For me, this week is the one week of the year I believe people look forward to the most: vacation. We take time off at work, pack up with friends or family, and hit the road leading to rest and relaxation. My family, in particular, is one which prefers to change things up every year. Just for insight, some of our past destinations have included Gulf Shores, Washington D.C., the Grand Canyon, New York City, Yellowstone, and (of course) Walt Disney World. There are six people in my family, all with very different interests, so going to different places and on different types of vacations is the best way to accommodate everyone’s personal idea of a holiday.
This year, my sweet mother spoke up first and said she wanted a real break—a week on the beach to do absolutely nothing except lie in the sand and listen to the waves. The past few years have been filled with travel and museums and exhibits and various city and country landscapes, so this idea sounded like a nice change to us all. After some exploration, Tybee Island came through as the perfect spot—a secluded little island off the coast of Georgia with beautiful white sandy beaches, masses of local eateries, busting culture, and an array of marine life including sea turtles and dolphins.
So here we are… on a gorgeous island whose weather can never be predicted, where seemingly endless amounts of cats run free and the northern, southern, eastern, and western coasts all feel like completely opposite corners of the world. I was excited to soak up some sunshine, try new foods, discover local art (and coffee, let’s be honest) and have a much needed break from the responsibilities of everyday life.
(Thankfully, my local coffee quest was entirely successful.)
The vision I had in my head of a perfect beach getaway quickly laughed in my face before continuing to stomp its heels and crush me completely.
Our first day at the beach was seemingly flawless: not too crowded, sunny without a cloud in the sky, hot, but not too hot—even the ocean waves rose immaculately to a summit ideal for jumping and boogie boarding. I lay on my straw mat in the sand sporting a brand new black suit that I was lock, stock and barrel in love with. Sunshine covered me and made me feel warm and relaxed and happy; things could not get better. I rotated from my back to my front to ensure an even tan, and grew more and more comfortable with each minute that passed.
Before I knew it, I heard a conversation mid-progression happening right next to me. Now, this may not seem so alarming to you, but in fact, it was the most terrifying conversation I have ever heard in my life. The context of the discussion was insignificant at best, but with the hearkening comprehension of talk, came the realization of the worst: I had fallen asleep.
Immediately I was awake, and, mind racing, I could not think of anything except the consuming fact that I was hot—so incredibly hot. My insides hurt and my outsides burned with the fiery zeal that I assume the Hawaiian volcanoes are burning with at each burst of lava erupting out their tops. I ran to the water to cool myself down, hoping for once it was as cold as the Northwest Passage. The water felt incredibly soothing in contrast to my scorching body and I found myself wading further and further out until the waves were taller than myself and I was transported to salty, sandy, showery paradise.
Now careless, I jumped the waves laughing and joined my siblings out among the highest waters. What a silly mistake that was. I think my moment of extreme bliss lasted for all of three minutes. With my back to the oncoming waves, I shouted something meaningless ahead to my sister… but the blank and worried look on her face made me quickly turn around.
You know in the surfer movies where the ten-hanging hero has to surf the biggest and most unimaginably unruly wave in all the ocean to save their family name, defeat their enemy, or just prove that they are the best? This was nothing like that. At all.
The wave was quite large, probably the biggest of the day—but instead of being the hero who was ready to paddle under on her board and come up riding gloriously the victor, I was the unfortunate bystander who got in the way of the surfing hero and made him lose his moment of sweet triumph. The wave hit the top of me just seconds before he did, sending me below the water and crashing my already aching body against the bumpy shells of the ocean floor. I was bent into an odd shape from the extreme pressure and power of the water and the tops of my thighs drug along the sharp edged sand for what seemed like forever. Resurfacing, I coughed the water out of my lungs and blew the salt out of my nostrils. Then, looking around I found my sister, also drenched from the wave, and the surfer, soaked and frustrated from having to abandon his nice surf in order to avoid hitting us both. At this point, I gathered that I was actually not looking—I was squinting, because my sunglasses were now somewhere deep in the ocean. I was beyond ready to leave the beach.
On the way back to our condo, we had to stop and buy new sunglasses so that I would be able to actually open my eyes. As I grabbed a few pair and tried them on in the miniscule mirror atop the display, I took notice of a horrific sight: my own reflection.
“You look rough,” I said to myself, taking in the sandy, discolored, raw face that stared back at me. My hair looked like it had been struck by lightning while still damp and mascara ran down my cheeks in clumps, and the eyebrows… oh, the eyebrows. I picked the largest pair of sunglasses, to cover up as much of my impressively shameful face as I could.
Just as you can probably guess, the aftermath of my perfect day at the beach was—well, not so perfect. Remember the episode of Friends, “The One With Ross’s Tan?” I was Ross, who kept turning and then forgot to turn and ended up with one side of my body embarrassingly darker than the other. Except, instead of a harmless tan, my backside was burnt to a tender red crisp, resembling a brightly colored lobster—and not the kind of the lovingly eloquent reference by Phoebe Buffay.
The next day, rain ensued. Unable to spend the day on the beach, we elected to explore historic Savannah, Georgia. I had brought a ridiculously cute new outfit just for our day in the city that I was so excited to wear. I will spare you the painfully devastating details of how cute this outfit was in comparison to the outfit I actually ended up wearing, but just know it was a travesty. Because of my superbly severe sun-fried back, I had to wear a lightweight t-shirt and cardigan, paired with my mom’s black maxi skirt to protect my tender pink legs. My rosy forehead, nose, and cheeks shook their stubborn heads at the idea of makeup; my frizzy curls felt like barbed wire against my raw back and demanded to be tied up in a scrunchie. I wasn’t feeling the best about my look, which was…religious, to say the least, but I was not about to completely give up style in the name of comfort: I still had two perfectly adequate feet.
