The Israeli sun beat down on my legs and feet that were sticking outside of the shade of the umbrella. I leaned forward, eyes watching the pool intensely to make sure that all the swimmers were okay. The pool was about 30 feet by 10 feet—not very large for the number of people swimming in it. I scanned the area, yelling out in the limited Arabic I had learned to those kids who dared to start running around the pool. Often they wouldn’t acknowledge my words, especially if they were boys. They had a hard time respecting a female in an authoritative role.
“Yahzur alrakd!” I bellowed out to a boy running past me who didn’t slow down or acknowledge my words. In my frustration at being ignored, I ordered everyone out of the pool.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the male Palestinian camp counselors approaching. This tan, bearded face was haloed with black, curly hair, partially hanging over his face. Several inches taller than my slight 5’2 frame, he leaned down to my face and said in broken English, “Why are you making everyone wait? We are hot and want to swim.”
I looked him in the eyes and tried to sound firm, “They are not listening to me. If someone gets hurt, it will be my responsibility. I need them to do what I say or it’s not safe.”
He didn’t seem impressed with my little speech and spoke almost like he was humoring me. “Is it really dangerous? I think they are just having fun.”
I realized that I wasn’t going to convince him, so I kept my voice steady and stuck to my original plan. “They can go back in after the allotted time has passed. But, if they don’t listen, they will lose pool time for the next day.”
I walked away to my lifeguard stand, climbing the steps on the white ladder. I avoided eye contact and looked down at my watch. Once the five minutes was up, I blew my whistle, and they began jumping in the pool. Their behavior did not improve, and I felt frustrated and nervous about having to follow up on my threat.
This was a typical day in the summer of 1997 when I had signed up to work as a lifeguard in Israel at a Christian camp. The camp was about 30 minutes outside of Tel Aviv and hosted Christian Palestinian kids mainly from Jesus’s hometown, Nazareth. We were busy from sunup to sundown. When kids were there for camp, it was a 24-hours-a-day job helping keep the camp running. Most of my work revolved around the pool, lifeguarding and keeping the pool clean which was not easy with as many swimmers as we had. After a camp week was over, we were all exhausted. Some of the team recovered by setting up in the main hall and watching movies. For me, I needed to get outside.
It was hot during the day and cold at night due to the desert conditions. Just a few minutes walk from the camp though, I found a lovely area of trees with soft grass surrounding it. In the shade, the temperature was perfect. I brought my journal and my Bible and a ratty towel to lie down on. After spending time reading and journaling, I laid back in the grass.
After a week of neverending noise, the soft rustle of wind through the trees quieted my mind. Shafts of light danced across my face as the branches swayed. My body relaxed into the ground. When I had walked out there, I felt stressed and anxious. I was annoyed with myself and annoyed with others. Three hours outside and peace returned and my spirit felt settled. I was refreshed and ready to serve a challenging group of kids for another week.
This wasn’t the only time I sought solace in the outdoors. While in college and feeling the pressure of schoolwork, I would often hike by myself down Panther Creek Trail in Georgia. In front of the majestic waterfall crashing down before me, I would sit silently as the spray dusted my face and body. Without any large demonstration, I was reminded of God’s power and beauty.
Healing in the Green Grass
During a gap year I took off during my college years, I stayed home in Bermuda to work and save up for a car. I worked at a hair salon in the morning and as a nanny to a 3-year-old and 7-year-old until the evening. The responsibility of caring for children was overwhelming to my 18-year-old mind, cueing multiple calls to my father for advice. One evening after the sun had gone down, exhausted and feeling pretty useless, I walked down to the grass covered concrete dock near my house. My chubby dog named Baby walked down with me. I laid down and cried out to God. In that moment, a shooting star blazoned across the sky. I had never seen one before, and it felt like a reminder that God was watching me and was with me.
As I’ve gotten older with a career and children, it has gotten harder to have moments to get away until now it seems like work to make it happen. In the busyness of life, God and peace can seem further away and harder to find. When I look back over my younger years, my most transformative encounters with God happened when I was spending time outside. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve remembered this.
Years of accrued stress have started showing up in my body as I’ve entered mid-life. The wearing down of my body has encouraged me to look deeply into restorative measures, and I have once again been brought back to the value of nature. I didn’t realize as a 20-year-old that being outside carried health benefits—I only knew that I could hear God better there. As a woman in my forties, I’ve come to learn how much our bodies are meant to interact with and be healed by the earth God created. The two ideas have come together.
Connecting with nature and with God brings things back into balance both spiritually and physically. Surrounded by God’s handiwork and removed from man-made inventions, I feel God more closely and I can think and breathe more easily. Psalm 46:10 reads “Be still, and know that I am God.” This stillness is not possible when I am constantly distracted by tasks inside my home or the alerts from my phone. When I go outside, I learn that stillness is not just about spiritual renewal, but my physical renewal as well.
I understood intuitively when I was younger that during times of stress, like my lifeguarding in Israel, getting outside helped calm me. Now I am relearning this lesson. I realize that to walk in health, I need to step outside and meet God in his creation. It is there that I am ministered to in every aspect of my being—inside and out.
Tatyana, your theme of getting away for a quiet and focused time reminds me of Jesus’ deep need to go off and pray. I don’t think the disciples quite understood that Jesus desperately needed time away with his Father. And most of us don’t think to emulate that behavior. God walked in Eden with us in the pleasant cool of evening. So I think we were probably created to seek his company outside. This is a nice piece that reminds us to be intentionally still. Thank you!