Finding Islands {Gift from the Sea 3: Moon Shell}

Within the first ten minutes, while the hood of the van cooled under the shade of a palm tree, she broke free from our grasp and went for the deep end. She steadied herself upright in her life jacket and churned her legs through the water like the blades of a boat motor. If she would have known the phrase, she would have said, “Told you so.” She had kicked in our arms, pushed for freedom, demanded that we let her swim with the cousins without us holding on. And she did it, swam until her tiny fingertips were “all raisins.”

At night, we  kissed her sunwarmed cheeks and watched her heavy eyes finally give in. But a few hours later, her scream tore through the sound of soothing waves and bolted us from our sleep. We cradled her, two pairs of arms and hands sweeping away bad dreams. The next day she jumped right back in the pool and buzzed around in the middle of the action.

Night two was the sleepless sequel. This time she wailed for 45 minutes straight, inconsolable. Her cry echoed out to the beach until my husband pulled the storm door on the balcony. We calmed her and put her back in bed, only to be shaken from our sleep an hour later. We talked her through, offered water, hugged her. She hyperventilated.

After a long night of short bursts of sleep, I awoke in the morning with puffy crescents under my eyes, like the moon hanging over too long into morning. We needed an intervention. I packed two lunches, strapped Farah into the car and waved to the boys as they walked off to another day in the sun with the family. We headed toward the bridge.

When my husband’s grandparents first brought their young family to vacation here in 1957, they had to wait in line at the old swing bridge to get to Fort Myers Beach. And to get from here to Sanibel, you had to take a ferry. “How wonderful are islands!” Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote from Captiva, “Islands in space, like this one I have come to, ringed about by miles of water, linked by no bridges, no cables, no telephones.”

At a stoplight, I fiddled with the map on my phone and studied the pulsating blue dot that told me exactly where in the world we were at that moment. Our islands are so connected now. We are never out of reach. And how can we expect to live “like a child or a saint in the immediacy of here and now” when we are busy thinking of how we will document the moment and share it with a few hundred friends on social media?

I turned off the radio, listened to the sound of rubber tires flapping over road seams. Farah asked where we were going. I glanced down again at the interactive map. We were headed deep into Sanibel, off the main stretch to a place of calm. Even as we approached, there was a sense that we could be wasting the day, one of our mere seven days at the beach.

But before we know “the quality to fullness that the Psalmist expressed: ‘My cup runneth over,’” we have to start toward the beginning of Psalm 23: “He makes me lie down.” First there is this giving up of overactivity, a giving in to stillness. We must lie down and rest and admit that the world will go on without our scurrying about.

Farah needed to rest today, to find another rhythm. And I learned from this, too. For weeks, I had spent my creativity on ideas for our road trip. And these couple of days at the beach, I had been worrying myself with a whole new set of challenges. After all, our vacations have changed since we welcomed our little ones to the family starting almost five years ago. There is more to fuss about now. Gone are the days of taking a novel and a towel out to the sand. Now we load our arms with life jackets and cans of sunscreen to keep the kids safe, and we turn this way and that to make sure we don’t lose anyone.

We pulled into the parking lot of the shell museum and toted our lunch to the garden area. A bench waited for us among glossy leaves and delicate flowers. We listened to the sound of trickling water. I felt it in the quiet: “He restores my soul.” Inside, we sauntered slow, touching everything, taking it in. We marveled at a clam shell bigger than Farah. We traced the growth of a mollusk from baby to adult. We matched lettered olives and conches and channeled whelks with their friends.

This felt like the purposeful giving that Anne Morrow Lindbergh noted. As I walked with Farah in this quiet space, and even as I was not fully alone, I experienced the benefits of solitude. This “belongs to the natural order of giving that seems to renew itself even in the act of depletion. The more one gives, the more one has to give–like milk in the breast.” The author wrote more, “Even purposeful giving must have some source that refills it. The milk in the breast must be replenished by food taken into the body. If it is woman’s function to give, she must be replenished too.”

Why does this sound so audacious that we should carve out some time away to be refilled? After all, “Every paid worker, no matter where in the economic scale, expects a day off a week and a vacation a year. By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off.” And doesn’t this time off makes us better fit for work and relationship when we return? Whether it be a run in the morning or reading time at a cafe in the evening or a personal retreat sometime during the year, we serve ourselves and our families well when we set an appointment for time alone.

In order to find fulfillment in whatever our calling may be, we must carve out an island of time for contemplation and creativity. And in order to be truly away, it may not be a bad idea to turn off our devices, those bridges that keep us over-connected. Anne Morrow Lindbergh said that we should “…consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, or study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself. It need not be an enormous project or a great work, but it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day….” We women come back from solitude with souvenirs of a clear mind and renewed spirit…and maybe even a piece of art.

