Whenever we went on family beach vacations when I was little, I always enjoyed sitting out on the condo balcony with my Grandma and looking at the ocean. I would sit next to her in those classic white wicker chairs I’m pretty sure every beach condo is required to have. She would crochet for hours making intricate afghan blankets, scarves, and hats for the grandkids. I rarely, if ever, saw her venture down to the ocean. My Grandpa would take me and my cousins out in the water, throw us in the waves, and we would laugh and squint up towards the condo to see if Grandma could see how high he threw us. She would always wave back in assurance that she was impressed.
One morning I ventured out on the balcony as she sat there with her morning coffee and asked why she never came down to the ocean with us. “I don’t like the water” was her reply. In the moment I didn’t think much about her answer (my eight year old self thought it was probably because of the jellyfish!), but years later she would share the full story of why she didn’t like the water:
As a girl she and her family sailed from Europe to America after escaping from a work camp under Hitler’s rule. Her family had lived in a small town in Romania, where she was born, and were trying to escape across the Romanian border in their covered wagon to flee Nazi persecution. They had the border in sight- their line of promised safety- when they were captured and sent to a work camp near the Germany/Poland border. My Great Grandpa quietly negotiated with the camp guards and were allowed to escape from the camp in exchange for a few guns Great Grandpa had come across. They fled across the continent and boarded a boat to the United States in hopes of pursuing a peaceful life together. The boat ride was long and treacherous. Pop up storms in the Atlantic caused terrifying waves. Sickness would spread throughout the boat. In the night she could hear bomber planes flying overhead. The journey was hard, frightening, and exhausting. When she reached America, she knew she never had the desire to step into the ocean again. She had reached their destination safely in the United States, and was quite content to enjoy being on this land that promised a better life.
My Grandma turns 90 this year and, to this day, I cannot recall a time where I have seen her step into the ocean, or even a pool for that matter. She doesn’t like the water, and is happy to enjoy being on the land.
Enduring the Waters
Back in the 1700’s, a man named George Whitefield made a similar journey across the Atlantic by boat as my Grandma and her family did. This summer I have been making my way through a biography on George Whitefield, and have been encouraged to learn more about this man of faith who loved God and led thousands to Christ in the 1700’s. Whitefield was sailing from England as a missionary to Georgia, and the time he spent at sea was full of sickness, storms, and near shipwreck. As they finally arrived in safety on the shores of America, Whitefield gave a farewell sermon to his fellow passengers. He talked about Psalm 107:30-31 that says:
“Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
And he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
For his wondrous works to the children of man!”
After many weeks at sea, I can only imagine how Whitefield’s fellow passengers related to this passage. They had endured such trial and hardship, being near death and holding on to hope that they would one day arrive safely on land. I am sure they were indeed “glad that the waters were quiet” and thankful that God had “brought them to their desired haven.”
My Grandma felt similarly after her voyage across the sea. After enduring the sufferings and trials of the ocean, she was relieved and thankful when they finally arrived in America. Even today, she is one of the most thankful women you will ever meet. Thankful for her family, for her home, and for the good things God has given her despite the trial and hardship she endured. I have never even heard her speak ill of those who made her childhood so hard. She is not bitter towards the Nazis who uprooted her family or angry about her hard childhood. She doesn’t dwell on the trials her family went through, but is thankful for the life and blessings here she has been given. She is a great example to me of what true thankfulness looks like.
Our Desired Haven
Although most of us have never made a perilous cross-Atlantic journey like Whitefield or my Grandma, we have all endured suffering, trial, and hardship. We have all encountered the devastating effects of sin. We have fought sin and seen victory, yet also continue to fight it on a daily basis. We have lost loved ones- a friend, a spouse, a child, a baby. We have endured sickness or walked alongside others who are ill. We have plead with God as we battle anxiety, depression, and emotional turmoil. We have felt the heartbreak of a desire that hasn’t yet been met…desiring a spouse, a friend, or a baby. Sometimes this life can feel like a storm battered boat in the Atlantic. The waters can seem loud and strong. At times it may seem like the boat will sink any minute.
But, for those who know, love, and obey Christ, we can have faith and hope that this often stormy life is not all that there is, and it is not the end destination.
“For here we do not have a lasting city,
but we are seeking the city which is to come”
It is hard for me to imagine the suffering my Grandma saw and endured in that work camp and during her travel across Nazi Germany and the bombed ruins of WWII Europe. Yet her suffering produced in her a thankfulness, peace, and steadfastness that has impacted the generations that came from her and my Grandpa. She has no desire to swim in the ocean or to visit Romania again. “Why would I want to visit Europe?” she told me once, “When I was last there it was full of bombs and shells of buildings. This is my home now.” One day when we are in glory with Christ, I think we will feel similarly about our sufferings here now:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time
are not worthy to be compared with
the glory that is to be revealed to us.
It is hard for me to imagine the challenges George Whitefield faced crossing the Atlantic and ministering in rural, undeveloped 1700’s America. Yet his trials developed a great man of faith who was at the forefront of The Great Awakening. His story reminds me of 1 Peter 1:3-9:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who according to His great mercy has caused us
to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection
of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled
and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
who are protected by the power of God through faith
for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice,
even though now for a little while, if necessary,
you have been distressed by various trials,
so that the proof of your faith,
being more precious than gold which is perishable,
even though tested by fire,
may be found to result in praise and glory and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
And though you have not seen Him, you love Him,
and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him,
you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”