I know what you’re thinking. You heard that I was going to the beach for the weekend, and so, you say, “Everyone goes on weekend trips to the beach. Blah, blah, blah, it’s all the same. Nothing different about this one.” But you would be wrong.
Fourteen years ago, I was eighteen years old, and thrilled to be invited to a Bible conference with my friends. Even better, I knew it was at the beach, and I’d have lots of friends to spend time with. What could be better than that? I thought I was as old as anything, though I was actually a tad young for the conference. However, when my younger brother turned eighteen, a few years later, I didn’t think he was old enough to attend. : )
I was still too young to really see the stigma that gets attached to the phrase “singles conference”, but as soon as I discovered it, then I could throw down the gauntlet with anyone who thought our conference was one of “those”. You’ve heard it before, I don’t need to explain. But let me tell you, would I be attending this same conference, this many years later, if I thought that our only purpose was to “spouse-shop”?
Our conference on Seabrook Island has always been, first and foremost, a time to listen to a wonderful speaker share with us from the Word of God and to fellowship with other single believers who also want to grow in their walk with the Lord. Those first-time attendees who show up with any other intent will quickly find out who vehemently we feel on the subject, and if their only purpose is to find someone to marry, they usually stop coming. [Clarification: We aren’t against meeting a special someone at this conference, but that isn’t the PURPOSE of the conference. Most of our regular attendees will also tell you that you know you’ve met the right one if you’re willing to GIVE UP Seabrook in order to marry them. I hope this puts the subject in the proper perspective for you.]
Aside from this awesome time spent in God’s Word, the beach is our playground, but even if it’s a public beach, it’s in a secluded area, and not directly on the Atlantic Ocean. Located where a cove meets a river that eventually reaches the ocean, the dolphins love to frolic in the quietude off our beach, and we love to watch them, by day or by night.
Fourteen years after my first conference, with two per year, I’ve missed a total of three. For one, I was in Indonesia (’00), and for both conferences in 2011, I was in Australia. As far as I’m concerned, being out of the country is the only good excuse for missing one. And despite talking to my friends on Skype, last year, when they were at Seabrook and I was in Australia, I’m still a little miffed at one of my friends for not inventing a Star Trek transporter, so that I could come home for it.
But after a year’s absence, I was seeing this well-known and very much loved location with new eyes. The beach tends to always look the same, so why take pictures, year after year? I was so happy to be back on my home turf that taking pictures of the boardwalks and cabins were fair game, when I hadn’t taken many pictures of them in years.
In my first six or eight years of attendance, I liked nothing better than arriving at the campground and running up and down the boardwalks, either barefoot or in flip-flops. There’s a method to it, so I didn’t fall very often. Now, with mono still dragging me down a bit, I only ran when there was a particularly dark spot on the boardwalk, late at night. Doctor’s orders: don’t get exhausted, and don’t get stressed out.
To the furtherance of that aim, my two friends and I drove down from Pennsylvania (about a 12 hr trip) in Rachel’s car (different Rachel), because mine’s a stick shift, and we all needed to be able to drive. Gone are the days when I can drive the whole trip, including after an exhausting weekend. We drove down on Thursday and stayed in a hotel for the night, so that we’d have plenty of energy the next day. And since it’s still a rarity for me to stay in a hotel, especially without my parents, I was childishly excited about having the whole room to ourselves.
On Friday, we visited the Charleston Market in the afternoon, had some ice cream from Marble Slab for “dinner” (yes, I know, that could be considered heresy, for those of us that always eat at Gilligan’s that night), and then drove onto the island while it was still daylight. Driving under the trees that overhand the roads, with their streamers of Spanish moss is beautiful in daylight, but slightly creepy after dark. The tree trunks are encroaching on the roads, so I’m really afraid that if I accidentally veer off the road, one of them will take me out, rather than the other way around. They’re that big, I don’t think a car would have an effect on them.
