Best-selling author Missy Buchanan calls us to reflection along the shore

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish. … Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
JOHN 21:9-12

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“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
Ann Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea, 1955

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit

Front Cover of Missy Buchanan's book Beach Calling

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

The very last scene in the Gospels is Jesus sitting on a shoreline, cooking a breakfast of fish and bread for his followers—inviting them to come and sit a while with him over breakfast. The very first scene in Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s classic memoir, Gift from the Sea, is an invitation to lay down one’s burdens, settle into the shoreline and wait—patiently—for waves of spiritual revelation. Last week, in our cover story, spiritually restless columnist Martin Davis took us to the shore, as well.

For thousands of years, shorelines have fueled the human imagination—which is why best-selling inspirational writer Missy Buchanan is beckoning readers to come to the beach with her for 20 guided reflections. She calls her new, interactive book, Beach Calling—A Devotional Journal for the Middle Years and Beyond.

When Missy’s mother died in 2008, the one place Missy found solace was—the shore.

Echoing the opening pages of Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s memoir, Missy recounted her arrival at the beach after her mother’s death in an interview this week. “I vividly remember going with my husband to our favorite shoreline, an area near a national park that is so quiet. For me, sitting there, my mind drifts. You’re on the beach in that almost-asleep state and that is how I was able to begin to go back through all that I had experienced with my mother.”

In Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh actually insists that her readers not try to write when they first arrive at the shoreline. Yes, she advises, you should bring along that tote bag full of your writing supplies, but the sand, the wind and the waves take a while to work on us. Just when readers may guess she is advising them never to write on a beach—she shifts gears and says the writing must wait until the shoreline has had its way with our spirit.

Only at that point, Ann Morrow Lindbergh writes, something begins to happen: “The mind wakes, comes to life again. No—not in a city sense—but beach-wise. It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach.”

And that’s precisely what Missy invites her readers to do in Beach Calling: A Devotional Journal for the Middle Years and Beyond.

After many years of mentioning Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s book to audiences, I subsequently have received emails with attached photos of pages from readers’ copies of Gift from the Sea. The margins are crowded with notes. In fact, I keep giving away my own copies to people who need to read it—and often forget and send them out into the world with my own notations and underlining still in the pages.

Ann Morrow Lindbergh was right. These beach reflections seem to keep lapping the shores of the world in unexpected ways, often connecting one person with others—as Martin suggested last week.

In Beach Calling, Missy anticipates that interaction of shore and spirit. Her publisher, Upper Room Books, designed this book with an interior spiral binding that allows the pages to lie flat—and extra pages are interspersed for journaling. Missy assumes you will want to pull out a pen or pencil and jot on these pages.

Her new Beach Calling is a terrific gift for yourself, someone you love—or to work through in a small group.

How This Connects with Missy Buchanan’s Elder Work

Longtime readers of this magazine have known Missy for more than a decade, because we have featured interviews with her—or stories about her books—every year since the debut of her hugely popular first book, Living with Purpose in a Worn Out Body (2008). Despite its somber title, that book connected in a powerful way with elderly men and women nationwide. What readers discovered in Missy’s books was utter honesty about the tough challenges of aging—coupled with a deep appreciation of the power of faith to sustain and strengthen people in their final years.

One of the early readers of her first book was Lucimarian Roberts, the mother of Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts. When Robin encouraged her mother to write an autobiography toward the end of her life, Lucimarian agreed under the condition that Missy Buchanan could be commissioned to help her pen her stories. That led to a collaboration on My Story, My Songa book that landed on best-seller lists and brought Missy twice into the Good Morning America studios. Our magazine published several stories about that collaboration. The favorite, among our readers, is this heart-felt column Missy wrote for us when Lucimarian eventually died.

Among our other Missy Buchanan stories that remain popular with readers:

In the Introduction to her new Beach Calling, Missy explains how this book connects with her overall focus on the power of spirituality to cope with the often grim realities of advanced aging.

“For almost two decades, my life and career have focused on issues of aging. As a middle-aged caregiver for my own aging parents, I went to the beach as a place of respite. I was on a beach when I first felt a nudge to write about aging faithfully. Nine books later, I also speak at senior living communities, churches and conferences across the world and regularly visit older adult friends in my community. Yet as a woman of the Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964), I understand why my peers resist the topic of aging and why they feel such angst at the thought of growing older. We shudder at images of physical loss and thoughts of decline and vow to do all we can to stay young. We refuse to contemplate dreadful thoughts of losing loved ones or enduring a life-changing medical crisis. But even amid our best efforts of eating right, exercising regularly, and using anti-aging products, aging comes anyway, like the unstoppable tide. I wrote Beach Calling for you, and I wrote it for me.

Taking Time to Remember Our Path

While all this talk and imagery of shorelines suggests a lazy lack of movement—in fact, the root of this invitation taps into the ancient value of pilgrimage. Shorelines aren’t about stopping. They are about remembering our path in tune with the natural cycles of the world. For Missy Buchanan, that’s connecting with the wonders of God’s unfolding Creation. For Martin Davis last week, that’s connecting with the natural cycles of our planet.

