A Gulf Coast Confessional

I felt a bit goofy bobbing in the emerald waves with my Morey boogie board looking for a powerful wave that didn’t come. She was being gentle after years of roughing me up. I don’t bounce off the sandy bottom like I used to. The Gulf of Mexico and I have a history that spans my life. Life certainly hasn’t turned out like I thought it would, but it’s exactly the way it should be.

The folks here with me weren’t the ones I expected. My youngest brother is here with his wife, four step-kids, and three foster children. My sister who eloped with a fireman brought her two kids. My family with our three boys rounds up the pack. Add in my parents and my sister’s best friend, and it’s a 21-person carnival.

My other brother isn’t here. Suicide leaves a scar that never quite heals. It’s always frustrating to acknowledge his absence knowing he’ll never just happen to show up at our family gatherings. I packed his old Hog’s Breath Saloon t-shirt that he got in Destin a few decades ago. I don’t know why, but it seemed like a quiet way to remember him.

My family makes an annual pilgrimage to the Gulf of Mexico as if we didn’t have a choice in the matter.

As a child, I remember my father telling me we needed to keep swimming to find the second sandbar, and so we would. I’ve heard a lot of preachers talk about trusting the Lord, but real faith is a plastic Wal-Mart float when you can’t see the shore.

My brothers and I saw the red flags warning us of the Gulf’s anger as a rite of passage. Yes, we knew it was dangerous, but that was the point. The Gulf was never amused. I remember the giant waves taking me under, rolling me along the sand and grit, and knocking the last breath of air out of me. That feeling of being caught in the wash and not knowing which way was up is one my most powerful memories. You’d think we would learn. When the Gulf spit us on the beach, we’d head right back to challenge her again.

When I didn’t have the money for a vacation, I went down anyway. After a business meeting in Montgomery many years ago, I drove the rest of the way down I-65 without any air conditioning in the middle of summer. All I had time for was standing with my suit pants rolled up as the surf washed over my toes. The folks at The Hangout probably thought I was crazy.

I’m not sure whether my decades-long relationship with the Gulf is a confessional or a communion. Maybe it’s a little of both.

My family loves Jesus, treats people well, and tries to do what’s right. Life still went haywire over the years I’ve been visiting the southern coast. Relationships have been broken and healed. Jobs have come and gone. Grandparents have passed away. Kids have arrived. A lot that I thought I knew turned out not to be the case.

The truth is that I haven’t talked to anyone who has been able to control life any more than I can hold back the waves breaking along the white sand. Try as we might to protect our sandcastles, the tide always wins. It’s not a tragedy; it’s the way it should be.

The Gulf’s tides ebbed and flowed well before I was born, and they’ll do so long after I’m gone. It’s why I need to see the Gulf. God uses her to ask me, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” She reminds me that I’m not as powerful, wise, or permanent as I prefer to believe.

And in that humility, I also see life’s beauty.

When I realize my own brevity, I stop worrying as much about what’s gone wrong or who isn’t with me. I have 20 people who are. I need to appreciate them and love them well. When I head back home, the other people God places in my life don’t deserve anything less.

As I floated back to shore, a wave completely blindsided my youngest son. He jumped right back up and looked around to see if anyone noticed. Hopefully the Gulf will become the same teacher for him that she’s been to me.

Cameron Smith is CEO of the Triptych Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Triptych Foundation promotes a virtuous society through investments in socially impactful media and business. He was recently executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the United States House of Representatives. You can reach him at cameron@triptychfoundation.org.

First published on Al.com – Click HERE to see the original article.

Menu