Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On Being Spontaneous....and Refined Like Sea Glass

A few days ago, I was craving a certain restaurant chain's breakfast (you know, that one you can only find off a highway with the fried apples and hash brown casserole that I, if given the chance, will personally request as part of my last supper.) 

There are only two in my county. One west of my house and one east. The west one is much closer. I could have been there in 10 minutes, seated, and sipping my coffee before I even hit the highway that led to the other one. But I've been going through some things and I didn't want to run into anyone I knew or who knew me. So, I headed east. 

It's a good 35-minute drive. Normally, I balk at anything over 15 minutes away. I've become such a homebody over the years. But, like I said, I've been going through some things and I've come to enjoy the time alone driving around with my playlist streaming through the Bluetooth. It gives me time to reflect. Time to sing, which is like breath to me. I might dance a little in my seat from time to time. Yesterday, I laughed out loud at something a friend said on the phone and the person in the car in front of me eyed me through their rear view mirror because I was leaning forward, hunched over the steering wheel, smiling so wide and laughing so hard that tears were rolling down my cheeks. Seriously, I nearly wrecked my car. I love my friends. 

I digress.

Before I arrived at the restaurant, I felt this tug inside. It was a fleeting moment of spontaneity that I've sequestered since having babies and needing a car load of diapers and gear and supplies and half of Target for two nights away from home. But since my babies are grown now and all that ridiculous packing of items you never end up needing is behind me (thank you Jesus) something crossed my mind as I was preparing to exit the highway for the restaurant. I thought, I should just keep going and go to the beach. It came out of nowhere. Like a voice you hear outside your head. Or a backseat driver. But, I was hungry and I love food and so I decided to eat before even remotely entertaining this crazy and unusual thought.

By the time I got to fried apple heaven, it was lunchtime. On a Sunday. Just after church let out, of course. You can guess the rest. I found one of the last two available rockers and settled in for the 30-minute wait for a table of ONE. Ugh. But I've been embracing the opportunities to just sit and be more and more lately and so I was content to wait my turn, rocking back and forth in tandem with the other 8,000 rockers on the porch that smelled of Sunday perfumes and cigarette smoke. *gag* *hack* *cough*

They called my name. I ate fried apples. (Ok, I ate a lot more than that. I like food.) I sipped my coffee. I read my book. I paid the bill. I left.

Now, just so you know, the beach is three hours away (though, admittedly, I was 35 minutes into the drive already.) And I had nothing with me. No computer. No change of clothes. No clean underwear. No toothbrush. This is a big deal for a Type-A-er workaholic who plans everything out to the letter and brushes her teeth if she gets up in the middle of the night to pee. It's true.

After walking out of the restaurant with a belly full of CB goodness and a coffee to go, I sat in my car in the parking lot, contemplating. The force pulling me toward the beach tugged harder as my reasonable self and my emotional self battled for priority over one another. I knew the ocean air would be good for me. Then I considered work and my client who is expecting me to work. Then I could feel my feet in the sand at the water's edge. Then I thought about not having clean underwear. I was obviously conflicted.

I prayed for an answer. I stared at a tree for awhile. I consulted with a friend, who said I should most definitely go, but only if there was someone there I could stay with. It was true. Going alone at this time in my life would not have been wise. I'm grateful for the wisdom and insight my friends so freely give me. 

And then I remembered. I had a friend. At the beach. She had already invited me for the entire weekend but I had turned her down for prior commitments. I texted her to see if the invitation still stood and if she minded me not having a toothbrush or clean underwear. (Clearly, I have issues.) She was thrilled that I would be there in time for dinner.

Two and a half hours later, I was at the beach with just my book, my phone charger, and the clothes on my back. As my feet hit the sand, I exhaled. And I knew. I had made the right decision. I'm thankful for friends who help me make the right decisions, even when those decisions don't make sense and yet make the most perfect sense at that moment.

The next morning, I got up before dawn and raced to the beach to catch the sunrise. I hadn't seen one since my first morning in Andros, and you just can't take a spontaneous trip to the beach with just the clothes on your back and not take in the sunrise.

It was breathtaking.

I spent the next six hours on that beach. Walking. Reading. Praying. Listening. Breathing. Thankful to be there. Grateful for the people who embraced my act of spontaneity with grace and love. It was worth every mile.

One of the things I do when I walk the beach is look for sea glass. A lot of people do. It's rare to find a piece in the first place, let alone one that is smooth and pretty and perfect. But on this morning, I found one. Deep brown, somewhat soft on the face. Still rough on most of the edges, though not enough to cut. Normally, I would throw it back into the water, as it needs more time in the sand and the surf to become worthy of my collection. But I picked it up and resumed my walk at the water's edge, running my fingers on the rough edges of the glass as I went.
Not shortly thereafter I found a second piece. It was the same deep brown, quite possibly and very likely from the same bottle. It, too, needs more time in the rough water. I stood for a moment, examining them side by side as if being forced to decide which one I liked better.
Neither are very beautiful. To be honest, I prefer translucent blue or weathered green ones. But today, these two are exactly what I was meant to find and hold more significance than any other piece I have ever held in my hand.

