Wrestling on Wassaw

I had begun to pace back and forth, back and forth across the faintly moon-lit sand, but nothing seemed to work. Earlier that day on Wassaw Island, it had rained. And on this particular night of July, there was no breeze on the beach at all. In the South, particularly coastal Georgia, this means the bugs will absolutely eat you up. Like I would eat a scoop of Extreme Chocolate Moose Tracks. No mercy.

It was our last night of the week on Wassaw working with the Caretta Research Project collecting data on the turtles, tagging, and relocating at-risk nests. My time there had been amazing – witnessing these magnificent creatures come out of the waves to complete a laborious trek up the beach to the dunes to start a legacy of her own. She delicately digs out a cozy nest for about 100 eggs before covering it with such tenderness and concern before returning back to the dark ocean water. Being a small part of that process was eye opening and worth the lack of air-conditioning.

But. That last night – which I thought would be the icing on the cake to a great week – it was as if the sparkles started to fade.

I started to notice that my muscles were sore from hanging on for dear life on the back of a mule. My cheeks sunburned from daytime rides on the beach to tag new nests. There were blisters on my ankles from my hiking boots. The clothing I had on was not clean; the way it smelled was a constant reminder that it was an outfit worn the previous day. My patience had disintegrated from lack of caffeine, alone time, clean showers and sleep. I was sick and tired of being sticky from the humidity. My skin was coated in layers of sweat, sand, sunscreen, turtle fluids, and bug spray…….TMI, but you just don’t understand.

To top it off was the bugs. There was no escaping them. Every inch of skin that I had was covered. I only created a small slit for my nose and eyes with a thin rain jacket, but even then, the bugs had found a way to bite me through my socks, or and entryway on my sleeves and hood to bite my hands or to be breathed up my nose.

I had just about had it.

Audrey Nix was not born to be a quitter, nor was she raised to be one. Since day one of anything, Mom and Dad would always say, “If you start something, you finish it.” This simple truth kept me in ballet no matter what tantrum or excuse I would try to throw their way. It was a great life attitude to be taught and held accountable for (thanks Mom and Pops).

On that particular night, I felt much like 7 year old me, right before ballet class. I wanted to stomp my feet in defiance, throw the stupid, annoying, uncomfortable tights on the ground and leave. Peace out.

But, this time, it was not pink tights or itchy costumes that I was over, it was the bugs. And the sand. And the heat. And the lack of sleep. And the food that came out of a fridge that ran on propane…..I kid you not, it made it taste funny. I was pretty sure I was going to be turned into a radio-active fridge/human because of it.

Patrolling the beach on the mule was better than the alternative of being a standstill target for the bugs. At least riding on the mule as the bugs would hit my rain jacket I could pretend that there were only drops of rain…..It was that bad. I promise I am not being a drama queen.

Finally we had a turtle, coming out of the water. We let her slowly crawl up the beach further before seeing if she would next. The bugs began attacking us at our standstill, so we drove forward to avoid the mosquitos. A little further up the beach was another turtle. Ergo, we had a problem on our hands. Someone needed to be dropped off to hang out with the other Mama Turtle as she was about to lay so the group could tag the new one. That lucky someone would have to fend off the bugs. Alone.

And that someone was me. Audrey got voted off the safety of  Mule Island. If you could guess, I was totally not in the least bit thrilled to have that honor.As I waited for the turtle to make up its mind on where to make her nest, I started pacing the beach, back and forth, trying to escape the wrath of the bugs.

There was no escaping it.

My first, fleshly instinct was to continue to grumble, but then it hit me, “Oh, Audrey, why don’t you pray? God will surely send the bugs away! You should have thought about that before, you goober.” And so I did.

I prayed, and amen. Then prayed a little more, walking around a little faster. Prayed yet again, now walking in maniacal circles like a mad woman. Still no luck.

I mean, my God is a God of miracles. So surely, clearing a little bubble of bugs away from me wouldn’t be that much of a challenge, would it? I mean, all He had to do was a little poof and there could be a breeze on the beach……right? Not too much.

My prayer had started out as a prayer of praise. Then it was a prayer of suggestion. It transitioned quickly to a prayer of pleading. Finally, I had it. I reached my disappointingly human limit of patience.

“God, just send these daggum bugs away or just one little breeze!” My sassy-britches suddenly had strapped themselves on mega-tight. And then, I lost it. All of the anger, frustration, and irritation that I had against God – the emotions that I had not even realized were there came out, like word-vomit. There was no stopping or controlling it. Things came up that I had tried so desperately to keep down.

Thankfully, my fellow researchers didn’t come down my part of the beach. If they had seen what I did next, they may have tried to check me into a mental health facility. Ashamedly, I will admit that I had marched up and down that beach, kicking sand and water that crashed onto the beach. My arms were waving back and forth animatedly. Tears streamed down my face, thus attracted more bugs to my exposed eyes and fueling more of my anger. I was a hot mess of emotion. I was chewing God out with so many questions and demanding answers.

