The water is cool as I quietly wade into it. Crystal clear, I can see the sand and rocks beneath my feet as I move along the shoreline. I listen carefully to the sound of the waves, the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves in the nearby trees. I have dreamed about this day and tenderly hoped for how he would meet me here in the water or on the shore. As the water laps at my feet, it begins to speak. Clearly and easily, I can hear the words,

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

I know it is Jesus. He is here, speaking the words to me that he spoke so long ago to Peter on this same beach: So, when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”  John 21:15

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve spoken at conferences about this place and what happened there, each time weaving the words with my own story. As I walk in the water, I remember my own scenes of failure. Failure with my children. Failure with my husband. Failure with young women I’ve mentored. Failure in ministry. Failure with friends. The places of denial where I determined that the love of Jesus was not enough to sustain me and where my own broken ways of relating brought harm. Scenes that tell me I am disqualified and no longer belong.

I look back down into the water and find a rock shaped like a heart. I reach down, pressing my fingers between the rocks to pick it up. As I hold it in my hand, the tears collect in my eyes, slowly brimming over and running down my cheeks.

Do you love me?

The waves continue to ask, not in accusation or in judgement, but more like a door opening, beckoning me to walk in and sit down.

The heading above this story in John 21 reads, “Jesus Restores Peter”. It is a beautiful story of Jesus building a fire and cooking breakfast for Peter and the disciples following his resurrection. It is the first time we hear Jesus speak to Peter following his denial of Jesus three times the night before the crucifixion. He cooks breakfast, feeding Peter when he is hungry. And then he does what must be done in order for relationship to be restored.

Do you love me?

Unspoken is the truth of Peter’s denial, and I am struck that it isn’t needed by Jesus. There is no recounting of his failure, no begging, no asking forgiveness.  Jesus didn’t require any of that.

Do you love me?

Peter is quick to answer,

You know I love you.

My heart echoes the same words as I continue to walk in the water, finding another heart shaped rock.

You know I love you.

It is a broken, imperfect, messy, fickle love; and it is a deep, passionate, desperate love.

The breeze picks up just a bit, and so do my tears. For a moment, I want to resist. I leave the water in my mind and entertain another failure. I begin to formulate a conversation I imagine I need to have.

Do you love me?

The waves are steady and predictable.

Yes, Jesus, I love you.

I look down and see another heart in the water. I know it is meant for me. Now I have three.

I make my way to a boulder nearby and sit down, inside the room with the open door. I realize there is something restful inside of me, quieted and still.

In his book Soul Making, Alan Jones writes, “In the desert tradition, the gift of tears has something to do with both life and joy for the sake of the restructuring of our identity, for the re-ordering of our self-understanding. The gift ushers in a radical and sometimes painful transformation. In this tradition, believing is closely related to being and to our refusal to be. Tears flow when we begin to realize just how deep that refusal goes. The gift of tears comes to our rescue when we despair of ever seeing clearly, when we want to give up…”

I brought my hearts home with me from the Sea of Galilee, along with the sound of the waves, my tears, and my talk with Jesus that day.

I came home from my trip to Israel and Egypt with many sacred moments to hold and ponder. This one holds particular significance for me. It is one I will remember again and again.


DSC_0512Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12).  She is the Founder of Red Tent Living.  Married for 30 years, she is mother to five kids.  After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is.  She writes about her life and her work here.