When we arrived at the pool, Farah ran to the family to show off her shell bracelet. It was her little memento from our refreshing day away. The night was my souvenir, my little girl sleeping through, every deep breath rising to the rhythm of ocean waves.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 3, “Moon Shell” 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.

57 thoughts on “Finding Islands {Gift from the Sea 3: Moon Shell}

    • “The pinpoint center of the shell, …the pupil of the eye” staring at her and she stares back. Also, the islands in space, being separate from the world and the distractions of it. Her vacation as an “island in time” – I love that.

      • I thought the image of “the eye of a cat that brushes noiselessly through long grass at night” was a fun surprise to add into all of these metaphors for solitude. She does seem to have a bit of a mysterious cat-like personality with this love of solitude and quiet exploration in a place of her own.

  1. REFLECTION QUESTION #2: On page 35, Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes, “How one hates to think of oneself as alone. How one avoids it…. Even if family, friends and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void.” What are your feelings about being alone? What do you use to fill up the void?

    • I always used to hate being alone. It seemed I was being left out. Even yesterday, as Rod took the girls away, it took me a couple of hours to find my groove. To focus on what I needed to. It really requires intentionality and practice to realize how valuable alone time is. The quietness feels erie at first and we have to develop a relationship with the quiet before we can find the comfort in it.

    • Like many others, I used to dread being alone. I thought alone meant abandoned. Just in the last five years have I been able to see being alone as a real treasure… A gift my partner willingly gives. He needs solitude, and he makes time and space in our home for me to have some, too.

  2. REFLECTION QUESTION #3: On page 40, we read that “In the job of home-keeping there is no raise from the boss, and seldom praise from others to show us we have hit the mark. Except for the child, woman’s creation is so often invisible, especially today. We are working at an arrangement in form, of the myriad disparate details of housework, family routine and social life.” How do you respond when the results of your work aren’t visible or measurable?

    • Initially, I usually explode in self-pity. No one appreciates me! However, when I examine my words and my heart in light of God’s Word, I am able to find peace in what I do and affirmation from the One I do it for. It’s just my pride that longs for a little bit of acknowledgement from others.

      • A while back, I was having a really hard time with the idea of nourishing and nurturing everyone else, but no one doing the same for me. But I know I have to be like the Widow of Zarapheth (I Kings 17) who obeyed God and fed Elijah first. She gave her last little bit to someone else, thinking she’d be spent, but then found her cisterns filling up again to overflowing. “I shall not want…. My cup overflows” (Psalm 23). This week, I am having trouble with the fact that I worked hard to clean this place up and get it looking decent and now it is a complete wreck again and I feel a bit like giving up. This is some “arrangement in form”!!! Luckily, a girl from church is going to come help me do some organizing this week. With tasks that I don’t naturally enjoy, I seem to do best with someone working alongside me.

    • Bitterly. I tend to let it build up for a while inside of me. Then, right at boiling point, I have an outward meltdown. And unfortunately nothing can be appreciated for a while, on my end, no matter what is said.

      • Maybe it’s something like what Tristi quoted below, “When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others…. Both of us were wandering in arid wastes, having lost the springs that nourished us–or having found them dry” (38). When we make time to be alone, for our soul to be restored, we come back fresh, able to greet our loved ones and our tasks with new vigor. For me, this means that I must get away from the home during my alone time so that I am not nagged by all that is undone.

  3. REFLECTION QUESTION #4: The author encourages women to be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day. How attractive/plausible is this for you?

    • Being alone for part of the day and part of the week is very attractive because I’ve worked to make it happen. I know the benefits of this time alone. The part about being alone in the year – maybe in getting away – that one is a little scary. I haven’t worked it into my life yet. Still, if it can fill me up in the way the other moments do, it is probably something I should work toward.

    • I flip flop on this one. I love quiet time/alone tiime and the benefits of. But I also love the bustle of my family in my home. Even just being. With each family member. I miss it when they’re away at school or vacationing with grandparents. Or when hubby is away for a couple days – it’s great to miss them but I prefer the togetherness. Sometimes there’s letdown when rejoining as a whole – an expectation of a more blissful life after reuniting. It only lasts so long.

      • I grew up in a big family and loved the constant activity. It felt like our house was the place to be. I remember when everyone started moving in different directions as young adults, the house got so quiet. I know that feeling of missing the loved ones and the activity that comes with the group being together.