In his column, Martin wrote about remembering and reclaiming our most important values. “We can think of each as one of the values that serves to bind people across a range of belief systems—and connects us. And when we are attuned to these values, we collectively come together to celebrate and marvel at the mysteries of life we all share.”

In her book, Missy agrees with Martin’s basic premise, then she goes on—as a Christian writer—to identify this pilgrimage to the shoreline as part of a shared Christian journey.

At the root of both writers’ reflections are questions millions ask each day.

“In my earlier books, I wrote about the many ways people wrestle with these questions as they age. Baby Boomers, the readers I’m addressing in this new book, have all these same questions—but they just don’t feel they have any time to stop and think about them,” Missy said in our interview.

“I am inviting Boomers to pause and to start thinking—now—about their own spiritual perspectives on what it means to age. But, when I do suggest this in appearances I’ve made on my book tour—I hear from so many Baby Boomers who are frustrated and overwhelmed by simply working through the essentials for their own parents. I hear the whole long list: ‘I’ve got to get Mom into a better place to live;’ ‘We’ve got to figure out this transportation problem;’ ‘I spend all my time taking care of medical appointments;’ ‘Just feeding, taking care of meals, is a huge problem every day.’

“And I get that. I understand how overwhelming all of this is for families. What I’m trying to do in Beach Calling is to remind Baby Boomers—and I’m one of them, so I’m reminding myself—that we have to take time out to reflect on all of these deeper questions ourselves.”

Just some of the questions she raises in her book:

  • What possessions could easily become burdens as you age?
  • What do you fear most about aging?
  • What are you looking forward to in your later years?
  • In what ways can the second half of your life be more interesting and fulfilling than the first?
  • What can you do differently today to intentionally bolster your sense of wonder?

Toss the Book in Your Bag of Yoga Gear

“I ask a lot of questions in this book, but I did not write this to sound churchy or to feel preachy,” Missy said in our interview.

She’s right about that. Readers can consider, or ignore, the questions at the end of these 20 reflections. The vast majority of the text is written in a prose-poem format that guides us along the shore, occasionally dropping in a few lines from the Bible, but not pushing any hard-and-fast conclusions. If you are familiar with her earlier books, then you know Missy’s approachable style. Her prose often reads as if we are strolling along a beach, or sitting above a shoreline, with her—simply talking as friends. It’s that honest, matter-of-fact style over the past decade that has won over thousands of readers.

I described that friendly approach to Missy and she told me a story.

“I gave a talk and was signing books at Story and Song, at Florida’s Amelia Island, and there were about 60 or 70 people,” she recalled in our interview. “As they came up to have me sign their books, most of them just had one copy. Then, there was this woman with 10 copies!

“I asked her, ‘Why so many?’

“She said, ‘I’m part of a beach yoga class and I’m buying one of these for everyone in my class. A few of them go to church, but not many. They don’t have to take a book, but I will offer a copy to everyone. Then, I’m going to offer to stay after the yoga class, for those who want to do it, and we will talk about one of your reflections each week.

“And I thought: That’s part of this movement we’re hearing so much about these days—what we sometimes call ‘doing church outside of church.’ Now, usually we hear about programs focused on youth or young adults or young families. Here was a woman who was just inspired to try to do something with her friends—inspired enough that she was willing to buy 10 books. And, that fits with what we’re seeing. This woman who bought the books was a Baby Boomer—I would guess between 65 and 70 and most of her friends weren’t church people. She just understood the value of trying to gather along the shore with others in an intentional way.”

That’s what Martin Davis saw along his shoreline, last week.

Along the Shore with Lucimarian Roberts

“The shore’s power is universal,” Missy said. “Since I finished writing this book, I’ve been thinking about an experience I had while I was working on the book with Lucimarian Roberts. That was a big project and I spent a lot of time with her. She enjoyed those days I was with her—especially because I had a rental car. She loved to have us get into that car so she could navigate. That way, we could go wherever she wanted. As we drove, we would talk and I always had my recorder with me wherever we went. So, these were good times we shared.

“One afternoon, we were driving along the coast near Biloxi on a road that had these parking areas every so often so cars could pull off to look out along the shore. After while, she said, ‘Would you mind pulling into one of these?’

“We did. We faced the gulf. I rolled down the windows and turned off the car. We just sat there in silence for a long time, listening to the ocean.

“After a while, I said, ‘Lucimarian, I think I understand why you and Larry decided to retire here. You could have retired anywhere, but you wanted to be near all of this.’

“And, she said, ‘The beach is where I come to grapple with life and with growing old.’

“That really stayed in my mind.”

And, if you explore this new book—it will stay in your mind, as well.

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Cover of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Care to read more?

IS THIS THE FIRST YOU’VE HEARD of Gift from the Sea? Amazon still has the lovely little 50th anniversary edition on sale.

LEARN MORE ABOUT MISSY—Missy’s own website is packed with information about her work, her travels and her books. It’s simply: MissyBuchanan.com

That website also includes a front-page endorsement from Adam Hamilton, who we also have featured in ReadTheSpirit over the years. He is famous as a Christian preacher, teacher and author; and he is widely considered to be one of the nation’s most influential United Methodist pastor, these days. His endorsement begins: “Whether you are at the beach, or just wish you were, Missy Buchanan’s devotional journal for those of us in the middle years is a refreshing gift!”

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