West Palm Runaway {Gift from the Sea 2: Channelled Whelk}

In the year that I turned two, I bid farewell to both of my grandmothers. Elsie flew away to Heaven. And Mamie bought a one-way bus ticket to West Palm Beach. If you would have asked me as a toddler what made her pack her bags for the Sunshine State, I would have said it was the palm trees, their coconuts bouncing like beach balls, their long arms waving toward the shore. I remember being there and running across the street to them when nobody was looking. Where there were palm trees, there was water. And where there was water, that’s where I wanted to be.

In the comments on the Stars Dancing in the Water post, one friend talked about the “water effect…that sense of clarity and calm that people possess when they’ve been in the presence of water.” Maybe that’s what my grandmother had in mind. Or maybe she was looking for a better fit like “a little hermit crab, who has run away, leaving [her] tracks behind [her] like a delicate vine on the sand.” She and her heartache had seemed to outgrow the Indiana neighborhood she had called home for so long. Had she, like the hermit crab, needed a change of shell? “Did [she] hope to find a better home, a better mode of living?”

She had come with only a suitcase, the perfect beginning for simplicity. But two years later, her tiny apartment was already overstuffed. And when we visited again when I was 18, we had to put our lanky teenage arms at our sides to make it through the narrow passage inside the door. Boxes, books, papers and tins all teetered in precarious stacks that reached to the ceiling.

Outside, a woman whizzed by on a bicycle, calling out to a neighbor in happy Spanish. Inside, my grandmother waddled about, shuffling newspapers and file folders and needlepoint kits, making rooms for us to sit. Grandma was a woman trying to pedal a bike with a wobbly wheel. She had lost a spoke to broken marriage. And she had let her relationship with every one of her four children bust loose.

She had not endeavored to solve Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s question: “how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.” Without dealing with the complications of her life head-on, she could never fully change. She hadn’t come to this place to simplify and reflect on her life. She had come to laugh with the bubbly surf and pretend the hurts never happened. She had come to escape her life altogether.

I feel fortunate that I haven’t had to face those shocks and deal with such difficulties, but even “the life I have chosen as wife and mother entrains a whole caravan of complications.” I have to catch my breath from merely reading the author’s summary of a mother’s work…let alone attempting it. How can it ever be done? And that’s not even to mention my desire to find “creative pause.”

Here, we can walk alongside Anne Morrow Lindbergh as she seeks “inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony,” and “inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”

This then affects the way we interact with our environment and our responsibilities. I know too little of the “first happy condition” in which “one seems to carry all one’s tasks before one lightly, as if borne along on a great tide…” And I know too much of “the opposite state” in which “one can hardly tie a shoe-string.” Too often, I feel that centrifugal force pulling me off center. Too often, I feel more like I’ve been sucked in by an undertow rather than the sensation of surfing on a great tide.

“It has to do primarily with distractions,” the author wrote, “The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children, the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.” But does it have to be this way? What if we could look at our activities and accumulations and ask “how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say–is it necessary?–when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.” When we endeavor changes in the outward life, we learn about the inward life.

If we can simplify our homes and our schedules, we have more room to invite people in, the friends with whom we “can be completely honest.”  If we can start the day in prayer and de-clutter the inner life, we come at those relationships unencumbered, able to be authentic, to avoid “the most exhausting thing in life…being insincere,” and to shed the mask. If we sit a bit with our Maker and get His take on how our time and talents can best be used, we come with new clarity to the “ever-widening circles of contact and communication….not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals and so on.”

For Anne Morrow Lindbergh, her simple “sea-shell of a house” is the perfect place to consider all these things. But she knows the place is not one for dwelling permanently. After all, “total retirement is not possible” for a woman who wants a life with her family, “to share with friends and community, to carry out…obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.” As she said, peace comes not in “total renunciation…nor in total acceptance. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return.”

