We had decided to take US 98 west along the coast. As a born and bred Florida girl it seemed a shame that I had never in my life made that trip, winding around on two lane roads bordering the Gulf, watching the waves through and beneath the stilted beach houses, swaying sea oats, and sand dunes. We prepared ourselves to be relaxed and patient and enjoy the brand new scenery despite miles and miles of bumper to bumper tourist traffic.
So we headed out early, stopping in Branford, a small town on the Suwannee River with a café featuring an excellent breakfast, including the biggest, fluffiest, tastiest biscuits I had eaten in any café anywhere—the Branford Gathering, if you care to know. We took our time there, as well, chatting up the waitress about their lunch and evening meals, asking her favorite dish and the best times to eat each of those meals—just in case.
Then we crossed that fabled river and headed through "Old Florida," not the glitzy Florida of amusement parks, tourist traps, and high end hotels. This was more like the Florida I grew up in, though decidedly more wooded than central Florida. The sun flashed metronomically through pencil thin pine forests. Logging trucks sat rumbling by the side of the road in deep muddy ruts awaiting their load of logs before pulling out on the two lane blacktop. Pickups passed going the opposite direction, some pulling horse trailers, some boats, and others farm equipment. Up ahead we would see a green sign telling us we were entering a town—Cabbage Grove, Scanlon, Newport--only to find a convenience store or a gas station, and little else.
Finally we turned south toward the Gulf, wondering when the traffic would begin. We wondered that for mile after mile, even after we gained sight of the water. We kept trundling along at the speed limit, on cruise control, in fact, never once having to hit the brakes for another vehicle. Somewhere around Carabelle we picked up a car or two ahead of us, but it was probably Eastpoint before we really had any traffic. As a result we arrived about two hours earlier than we expected, and had absolutely no trouble finding our inn. We came across the bridge at the mouth of the Apalachicola River and there it stood.
Apalachicola is a slow, lazy, Southern town. Diagonal street parking, a lone blinking yellow light, more pedestrians than vehicles and not that many of them. After finding our room and unpacking, we went for a hike and quickly found the Visitors' Center. We were the only visitors there. And that may be the first place we came across the nickname of that area of Florida's Big Bend—the Forgotten Coast.
You may be thinking, especially if you are not a Floridian, "Forgotten? Who ever heard of it in the first place?" As it turns out, Apalachicola was once a very important place. Between 1840 and 1860 it was the third busiest cotton port on the Gulf, after New Orleans and Mobile. By 1860 the population was nearly 2000. And now? The population in 2010 was still just over 2200. The railroad no longer runs from Columbus, Georgia, with its tons of cotton, and Apalachicola is suddenly not as important as it used to be. Shrimpers and oystermen still work the waters, supplying 90% of the oysters consumed in the state. But without the railroad, the cotton, and the ships offshore waiting for those bales, the town, even the whole coast, never continued growing. It has become "Forgotten."
When something is no longer an important part of our lives, we tend to "forget" it. Not that we really cannot remember it happening, just that we seldom think about it, and certainly never plan our lives around it. That's what happened to God. His people "forgot" him.
God warned them that might happen. And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deut 6:10-12)
And sure enough, even that warning did them no good. But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. (Hos 13:4-6)
I wonder if we don't need the same warning. We live in prosperous times. Most of us are so wealthy we don't even realize it. "Busyness" has become a status symbol in itself. And so our extra classes die on the vine because no one attends, the older men who offer their help in study sit alone and waiting for all the ones who never show up, and our children complain because doing a Bible lesson is "boring." A very few good women take care of every need among the saints while others have their families, or their careers, or their "me time."
Do we realize how dangerous this is? My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hos 4:6) When God is no longer the center of our lives, when pleasing him is no longer our purpose, when knowing more and more about him and his Word so we can serve him even better is considered extraneous, when serving his people is the last thing on our lists and therefore usually undone, we are forgetting God just as those people did so long ago.
A God whom the Old Testament describes as one whose "lovingkindness endures forever" again and again, eventually ran out of patience with a people who no longer valued him or his law. Don't think his patience won't run out on us.
I will scatter you like chaff driven by the wind from the desert. This is your lot, the portion I have measured out to you, declares the LORD, because you have forgotten me…(Jer 13:24-25)