“Why, God, did I have to go through this?” “God, why did you put this person in my life? They only made me have more pain.” “Lord, why can’t you just have given me this?” “Why?” Why. Why. Why. I was practically yelling to the star blanketed sky.

I fell to my knees in exhaustion. The bugs didn’t bother me anymore. The situation that had been weighing down my life back home become more of a burden. I finally from my spot in the sand asked the one question I was afraid to have answered.

“God, why didn’t you just fix this situation? Why haven’t you been answering me?”

And it hit me. His answer hit me right there louder than the sound of the bugs colliding with my rain jacket.

Audrey, my child. Why am I just not enough for you?

My whole body felt as if it went numb then and there. I had been demanding answers and quick fixes to pain instead of just demanding more of God.

In this instant, I cannot help but think of Genesis 32. Jacob wrestling with God.

Jacob Wrestles with God: Genesis 32

22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children,[e] and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,[f]for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel,[g] saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. BibleGateway – ESV

 

This passage stands out to me for several reasons. I bet you there are over 1000 different sermons on these nine verses. But, first, here is a little of the backstory. Let me give you what happened in the previous episode of Jacob’s Soap Opera Life.

Jacob was a little bit of a genius – which got him into a few pinches throughout his life. Good ‘ole Jake had finagled his way into earning the oldest son birthright from his older brother Esau (who wouldn’t be to happy about that). He was stubborn. He worked 14 years (7 of those he worked and got ‘jipped’ by getting Leah, not the daughter he originally wanted from Laban) to earn the right to marry Rachel. Then Jacob becomes a family man with his two wives – ending up having a family with 10 sons and 1 daughter (poor girl…).

After six years of being a dad with a bunch of kiddos running around, he decided to pack up and return to his father’s house. On the journey, some angels of God roll up and greet him. Jacob then sends messengers before his entourage to his brother Esau, hoping that they can have an olive branch since Jacob had stolen his birthright. He humbly sent forward gifts of oxen, donkeys, flocks, and servants. But, despite his hopes of a Peace Treaty in the form of a donkey didn’t appear to work. Messengers were sent back to him saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.”

Saaaay what? 400 men…..Verse seven is obvious reaction to that statement, “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” I know I would totally be freaking out. So, Jacob decides that if Esau does catch up to them, he didn’t want all of his eggs in one basket. He splits the entourage up into two halves. Then he gets on his knees and prays a prayer of thanksgiving and faith, pleading that his God would deliver him from the hand of his brother.

In the dark of the night, he sends his wives, servants, and children across the river and all his other possessions. He is left alone at the camp.

This is where I will get on my soap box.

1)    Sometimes God has to get us alone and out of our comfort zone to get us to draw nearer to Him.

So good ‘ole Jake probably was feeling pretty sorry for himself. He was all alone. Literally everything and everyone that he loved and held dear was running away from him. I can imagine him sitting in the dirt, taking a trip back down memory lane, like we often do as humans, thinking about his mistakes of life. What if he had done a few things differently? What if he and his brother didn’t have the relationship they did now? His decisions and choices up to this point in his life are no longer affecting him, but now his family and livelihood. Or maybe he spent his time at the camp praying under the stars. I really don’t know. But, a Man showed up. And they wrestled to the breaking of day.

The Man didn’t show up when Jacob was surrounded by his HUGE family. He didn’t majestically appear for Jacob while he was reclined on his La-Z-Boy Recliner in the comfort of his home. No, He came in the dark. And He came when Jacob was left alone.

Those are the times that we need to seek after God most. A lot of the times, God brings us to places like that, in the dark, alone, without comfort, in order to pull us nearer to Him. That can look like times in the desert after losing a loved one, or a bad-break up. It can be trying so hard to chase after something and falling flat on your face. Or it can look like a night on an island chasing after turtles being attacked by bugs and feeling overwhelmed with stress and anxiety of your life and where it is headed.

What we must do in those times is to not shrink away, but rise to the challenge and wrestle those fears, questions, and doubts with God.

2)   God is God. Man is man.

In this epic wrestling match, it was definitely a remarkable sight. Sometimes I wish that I could see the words in my bible on a movie screen in front of me. But, instead, I can only allow the God-breathed words on the page to speak to me. Check out the second part of verse 24: “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.”

Jacob wasn’t wrestling with the Man. Instead, the Man was wrestling with him. Jacob did not approach into the struggle wanting anything specific from God. But, God brought the struggle to Jacob and began wrestling with Jacob because He wanted something from Jacob.  He wanted to break down Jacob of his stubbornness, self-reliance, and pride. The Lord did not merely just want talk to Jacob. No. He wanted to all out brawl with his child to show him that He was God and man is man.

