We all know the end of a sun-soaked beach day by heart. Bundles of big, brightly colored, slightly damp towels get shoved in along with empty coolers and over-sized umbrellas. Inflatable balls, sand-castle equipment and the sunscreen bottle that is as slick as a stick of butter gets tossed in, and in crawls every sun-kissed (or scorched), smiling face sticky with the evidence of an ice-cream that was devoured. The music is that perfect summer soundtrack and you could practically hold the Polaroid picture of pure happiness in your hand.
Fast forward an hour or two (or a day, or a month, or half a year) or (good grief) next summer. You triple vacuumed the car. You shook out every towel, swept, rinsed, washed and packed away. Why are you still finding sand everywhere? It’s like no time has passed since that breezy day on the beach — probably because the content of every hourglass you’ve ever seen is somehow tucked into every nook and cranny of your life.
Sand sticks. It just does. And when you think you have finally eradicated it all, you turn out your pockets to find a dormant sandcastle.
This week, I found another deposit from the sandman. Only this was no fun-in-the-sun sand. It was the sand from a wilderness I walked a few years ago. You just can’t forget the deserts. You can try but the thing is, sand sticks.
I found myself sitting with a few women through this week who were all smack in the middle of their wilderness. They had walked the circle, worn the path and were feeling the agony of that desert place. I reached into my pocket and felt the grains of time run through my fingers. I was right back in that place, remembering the feelings and hearing the questions. I remember.
Here are notes for a desert-wanderer from someone who has wandered a desert and still finds its sand in her hair sometimes…
In all you've come through... the many wonders, miracles and signs, the clarity of God's voice and the feeling of His presence... you are now found here. The wilderness. You may or may not know why you are here. Stinging winds blowing the earth in your face, barren wastelands, and a numb heart. Defeat seems to echo in your ears at all times telling you this is where you are meant to stay. But find strength in this: The path you are on is well worn. Many have been here, and many will come through here. All will come to find that the sand sticks.
You won’t stay there, no matter how long you’ve been roaming around. Find hope. Ask to see the sand in other people’s pockets. That sand proves they’ve seen the ground you are wearing out beneath your sandaled feet and that God brought them out. No one forgets the deserts.
In Deuteronomy 11, God is speaking to a nation of desert-wanderers as they finally find the boundary lines of their wilderness. Israel is finally staring through the store-front windowpanes at their Promised Land. God tells them to “love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him” (Deut 11:22 NIV). These are the things the wilderness begs of us to learn by heart. God tells the bedraggled wilderness-wandering Israelites to remember.
Then He says something every desert-wanderer needs to hear: “Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert…” (Deut 11:24a). He says, “It starts here. You own this desert. This is where the Promised Land begins for you and everywhere you step from this point on is ground you can claim.”
One thing that tends to happen in the barren wastelands our souls encounter is we lose sight of the victory we've been given. We hit those sandstorms in our lives and suddenly the earth beneath our feet becomes more powerful than the One who created it. Take heart, the land does not own you. You will one day sit across from a desert-wanderer and she will need you to turn out your pockets to see that there is hope. You will be able to do that because you own that land.
God made sure that sand sticks.