I think my grandmother only realized this at the end, as my family bridged the waters between us and her, that we needed her to return from retreat in one form or another, to shed her mask and experience authentic relationship. On my last visit, as my husband rolled her wheelchair back into her room at the nursing home in West Palm Beach, my grandmother, normally full of jokes and laughter, began to sob. She pushed herself up onto her feet, shuffled over to a corner and opened the lid to a messy box of stuff, the only remains of her cluttered life.

She pulled out a framed needlepoint rendition of the poem, “Footprints,” and handed it to me as a souvenir. My eyes flowed too. Her spoken words and the work of her hands in that frame were evidence that even if she hadn’t yet figured out how to mend her family relationships, she had found a starting point, a trust in Jesus. In this simple, over-used poem, my grandmother had discovered a metaphor for her need, that when her wheels went wobbly and she grew too old to walk straight and she didn’t know how to return from retreat, she could trust Him to carry her to a place of simplicity…all the while marking out a path with those not-so-lonely footprints in the sand.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 2, “Channelled Whelk” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here.}

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So, what’s your take? Pick one or more of the reflection questions in the comments section and enter a reply to share your thoughts. All subscribers’ comments on the weekly Gift from the Sea posts (shared on Mondays in June and July) will be entered for a drawing at the end of our Summer Book Club 2012.

53 thoughts on “West Palm Runaway {Gift from the Sea 2: Channelled Whelk}

  1. REFLECTION QUESTION #1: On pages 16-17, the author defines the shape of her life with many categories. That shape starts with her family. Then there is her craft, writing. Underneath it all is her background, her education, her conscience, and her desires which include “to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.” What is the shape of your life today? How does it compare to the one described here?

    • Her very next line “first…in fact, as an end to these other desires – to be at peace with myself.” … “that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.”
      Peace is big for me this year. It allows for such a greater space in my life for my family, reaching out, connecting in meaningful ways. Through the toughest trials God is showing me and giving me His peace. Trust then spills out as a result of this. Also, the desire to keep reducing the cobwebs of stuff in our homes/lives to permit richer relating with Him and others.

    • Like the author, I often think of the shape of my life in relation to my various roles/relationships. Right now, my priorities would be communing with God, being fully present in my relationship with my husband and children, teaching my kids about faith and the miraculous world around us (along with keeping them fed and clothed!), being neighborly, cultivating deeper friendships, and finding avenues to share the stories that make my heart skip a beat.

    • Lately, I feel like all I can do is today. I can barely focus on anything other than the moment in front of me. Most days, I think I’m doing well. That this would honor God. Then tomorrow hits and I realize I really should have planned better for it. I did a group on a book entitled Balancing Life’s Demands this past spring and it really helped me focus in on what is important each day. Seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be added. Loving Rod and the girls will fall into place if I am seeking after God whole heartedly. The shape of my life may be difficult to see today but I am trusting God with it. (I don’t even know if that goes with your question… but it’s my answer.)

      • When AML compared the shell of her life with the pretty little thing she found on the shore, she wrote, “My shell is not like this, I think. How untidy it has become! Blurred with moss, knobby with barnacles, its shape is hardly recognizable any more” (16). As I’m reading your reply and looking back at my answer before it, I’m noticing that what I listed as the shape of my life is really the simple shell of my life, the ideal, without all the messy stuff. I resonate so much with your feelings about getting through the difficulties of managing a home and raising children moment by moment and feeling at the end of many days that I should have done things differently.

  2. REFLECTION QUESTION #2: When Anne Morrow Lindbergh discusses living in grace, it is easy to see that she’s not referring to saving grace in a theological sense. How would you describe her use of “grace” here? And, if you like, share a story of a time when you felt ungraceful to the extent that you could “hardly tie a shoe-string”.

    • Again for me, it’s an in and out of touch with relating and truly living coincidentally based on my in/out of touch relating with my Creator. Directly linked. The practice of healthier jerk reactions in the more “out of grace” seasons of life. Going with the (ebb and) flow bit by bit vs. being swallowed up by getting caught off guard.

