The Gulls at the Cove: A Reflection on 70 Orbits Around the Sun

Tomorrow marks my seventy orbits around the sun. 70 years ago on March 23, my dad came home from work to take my mom to the hospital. As he pulled into the driveway, he saw the three-year-old neighbor boy ride his tricycle off of our dock and into the backyard pond. Dad dove in with all his clothes, administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, saved the boy’s life, and took my mom (with me inside) to the hospital. My birthday began with a bang.

Birthdays ending in “0” seem like big ones, so in preparation, I went to the Cove (a place the next town over where the Connecticut River forms an outlet) to mark and remember this transition into a new decade. I could never have expected the transitions I would encounter during this previous decade, nor the accompanying grief, fear, courage, wondering, joy, and growth. So much has changed, but my “true north” stands firm, thus I am filled with gratitude, joy, and contentment.

At the Cove, I desired to reflect, talk with God, express my heart, and listen to what he might want to say. It was midday as I pulled in, and to my right, I could see the tops of two picnic tables peeking through the swollen river. I had never seen the water at the Cove so high and wondered whether those tables could withstand the pressure from the water. It seemed a fitting image. But evidently, picnic tables and people can be surprisingly resilient.

I parked my car a distance from the other cars, few though they were, keeping it running to escape the biting, cold air outside. One lone gull walked around my car, back and forth across the sand. The setting was peaceful and quiet, but not for long. Within a few moments, a flock of gulls flew directly in front of me, startling and delighting me as they landed abruptly in the water. They could have picked anywhere to land, but they chose me as their audience of one. The gulls put on their show doing air acrobats, diving, dropping sticks, catching fish, and occasionally fighting with the “other.” A few birds of a different species had flown over to catch “their” fish, but they weren’t welcomed. I felt sad about that.

My thoughts ventured back in time, remembering a book-made movie from my college days. (How is that time now a half-century ago?) I smiled with delight as “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” came to mind. This little bird had inspired me over a half-century ago, not long after I had decided to follow Jesus for the rest of my life. The show I witnessed from my windshield reminded me of Jonathan, a dreamer seagull who practiced fast flying, night-flying, and turns and twists while the rest of the flock spent their days surviving, rummaging garbage, and diving for fish…fighting off those who encroached on their territory. Jonathan Seagull (who I will refer to as JS while loving that we share initials 😊) felt there had to be more to life than fighting for fish heads, but then reasoned that if he was meant to learn so much about flying, he would have charts for brains. Fearful and stuck, he felt he should give up his dreams and hold to the status quo. Except he couldn’t. His inner voice told him, I can die here, or force myself to fly…it’s in me. I’ve got to try. As he flew off in the dark he remembered, Seagulls aren’t meant to fly in the dark….but here I am! I’m flying in the dark.

(Gear up the Neil Diamond soundtrack here… as the song “Dream” plays in the background with a few words slightly edited):

On a painted sky
Where the clouds are hung
For the poet’s eye
You may find him
If you may find him

On a distant shore
By the wings of dreams
Through an open door
You may know him
If you may

As a page that aches for words
Which speaks on a theme that’s timeless
While the Sun God Son of God will make for your day
As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the one God will make for you the way

And we dance
To a whispered voice
Overheard by the soul
Undertook by the heart
And you may know it
If you may know it

While the sand
Would become the stone
Which begat the spark
Turned to living bone
Holy, holy
Sanctus, sanctus

As a page that aches for word
Which speaks on a theme that is timeless
While the Sun God Son of God will make for your day
As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the one God will make for your day

Yes, Jonathan flew through the wings of an open door and found a “flightier” flight.  This hits home with me in many ways.

I did not want the “option B” door life gave me, but nonetheless, I fly through “the wings of dreams of an open door,” dancing, singing, crying, loving, and growing. Because, as my favorite Psalm (36) tells me, I find refuge in the shadow of His wings. It’s safe there.

I continue to fly through other open doors that have arisen, replete with new dreams, opportunities, and challenges. As I cross the thresholds, I find an open sky. Wings to fly. And, do I even hear worship music? I think so.

Sadly, Jonathan’s “flight training” was met with resistance from the flock, whose elders told him, “You don’t fly as we fly. You are turning your back on our traditions. We aren’t made for this.” But Jonathan couldn’t believe this, and assured them he only wanted them to know that there was more to being a seagull than catching fish heads. As he continued to practice flying, he was declared an outcast. Back in seagull-land, the battle for domination of the sky and fish heads continued, but Jonathan was led to new skies, where a few others with the same dreams were in flight.

While JS laments that he is old and tired….he is told by those flying with him that “you have learned and it is time for a new school to begin.” He begins to fly with them while again, worship music plays in the background. “Gloria, Gloria”. He begins to feel alone there until Father Gull comes to visit, to be with him, to comfort him, and to take him home. (At this point, a few Buddhist overtones arise, albeit still holding some powerful Christian messages.)

In this higher world, he is told that perhaps he will find something even more important than flying without limits. He is taken to new elders, which of course scares him because of his previous experience. But it was not like before. They teach him the importance of humility and learning, and that when he is ready, he will want to go back. He will continue to be a learner, sharing the best he knows with someone who is trying to learn…But, he is cautioned to think love…because until he loves he won’t be ready.