I walk. I have just finished reading Part One of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott and my thoughts are consumed by something Anne's pastor friend told her when she was considering an abortion. He basically says,"Get quiet for a moment...pay attention to what you hear."
I close my eyes and take a deep breath of crisp, fresh, ocean air. This has become a recurring theme for me over the past five weeks. Deep breaths. And so I listen. I pray. I ask God for his thoughts. And I hear him clearly.

This is why I came. The treasures we stumble upon and the moments God uses to reveal things to us is perfect. These two pieces of trash signified a huge leap in my journey. Progress. Forward movement. And I am at peace.
I decide to keep the second one. It looks like a shield and reminds me of the armor of God I am called to don day after day. Keeping it, with its rough edges and yet-to-be-softened color is a reminder that, like this piece of glass, I am a work in progress, and I can still be loved. I am in the throws of being refined by the wind and the tumultuous waves that still crash so forcefully against the shoreline from yesterday's storm. And God is not finished with me yet.
And with another deep breath and all the strength I can draw from within, I resolve to throw the first piece of glass back into the waves, a reminder that there is still work to be done; that it takes a number of outside forces working together to refine the rough edges that still need refining; and that, in the end, those forces will create something incredibly beautiful. 

And knowing that, for now, is enough. 

Now, If any one of you says I throw like a girl, I will hunt you down, drag you to my yoga class, and see what you think after ten minutes in Goddess pose. Go ahead. Try me.

Go be spontaneous. You never know what God will reveal amidst your leap. But try to remember clean underwear.

Monday, September 2, 2013

On Facing the Storm

When I was a kid, I grew up spending a lot of time at my grandparents' house. Behind their house was a small creek. Well, that's not true. In upstate NY we call it a "crick." I spent summer after summer admiring that "crick" from the small red wooden bridge my grandpa had built across it. And I would find a long stick and some string and my grandma would give me a safety pin and some bread, and I would spend hours trying to catch a fish the size of a large minnow. In drought, the "crick" was low and a few times I remember putting on some of my grandma's rain boots and walking around in the shallow water. And when storms would come or the snow would melt, I would watch as the water rushed below my feet, catching glimpses of it's fury between the cracks in the boards of the bridge.

My grandma and I would eat lunch on the bridge and she, no doubt, got tired of me pointing out all the fish and water skippers I would see, over and over and over again. But she never once let on if this was true because she is amazing like that. When we would finish lunch, we would take a walk in the woods just beyond the "crick" and see what treasures we could find. A leaf. A rock. A pen. Nothing impressive but, to a 6-year-old, a treasure nonetheless. And my grandma would always act as though I had found a million dollars. I adore this woman.

This is one of my favorite childhood memories.

As I write this, three boys are swishing their way through a swollen creek out back of the porch where I am trying to work. I'm housesitting for a friend for two weeks while trying to get some work and writing done. If I had the money, I would buy this house in a second just for the sunporch and view alone. The 280 degrees of windows gives way to nothing but enormous trees, endless ivy and vines, and the sounds of wildlife. It's a rare serenity you don't expect inside the city limits of Raleigh. I have one week left here and I'm mourning my friend's return already.

Just two days ago, my daughter and her friend were wading through this same creek in rain boots that probably weren't necessary but fun, nonetheless. Wading probably isn't the right term here. It was more like rock-hopping with an occasional splash. The water level was low; just a small stream of water flowing over and through the rocks that form the curves and bends of the creek. I've spent the better part of the past week enjoying the sounds of this rain forest-like haven. It's like a live version of one of those sound machines that drowns out background noise and helps you fall asleep. Admittedly, though, I have found myself often straining to hear the songs of the live water flowing in the creek below. It's been dry the past few weeks and the sound of a gently rushing water just hasn't been there.

Then, yesterday, it rained.

A series of storms with high winds rolled in that dropped rain at a reported rate of over four inches per hour. As it often does during times of heavy rainfall, the local mall parking lot flooded, leaving cars submerged and owners scrambling. I was sitting outside at a Starbucks just a mile away from the house when the rain hit, and made a break for my car with lightning bolts jetting out of the sky all around me. (Otherwise, I would have danced in the rain until I was soaked through.) I made my way to the house and headed for the sunporch that has become my sanctuary.

As I opened the main sliding door that leads to a deck and stairs down to the creek, I took note of nothing different. Rain drops were dripping off the leaves onto the deck before me, but the rain had lightened and nothing appeared out of the ordinary. No trees down. No plants overturned. Everything was perfectly intact.

As I was closing the screen to walk back inside, I heard a sound that I can only describe as liquid thunder.

And it was getting closer.

And for several moments, with this mysterious thunderous roar growing louder by the second, my mind raced to figure out what was happening...what was about to happen. I literally was scared for my life for the better part of a minute.

Then...it happened.

I could see it coming, a huge mix of brown and white churning together, seemingly fighting for who would go first as they weaved their way through the turns of the creek like a bobsled in the Olympics. I literally stood motionless, bracing myself against the deck railing as I tried to figure out if I should stay or run. The deck is a good 20 feet above the creek, and I remember my friend - the one whose house I am at - telling me that even in bad storms and hurricanes the creek had never flooded beyond the line of ivy that was visible along the banks. That gave me a brief sense of comfort and relief and so I set my fears aside and decided to stay and face what was coming my way, hoping for awe and not destruction.