      • So, what I am sensing you say here, is that while the grace is always available, your experience of it depends on how you are relating with your Maker at the time.

    • Yes, the more wide open or closed off I tend to be – there’s definitely a relation between these and the closeness and authenticity I’m investing in with relationship to Him. God and His grace never changes, but the extent to which I willingly embrace and trust that fluctuates on my part, sadly. Even though I know better.
      (btw, I added your link to my post today, sorry I forgot to earlier…)

    • As I was in this chapter last week (oops!), I was thinking about it as my little one screamed at me for an hour and everything started to fall apart. I didn’t feel very graceful. My evening ended up in tears to my husband that I couldn’t do it. Yet I got up the next day and did it again. God carried me through and I am reminded that the way things appear is not always the reality.

      • There is this sense of lightheartedness and wholeness/integrity that comes to mind when I read the descriptions of living “in grace” here in chapter 2. When I look back on those times when I could “hardly tie a shoestring,” it is hard to even explain just why things felt so difficult on that particular day. I described one of those days in the comments a couple of weeks ago, the time when I ran into that amazingly gracious lady in the bathroom at the fast food place. I was such an emotional wreck that day, she even gave me her phone number in case I needed more encouragement later! Isn’t it wonderful how God provides people who dispense or make us aware of that grace into our lives when we don’t feel we’ve got it? So glad you have such a loving husband to be that for you.

  3. REFLECTION QUESTION #3: What do you perceive to be the “certain environments, certain modes of life, certain rules of conduct” that are “more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others”? (18)

    • I think of my growing up home, then leaving the nest, college, then newlywed, new starts, new churches, kids, things of that nature -and the different conduct surrounded by those different chapters while still trying to stay true to self and the path set before me. I abhor church conduct in most church settings and the “expected” and unexpected behaviors. That’s always a grating issue for me – but there’s grace at the core of that, too.

      • Yes, it’s hard to have harmony when we feel pressured/obligated to behave in a certain way rather than being welcomed as we are, in grace. It’s easiest for me to feel at my best when I’m around people who I KNOW love the way God made me. I have a few very special friendships that come to mind and those are the environments where I thrive and feel most alive.

    • *wisely selecting the company I keep
      *being in a reflective spiritual community instead of a judgmental one
      Both have given me a good amount of inner peace.

      In the last couple of years, I’ve made drastic changes to what constitutes entrance into my inner circle and my outer circle. As a person who values “time spent,” I have never been extremely selective about the company I kept, and it was about time! I realized that my desire for “time spent” with others often gave them a free pass into my world.
      As I looked around at my friend list (facebook made this pretty easy!), I realized that some of my closest “friends” didn’t inspire me (depressed me!); didn’t feed my spirit (robbed it!); and didn’t stir my curiosity in external and internal worlds. As I looked closer at how I felt after interactions with them, I realized I felt silenced instead of heard… and their actions proved I was a friend of convenience instead of a companion of value. These realizations about a number of my friends were really sad for me, because I had invested a lot of time through the years on the relationships. But I knew it was better “time spent” with a few special people, and I have been happy with the results of wisely selecting the company I keep.
      I’ve also found that being in a reflective spiritual community (instead of a judgmental one) has altered my interest in and understanding of my relationship to G-d. My time with the Quakers has helped me focus on my relationship with the Divine, instead of clinging to a shallow perspective.
      A couple of years ago, I was in a conversation with a woman who was raised in a Jewish home. I asked her if her congregation was still waiting on Messiah to come. Did they talk about it? Did they look for Him? She gave the questions some pause, and realized the answer was “No, Messiah is not really talked about in progressive Jewish synagogues.” She explained that because they don’t believe in a heaven or hell, they aren’t looking for a Messiah to save them from anything or provide a Way to anything. “Then,” I asked her, “what inspires Jewish people to be good?” Um, this is where I revealed my simplistic view of G-d… the one I learned from a community of judgment. I’ve heard it a million times: “if you believe this… say this prayer, live a G-dly life, you’ll go to heaven.” “If you reject this, you’ll go to hell.”
      Many of my life’s actions (sadly) have been driven to receive rewards or to escape punishment/judgment. In a Quaker community, I have been able to do as my Jewish friend does… focus on communing with G-d and pleasing Him because these are delightful things to do with my *life*. I’m leaving the afterlife in a really comfortable place: in G-d’s hands. Putting aside the reward and punishment system into which I was indoctrinated (on a daily basis) helps me embrace my freedom in Christ.