    • Very attractive and very plausible! But I need to be more intentional about the places I go. Last week I spent time in a Minneapolis suburb alone. The chain restaurants and the blacktop didn’t do much for my spirit. I had to find one of those 10,000 lakes in MN to really feel like I was away from the hustle-bustle of my daily life.

  4. REFLECTION QUESTION #5: While woman has made great strides in the public square, we have yet to learn how to exercise equality without completely draining ourselves. Perhaps “in our our recent efforts to emancipate ourselves, to prove ourselves the equal of man, we have…been drawn into competing with him in his outward activities, to the neglect of our own inner springs.” (51) What are your thoughts? Can women have it all? And if so, how?

    • I don’t want to have it all if it means utter exhaustion as a result. I think it would be hard for me to let go of guilt that would ensue from spreading myself thin in many areas (already is too hard). I’m striving for His desired All in my life and what that looks like. Prob very different from the world’s view. And I’m okay with that.

    • It seems to me that competition is anti-feminist. I am looking for recognition that I am an equal sex, but not competition with men or women. Many feminists believe in cooperation and community instead, and this mindset has helped me think about contributing in my place instead of fighting/competing for a place. The latter drains me, while the former is much more in tune with filling my inner spring.

      • I love what you said here, “not competition with men or women” and “contributing in my place instead of fighting/competing for a place.” This goes along so well with an ongoing conversation Craig and I have about how life would be so much more peaceful/fulfilling if we would all stop striving to make our place in the world and instead do what we’re called to do in the place God has already put us. More on the striving of youth in a couple of chapters.

  5. REFLECTION QUESTION #6: As a churchgoer, page 48 spoke to me: “Our daily life does not prepare us for contemplation. How can a single weekly hour of church, helpful as it may be, counteract the many daily hours of distraction that surround it? If we had our contemplative hour at home we might be readier to give ourselves at church and find ourselves more completely renewed.” What difficulties or triumphs have you experienced as you endeavor to commune with God during the week instead of waiting for worship on Sunday?

    • When I take the time alone at home, it seems God’s builds on that with Sundays’ message quite often. As I allow Him to speak to my heart in the quiet on a daily basis, Sunday is the culmination of it all. Sunday is necessary for my soul but I agree that it couldn’t possibly counteract the week without daily interaction with my Savior.

      • I find when I am interacting well and experiencing Him in my moments and days throughout the week, then when we are worshiping through song on Sunday, very specific instances of His faithfulness or things He’s been addressing in me come to mind as I sing the words to each song. And then I experience Him all the more in that special hour of the week.

    • Oh I could write pages on this. I’ve always dreaded Sundays. It’s a constant battle to turn it into a happy day that lasts the entire week. Now with hubby as preacher – weekends are not our own. Tides have shifted once again. It’s a conscious focus effort to make the meaningful parts of Sunday purposefully relevant in our daily living. To not rob Sunday of its meaning and refreshment to prepare us for worshipping all week long. As I said, I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here for now! :)

      • I used to work on staff at my old church and I, too, found that it was sometimes difficult to know what to do when work and worship felt like they were colliding. I know many pastors and leaders experience the same. I think it is really important for a leader and the leader’s family to find another day during the week to carve out as a real day off.

    • Yep, our goals and values for home and family must remain intentional or else they get lost in the balancing act. Kids pick up on this equally as much as the adults do. So crucial.

  6. REFLECTION QUESTION #7: On page 49, we read that during our alone time we should put our creativity at work: “It need not be an enormous project or a great work. But it should be something of one’s own.” What is your favorite way to spend your solitude?

    • I think my favorite way is to write but there are many stretches that I need to just fill up with reading or clear my head with complete quiet or a run. To exhibit that creativity, I feel, sometimes requires so much effort. In the end, however, it is worth it.

      • Good reading is vital to good writing, isn’t it? Many times I feel I have to pry my words out, which can be frustrating, but there’s nothing like the feeling of finally getting the words on paper and then understanding a thought or feeling in more depth because of the time spent processing it and arranging it.

    • “When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.” Coming off of a season in this way where I actually told a friend that I simply had nothing to give to anyone, I agree. I was wrestling with a lot of stuff I had ignored for some time. In taking action to know myself and fill my soul, God has enabled me to do so much more. Without the solitude, I simply do not have opportunity to really get honest with myself or God.

      • Darcy, she was very gracious. I think she was taking it personally thinking I didn’t want to be with her/spend time with her. Once she realized I was broken, she was able to extend love and a little patience and understanding to allow me time I needed to get to a place where I could once again be a good friend.

