Midnight Picnics (Or, the Reason Why We’re Alive)

I told God I needed stars—a mumbled prayer that escaped unsteady lips, chapped from too many questions that remained answerless. The next afternoon, as we left the store, my friend asked me quite plainly if I might be interested in going to the beach with her that night. She leaned against her car, smiling eagerly as she waited for my response.

I had a to-do list longer than a Lord of the Rings movie; I said yes anyway.

IMG_2774We drove back home with all my groceries and I changed into sweatpants and my favorite shirt, a neon yellow tank top with a bright pink gorilla that my sister had given me. I grabbed a blanket, a sweater, and my headlamp and we were off. I put my feet on the dashboard, my favorite red Keds drinking in that setting sun. On the way, we picked up the only dinner appropriate for a late night such as this: Publix sub sandwiches, kettle cooked chips, and double chocolate Milano cookies.

The man working the deli was young and handsome, with a beautiful tattoo that wrapped around his arm. His nametag said Peter. Or Stephen. I think he had brown eyes but the only thing I can really remember is feeling dazed with the joy of such haphazard evening plans.

When we got on the highway, I put on my sweater and we lowered the windows. I let the November wind playfully ruffle through my wavy mass of hair. We had the radio loud and I counted out streetlights as I ate sour cream and onion chips. I breathed deeply. There would be no to-do lists tonight.

We arrived and parked in the free parking lot of one of the only stores on this part of the coast open 24 hours a day. I could hear the ocean’s call. We chose a spot on the beach far enough from the tide and laid out blankets. I sat on the edge, digging my feet in the sand, cool and lively against my skin—an affectionate reminder from God that both in spite of everything and because of everything, He sees me.

We ate our sub sandwiches to the soundtrack of the Atlantic slow dancing with the shore. We talked about everything and nothing; about the clouds that had hung heavy over my heart and how this was the first clear night I had seen in what had been far too long. We dug deep. We sat still. The ocean kept dancing.

I threw away our trash and laid back down, counting stars that blinked back at me. It was one of those moments where everything was quiet enough that I could hear the sound of my own heartbeat, and it occurred to me in one fell swoop: I am not alive for answers. I am alive for life.

I have spent far too much energy searching for all the answers. I have beat myself up and mistreated myself when I don’t have them. There is this hunger in me that, left unchecked, believes that total satisfaction will be found in having it all together. That I will finally be happy and at peace and successful when I know the entirety of the plan, when I understand every last detail. Not having the answers makes me feel like I’ve failed. But all of that is a lie.

I think God crafts His plans like constellations. There are evenings where clouds coat the sky and very few stars can be seen, if any at all. But that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

There are evenings where some stars are out but I don’t quite know what I’m looking for and don’t see much of anything at all, but that doesn’t make the night any less lovely.

Every now and then, though, there are these perfectly clear nights where everything falls into place. Each star is singing and I become captivated by the sky’s melodies. These are the evenings I am careful to remember, to trace their sacred patterns and to revel in the beauty of promised plans as rooted and brilliant as the unfolding reality of burning stars.

I need stars because I need to remember that He holds my life and the galaxy of my emotions as faithfully as He holds those twinkling kisses in the sky. He did not come to promise me answers and answers abundantly, but rather to give me a life of extravagant love, of lavish joy, of generous hope. I am set free from the self-imposed standard of having it all together. The answers will come when they come. They were never the point, anyway.

We got back in the car and drove back in the early morning underneath a cool black sky. I thought of my to-do lists and deadlines. As we got closer to home, I found that my old questions remained, but somehow their question marks seemed less menacing. Maybe the task at hand is to find a way to coexist with them, to wrestle through them, rather than to try and just erase them completely.

I told my friend these things, letting the words unravel the knots of fear that had kept me bound for so long. She smiled as she reminded me that I had all the permission in the world to dream for big things because God is steady. I settled back in my seat and exhaled from a place deep inside me, the place where I had buried hope, and watched it resurrect.

And I marveled at the thought of such a wild and perfect promise: the dead was indeed coming back to life.

IMG_2179(Candid shot of an afternoon picnic with friends. March 2013. Photo by D. Tenos.)


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