      • Life has gotten better for me as I’ve made some boundaries and realigned my own expectations of relationships. It seems so ridiculous looking back that I wouldn’t have thought to distance myself from people who weren’t spurring me on to be who God made me (and allowing me to do the same for them) or wanting the best for my family or really listening to my heart. For me, I guess, it was another one of those “shoulds”. Those people were in my circle, so I thought I was supposed to strive and strive and strive to connect deeply with them. We do get caught up in “should”, “supposed to” and “what does it take to be good?” when God wants our love (from which a happy obedience follows) and not our drudgery. After all, “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7). The fear that breeds in legalistic environments is cast out by His perfect love (I John 4:18). Hallelujah for that! You are right that a rote prayer or ritual is not a formula for winning a ticket to Heaven. “It is by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8,9), which is organic, real, relational…so different than checking off some Pharisaical list. And you are right that we can feel safe to put all questions and concerns, whether about human relationships or his grand designs for the universe, into His hands, all the while asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures as we read. With the reflections on progressive Judaism, I’m reminded of the Jewish sect in New Testament times mentioned in I Corinthians 15. If what they say about after-life is true, then Christ has not been raised, and if it is for this life only that we have hope in Christ, our faith is futile and we are to be most pitied. As a child, I may have primarily seen Heaven as a reward (or an escape), but after years of knowing Him and reading His Word and other texts, I know it is more like the consummation of relationship, the wedding feast and loving marriage after a loooong engagement.

  4. REFLECTION QUESTION #4: Read pages 19-20. How does the author’s list of domestic duties from the 1950s compare with ours today? How would you write your own version of this?

    • Similar, huh? So similar, though I have the sweet older folk around me do the mending and sewing. :) These cutie ladies love to mend our clothes and I’m happy to oblige! For us, we don’t dwell on having super scheduled kids’ activities all week long. We’re too unstructured for that. But I do get stressed by the many others on her list, no doubt.

      • The sewing work–what a wonderful way to bond between generations! We, too, are careful not to over-schedule. We start getting mean when we feel the pressure to be somewhere and the kids aren’t cooperating. Leaving margin in the schedule keeps our vices from rearing their heads so much. ;) As for an update to this 1950s list of pressures, I would start at “electricity, plumbing, refrigerator…dish-washer…car” and add all the forms of social media, cell phones that keep us overly connected, and the Internet that often traps us in the “web” of endless topics. But so much of what she listed is still what we are dealing with today.

    • AML claimed that her husband was more of a feminist than she was (Winters, 2006, p. 74). However, I don’t see “equality” written on these pages!
      My domestic duties look very different than AML, because I have a partner who shares the demands of our home and life. In fact, he is able to be the “circus act” without ever letting on that the circus is even in town (p. 20). I am very blessed!

      • Love the bit on the “circus act.” :) I think part of the reason that it took me so long to say yes to marriage was my fear of having to be the sole person in charge of domestic duties and caring for the children. While my man isn’t the best at clean up (let’s face it, I’m not so great at it either!), he is my teammate and it shows especially in how we together tackle the often tedious care of the kids.

  5. REFLECTION QUESTION #5: The author discusses the freedom of shedding belongings and how it relates to shedding vanity and pride (24-25). What experience have you had with this? What can you work on shedding in your life this week?

