God on the rocks

by Steve Brock on August 3, 2011

I’m on the beach. It could be almost any beach, for my quest is a common one. 

I’m hunting for special rocks for my wife’s collection. As I noted in Tips for Meaningful Business Travel, she has a large jar of smooth rocks on which she writes abbreviated praises and mini memorials to God’s faithfulness in issues both large and small.

Whenever I visit a new beach anywhere in the world, I try to gather a new specimen or two for her collection. 

On this day, I’m on the Washington coast a few hours from home. Looking for these candidates of stone provides me with both a quest and an excuse. The quest is for the perfect stone. The excuse is to justify meandering down the beach as if I require some reason to be there other than just to be there.

Because my family awaits me today, I hurry my perusal of washed-up stones. And in the hurry, I notice something I’ve not realized before.

Let me step back first and explain this: A big part of why I travel is to experience God in a new way, to be surprised to the point of wonder and discover some new revelation about him or his creation. Unlike at home where I tend to restrict God to familiar categories, on a trip God shows up in ways that make me realize the very idea of categories for God is about as adequate as using shot glasses to hold the ocean.

Yet even on trips, I tend to go about looking for God in rather familiar ways using tried and true techniques. Much like how I normally look for rocks on the beach.

But today, because I’m both seeking interesting stones and walking rapidly at the same time (somewhat a challenge for males like me), I discover an interesting phenomenon.

As I walk and look, a bright rock or interesting shape catches my eye. I pause and stare, trying to identify the outlier. Rarely, however, do I find what I thought I was seeking. Instead, whatever caught my eye is now lost amidst a hundred other stony neighbors.

The very act of stopping and noting, however, reveals a rock – usually a foot or so away from my initial point of inspection. And this new find, the one I hadn’t gone looking for but found serendipitously, is the keeper.

So it is with travel and how we “find” the One who actually is seeking us all along. God rarely shows up where I’m looking for him but reveals himself in that sidelong glimpse or peripheral glance, that spot just over there, close by but requiring some effort to reach.

When we find him in these unexpected places, like children we are thrilled by the hide-and-seek nature of the discovery and we know in ways we can’t express that we are the ones who are found.

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Intergenerational travel: a tale of two trips – Part 1

by Steve Brock on November 30, 2010

Many of the Tips for Meaningful Intergenerational Travel noted in the last entry come from hard-won personal experience. I will illustrate with two trips I’ve taken with my parents, wife and two sons. I’ll share the first trip here and the second in the next entry.

The first was a vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii. My parents have a timeshare, so we used the points from that to get a condo on the Kona side of the island. It seemed ahead of time like a perfect vacation: 10 days of fun in the sun. Except for one small detail.

On our second day there, my wife, Kris, and our two sons Sumner (then 9) and Connor (then 6) were having fun snorkeling amidst sea turtles in this beautiful cove. My parents then came back from a long walk they’d taken and announced they were ready to go. Go? We’d only been there for an hour or so and we (the younger four of us) were planning on spending most of this day – and every day – playing on the various beaches.

It was at that point that I learned something about my parents that I had never known my entire life: they don’t like beaches. More precisely, they don’t like sand or swimming in the ocean. We’d been to numerous beaches as kids. We’d even been to Hawaii with my parents and my brother when I was younger. I recall going to beaches all over the place then.

But that was then.

People change as they get older. With most of us, we get more set in our ways. And I’m not just referring to my parents…

On the one hand, I could understand if at this stage of life, my parents didn’t want to spend a lot of time at the beach. But – hello? – this was Hawaii! It’s an island, surrounded by ocean… and beaches. Why would you come here if you don’t like the beach?

You can see my line of thinking. Their perspective was that Hawaii offered plenty to see and do without wasting your whole time just at the beach. My counter to that was, “Great. You take the rental minivan and go see and do whatever you want and meet us back here…at the beach.”

But that wasn’t good enough. We were here as a family and their expectation was that we would do things as a family.

And therein lay the problem with this whole trip: We came with vastly different expectations that we hadn’t bothered to share with each other before we left. Was that an intergenerational issue? Not exactly. But the differences in age, attitude and the whole messed up package you get when dealing with your parents and all the baggage you all bring as a result makes a bad situation worse.

We’re a very close family. No “Mommy Dearest” skeletons in our closets. But it literally took almost a year after we got back before either side could have a conversation that didn’t contain some veiled snipe at the other’s position about beaches and vacations.

In fact, I think we might still to this day be harboring some grudges among all of us had we not done the most unthinkable thing at the time: we actually took another trip together.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for the next entry to learn what happened on that trip. For now, just rest assured: It didn’t involve beaches.

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Wonder may be closer than you think

by Steve Brock on September 13, 2010

Connor walking down the beach

As you can see, there's not a lot of beach to enjoy...

 To complete this loosely connected trilogy of beach-related tales that started with seagulls and then moved to serendipity, let me share one other lesson I learned from my recent skimboarding adventure with my two sons.  

Our skimboarding “beach” is a half-mile walk down from the main beach at a popular state park south of Seattle. We’ve been to the park dozens of times over the last decade and a half. But in the past, since we tended to come here when our kids were younger, we always stayed in the main swimming area along with other happy, splashing families. Couples, kids and groups all tend to clump together in one stretch of beach like remnants of biscuit dough in a mixing bowl or the way moviegoers waiting to get into a theatre all line up in front of one door, oblivious to the other, open entry on the other side of the ticket booth.  

Trees by the water

Another look at how the trees grow right on the beach

On this day, however, our destination lies beyond the usual play and spray area. Getting there required two activities. 

The first necessitates, because the tide was in, climbing over, under and around the numerous trees, branches and driftwood that litter the way. In many cases, the trees protrude horizontally from the steep hillside that drops down a mere five to ten feet from the high tide mark. You have to practice your hurdles or limbo moves to get by these deciduous barricades.  

 The second means witnessing a part of this stretch of shoreline I thought I knew but clearly didn’t. A hundred yards past the normal boundary of our experience lay a world I’d never seen, a stretch of coastline that could have been someplace on a different island or continent.  

What I found this day wasn’t anything dramatically new, but familiar objects like rocks and trees that I saw in a new way. Let me share a few of these small wonders with you. The images most likely won’t convey the total experience, but they rarely do. That’s why so much of the most meaningful moments of wonder on a trip are meaningful to you alone. 

Walrus log

On this beach, water, wind and time create a virtual sculpture garden. This particular log actually looks like a walrus if you get the right angle and use a lot of imagination.

Dog Log

This one requires less squinting and imagination to see the doglike shape of the log.

Tree roots wrapped around rocks

One of the most fascinating things this day was the interplay between objects captured best in this image of dead tree roots that have grown around and captured the rocks

Roots around rock - close-up

A closer view of how the tree has enveloped its neighbor.

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Serendipity and Skimboarding

by Steve Brock September 10, 2010

A trip with my sons to go skimboarding turns out to have nothing – and yet everything – to do with skimboarding. Sometimes we find what matters most when we’re looking for something else.

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A fresh set of eyes

by Steve Brock September 7, 2010

We travel to see new things but sometimes it takes others to help us see old things in a new way.

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