Our cabin had a beautiful view of the beach, as it was set high on stilts, and was on the “front row”, overhanging the cross, volleyball court, and fire pit that sits between the dunes. Well, they’re not large dunes, as compared to some beaches, but I’m not sure what else to call them. They’re covered with the grasses and reeds that we’ve been told that if we pick any, we’ll be fined $500 each, or some such number. Now, I understand it’s to preserve the dunes and keep them from eroding, but really, I’d rather pick up shells, if we ever got any worth keeping. Besides, those sand hills are infested with sand spurs, which most of us wouldn’t willingly tangle with. They’re painful to dig out, if you get them stuck in you. Just ask Harold.
I arrived at the meetings feeling a bit dried out, spiritually (understatement of the century), but praying that what I heard would really hit home. The Lord answered that prayer, because from the first meeting to the last, I was on the edge of my seat, trying to take in everything that our two speakers had to share with us. Mr. S was talking to us about the pursuit of holiness, starting us off in 2 Corinthians.
From there, he went on to ask us if we are saints (all believers in Jesus Christ are declared to be saints, with a lower case ‘s’), and if so, are we saintly? Are we truly pursuing holiness, and allowing the Lord to work through the process of sanctification in us? Being sanctified is to be set aside for the Lord’s use… are we allowing Him to teach us, and learning more about what it means to be holy. Do we truly want to learn about what it means to be Christ-like? We will never truly be perfect, until we get to heaven, but Lord Jesus still wants us to endeavor (through His power) to become like Him.
As if the first marvelous subject wasn’t enough, Mr. E started us off in Jeremiah, and before we could even think about groaning inwardly (ohhh, another Old Testament prophet?), his first message hit us upside the head, concerning our need to be constantly in the Word of God. Are we reading our Bibles daily? My answer was no, I’m sad to say, as it was for a lot of the questions our speakers were asking us, and I was becoming more and more convicted over what I’d been screwing up on. This message was painful, yet needful. From the discussion of our need to delve into the Scriptures, we learned more about Jeremiah, and how he would have studied all the Scripture that he had at the time, as well as looking to the Lord in all things.
It was also fascinating to me, because he pointed out that Jeremiah was still living when Daniel (of lion’s den fame) was born, and how their lives slightly intersected. And I’ve been through two Bible studies on Daniel, recently, as well as hearing a message about the lives of Daniel’s parents. Of course, Daniel’s parents aren’t named in the Bible, but they would have lived during the revival under King Josiah, which was in the time of Jeremiah. They would have remembered how Josiah lived for the Lord, for most of his life, and perhaps taught Daniel all about it. His grounding in his faith, as a child, is probably what led to him standing firm, when he was taken to Babylon.
Aside from the great messages, I was back in my favorite place to sing from our hymn books. We Seabrookers like to sing, and I always want to tape record it, to show other churches and assemblies what their singing COULD sound like. The Seabrook chapel has phenomenal acoustics, we like to sing in parts, and we like to sing loud. So, away we went, covering the old favorites, with one slight “incident” when the song leader called out the wrong song, and stopped us within a few words. “Who is on the wrong page…”, as he immediately began to sing, joking about himself.
At some point during the weekend, we always sing “And Can It Be”, and if the song leader’s being nice to us, he schedules it before our closeout numbers of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” and “My Anchor Holds”, because we might pass out if we did all three in a row. We sing the rafters off on all three, and the latter song is our closing song. How wonderful it is to sing out, with fellow believers, about the wonders of our Savior.
When we aren’t soaking up the messages or singing our hearts out, we’re eating the amazing food provided by the camp’s dining hall. Usually, there’s a chef running things, so let me tell you, we eat very well. The rest of the time, we’re running around on the beach, eying up the alligators in one pond (there were two, this year!), and hanging out in the “snack shack”, as if we hadn’t eaten enough already.b
We didn’t actually start up a game of Ultimate Frisbee, this year, mainly because I’m usually the one that suggests it, and the doctor told me no contact sports. Also, my two travel buddies had threatened my life if I went against the doctor’s orders. So, we just had a large group of people throwing several Frisbees around, and attempting to throw against the stiff breeze. I actually forgot to put my coral-colored water shoes on, for once, so my feet were really sore from running around barefoot, afterwards.