It seems like such a puny comparison, and I don't mean to minimize it at all, but in that moment, I thought about all the victims of the 2005 Tsunami and how they rushed to get higher as they saw the water approaching and tried to make sense of it. And I wondered if my feelings - the feeling of being entranced by the power and awesomeness before me fighting for priority over a fear of the unknown and a desire to be safe while trying to make sense of what was happening - it was mind-boggling. And I wondered if this was exactly what the tsunami victims felt and was reminded that it was very much the reason for the demise of so many. Their decision to face the storm ultimately cost them their lives.

Before I could grab my phone to take video, the wall of water came rushing at me with all the power and force of an avalanche and was quickly right below where I was standing, gushing over the largest boulders, completely covering the creek bed and raising the water level several feet. This happened in mere seconds. And the creek I had been straining to hear for the past seven days was now very audible. You would have had to yell to talk to someone standing next to you in order for them to hear you. It sounded like Niagara Falls. And I grew up in Upstate New York. I know Niagara Falls.

And so I stood. In sheer awe of what had just occurred. Completely mesmerized by the sight and sound of the rushing water that had so unexpectedly and unapologetically descended upon the once-empty creek below me. And I thanked God that I stayed to experience it.

Today, the water level has dropped and the forcefulness and power of yesterday has subsided for the most part. There's random bits of trash strewn along the edge of the creek bed and I'm fighting the desire to go be a good steward and go clean it up. That's just me. The creek is still very audible, though, and still rushing in some places, and I am enjoying the monotone melody it offers.

And then these three young boys walk by. They can't be more than ten. They were still in their pajamas on this holiday morning. Two had rain boots, one was in bare feet. They were talking about how far they wanted to go and what they hoped to find along the way, one of them carrying a Halloween pumpkin that once held mounds of candy, I'm sure, just in case he found something worthy of taking home.

Yesterday, I finished reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. (Check it out here). A dear friend recommended it to me and I went out and bought it that day and couldn't put it down. And I am changed forever because of it.

It's all about creating your story. And that your story is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of little stories throughout your lifetime. And that it's not one story that will make your life meaningful, as we so often think is the case. It's all the little stories that make up the epic adventure that is your life. Your legacy. It's about embracing opportunities to write even just one sentence. Or maybe a paragraph. A page. A chapter. One word at a time. One adventure at a time.

I think having this book - these thoughts on what makes a good story - so fresh in my mind is what drew me to listen for the boys' return up the creek. I heard them coming and I raced down the steps to talk to them. It was as if I wanted to say to them "Good for you for getting in the dirty water and taking an adventure! Don't ever forget this day." As they walked past, I called out excitedly from the deck landing.

"Did you find anything exciting?"

"No ma'am," said the boy in front, carrying the halloween bucket, now with something dirty inside. He must have found something.

"Nah," said the boy in back, dragging a long piece of green plastic behind him.

Then the boy in the middle looked up with a huge smile on his face and held up a small football.

"I found this!" he exclaimed. "It was stuck under some branches but I got it out."

"That's awesome!" I hollered back. "Have fun on your adventure!"

And they went on their way, splashing through the deepest parts of the water that still remained in the curves of the creek. And I smiled knowing this is exactly the type of thing Donald Miller was talking about. And it reminds me of my childhood. And I realize I have written this same story, over 30 years ago.

Who knows how long that little boy will carry that football with him throughout his life? At some point, it will probably start to disintegrate and get tossed in the trash. But he has a story to go with his find, and that story will probably last a lifetime. He will undoubtedly go home and tell his parents and maybe his siblings and friends. And someday maybe his kids. And then his grandkids.

It amazes me how a story that might seem so insignificant now, is one that has potential to come back 30 years later and flood you with emotion and realizations and epiphanies that just make your story that much more meaningful.

The storm yesterday, these three boys today, and the memories I have as a child playing in a creek, gave life to this thought.

In life, storms come. Sometimes we might see or hear them coming. Sometimes they catch us by surprise and send us running for safety. Often times we are afraid of them. Though sometimes our knowledge or the presence of others helps us overcome our fears.

And with the storms comes muddy water and swift-moving currents and trash left on the banks of creek beds and it can leave your mind racing to figure out what just happened. But when we choose to face them head-on with the knowledge that they always pass and the sun always returns, it is easier to endure them amidst the wind and the rain and the uncertainty. And when they do finally pass and the muddy water recedes, if we look hard enough, or remember back far enough, beautiful things can be found in what's left behind.

For one little boy today, it was a football. All because he had the courage to put on his rain boots and get into the trenches and find something worthy of taking back with him.

For me, it's the realization that it's not the story ending we are living for. It's the story we create to get there. And the way in which we choose to face the storms of life head-on and make our journey - our story - more meaningful every day. And embracing the little-known fact that this can take us for the ride of a lifetime on our way to the story's end is what really matters.

Go find some rain boots, my friends.