Steadfast as the Water

White sand beaches, streets of Western bars and restaurants, yet another hotel under construction. These are not the pastoral scenes I idealized as a little girl dreaming of being a cross-cultural worker. When I signed up for the seemingly perfect service role, this is not at all what I imagined. And yet, to this broken yet beautiful place I have been called … or at least it is where I am.

I live in a Cambodian city shaped by the ocean, developed around a seaport. It’s a place full of people drawn by water. People come and leave here with the regularity of the tide.

Backpackers and expats come, drawn by the beautiful beaches. Unskilled migrants come, drawn by the jobs the tourists and the port bring. If you came here, you might see a white sanded paradise. Or you might see struggling families, damaging industries, exploited children, and shattered dreams.

I ended up here, in the middle of this broken, messy, beautiful city, trying to find my place somewhere in-between the partying backpackers and way too many casinos. Trying to live intentionally with a Cambodian family on a street filled with friendly little children and food sellers, a world away from the Westernized, touristy beaches 15 minutes down the main road.

I have doubted, wondered how I came to be here, questioned my purpose, struggled to hold beauty and brokenness together, and asked where God is in all of this mess. Through all of it, the ocean, the water that has drawn life to this little city has also drawn me in and become an unexpected teacher.

Sometimes I go to the ocean to feel small and vulnerable. The wind blows and the waves crash and I am reminded that I am not in control. God is so much bigger. Life here has often felt like a windy, wave crashing storm. Sometimes I am just sitting, clinging, waiting out the storm, counting down the days until it is over. Other times I enjoy the pure immensity and challenge of the storm, marveling at how it is shaping me.

Life here has also brought other (more rare) moments that are like swimming in phosphorescence on a perfectly calm, warm night – floating in a sea of stars. Then all I can do is worship, in awe of the amazingness of the creator. Wow! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

No matter what, whenever I go to the ocean and feel the waves lap on my feet, I am reminded of God’s consistency. The tides come in and out, in and out. Whether I’m feeling the water on my feet in the moment or not, it is still there, moving with utter steadfastness. Sometimes I’m just not paying attention, sometimes I’ve moved far away from the water. But that doesn’t change the presence of the ocean, or the presence of God’s movement in my life.

The bible is filled with the words remember, remember, remember. Remember what God has done for you, for us, for God’s people.

Look at a rainbow, make a pile of rocks, break bread together…. find something so that you remember.

I believe God is revealed in the intricacies of nature; I feel his fingertips in the sand and salt, mist and breeze.

I go to the ocean to remember.

So when I am lost in what ifs, regrets, wonderings – I go to the beach and dig my feet into the sand, feeling the graininess, remembering that this is the place my feet are at, the place I get to love for now. And I watch those waves come in and out, in and out.

When I’m feeling far away, consumed by doubts – I climb up the hill by my house and see the ocean off in the distance and remember to trust a God so much bigger than I. And I watch those waves, barely even visible, come in and out, in and out.

When I’m thankful and amazed and need to worship – I go to the beach and run into those waves with joy and abandonment, swimming and laughing. And I feel those waves come in and out, in and out.

I wander and wonder, delve deep and doubt, pray and pout, give thanks and give undue criticism… and yet somehow those waves are still there, lapping at my feet or breaking in the distance. The ocean water – God’s steadfast, consistent, moving love made visible.

What physical signs in your life can you find to remind you of God’s steadfastness?


  1. LynnAnn M Murphy July 25, 2017

    This blog really resonated with me. I work in the rural, northwestern mountains of Guatemala. The village I live in is at about 6000 ft but in a bowl surrounded by mountains twice as high. When I need to feel small and be reminded of the steadfastness of God, I go up. Sitting on the edge, I can look out and see ripples upon ripples of ever deepening purple ridges with majestic volcanic peaks spattered here and there. It soothes me. Like you, I love the ocean. The ebb and flow puts me in awe of His grandeur and creativity. But my mountains are solid–they don’t move; they never change. Sometimes when the heavy fog rolls in, you can’t even tell they’re there; but as soon as the mist clears, there they are, the same as before. The nooks and crannies of my skyline are forever the same. Dependable. Unmoveable. It is true indeed that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmanment shows His handiwork.”