    • We are shedding and shedding. And just talked last night about ridding some more. I can’t live in chaotic mess. I very much need organized messes or mess with purpose, I guess you could say. We seriously may move again already (wait, I’m pausing for the lightning strike). Same community/ town but with a def intentional lifestyle in mind and in a more reach-out-able location.

      • Even when I pull things out of closets or cabinets to get rid of, I find myself hanging onto the things for days or weeks longer. I definitely need to deal with my attachment to all this stuff.

    • I’m reading Kisses from Katie this week and really feeling this in a big way. We have so much here in America but it often leaves us missing out on real life. Our washing machine and dishwasher are breaking but I keep thinking that they still work. They may not be as convenient at the moment but they still operate and complete the function we need. Intentionally not running out to replace every little item makes me more grateful for what we have insteading of thinking we deserve to have.

      • Letting go of perfection is a huge relief!!! And I love how you’ve taken the reality living with an appliance on the fritz and linked it with our normal sense of entitlement, that we should have like-new things in perfect working order.

    • Loved her talk on balance and the hub of woman’s wheel- and remaining strong when shocks come and crack the hub. Finding balance in the mix of “solitude and communion, retreat and return.”

      And “the most exhausting thing in life – being insincere.”

      • It really is amazing how much we women end up managing in our circles. All plans seem to go through the woman of the home in every family that I know. We are the calendar keepers, the card writers, the gift planners, etc. I think the metaphor of the hub and spokes is a good one for us.

    • “I begin to shed my Martha-like anxiety about many things” (p. 25).

      I have struggled with my own “Martha” coming out more often than my “Mary.” Granted, Jesus hasn’t been in my neighborhood (which I think would make choosing what to do a much easier call…but I know that’s not the point).
      Being in a marriage that offers great companionship and grace keeps me from fretting over the laundry or the dishes. I’d much rather spend time with my partner than work on anything, and he prefers I spend my time that way as well.
      We have a fairly cluttered house… with baskets of laundry to do and dirty dishes piled around the sink… but we are very happy.

      • I love this picture of your happiness in the midst of clutter and mess. I know it wasn’t always so. Did it take a conscious effort to tell yourself that you’re trading clutter-free/clean for more quality time with your love?

      • I never have to remind myself of the trade when my partner is around.I normally forget everything and just hang with him. It is when I am alone in a messy house that I have to remember that what my home “feels” like is more important than what it “looks” like. It is in those moments that I give myself permission to do homework instead if housework. My husband helped me embrace that permission giving… I’m not sure I could have come to it on my own in this decade of my life.

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  7. AML claimed that her husband was more of a feminist than she was (Winters, 2006, p. 74). However, I don’t see “equality” written on these pages!
    My domestic duties look very different than AML, because I have a partner who shares the demands of our home and life. In fact, he is able to be the “circus act” without ever letting on that the circus is even in town (p. 20). I am very blessed!

    • Love the bit on the “circus act.” :) I think part of the reason that it took me so long to say yes to marriage was my fear of having to be the sole person in charge of domestic duties and caring for the children. While my man isn’t the best at clean up (let’s face it, I’m not so great at it either!), he is my teammate and it shows especially in how we together tackle the often tedious care of the kids.

  8. “I begin to shed my Martha-like anxiety about many things” (p. 25).

    I have struggled with my own “Martha” coming out more often than my “Mary.” Granted, Jesus hasn’t been in my neighborhood (which I think would make choosing what to do a much easier call…but I know that’s not the point).
    Being in a marriage that offers great companionship and grace keeps me from fretting over the laundry or the dishes. I’d much rather spend time with my partner than work on anything, and he prefers I spend my time that way as well.
    We have a fairly cluttered house… with baskets of laundry to do and dirty dishes piled around the sink… but we are very happy.

    • I love this picture of your happiness in the midst of clutter and mess. I know it wasn’t always so. Did it take a conscious effort to tell yourself that you’re trading clutter-free/clean for more quality time with your love?

