I could not have predicted that I would find myself on the very first morning of the new year having a melt down on the beach. There I was, hugging my knees to my chest sporting an old beanie with my winter coat thrown over my annoyingly festive Christmas pajamas having myself a good old fashioned ugly cry in the sand. We were back in my hometown on the east coast for the holidays and to put it as politely as possible it had been a disaster of a trip—inordinate amounts of vomit, family drama, and a non-stop schedule with two littles had taken its toll. In fact, 2016 had kind of knocked my socks off and I felt it all catch up to me in that moment.
It was a beautiful overcast morning and we had bundled up to take our morning walk on the beach in our pajamas. I relished getting to experience this morning ritual with my littles and my husband—I grew up by the ocean and I love nothing more than the salty breeze on my cheeks and the sound of the waves in every season. We were greeted by dolphins swimming south along the shoreline and sand pipers darting about after their breakfast. On our walk back, I was desperately trying to hold it together preparing myself for the day ahead when my husband perceptively looked at me and said, “Why don’t you stay out here for a bit and I’ll take the kids back to the house.” I nodded appreciatively and bee lined for the shore, tears already starting to escape down my cheeks. I plopped down in the sand and LOST IT. Anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, loss, stress, despair-- it all bubbled to the surface and as if in solidarity, a few sporadicrain drops hit my face.
How many times had I sat alone on this exact shoreline and ugly cried? To be completely honest--more times than I would like to admit. This was my safe place, my place of meditation, of solitude and space to process, my place to talk to God and to listen for his voice. After my inner storm had passed I sat there sniffling trying to gather myself back together knowing I should get back. But then I heard the word “stay” whispered to my soul. And so I sat there hugging my knees to my chest for a few more minutes.
To my surprise I noticed another pod of dolphins fishing for their breakfast off the shore—I love seeing wild animals in their natural habitats. I smiled and watched this little family swim south and I delighted in their beauty and freedom. My head had finally cleared and I started to get up to leave, when I noticed another pod was following not too far behind and then to my astonishment another behind them and another after that. I sat there in disbelief and wonder watching more dolphins than I had ever seen swim past me down the shore line. And there on that desolate beach I witnessed my very first New Year’s dolphin parade feeling perfectly and overwhelmingly loved by the Creator of the Universe.
There is something about the spending time natural world that settles, comforts, and revives. It’s not surprising to me that the first home ever made was a garden (Genesis 2:8-9). The Creator, who could have built the finest mansion with a glance, chose to make a garden home for the first couple to dwell. I like to imagine him, like an expectant mother preparing her home for her new baby as he lovingly spun and fashioned a beautiful garden. I imagine his excitement as he filled it with vegetation that would not only bring nourishment but also pleasure to his new and perfect children. God, in his impeccable wisdom, designed and created a whole natural world to delight and nurture his children and it was there, in the natural beauty of the garden, that he would commune with them. We were designed from the beginning to feel at home in nature and to commune with God through nature. I am once again floored at how we have been so loved by God from the very beginning.
Famous conservationist and early National Park activist, John Muir, said, “Going to the mountains is going home.” Now, lest you think I am suggesting we should name ourselves Mowgli and start singing the bare necessities—I am not. But I do believe a little bit of Eden is imbedded in our DNA. When we connect with the natural world we are in a very primitive sense “going home.”
Nature by God’s perfect design has dramatic influences on the human brain and the human body and scientists have been studying these effects for centuries. In multiple studies, scientists found that healthy adults who were exposed to parks, woodlands, and other natural environments for even as little as five minutes experienced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower heart rates, less anxiety, and better moods than their counterparts who were exposed to urban settings. Another study found that hospital patients that could see trees from their windows recovered quicker than ones that didn’t have a natural view. And according to studies done on backpackers, spending at least three days in the wilderness can “detox” your brain and increase your memory, problem solving capabilities, and creativity. And just in case those facts didn’t wow you--apparently taking a walk in a natural space can be as effective as a cup of coffee!
To say that life is busy with littles would be a considerable understatement. The days fly by in a hectic haze as we change diapers, toilet train, nurse, dress, cook, clean, bathe, rock, correct, sing, read, teach, organize, mediate, chauffeur, and work. Life with littles is so beautiful but incredibly demanding. There are days, especially in the winter time, when I realize that I haven’t even stepped foot out of my house. The thought of having to bundle myself and two littles with 25 items of warm clothing each only to hear my toddler tell me she has to go to the bathroom and the baby start fussing for her nap makes me feel like laying down on the floor and waving the white flag of surrender. But I have found on the days when I push past the hassles and I take my little loves out into the wondrous natural world that we have been gifted, I find that we all breathe just a little bit deeper. I find myself slowing down and delighting with childlike wonder in the chubby little faces that call me momma. And I find my soul returning to a place of thankfulness and rest in the one who created it all.
So what does connecting with God’s gift of nature look like for you? For me, it is a half hour at the park with my littles before the sun goes down. It’s the feeders hung from my backyard trees so I can watch the birds from my kitchen window. It’s flowers in a vase on the kitchen table. It’s Sunday family hikes with no makeup and hair tucked in a ball cap. And yes, sometimes, it’s ugly crying on the beach in my pajamas.
Mamas, you are so loved by the Creator of the Universe. Go out and enjoy his love notes to you.