“We are done with people for the week!” I grinned at Will as our family drove out our lane, pulling a rented camper behind for five days of rest and family fun. Our goal was to see the total eclipse in Nebraska, with the side-benefit of a much-needed vacation.
The last few months had been intense; I sometimes felt as if I was barely surfacing for air before being sucked underneath again. I loved all the challenging and meaningful ways our lives intersected with others, but I was ready for a break. I saw this trip as an escape from the world for a while, and I was not planning on investing anything in anyone except my family. Little did I know that God was likely chuckling over my ideas!
Pulling into a beautiful state park in Nebraska, our family set up camp and spent our days biking beautiful trails, swimming, fishing, cooking over a campfire, and just being a family. The weather was crisp and cool in the mornings, then warmed up to the perfect temperature for swimming, ending with enough chill for a fire. When we weren’t sleeping, we practically lived outside, taking in the luscious surroundings and feeling that lovely whoosh of fresh air into our bodies and brains.
Monday morning dawned, and excitement ran high at the pending eclipse. We spent a few hours on a dock while Elijah nabbed fish by dangling a piece of string tied to a worm-laden fishhook. Then Stuart announced that he was hot and wanted to swim, so we all trekked back to the beach.
The golden beach, ringed by cottonwood trees and sunflowers, cradled clear water brimming with curious fish. We opened clam shells, and the fish snatched the clams right out of our hands. Patting elaborate sandcastles out of wet sand, we decorated our creations with pebbles and shells. We buried our feet in the warm sand and laughed at the sight of our footless legs.
Since the beach was empty, we decided that this was as good place as any to watch the eclipse.
Soon we noticed a woman following her dog on a leash, also coming to enjoy the water. A little girl with strawberry-blond curls skipped ahead of her mama, and plunged into the lake.
After a bit, Will said to me, “You should go say hi to that lady over there.”
I didn’t feel like it, but I didn’t want to be unfriendly, so I strolled over and introduced myself. Soon Will was drawn into the conversation around the edges of playing with the children or tossing a ball to the dog. The woman was sophisticated and educated, but quite friendly.
“I did not intend to stop at this park,” she said, “but as I was driving by, I got the urge to stop in. When I saw the park had plenty of space, I decided to change my plans and camp here.”
“We were not planning on having an empty beach to watch the eclipse,” I told her. “Isn’t it neat that we have such a beautiful spot all to ourselves?” By this time, “all to ourselves” included our new friend and her daughter.
The moon started its journey across the sun, so we all dashed around excitedly, spying the moon shadows under the cottonwood trees, poking a hole in the cardboard frame of a pair of eclipse glasses to make our version of a pinhole viewer, creating unique shadows in the sand, and watching the eclipse through our special glasses.
When the world darkened at the moment of totality, we gasped at the beauty. Will and I both felt a rush of overwhelming awe.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Psalm 8:3-4 (ESV)
As Will’s spirit lifted in worship to God, he felt the Holy Spirit fall on him. When the eclipse ended, he told the woman, “Something in my spirit says that you are on a journey, and you have not yet found what you are looking for.”
“Yes,” she said, tears springing to her eyes.
“You will find what you are looking for, if you seek with your whole heart,” Will said. “But you need to seek with a humble heart, because the answer might be different from what you are expecting.”
The woman’s face crumpled as she told us that she was finishing up a five-week pilgrimage seeking answers. She was, in fact, on her way back from spending time at a New Age holy site.
Will told her that we were Christians, and told her about a dream he had that changed his life. They kept talking, and I missed some of the conversation because I was occupied with the kids. I felt a little reluctant to dig too deeply into this lady’s personal life–this was my vacation after all!
But God was after this woman’s heart, and knew how to knock down my resistance. As I splashed with the children, I felt my heart opening and I started asking God for His words for this woman.
We played a while longer, and the talk veered to lighter subjects for a bit. But before we left, Will asked the woman if she would like us to pray for her.
“Oh yes,” she said, so we held hands and stood in a barefoot circle on the beach. Will and I began to pray specific things for her as God brought them to our minds.
As we prayed, the woman started to cry. Clutching our hands, she hunched in her black sunglasses and swimdress, and sobbed aloud.
Several weeks later, I can still hear her cry in my mind.
After our prayer, Will and I said good-bye. We gathered our wet, sandy children and silently walked back to our camper, feeling as if we were treading holy ground. The beauty of the eclipse was overpowered by the beauty of seeing the Spirit in hot pursuit.
This woman drove from Oregon, our family drove from Kansas, and we met at a park in Nebraska. She had not planned to stop at that particular park. We had not planned to watch the eclipse from that specific spot. I certainly was not planning on engaging in a spiritual conversation with a stranger–I thought I was done for a good while!
But I believe Jesus sent us to the woman at the beach.
He was ready to meet her there.