It was 9:15pm. I went for a night walk on the beach (which I typically don’t do after a vigorous workout at the gym) but I felt a desire to do so. I’ve learned that sometimes the Spirit will lead us to do things that feel natural and are even desirable. I have a hard time believing that my own desires are what led me to walk the beach that night. Especially considering all that was about to happen. I’ve also learned that the Spirit will encourage us to make choices that push us beyond our own comfort zones and cause us to come to a place where we can’t rely on our own desires. A place in which we have no one else to rely on but God. This is where He desires us to be.
As I walked I was listening to an audio version of the Bible. Ephesians, actually. (I know, that’s super righteous of me.. right?) Eventually I came across a bird on the beach. It was a rather large bird. A little bit bigger than a duck. When I got closer I realized that it was a loon. It was odd to find it out there in the dark, alone. At first I thought it was wounded. Roughly a month earlier I had happened upon quite a few dead loons on an early morning beach walk. I’m not sure how they died, but I was thinking about this as I looked at this loon that was sitting in a roosting position on the beach. As I approached, it became a bit agitated and defensive and even confronted me. It didn’t flap it’s wings or get up and run at me. Instead it scooted itself across the sand like a penguin in snow, threatening me with it’s pointy beak. Even with such a negative confrontation, I still felt the need to stand my ground, filming it with my phone and documenting it’s location for my father who loves birds. I felt the need to do something for this bird. It was just an animal but I had compassion for it.
Soon I was back on my journey toward my destination at the end of the beach, Grommet Island. I would typically walk all the way down to where rocks form a jetty, tagging a rock with my shoe as a way of saying “I did it” and then turn around and walk back home. This is what I had set out to do, just like always. As I’m walking and listening to the Bible again, I eventually came up to this area on the beach where there is a sand hill. On top of the hill is a big pipe where they pump water and sand onto the beach. Apparently they pump sand in from the inlet to create huge sand walls to protect against beach erosion. In the lights from the hotels on the boardwalk that shine onto the beach, this hill creates a large shadow which and I had always been a little leery about at night. It’s a perfect place for someone to hide, especially if they were looking to mug an innocent beach walker.
This night I did happen to notice movement in the shadows. I had my earbuds in so I couldn’t hear anything. My first instinct was to take them out in case this person were to call out to me, otherwise I wouldn’t hear them. Were they hurt? Possibly in need? Was it more than one person? Were they simply two lovers “fooling around”. No, it was 48° outside. Not exactly the most ideal or romantic conditions. In spite of my concerns, I kept my earbuds in and pretended not to notice this person. It was awkward and I kept walking.
It’s a perfect place for someone to hide, especially if they were looking to mug an innocent beach walker.
Now every time I go walking I walk on the moist, compacted sand closest to the ocean. It’s easier to walk here than on the loose, drier sand closer to the boardwalk. I’m always very conscious and aware of the surf as I’m walking, being sure to dodge it and keep myself dry. Then again, the shoes I wear are meant for hiking and are essentially waterproof. I don’t mind purposefully stepping in the fringe of surf that rolls in front of me from time to time, but I still make it a point to steer clear of the water.
As I walked by this shadowy figure laying on the ground I felt compelled to stop and ask if they were okay, however I resisted. I even tried convincing myself to finish my initial intended journey and then perhaps I’d stop by on my way back. Perhaps.
Just as I passed this person and continued wrestling with my heart, I was forced to get my feet wet. Literally. A huge wave of surf seemed to come out of nowhere and completely washed over my shoes and soaked the ankles of my sweatpants, getting my socks all wet. Walking around in wet socks is not a favorite pastime of mine. It was undeniable that someone was trying to get my attention. I continued walking and struggling as to what I should do. It was clear in my heart that I was supposed to go back and reach out to the person in the shadows. I felt ashamed for making up excuses before. I felt ashamed for using my earbuds as a way to block out sound. I felt even more ashamed by the fact that I was listening to the Bible while doing so. I felt like the priest or the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I didn’t wallow in shame for long, I knew what I had to do.
Walking around in wet socks is not a favorite pastime of mine.
I continued walking for another minute and then stopped. I texted a dear friend and ask them to pray for me. Then I turned around and started walking back to where I saw the shadowy figure on the ground. I was praying out loud for wisdom and protection. With every step courage and confidence was building in my soul.
As I approached this person I called out, “Oy mate, is everything okay?” Now, I’m not exactly sure why I said “Oy mate”. I’m not Australian by any stretch of the imagination. It just sounded like the most casual, friendly, and right thing to say. As it turned out, the person on the ground was a man named Tim. He was bundled up in one of those Marmot mummy bags. It was dark but I could make out his eyes and his curly dark hair poking out through the face hole in the bag. I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He said, “A night at the Hilton would be nice”. That sort of caught me off guard and I nervously laughed. He probably could tell I was a bit shocked by his response. After brief silence I told him that I could treat him to some blankets and warm food. He said he was just kidding about the room at the Hilton. He didn’t need any food or anything. He was just enjoying the sounds of the surf.
At this point I wasn’t sure if he was actually “homeless” or not. Those Marmot sleeping bags aren’t cheap. I figured that maybe he could have just been an adventurous guy who truly wanted to spend a night on the beach, although there really was no logical reason for laying in the shadows on the beach in 48° weather. Either way, I could appreciate his appreciation for the ocean. After all, that’s mostly why I go on my beach walks. I agreed with him on his remark about the amazing sounds of the surf, wished him well, and continued on my way.
As I walked away I prayed for Tim. I don’t know his whole story, but just knowing him allowed me to pray for him. I’m going to continue praying Tim. I won’t lie, I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t take me up on my offer for food or blankets. I felt disappointed that I didn’t make more of an effort to sit down with him and perhaps listen to his story. These feelings of disappointment soon vanished and were replaced with peace as I knew that I had already accomplished something amazing. I had pushed beyond my comfort zone and truly offered to lend a hand to someone I had perceived was in need. Not by my strength alone, but with the Lord by my side. I had been obedient to the leading of the Spirit and I felt reassurance that my Father was proud of me.
I don’t know his whole story, but just knowing him allowed me to pray for him.
Looking back at all of this, there were many signs that were in place to illustrate to me how our hearts actually work. When I happened upon an animal that I perceived was in need, I immediately stepped in and did what I could to assess the situation and even possibly help. It’s easy to do this with animals. They can’t talk. They can’t ask anything of us. They can’t intimidate us with requests that we may not be able to fulfill. They can threaten us with confrontation, but still, an animal is just an animal. People are different. It’s easy for us to come up with many excuses as to why we shouldn’t stop and help. People can deceive us. People can make us feel guilty. People can talk and express their pain, which a lot of us find to be overwhelming at times. It’s interesting how I was exposed to both of these situations within minutes of each other which allowed me to see just how our hearts work. In my mind, it’s nothing short of a God thing.
I pray that the Lord reveals and removes the fears that are in our hearts that keep us from reaching out to those in need. I pray for courage and confidence to step outside of our comfort zones. I pray that God fills our hearts with the compassion we often only feel toward helpless and wounded animals. May God empower us to show His love to those in need.