As some of us have gotten older, we’ve stopped staying out on the beach so late, every night, and especially on Saturday night, we try to go to bed at a fairly decent time, so we’ll be alert during the Breaking of Bread, on Sunday morning. But to make up for that, we stay up as late as possible on Sunday night, usually walking down to the point, when the tide’s out, looking for shooting stars and watching for the antics of dolphins. Usually you can hear the dolphins better than see them, but a large fishing boat or two were out, which made it harder to focus on the stars, and easier to see dolphins splashing around. It’s always a fun time to get in some talk with friends, walking from one beach to the other.
I’m afraid some of us didn’t get to bed until 1:30am, and for some reason, we woke up earlier than usual. Someone’s phone went off too early, and with the light coming in our windows, quite a few of us were up and packing earlier than ever before. We scramble to get off the island by 9am, and stop at a local motel to eat breakfast at their buffet. The original prediction had been for rain, in which case, we’d have gone bowling (we do try and drag the weekend out for as long as possible). Instead, with gloriously sunny skies, we decided to go on the Charleston Harbor Tour. A few people went to the Market, if they hadn’t been on Friday, but most of us headed in the direction of the Aquarium, to catch the Harbor Tour boats.
I was surprised that they’ve changed up the boats and the tour, since the last time I went on one, because we had a regular tour guide, instead of just a recording. I had told my friends of the joys of hearing the exploits of Blackbeard, on the recorded tour, as it always talked of how he swiped a woman off the streets of Charleston, made her his wife, and had a reputedly happy marriage. But our tour guide only briefly mentioned Blackbeard, and covered much more history of Charleston than I’ve heard in a long time.
From the history of Rainbow Row to the Hunley Submarine, he covered quite a range. It was like being back in my elementary or middle school class on local history, because Fort Sumter, the Civil War, the Swamp Fox, and many other characters of South Carolina fame were covered. For my friends from up north, some of it would be new and different, for me, it was a review of my childhood. I’m afraid I did doze off during the part about the U.S.S. Yorktown, but that’s okay, because I’ve been on it several times, including after they got the Medal of Honor museum placed on it, several years ago. Actually, I slept overnight on the Yorktown, when I was a kid, as part of a school trip.
But I woke up to view a closeup of the New Bridge, and then we arrived back on land. Despite the pleading of our friends (or even nagging, one might say), we still persisted in our decision to leave Charleston right then. Departing at 3ish, we were able to drive all night, rather than have to get a hotel partway through the trip. With three drivers, we were all tired when we arrived back in PA at 4am, but not completely exhausted. Ok, that’s not to say we weren’t a bit zombie-ish the next day, but that’s from the entire weekend. Lots of driving, lots of learning about the Word of God, lots of catching up with old friends, and lots of walking on the boardwalks and beach. It took me a little while to recover from the whole weekend, energy-wise.
There are other things, though, that I never want to “recover” from. In fact, I pray (as do the rest of my friends) that we will all remember what we learned, and act on it. As I keep reminding myself, there have been so many times when I’ve used the words, and planned to make changes, but those words never became actions. Words are just words, I keep telling myself, until they become actions. This time, I want to act on what I’ve learned, not just let my words be more hot air.
Only time will tell, but I’m praying that the Lord works in my life, and I never recover from the need to pursue after and perfect holiness in my life. I need to be reading the Word of God, taking it into my heart, and taking it beyond just being a saint who’s been saved by the grace of God. And on the days when I feel like I’ve failed in this pursuit, I can take heart of hope with these wonderful verses. His compassion never fails, and His mercies are renewed every morning. Amen.