When he finds love and kindness, he goes back to the old flock to accompany those who want more, who really want to fly. Jonathan is told, “One day you will know how long ago your flight began and how great a journey you have traveled. (my tears come here). You were born to be a teacher. Now, the most difficult journey of all…to be ready to fly up and learn the meaning of kindness and love.” As he flies off, worship music begins again. He turns from resentment to forgiveness. I am reminded of the gift we can give…to help those who want to learn to find what they were meant to do and who God made them to be. To understand who (whose) we are and to act like it. And, I am also reminded of the power that comes from someone who believes you can fly and helps you. I long to be that as others have been for me.

The passion to change the world by showing them Jesus I felt in the 1970s has really never left me as I turn 70. But, I have learned so much more about the importance of letting go of control and joining with God in his plans, rather than asking God to join me in mine, noble as I think they may be. And, the importance of kindness and love. The Spirit of God has become so very real in my life. This is humbling and freeing, as I see God working and loving in ways I have not before seen or understood. I am living an option B, not by my choice. But, as it turns out, God is with me in option B, and I am soaring.

As only God would do, as I knew I had gained what I had come for at the Cove, I closed out my time speaking with God…”You know what I hope for… God Would you?” I always appreciate reminders and special touches from God when they come, as well as reminders of the cloud of witnesses who have gone before me, in particular Wyndham. And, as I closed out my time with the seagulls at the Cove, yes, a lone goose passed overhead. Just one. (For those who know my writings, geese have been special reminders.) I smiled, put the car in drive, and journeyed home.

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  1. Karen M.

    :’) 🤍

  2. Rhoda

    So beautifully written. Love you. Happy Birthday!

    • Jeanie Shaw

      Thank you, Rhoda. Love you so much.

  3. Kitty Chiles

    Happy seventy circles around the sun! I picture you soaring with the brave and searching seagulls, hearing those beautiful chords as you soar higher.
    And you have reached such heights, piercing the clouds of truth one by one. As one little gull trying to keep up, I have heard some of those strains and it has strengthened my wings.
    I am half way through “Lenses” and you have clarified so many questions I couldn’t answer. I’m flying around right now but pray to find the flock I seek.
    I’m celebrating you, my friend. You are the gift.

    • Jeanie Shaw

      Kitty, Your words encourage my heart. I love you very much and grateful you are continuing to fly…and that you find those fellow flyers.

  4. Connie Beene

    Jeanie, as you celebrate 70 I hope you continue to be surrounded by the things you love (I love that lone goose passing over!). When I turned 70, I too wondered what the 70’s would bring, thinking of those family members and friends who had warned, “Wait until you turn 70”! Time has flown and now I am halfway through my 70’s! There is so much wonder in these years called “old age”….increasing trust and understanding of God’s presence, watching the next generations take hold of faith, looking back and seeing how God’s promises have been fulfilled in my life and knowing that whether the end is near or far, it’s OK. You have turned many corners and begun many new paths with God. Enjoy your 70th with eager anticipation for what’s next!

    • Jeanie Shaw

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful words, Connie. I look forward to this new decade, not knowing what lies ahead but confident God walks with me.

  5. Tracey Winkler

    You have such a gift with words!!! Happy 70th birthday!!! Thanks for sharing! This was very encouraging!!

    • Jeanie Shaw

      Thank you so much, Tracey. Great to hear from you.

  6. Bonnye Stare

    What wonderful memories! What a great lesson to remind us who is in control. I was thinking about our parents yesterday and your blog was a sweet reminder of our past and what lies in our future.

    Many blessings with your thoughtful writings.

    Love you.

    • Angela

      Beautiful. Happy birthday 🎂!

      • Jeanie Shaw

        Thank you, Angela.

    • Jeanie Shaw

      Thanks, Bonnye. Yes, we do share some precious memories for which I am thankful!

  7. Renee Holme

    wow! God is good! I’m two years behind you in the big 70! and my 30th spirthday is next month! I can relate to much of what you shared Jeannie! thank you for continuing to inspire us! happy birthday! 🎁

    • Jeanie Shaw

      Thanks, Renee. Great to hear from you. Happy 30th spirthday. 🙂

  8. Rowena

    Happy birthday Jeannie Shaw! Your blogs and articles inspire me a lot! I hope you enjoyed your special day.

    • Jeanie Shaw

      Thank you so much, Rowena. Great to hear from you.

  9. Jodi Hayward

    Happy Birthday 🥳
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey.
    As well as your example of always learning and growing in love and kindness❤️

    • Jeanie Shaw

      Thank you so much, Jodi.


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About Jeanie Shaw

After retiring from forty-five years in full-time ministry, Jeanie Shaw went back to school to earn her master’s and doctorate in spiritual formation and discipleship. She also serves as a certified Christian life coach who loves helping people discover the joy, peace, and purpose that come from finding and following God’s plan for their lives. She has taught classes and workshops all over the world and has written numerous books. She has four grown children, eight grandchildren, and a golden retriever who thinks he is human. When she is not reading, writing, coaching, teaching, or enjoying her family she might be found walking along rivers, learning new lessons about life.

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