What brings you a sense of stillness and calm? Perhaps a sunrise, cup of coffee, tidy surroundings, or a well planned day? What causes you to be in awe of your Creator? Maybe the complexities of a human cell, the vastness of the universe, or a butterfly wing? For me, it’s the sea.

I grew up in a land-locked state: Oklahoma. Our man-made lakes are muddy from our red clay dirt, and the nearest ocean is at least a day’s drive away. Regardless, as a young adult, I often yearned for a sunset over local Lake Hefner to calm my heart and recenter my runaway thoughts. By gazing at the water as the sky turned stunning hues of orange, purple, and pink, I found solace viewing God’s handiwork. Here I prayed. Here I journaled. Here I caught my breath and refocused as I gazed at His beauty around me.

My young, sometimes angsty heart often pondered the future while watching the lake waters ripple. Where would I go? What would I do? How was God leading me? How could He best be glorified in me? Was He calling me to do mission work? Would I travel and see Him at work around the world? Would I glimpse the beauty of His creation in places many people only dream of visiting?

Spoiler alert – yes! Through over two decades of travel, including living in Europe for twelve years, this land-locked Okie fell in love with the sea and learned to appreciate the Creator through His expansive creation. The display of His vast creativity, particularly through the ocean, reminded me that despite the enormity of nature, He still sees and cares for me – regardless of where I traveled. His Spirit’s presence was my constant in the midst of changing locations, much like the consistency of the tides. Psalm 139:7-10 became an anchor for me: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”[1]

Through my journeys, while searching for peace and purpose amidst transition, my visits to the ocean came to provide far more than mere relaxation. Each encounter with the sea revealed to me various facets of God’s character. Reflecting on and delighting in His creation drew me closer to the Creator. Wander with me around the world and see His virtues for yourself!

~~~

I had no personal concept of the ocean until age seventeen. My first memorable encounter was on the bouldered shores of York Beach, Maine, during an epic two-week family vacation. The rocky pools that housed sea life were delightful to observe, but even in June, the Atlantic water was shockingly frigid. While I only got my feet wet, I discovered that all the authors who attempt to describe the ocean and its colors are right. It is vast and unending. This demonstration of God’s greatness left me speechless and eager for more travel.

Immense, mesmerizing

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters” (Psalm 24:1-2). 

Over a year later, while spending the summer abroad as a nanny for missionary kids, I met the Adriatic Sea. She was rocky, varying shades of blue, and rather refreshingly chilly; she later blew up a fierce gale. The missionaries I journeyed with were thrilled to show me a narrow sand bar that allowed for a ‘real beach feel’ in contrast to the small rocks composing most of the shore. I had no idea I would later live near a rocky Croatian beach like this. It took years of repetitive trips to the beach before I came to peace with the rocks that punctured my bare feet. The undulating beauty and shifting colors of the water captured my attention creating a lovely memory – I wanted to revisit this place! Would the Lord direct me to return? 

Dynamic, transforming

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy” (Psalm 65: 5-8).

While on a college mission trip to the Dominican Republic, our plane was delayed, causing a six-hour overnight stay in Puerto Rico. Flight schedules prohibited our seeing the island by daylight. Instead, at midnight, we stepped outside our hotel, climbed onto the black, razor-sharp lava rocks that formed our hotel’s beach, and watched the waves hurl toward us. The sound was deafening. The experience was both frightening and exhilarating. I was reminded of the peach conch shell on my mother’s curio shelf at home. The sound of its waters had beckoned gently to me. Now, in contrast, I wondered if these ferocious waves would violently snatch me from the rocks. Was this the same sea? How different could my experiences be all around the world?

Exciting, terrifying

“Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them” (Psalm 89:8-9).

My first warm memory of sandy beaches comes from that same Dominican Republic mission trip. One Caribbean afternoon at the beach, I dipped myself into the warm waters, enjoyed the clear blue seas, and fell in love with palm trees. Later, I bought a small painting of the beach silhouetted by palm trees in the moonlight to remind me of the sense of calm I experienced. A peaceful kiss from my Heavenly Father, distinct from His previous displays of power through crashing waves.

Gentle, warm

 “Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them” (Psalm 69:34).