    • I never have to remind myself of the trade when my partner is around.I normally forget everything and just hang with him. It is when I am alone in a messy house that I have to remember that what my home “feels” like is more important than what it “looks” like. It is in those moments that I give myself permission to do homework instead if housework. My husband helped me embrace that permission giving… I’m not sure I could have come to it on my own in this decade of my life.

  9. There is this sense of lightheartedness and wholeness/integrity that comes to mind when I read the descriptions of living “in grace” here in chapter 2. When I look back on those times when I could “hardly tie a shoestring,” it is hard to even explain just why things felt so difficult on that particular day. I described one of those days in the comments a couple of weeks ago, the time when I ran into that amazingly gracious lady in the bathroom at the fast food place. I was such an emotional wreck that day, she even gave me her phone number in case I needed more encouragement later! Isn’t it wonderful how God provides people who dispense or make us aware of that grace into our lives when we don’t feel we’ve got it? So glad you have such a loving husband to be that for you.

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  18. Lately, I feel like all I can do is today. I can barely focus on anything other than the moment in front of me. Most days, I think I’m doing well. That this would honor God. Then tomorrow hits and I realize I really should have planned better for it. I did a group on a book entitled Balancing Life’s Demands this past spring and it really helped me focus in on what is important each day. Seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be added. Loving Rod and the girls will fall into place if I am seeking after God whole heartedly. The shape of my life may be difficult to see today but I am trusting God with it. (I don’t even know if that goes with your question… but it’s my answer.)

  19. I’m reading Kisses from Katie this week and really feeling this in a big way. We have so much here in America but it often leaves us missing out on real life. Our washing machine and dishwasher are breaking but I keep thinking that they still work. They may not be as convenient at the moment but they still operate and complete the function we need. Intentionally not running out to replace every little item makes me more grateful for what we have insteading of thinking we deserve to have.

  20. When AML compared the shell of her life with the pretty little thing she found on the shore, she wrote, “My shell is not like this, I think. How untidy it has become! Blurred with moss, knobby with barnacles, its shape is hardly recognizable any more” (16). As I’m reading your reply and looking back at my answer before it, I’m noticing that what I listed as the shape of my life is really the simple shell of my life, the ideal, without all the messy stuff. I resonate so much with your feelings about getting through the difficulties of managing a home and raising children moment by moment and feeling at the end of many days that I should have done things differently.

  21. Letting go of perfection is a huge relief!!! And I love how you’ve taken the reality living with an appliance on the fritz and linked it with our normal sense of entitlement, that we should have like-new things in perfect working order.

  22. Life has gotten better for me as I’ve made some boundaries and realigned my own expectations of relationships. It seems so ridiculous looking back that I wouldn’t have thought to distance myself from people who weren’t spurring me on to be who God made me (and allowing me to do the same for them) or wanting the best for my family or really listening to my heart. For me, I guess, it was another one of those “shoulds”. Those people were in my circle, so I thought I was supposed to strive and strive and strive to connect deeply with them. We do get caught up in “should”, “supposed to” and “what does it take to be good?” when God wants our love (from which a happy obedience follows) and not our drudgery. After all, “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7). The fear that breeds in legalistic environments is cast out by His perfect love (I John 4:18). Hallelujah for that! You are right that a rote prayer or ritual is not a formula for winning a ticket to Heaven. “It is by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8,9), which is organic, real, relational…so different than checking off some Pharisaical list. And you are right that we can feel safe to put all questions and concerns, whether about human relationships or his grand designs for the universe, into His hands, all the while asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures as we read. With the reflections on progressive Judaism, I’m reminded of the Jewish sect in New Testament times mentioned in I Corinthians 15. If what they say about after-life is true, then Christ has not been raised, and if it is for this life only that we have hope in Christ, our faith is futile and we are to be most pitied. As a child, I may have primarily seen Heaven as a reward (or an escape), but after years of knowing Him and reading His Word and other texts, I know it is more like the consummation of relationship, the wedding feast and loving marriage after a loooong engagement.

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