We walked down the sandy beach trying to find a place to eat in the village of Placencia, Belize. The sand felt good squeezing between my toes. Almost immediately, I realized that my calf muscles were not accustomed to walking in deep sand. I started to wonder how they would feel in the morning, judging by how far we still had left to walk. My concern about the potential soreness was interrupted by a strange feeling on the bottom of my feet. The arch of my foot is unusually high and typically does not ever touch the ground when I walk. In the sand, however, each step applied pressure to the highest point of my arch. I dismissed it after seeking some pity from my husband and immediately felt a tinge of guilt gazing out at the ocean. There was no reason to complain. The waves were lapping in and creating a beautiful sound. Oftentimes, the same sound repeated over and over becomes monotonous and eventually annoying. This is not the case with the waves coming into shore and stretching out on the smooth, damp part of the beach before being sucked under by the next wave. This sound never gets old.
Walking down a little further I saw a lady, clearly a tourist like me, with a deep red sunburn that would most likely result in the shedding of her skin like a snake in a few days. Her husband was standing nearby, dressed in a bright colored flowery shirt with a straw hat and khaki shorts, pleats and all. She was near a table where a man without a shirt was crouched behind trying to convince them to buy his sea shell necklaces. The man’s skin had a leathery appearance and his eyes looked tired. I wondered how long he’d been sitting there. We started making our way inland and found a narrow boardwalk running the length of the small village. On each side of the concrete walkway was a mixture of small, dilapidated private homes and well-manicured tourists attractions. Clothes hanging to dry mixed in with bright colored signs advertising bars with an array of frozen, alcoholic and sure to be overpriced drinks. We shared the path with people of all different colors and sizes as well as an occasional stray dog looking for a scrap of food. Palm tree branches were swaying in the cool, evening breeze overhead. We approached a large grassy field with make-shift bleachers on each side. A group of barefoot kids gathered to play soccer as the sun was slowly sinking behind the horizon. Next to the soccer field, a pick-up basketball game was underway and one of the kids wore a Cleveland Cavaliers hat with the metallic sticker still stuck on the bill. Across the street, I noticed a man sitting in the shadows near a trashcan, nursing a beverage from a paper bag. His elbows were resting on his knees and his head was hanging, staring at the sand.
Is this paradise? Depending on how you define the word, it is. But in so many ways it isn’t. The oceanside landscape is undeniably gorgeous and the beauty stirs my heart to praise my Maker. I’ve had similar moments of breath-taking awe inspired from seeing a snow-capped mountain or a sunset paint the open sky of the Great Plains. However, along with each of these glimpses of God’s grandeur is something strangely unsettling deeper down in my soul. I’m beginning to recognize a faint groan, alarming me that there is something awry even here. Don’t call it petty discontentment because that is not the sentiment. I can sense decay and the stench of the fall intwining itself in the beauty of God’s creation, working to taint what he called good in the beginning. The cramping calf, the sunburn, the tired eyes, the stray dogs, the trashcans, the brown bag of liquor all remind me that I was created for more. Tonight, I rest in the promise of something better and, honestly, it is hard for me to even imagine.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” Romans 8:19-24