Lord in similar manner in my life.
I’m sorry Mary, but thank you for saying yes.
I’d been driving for a few hours when I reached the lake. I hadn’t intended to stop other than for a few minutes to snap a photo or two of Mt Cook in the distance. I pulled off the highway and found a little carpark close to the water. There was a patch of grass under some pine trees with a view of the mountains in the distance. It was too peaceful not to stay awhile. I sprawled out in the grass and listened to the quiet. Birds talked, a subtle wind graced the pines, and the lake seemed to sparkle from the sunlight. Contentedly lying in the grass, childhood memories knocked at the back of my conscience. I was on the opposite side of the world, visiting a country I had never been to, immersed in this foreign landscape for the first time, yet somehow it felt familiar.
It is quite intriguing that certain smells, or sounds, or landscapes can trigger memories. Even more intriguing to me is how they can also trigger memories or feelings of a place or time I haven’t experienced. For example, when I’m hiking along a mountain trail or gazing on an untouched coastline I often feel as though I’m being reminded of somewhere, even though I may never have been there before. It seems to trigger a hidden desire for a place I want to be. No matter how much I try, the desire never does get satisfied. I don’t claim to know the reason why, but I think CS Lewis may have been close when he said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.”
It was the end of a 5-week tour for When Oceans Rise and Ireland was the last stop. In a few days I’d be on a plane home to sunny California, but for now I just enjoyed exploring the cold, damp streets of this small coastal community. It might be because I’m more interested in finding waves, but I rarely go to popular tourist destinations when I travel. I don’t dislike them or anything, I just usually find myself in small villages, talking to strangers, walking the main street, trying to get a sense of what a place is like for those who live there. If a popular tourist site happens to be near waves then I might visit it, but if not chances are you will find me somewhere more like this little village.
As the rain let up I found the local pub, ordered dinner, and listened to the locals next to me excitedly recount the waves they just surfed over rounds of Guinness. I understood their excitement, I just surfed them too. Those kind of waves are hard to forget. But so were the mashed potatoes—some of the best I’ve had.
I don’t remember the name of this little village on the English coastline, but I was directed here by a few different people. Driving north from Newquay along narrow country roads, my pulse escalates a little as the beach comes into view. I pull into the carpark, turn my windshield wipers to intermittent and sit for a while. The steady drizzle and green hills providing an odd comfort. Debating whether to surf or not, I decide the waves aren’t worth making my sore throat and aching head any worse. A quick exploration of the village yields a cozy coffee shop to retreat to. I order and find a seat as the drizzle escalates outside. I sit alone, contently enjoying my drink and wonder at how I ended up in this random village on the coast of England.
Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these things…Isaiah 40:26
Oswald Chambers says in regard to Isaiah’s command to lift our eyes to the heavens, “The people of God in Isaiah’s time had blinded their minds’ ability to see God by looking on the face of idols. But Isaiah made them look up at the heavens; that is, he made them begin to use their power to think and to visualize correctly. If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in nature and will realize that it is holy and sacred. We will see God reaching out to us in every wind that blows, every sunrise and sunset, every cloud in the sky, every flower that blooms, and every leaf that fades…The real test of spiritual focus is being able to bring your mind and thoughts under control. Is your mind focused on the face of an idol? Is the idol yourself? Is it your work? Is it your idea of what a servant should be, or maybe your experience of salvation and sanctification? If so, then your ability to see God is blinded….If your power to see has been blinded, don’t look back on your own experiences, but look to God”
Chambers calls this ability to see God’s fingerprints in His creation “sanctifying our imagination.” Recently I’ve felt the Lord remind me not to let my vision dwindle. But if we want to maintain longevity in vision, it will require sanctifying our imagination. Chambers doesn’t mean we pretend to see God, he means we respond to the countless number of ways God reveals Himself on a daily basis. His creation provides a timeless testimony of His love and existence for those who are willing to look.
Astrophysicist and author Ethan Siegel, said this, “When you put it all together, it means the most astounding fact about the Universe is this: that it exists in such a way that it can be understood at all.” I'm not sure what Ethan Siegel believes pertaining to God, but he brings up an excellent point. The fact that creation exists in an understandable way (that it has laws of nature and mathematical equations that bring a uniformity to it and keep it from being utterly chaotic) testifies to the fact that God has designed His creation in such a way so as to lead us to Himself. His creation declares Him to us. We can receive His testimony or we can reject it, but it would be a tragedy to ignore it; at the very least it deserves a response.