This fight went all night long. Sometimes we are being led on a path through a desert. It can last all night long. Weeks. Or months. But this path sometimes God leads us down to remind us who is in control. Often in our finite minds, we think we got this thing called “life” in the bag. We are in control. The head honcho. Calling the shots. But, we could not be further from the truth.

The Maker of the Earth and the Creator of Man knows all and controls all. He knows our weak spots, the places that need change. Our own Jacob’s hip that needs to be put out of joint to show us our place.

That was where I was at on Wassaw Island that insect-filled night. I thought that I had my life all planned. I thought that I could call the shots on my own and do a good job – whether it be life choices or weather changers. But, who am I to think that I can do all that? God is God. I am human. I will fall short every time.

Thank goodness, I am not the one who makes the plays in this world. If I did, I would be in a whole heap of a hot mess. Yelling at God on the beach that night wasn’t going to make my life any easier. Getting what I thought I deserved, wanted, or thought I needed wouldn’t help either. I need so much more than that.

3)   God’s Mercy.

So this wrestling match. It ended by God going “tap” on Jacob’s hip socket and “crack” his hip going out of joint. Then, this happens as the dust settles and Jacob realizes that he has been bested by a better Man than he.

Verse 26: And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”

Wow. What a picture of heart change in Jacob. The man that was once clever, stubborn, and prideful had been reduced to a guy, clinging onto the Man who bested him like a small child, only relying on the fact that he wants the blessing of Him and Him alone. This commentary hits the nail on the head:

“This is an invaluable place for everyone to come to: where God conquers us. There is something to be said for every man doing his “wrestling” with God, and then acknowledging God’s greatness after having been defeated. We must know we serve a God who is greater than us, and we cannot conquer much of anything until He conquers us.” – David Guzik

God loves us so much that He wrestles with us. And His love is so big that He does for us what He for Jacob through His Son, Jesus. He gives us mercy. He gave Jacob a new name. A new perspective. And He sent Him on his way.

That night on Wassaw, God answered all of my demanding questions with another question: Why am I not enough for you? Why isn’t He enough for us in times of trouble? Why isn’t He enough in times we are fearful?

I walked away with a new perspective that night…..I will elaborate further on that another time. But, first, let me finish this so I can get off my Soap Box.

4)   Embracing your limp and placing your Peniel.

Verse 30: So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” Verse 31: The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

All those past pains, hurts, and questions I asked of God, those were all Peniels. I didn’t know it at the time, but that night on the beach, it hit me. Those were the times that God was looking at me, face to face. He knew that these situations, they were going to be tough. Some of them flat out would suck. But, He was molding and forming His child into who He needed to be not necessarily who she wanted to be. That is what we need to trust in the most. Those moments and places in our life, we need to place a bookmark to not forget what happened. Jacob took the time to name the place. We need to take the time to pause and reflect. Peniel became a landmark for Jacob and the people that would follow in his footsteps, just as these points in our lives need to be monuments that we use to display God’s glory to others.

Yes, we will walk out of these times and wrestling matches as Jacob, with a limp. There will be old aches and tender scar tissue. But, our limps shape us into who we are as followers of Christ. And we have two choices: let it cripple us or embrace it.

If we let it cripple us, we will crawl through life crippled with fear, doubt, and unsatisfied. If we embrace it, we are a living, breathing, canvas of God’s beautiful painting of redemption, grace, and faithfulness.

 

Now getting back to that turtle and those darn bugs…..

That night on Wassaw, I walked away with a new perspective. I began the slow process of embracing a limp or two that I had spent so much of my life trying to hide. The bugs, well, they did not go away. They weren’t exactly welcomed. But, they weren’t exactly as devastating before.

After I had finished my temper tantrum towards God, I took a deep breath, said a little prayer, and walked to take care of my new turtle friend. She probably found the whole thing comical as I finally did. The night was nearing to an end, the dawn was almost breaking. The morning sun meant it was time for us turtle researchers to finally sleep for a few hours before we departed for home – back to blessed air-conditioning and the glory of Chick-fil-A sandwiches.

I had arrived on Wassaw at the beginning of the week thinking that everything in my world was falling apart, but I just pretended that everything was ok. It turns out that I just needed to be hit with a swarm of mosquitos to break me down to the point of realizing that sometimes, it is ok to wrestle with God. Bring Him the tough questions. You will never get the answer that you want, but you will get the answer that you need. I did.

I challenge you to remember this. God is God. He is enough. His mercy and grace are satisfying. And He is in control.

Walk tall in knowing these truths. Walk forward after Him. You may be walking with a limp, but walk on, showing people the love of Christ embracing your limp.

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