 During college, my university choir traveled across the US each summer. Our trip to the west coast offered an hour in Orange Beach, California between concerts. Finally – I got a glimpse of the Pacific! The drive along the coast offered my first view of sea lions sunbathing on the rocks. As we stopped at the beach, I was struck by the tall cliffs next to the water. Huge boulders scattered on the shore and then skipped out to the depths. We walked a long way over the sand to get to the water. The day was overcast and too cool to swim. Instead, I took multiple pictures and marveled at the great expanse. My friend Melody snapped a photo of me looking off into the distance and then gifted it to me in a frame titled ‘Endless Possibilities’. The ocean certainly stirred up my thoughts and dreams. Was I growing into the woman God wanted me to become? Where would He send me?

 Imaginative, hopeful

“I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalm 135:5-6).

We recreated this picture two years later in Alabama on our way to Florida when the college choir visited a Gulf Coast beach in between performances. This time, I donned my swimsuit and got wet. At long last, the full USA beach experience! Again, the sand and sea stretched endlessly before me. I remember the bus driver made us brush off our feet before getting on the bus again. Sand found its way everywhere anyway! I was awed by the enormity of God’s handiwork and how small I am compared to Him.

Immersive, spacious

“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?” (Job 38:8-11)

Our family journeyed to Lima, Peru on a mission trip in June 2003, during Peru’s winter. An afternoon at the beach meant sitting and eating ice cream at an outdoor mall overlooking the ocean. Gray, misty clouds hung in the air above the Andes mountains. These mountains, covered in brown dirt not jungle plants, seemed to hold the choppy, dark blue, Pacific waters at bay. We briefly glimpsed the surf too far below to explore any coastline. How grateful I am that God isn’t unreachable, though at times He may seem far away. I needed this reminder as I prepared to move to Europe and teach missionary teens.

Distant, untouchable

“This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is his name” (Jeremiah 31:35). 

Chaperoning a missionary teen history trip to Greece offered an incredible view of the Aegean Sea from Athens. There is nothing like sitting at an outdoor cafe, discovering the delights of an incredible Greek salad (with black olives, which in a surprising turn of events, I suddenly loved), and gazing at the sea crashing on the coastline far below. Surrounded by ruins centuries old, the waters reminded me that history lasts far beyond my time and that God Himself is eternal.  

Timeless, constant 

“Some went out on the sea in ships; They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (Psalm 107:23a, 24-25,28-31).

For Christmas in 2007, I traveled to New Zealand to visit my sister doing mission work. This brought new beach encounters. Because December is during their summer, we went to the brown sandy beach on Christmas Eve (my birthday) wearing shorts – a novel way for me to celebrate the season! As we extensively explored the north island, one beach held the unforgettable sight of beautiful, round, smooth black pebbles. In curious contrast to other beaches I’ve visited, another shoreline revealed endless black sand composed of ground-up lava rocks, which crunched under our feet. One afternoon before my departure, we drove to the southernmost tip of the north island. Huge boulders lined the coast. Rolling down our car windows, we were struck by a terrible stink. Suddenly, a rock moved – it was an enormous seal! Driving slowly, we glimpsed numerous seals. I was astounded that one island possessed such varied beaches. New Zealand revealed multiple evidences of God’s creativity.  

Unique, varied 

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you” (Nehemiah 9:6). 

Istanbul, Turkey spans the continents of Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus Strait flows through the city and connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. These waters were gray-blue, choppy from the wind, and flecked with fascinating jellyfish, the size of my hand, that glowed fluorescent at night. While attending a mission conference, I stayed on the deck of our hotel and never entered the chilly water out of fear of getting stung. Sometimes our awe of God and His work requires us to pause and simply observe. 

Beautifully dangerous

“He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). 

After five years of mission work in Bosnia, my Bosnian sweetheart and I married. We traveled twice to our mission headquarters in Florida for training. Each trip offered a quick afternoon on the Atlantic beach. This beach was sandy and the waves were huge, but relatively warm. The horizon was endless and not interrupted by islands as I was used to seeing in Croatia. On these visits, short, sweet, and gritty from the sand, the waves, relentless, tugged at me to carry me away. I was entering a new phase of life as a wife. Would I continue to see the Lord at work around me? 

Persistent, determined

 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).