Upon our arrival at the beginning of the week, we made a quick(ish) stop at one of my favorite places—Target. After two days of traveling, that red neon bull’s-eye sign looked so very holy. Technically, we were only making the stop to use the bathroom and get some snack food for our condo, but it’s Target—who could blame a girl for wanting to do a speedy store sweep? Like a kid on Webkinz in 2006, I dug up a lot of gems: an entire outfit off the clearance rack, a new book, some cold brew to go, a yoga strap, and the most adorable pair of cognac summer flats.
My outfit may have been subpar, but my shoes were going to be envied. I put them on confidently and watched as my red toes poked out the ends.
The day was great; I loved Savannah—the atmosphere, the food, the shopping, the culture, the history, and the architecture. However, by the end of our adventures, my heels were screaming in bloody anger. We walked and walked and walked some more, and my glorious Target shoes betrayed me by leaving glowing, enflamed blisters on both of my ankles. I finished the last few blocks not by walking, but by waddling like a full-term pregnant women does when she is entering the emergency room doors ready to give birth. My sunburn was also cackling hysterically by this point, rudely enslaving my mind to its pain.
When we got back to the condo, I collapsed into bed (on my stomach, of course). I rested, drenched in aloe vera and essentials oils, while everyone else hung by the pool. I have never been one to take naps, but that afternoon, I found myself drained—mentally and physically. For hours, I just laid motionless. I read that cold showers helped significantly with sunburn, so I decided to give it a try.
Taking a cold shower is about as easy as it sounds: for someone who loves scalding-hot showers, it was a challenge, but once I got used to the temperature, the icy water felt magical on my back. This somehow turned into the longest shower of my life—and all I did was stand there and let the water run over me. In the midst of this, though, I was able to fully scrutinize myself for the first time. I was messy. And broken. And hurting. And damaged. The discoloration in my legs was remarkable: vivid red and translucent pale, mixed with purplish-green lumps scattered around in the form of a million inconspicuous bruises. The skin around my face looked dark and felt tough—a high contrast from its usually soft pastiness. The portion of my back that wasn’t tomato red shined luminescent. I looked like a ghost who got mugged and left for dead in the desert—frankly, I still kind of do.
Admittedly, I grasped through the agony that the mugger behind the mask was none other than yours truly. I did put sunscreen on, but I did so carelessly, slopping it on last minute and unevenly. I am the one who casually allowed myself to fall asleep. I am the one who wasn’t paying attention to the ocean’s waves and the surfer behind. And I am the one who chose to wear shoes completely impractical for walking around a city.
Of course, I was not meaning to sabotage myself, but I also was not giving enough attention to the things which required it. My choices were reckless and thoughtless and a bit irresponsible, I will admit. I think that all too often, we do self-sabotage out of sheer negligence. Worse yet, instead of confessing to ourselves, we spiral. It is easier to point fingers, blame others or the universe, or even God, for the circumstances at hand. After twenty years of decision and mistake making, I can tell you that the person affected the most by your actions and choices, is you.
As I looked down at myself, I sighed at all of the red wounds that cloaked me.
“Red isn’t the color of pain,” I thought, “It’s the color of love, affection, and passion.”
Then I realized something: Love is painful if you neglect it. In the same way my body requires me to look after it, communicate with it, protect it, and care for it, a relationship requires time, attention, and careful nurturing to flourish and remain healthy. If our relationships with one another are painful, it is our obligation to first examine whether or not we are giving them the time and attention they deserve. Instead of assuming others are at fault, our first move should be to assess what we can change for the better. Maybe you don’t even realize you are impairing your own relationships, because it is done haphazardly. I did not intend to damage by body by neglecting its needs, but it happened—and in the same way, ignoring love’s needs will cause it to scorch.
Of course, in every relationship, it takes two. You may not always be completely to blame, but if that is true and the relationship is still painful, you are to blame for not doing anything about it. Unfortunately, it takes a lot longer to mend what is broken than it does to just care for it appropriately in the first place: instead of taking the two minutes to properly apply sunscreen or change into socks and tennis shoes, I spent the entire week nursing my wounds with aloe, ice packs, cold showers, creams, Band-Aids, essential oils, and lots of rest.
It is my personal belief that relationships are only successful when both parties put forth effort and invest in one another. Being among the guilty, I know that it is so tempting to blame the pain on the other person. Here is the thing that finally broke me out of my stubbornness: there is one relationship where I am always at fault.
When the pain and pressure and failure of my relationship with Christ is making me angry with him, I have to remind myself that He is good and He is sovereign, and I am imperfect and blemished. It took me too long to recognize that if my relationship with God was painful, it was no one’s doing but my own. He has set the only truly perfect example of love for us, and He taught us everything we need to know:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7
I was not patient enough to correctly put on sunscreen, or considerate enough to wear more comfortable shoes; I was resentful at my decisions then irritable because of them: that is not love.
Sometimes the reason we find God’s word painful is because it is condemning. While reading His well-known wisdoms on love, I took note of the preceding verse:
“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” –1 Corinthians 13:3
So I sit here, laughing at the irony, hoping I have something left to give and a love left to gain, and longing for the day when I simply offer my heart, instead of burning the rest of my body and enduring all of this unnecessary pain.