    1. Carol McNaughton July 28, 2017

      What a beautiful image you have painted of the mountains declaring the glory of God! Thanks for sharing your experience of creation, LynnAnn. Having grown up near the Rocky Mountains I am definitely a mountain girl at heart – they never fail to evoke awe in me as I witness His power and grandeur.

  2. Nicole July 25, 2017

    There is a place I love to go. It’s an amphitheater at an a church camp looking out over the lake, with a cross at the front. Every time I’m there, it reminds me of significant moments in my life where God spoke to me or called me. And because the lake is calm, it reminds me how I can be still and trust that God is still working.

    1. Carol McNaughton July 28, 2017

      That sounds like a beautiful and peaceful place to be reminded of God’s work in your life. I’m glad you also have a meaningful spot out in nature.

  3. Michelle S July 26, 2017

    The ocean is definitely a reminder to me of God’s faithfulness, too. The waves, the steadily lapping waters, the sparkling aqua in the sunshine and calm grey under clouds….it always speaks volumes to my heart. The moon is another one. Looking up through the banana leaves and palm branches in the darkness and seeing the moon, the same moon I’ve gazed at in every place I’ve lived, in the midst of every circumstance I’ve faced, stills my heart and reminds me of the One who has shined in my darkness everywhere I’ve lived and in everything I’ve faced. And the jewel-like stars studding the heavens remind me that He measures it all with His hand…the same hand that’s holding me.

    1. Carol McNaughton July 28, 2017

      Ah yes, the waves, the moon, the stars – all God’s fingertips. I love how you describe the moon, it’s consistency and light. May you always feel secure in His hand.

  4. Sarah Hilkemann July 26, 2017

    Thank you for sharing your heart! As soon as I started reading your post, I knew it was about Cambodia. 🙂 I live in Battambang city in the northwest. When I take a taxi to the border area where my teammate and I lived for awhile, I love seeing the mountains and valleys and the mist coming over on a cool morning. There are definitely gifts in the messy, beautiful that is this country and this life!

    1. Carol McNaughton July 28, 2017

      Thanks for reading! Yes, Cambodia! It is so nice to hear you are also appreciating the nature of this beautiful (and messy) country!

  5. Heather July 26, 2017

    Beautifully written and so true. Large bodies of water have a very calming, centering effect. Makes one realize one’s place in the universe. There is comfort in the fact that not everything relies upon you. Nature is a place I often find messages from God. My stability message comes from the sun. The consistency of the sun rising and setting is a reminder of God’s faithfulness. No matter if the clouds or trees or rain cover it up, it is still there. No matter what it looks like on the ground in my life, God is still there in His place keeping His eye on me. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Carol McNaughton July 28, 2017

      Thanks Heather. I really appreciate your description of the sun. I hope to now look at the sun, wherever I am in the world, as I reminder of God’s consistency no matter what life looks like on the ground.

  6. MaDonna July 30, 2017

    Thanks Carol, I really enjoyed this post. I grew up in the mid-west, but moved to Asia after uni. I now live by the ocean and I have found it to be my place of rest. It is the one place where my kids can play and I can enjoy the lush green mountains, the many shades of blue…and the sound of the lapping waves, or the crashing depending on the season. One summer back visiting my family, I spent every afternoon in my mom’s backyard with a book in hand while my girls splashed in the small blow up pool. But it was the blue sky, the green grass, and the splashing of the water that brought rest – plus good books to read was a plus.

    1. Carol McNaughton August 1, 2017

      It is nice to hear you too find rest by the ocean! Isn’t it beautiful that we can always find a bit of creation to rejuvenate us, whether a slice of sky or a vast ocean.

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