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Last week was rough. I’m not gonna lie. I felt defeated and tired, and I was battling a serious case of writer’s block. I even wrote about my struggles, and — to be completely honest — I felt little immediate relief after posting. Pouring my heart out onto digital paper isn’t always a magic pill that cures everything. It sometimes hurts more than it helps — at least at first.

And then I left, as I said I would. No, I didn’t run away. I just took a planned and much needed vacation to the beach. Ocean City, Maryland, to be precise. I was hoping the sunshine and the break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life would cure my writer’s block — that I’d leave with thousands and thousands of words just flowing out of me onto paper, into articles and books, into the lives of readers across the land.

That didn’t happen.

But in hindsight, the lessons I learned at the beach are worth so much more.

Lesson #1: God’s mercies are new every morning. It’s funny what you learn when you hit the road at 4:30 a.m. For one, it’s still dark outside. Like, nighttime dark. Also, coffee shops in my area aren’t open yet. (Disgruntled customer alert!) Still — and this part is a mystery — there are so many people on the roads around D.C. at this hour! Who are these people? What are they doing with their lives? Are they all okay?! The early morning highway hustle got my heart racing. I felt like an insider, like I knew something not many others do — “morning” starts before the sun comes up. I cranked up Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake” and put it on repeat, sipping my Keurig-made coffee out of a travel mug, and singing along in the worst morning voice you can imagine. (No, really… imagine something worse than what you’re thinking of right now. A little worse. A tiny bit more… Yep. That’s me.) I was excited for the three-hour drive, for the destination, for the break. But really, the dark cloud of the prior week was somehow still hovering over my car. That was until God showed up. Not that he wasn’t there before. But sometimes it’s just harder for me to feel him around. But on that morning, sometime between one 100-degree day and another, the sun came up slowly over a quaint Maryland farm. And my soul smiled. The past week was rough, but there is still hope. God is the same. I couldn’t see it before. I was buried under this thing and that thing and that other thing. But getting out of town, getting away from it all — I caught a glimpse of hope again.

(2) It’s okay to be afraid sometimes. One night the family and I took a cute train ride down the Ocean City boardwalk. At the end was a carnival — you know, the kind with rides that look like they were set up an hour ago. I don’t seem to have the same fearless spirit I had as a kid, when I would trek to the annual Chester Carnival at Chubb Park to risk my life on various rides of questionable safety managed by 14-year-old kids. I’d just hand over my tickets, hop on and scream hysterically. This was sometimes followed by a quick jaunt behind the cotton candy stand to vomit. But most of the time, it was followed by just another ride and more screaming. Somehow, as a 31-year-old, I’ve lost that youthful spirit. I still like roller coasters and adventure. But there’s something about the rickety carnival rides, hauled in on trucks and propped up in random fields that makes my heart beat a little faster… out of fear. And my heart danced this same dance in Ocean City, after I made the big mistake of telling my adorable niece and nephew that I’d ride the ferris wheel with them. Neither of them had ever been on one, and I just thought that was a sad life to live. Riding a ferris wheel is a civil right! So, I handed the 14-year-old our tickets (true story), and climbed into the little bucket. As the wheel turned, my heart raced. It was a big ferris wheel. And I am a big girl. And the hundred other people on the ride were big people, too. And I could just picture every wrong, scary, evening-news-worthy thing happening in that moment. But when I stopped looking at the little anthills of people beneath us and started looking right in front of me, I could see the beauty of the moment. The kids were so excited — laughing, talking, pointing. Fear is real, yes. And we should listen to our fears, because most of the time the instincts keep up safe. But sometimes, we need to look fear in the face and tackle it head on. Then when the ferris wheel stops and you’re at the very top swinging back and forth in a little blue bucket, you can truly appreciate the moment.

(3) When life is rough, you can always rebuild. Okay, so we didn’t build the world’s biggest sand castle. But it was still pretty cool. As you can see, there’s a castle, guard towers, walls, a drawbridge, some trees and a sweet moat. There’s even a dead crab on the top of the castle that you might not be able to make out in the photo. And to complete the masterpiece, there’s a large wall of sand between the castle and the Atlantic Ocean for added protection. My nephew and I were quite impressed with our creation. But it wasn’t only the finished product that we were impressed with. It was also the process to get there. You see, this wasn’t our first sand castle. We first built a bit closer to the water. We had a plan. We were psyched. He dug the moat as I built the castle. But then, only half-way through construction, a tsunami came and basically wiped out the entire castle. The look of disappointment on my nephew’s face was pathetic. I was bummed, too. My dad said something like, “I told you you were too close to the water.” (Not helping.) So, we picked ourselves up by our bathing suit straps and started again. Slightly different plan, slightly more sand all over our bodies, same determination to succeed. And it worked. Even hours later, when we came back, our castle stood strong. Life is rough. Dating is rough. Work is rough. Writing is rough. The ocean is rough. But after the storm is over, we can rebuild. We can do better. We can succeed.

Hope my beachside lessons can spur something in you, too. God’s mercies are unending. You can conquer your fears. And you can survive the rough spots — and come out stronger and wiser after it all.


P.S. A huge thanks to everyone who left suggestions on how to cure my writer’s block! I was overwhelmed with all the comments, tweets and emails (that I read on my sand-covered iPhone to the sound of the crashing waves). I will definitely put your ideas into practice… and hope to write about how it all goes soon!