Throughout the rest of my time in Europe, multiple trips to the Croatian coast caused the beautiful seaside to become a balm to my spirit and a place of retreat. I remember the first time I realized how relaxing it could be to simply lay on the beach. An afternoon off in the middle of our team retreat taught me the power of being still and listening to the waves. I didn’t even have to enter the water to enjoy the calm. God used these times of spiritual retreats on the coast to restore my soul. I discovered the joy of sitting on a green wooden bench perched on a rocky cliff jutting out over the Adriatic, journaling, and hearing from God. One year, while in the tiring throes of young motherhood, I experienced a particularly sweet time alone with the Lord as He renewed my focus, spoke truth to my heart, and blessed me with a verse. The next year, I breathed a hopeful prayer for a repeat encounter, and was stunned to find the exact bench waiting for me and a new promise from the Lord to sustain me in that intense season. He was kind to remind me that He sees me – even on the far side of the sea.

 Vision-casting, comforting

 “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8).

When we moved to a city in southern Bosnia, my husband in particular was thrilled to be 45 minutes from the Adriatic coast. We took weekly afternoon trips to the beach. This usually consisted of my husband swimming out quite a distance to help himself relax while our three-year-old dabbled his toes in the water and our one-year-old crawled on the rocks eating a banana or rice cake. I sat on the shore overseeing the little ones and occasionally going for a dip if it was quite hot. We rested in the shade of the towering pine trees which leaned toward the water on our favorite beach in Gradac, Croatia. Occasionally, we explored other beaches. The kids enjoyed the sand in the delta city of Ploce where the windsurfers reminded me of those on my native Lake Hefner, yet we always returned to Gradac. We seldom ventured home before watching nature’s highlight – the burning orange orb slowly slipping over the horizon between two distant islands. Here in my new home, the sense of peace and the sunset’s colors recalled my times at Lake Hefner in Oklahoma when I sought direction from the Lord. I felt a familiar comfort from the water and sky and their Creator. These moments of quiet togetherness bonded our family and sustained me during a difficult season in ministry and in our family’s health.  

Restful, reminiscent

 “For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is his name. I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand – I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people’” (Isaiah 51:15-16).

 In December of 2019, after relocating back to Oklahoma due to health reasons, our family spent time on the Gulf Coast in Corpus Christi, Texas. I enjoyed watching the boys dance and splash in the waves though the temperature was cool. After spending hours tunneling in the sand creating villages, they were thrilled to slide down the sand dunes. They also delighted in chasing seagulls, zig-zagging behind sandpipers, and attempting to rescue a beached jellyfish. As they mined the beaches for the best seashells, their small, clenched hands overflowed with treasure. Watching them interact with the beach was the best part of our trip. While our Adriatic adventures offered more beauty, calm, and swimming opportunities, the Gulf provided a sandy playground and new creatures to observe, such as pelicans and sea turtles. Observing the open Gulf in front of us, I noted how the winter waves were relentless – crashing vehemently onto the jetties. I was surprised to find the waters weren’t relaxing to me this time. They seemed too restless. Yet, enjoying nature together and discovering new wonders provided fresh memories and a sense of calm and connectedness. I was also reminded that the same God who gave us the memories in Europe would be with us in America too.

Familiarly different

 Should you not fear me?” declares the Lord. “Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it” (Jeremiah 5:22).

A quick getaway to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with my husband last year offered novel views of the Pacific. Sandy beaches skirted gorgeous blue waters and provided new glimpses of wildlife. I gasped watching a three-foot-long iguana amble along. Unexpected whale sightings were exhilarating! My heart stilled when sitting on the balcony, observing the waves, feeling the breeze and sunshine on my skin, drinking a coffee, and marveling at God’s creation and His faithfulness to me. This led me to praise Him!

Glorious, majestic

“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139: 9-10).

Recalling my memories of the sea in all its wild and colorful variety remind me of God’s constant love in the midst of turmoil. His creation is breathtaking; it is meant to be enjoyed. Basking on the beach offers a place to rest and be present, while refocusing my attention on His greatness. This restful pause is healing. My problems are reframed as I realize the expanse of His power and the pervasiveness of His presence. His splendor can be experienced all around the world, as well as right here at home. Thankfully, He is the same – steadfast – even when the waves tumultuously roll. How wonderfully the seas reflect His character!


Citation Information

Tiffany Kavedzic, “Sea Reflections,” An Unexpected Journal: Leisure 6, no. 3. (Fall 2023), 145-157.


End Notes

[1] Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV).