It was an ordinary day, though not a typical day for me. I was walking the Lake Michigan beach alone on an overcast day. I had gotten suddenly homesick for the water, so had taken a couple days to travel, leaving my land locked location behind. I had the entire beach to myself, which I suspected I would as there were no other cars parked along the highway and this was not a public part of the beach. Located on the road to the state park, there was no development. Sometimes people just parked their cars and hiked down the grassy dunes from the road to the beach below. It is wild and in its natural state and I have always loved that about this particular spot.
Because of the rainy weather and the fact that it was a weekday, I felt my solitude would be assured and I was right. I had not encountered anyone other than the numerous sea gulls and other beach birds that seemed to be enjoying the wind and the waves as much as I was. Time to be still. No burning bush, just the peaceful comfort of His presence as I walked along, the joy of His creation on this cloudy day singing His praise with every wave that washed ashore and every sea gull that took flight. On one side was the endless horizon of water meeting sky and on the other side the grassy dunes with the occasional tree and the beach with a variety of driftwood and seaweed washed ashore. I walked in between, with my feet in the water as the waves came and went.
Reluctantly, I decided it was time to leave the beach and I turned back. I would still have plenty of time to enjoy this pure freedom and solitude, as I had been walking for awhile so it would take equal time to return. Determined to make the most of my remaining moments on the beach, I remained deep in thought, prayer and praise as I walked along looking out at the horizon. Eventually, I sensed the beach didn’t look all that familiar anymore. Although, sand, dune grass and driftwood pretty much look like sand, dune grass and driftwood, (I know no two pieces of driftwood are identical, but still), I sensed I had gone too far.
You see, when first I hiked from my car down the dune to the beach, I was aware that I would have to be able to find my car again. The road is not visible from the beach, so my car would not be either. All you see from the beach is sand and grass rising up away from the water. So, (this is the Girl Scout in me), when I hiked down the sandy path and arrived at the beach I found two pieces of driftwood, put them in the shape of a cross, and pressed them into the sand at the foot of the trail that would lead me back to my car. Looking up, I made note of one fairly good sized tree to one side of the path and two smaller trees just opposite. There didn’t seem to be too many other trees in the area. So with the image firmly planted in my memory, I set off with confidence.
But now I had gone too far, or had I? How could I have missed my cross marker? Well, I was walking at the water’s edge, where the waves hit the beach and backed out again. My cross was in the dryer sand just above, because I hadn’t wanted the waves to wash it away in my absence. So I wouldn’t have actually walked over it, had I passed it. And now there seemed to be more trees than before, which trees were my trees? They all looked so similar to me now. There were many little access paths along the beach, all of which would lead up to the road. But once at the road, which direction would my car be? to the right? to the left? Had I passed my marker or not? I was unsure. I decided I would rather walk on the beach barefoot than the highway. I had been walking steadily for more than an hour. How far off was I? If I could find my marker, the path ended where my car was parked. Otherwise, I could end up walking long distances on the road and be going the wrong direction the whole time. This stretch of highway, like the beach, had no defining markers. There were no houses, no shops, no buildings of any kind.
I decided I was better off on the beach. I decided I had overshot and turned to retrace my steps, no longer lost in thought or watching the horizon, but scanning the trees up above and the sandier part of the beach as I prayed, thanking God that there was still plenty of daylight left and that it wasn’t raining. (although the clouds seemed to darken during this time, adding to my sense of urgency). I was tired by now and ready to rest. How had I ever covered so much distance? As I passed different groups of trees I would check the ground for my cross marker, my sense of unease growing with every disappointment. I had been so careful, how could this be happening? Nothing looked familiar nor unfamiliar, just a diverse sameness to all of this beach landscape.
There was a tree way up ahead that I decided looked taller than the rest. Could this be my tree? If so, I had way overshot. Keeping that tree as my goal, I made my way down the beach. I passed several access trails up to the road as I walked and decided that if I didn’t find my cross marker in the sand by the time I got to that particular tree (which was still aways off) I would take one up to the road and begin a new search, this time for my car.
Time that had flown by before, now seemed long as I pushed forward keeping my chosen tree in sight as my goal. My beloved beach had seemed such a friendly, welcoming place just minutes ago, now it felt less than friendly, a bit ominous, in fact. As I drew near I was sure this was my tree and the other two smaller trees were as I remembered. I looked down at the sand for confirmation and there it was, my driftwood cross laying in the sand at my feet, marking the foot of the trail. I was found! I was no longer lost! My heart rejoiced as relief washed over me. Thanking God for His protection and provision I walked up the short trail to my car. (still the only one there)
Still full of gratitude to God and telling Him so, I reached into the bag on my back for my car keys and felt nothing. Continuing to feel around, I realized I wasn’t feeling my phone either. Removing the bag from my back and holding it in front of me, I continued to search for my keys and phone. Praise turned instantly to panic as the realization of my situation hit me full force. I couldn’t get in my car, I couldn’t call for help, I could retrace my steps ( which direction?) but were my keys and phone already washed out to sea or buried in the sand? (or become the proud possessions of a nice sea gull family?) How much time had elapsed? I had no idea at what point in my journey I had lost my keys and phone. With the noise of the wind and the waves I would never have heard keys hitting the sand or the water.
In my panicked state I raised my arm to flag down whoever might pass by. The first truck sped on but the second passed me, then stopped and backed up. I don’t think I was making much sense but they dialed the state park office for me, which was just down the highway. I felt like I needed to get back to the beach and gave the person on the other end of the line my vehicle description so they could find me. As I went to return the phone to the people who had graciously stopped for a stranger, they pulled in next to my car and got out. They were going to help me search the beach for my keys and phone. This special couple, Bill and Barb, were God’s answer to a prayer I hadn’t even prayed yet in my panicked state. As we descended the short path to the beach Bill said Barb had asked God to show her where the keys were. I pointed out my driftwood cross as we stepped onto the beach. Bill and I went one direction, Barb the other. I didn’t know whether to be looking in the shallow water on my one hand or in the sand on my other side. Both were equally possible outcomes. I was frozen in a panic state. I was alone, far from home. What would I do without my car and phone? (good thing I wasn’t a pioneer, huh?).
As I reached a wooden beam laying across the sand and into the water, I knew I had gone no further than that point, so I turned around. As I passed Bill, who was searching more carefully and less frantically, I let him know the turn around point and continued on, making my way back to the starting point of the driftwood cross. By this time the sun had come out (part of the miracle in that it allowed for the keys to glint in the sunlight) and there were some swimmers in the water. I was in the process of asking them to keep a look out for some keys, when Barb appeared, walking towards me down the beach. And miracle of miracles, she had my car keys in her hand!
Yes, she had found my keys in the water, against all odds. This was beyond belief! I was hardly able to realize the enormity of it all. Lake Michigan is vast and I had covered a lot of beach that day. Lake Michigan is huge from my perspective but God created it and knows every ounce of water in it. We serve a big God, He calls every star by name and He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground. He knows the way that I take. He knew where my keys were that day and He could certainly guide His willing servant Barb to find them. My Heavenly Father used Barb and Bill to show His love and care for me that day. Barb and Bill, I want to thank you for stopping, for caring, for putting that care into the action of helping a stranger in need. I am grateful for your kindness to me still and always will be.
I faced a molehill, then a mountain. Through the mercy of God, demonstrated through the mercy of Barb and Bill, the miracle occurred and my keys were found. It wasn’t luck, it wasn’t coincidence, it was God’s own perfect timing that they drove down that highway at the exact moment when I realized my phone and keys were missing, my moment of desperate need. My panic was replaced with praise to God. And He wasn’t done blessing me yet.
I had already received a miracle, I didn’t need anything else. Of the two, the keys were the more important. I could more easily replace the cell phone. Which I did, and when I did I got a lower monthly bill and more minutes plus texting which I did not have before. To appreciate the significance of this you have to know that I had/still have a flip phone with minimum service which did not include texting. (until now) Also, another miracle. Of course, as expected all info from the previous phone was lost, such as contacts. But what was not lost were some old voice mails that I have continued to save over the years because they were funny or sweet messages from my children that I could not bear to erase. They are all there intact on my new phone. How miraculous is that? Our Heavenly Father certainly doesn’t treat us as we deserve to be treated, but with so much care, compassion and mercy. God reveals Himself to us in the details for sure. We just need to keep our eyes open.
All this has reminded me of the time I almost couldn’t get off a foreign island because I didn’t have cash for an unexpected exit fee that I didn’t know about until I was ready to board the plane and they didn’t take credit cards. But that’s another post for another time.
“You hem me in – behind and before; You have laid Your hand upon me.” Psalm 139:5
“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” Psalm 147:4
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
sincerely, Grace Day