    • Loved the starfish analogy in ref to being alone, like a limb torn off – and then the void – but life indeed rushes back to fill the void, “fuller than before” … We grow new limbs, stronger than the ones before “when other people had pieces of one.”
      And all the the ’round’ examples (shell, axis/wheel, islands…). Focus in the being still, the “island-quality” to be able to in turn keep giving to family, friends, community. Spiritual focus in my case, to be refilled. Just read somewhere else this week how it’s more a sense of strength, not weakness, to acknowledge when we need times of rest and renewal. Refocus. To accommodate what our bodies and lives truly need in order to serve better, be available, at the right times for the right reasons.

    • “what a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it-like a secret vice” (pp. 43-44).

      Why do I fit my quiet time around my social calendar, instead of the other way around?

      • I’m trying to curb my FOMO by reflecting on my social calls afterwards. Would I rather have been at home nesting? At the library studying? Reading a beth Moore book? Spending time on the yoga mat? I was socialized to be a busy extrovert, but as I age I prefer quiet time over most social gatherings.

  7. This online book club has some parallels to our in-person book club. Just last week we were discussing the lost art of meditation. In a society that values multi-tasking, full schedules and fast service, we shouldn’t feel guilty about drawing away from the crowd to calm our minds and refill our tanks.

    • Yes. And the focus on gifts in both titles. :) This Moon Shell chapter on solitude and stillness and contemplation reminds me of Ann Voskamp’s moon chapter a bit, how her husband had to lead her away from the looming tasks and into the quiet wonder of the moon taking over the backyard. “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”

  8. It is only June and I have felt SO busy already this summer. We were so excited to start our first sport, first VBS, first summer reading program, and of course play dates and other outings since we “have more time.” But I am already wiped out. When I read this chapter it was utterly reaffirming to what I was already feeling. The need to be alone, not just me, but our family too. I even remarked about taking another vacation (its only been a couple months since we got back!!) Saying “no” to opportunities always stinks, because it might be fun, or also because its always awkward for me to decline something without an excuse (a skill I am really working on!) I wish I had ideas to offer for alone time, I am terrible at it. I often use my alone time to check something off my list. Definitely not a cup filler! Maybe because I am still nursing a baby, but the parallel between a mother’s milk and giving of our time really stuck out to me. “The more one gives, the more one has to give…” I am a notorious helper, I love to help, I love knowing that I have helped someone. So the more I help, the more I want to. But as I get busier and busier, I realize I am not helping as much as I could in the right places, if I would slow down and help myself more. When I do have alone time, I love going to craft stores, getting ideas, making things. I like sitting at kid-unfriendly cafes and getting kid-unfriendly food. I like to be quiet, still and not talk. Usually after I have been alone my throat aches, from not talking! After we launched into this crazy summer, I am now trying to switch gears and help the boys understand that slow is good too. Family time is important, alone time is important.

    • Well, you made it through the first sport! I have been thinking for quite a while about putting Elliot in something, but I’m a little hesitant to give up our semi-free-flowing schedule. I have a real aversion to having to be somewhere at a particular time. ;)

      I know exactly what you mean about not feeling like you can say no unless you have a “legitimate” reason. I have said no to volunteering for dozens of things this past year and I always feel like I need to explain…and sometimes it sounds funny just saying that I am trying to leave margin in my life and schedule, as if that’s not a good enough reason to say no.

      Do you find there’s a difference in the way you spend your alone time at home vs. away from home? When I’m home, I’m more likely to do things that are not “cup fillers” but drain my energy instead. When I’m away from my territory in a place that I’m not responsible for, I feel so much more refreshed. I love your description of the “kid-unfriendly” cafes and food, things you can only really enjoy alone. :)

      I know you enjoy the sewing machine with your BearSquares and other adorable creations. Is that where you find yourself directing most of your creativity these days?

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  10. She mentions the tension of giving yourself without purpose. I think this is an important consideration. So much of her writing resonates because we feel pulled in pieces. But my perspective is a little different than hers. Yes, I agree with my whole heart -cutting out the physical and activity clutter, but to what end? To focus on kingdom work. I think we have forgotten this somehow. And for us that means social time with others who are doing kingdom work, working and laughing and playing and resting together. Freedom! That to give your life is to find it and to hold on to it is to lose it. I am flailing along but am learning to find rhythm in the pouring out and the quiet life. The pouring out without resting is violence. The resting without pouring out makes misers of our souls.

    • Good direction you’re leading in here: “To what end? To focus on kingdom work.” We “empty to fill,” and then give from the overflow, letting grace spill out to our community, as Ann Voskamp says in Chapter 10 of One Thousand Gifts. I was underlining all this two nights ago as I prepared for my in-person book club. And then, your wise words again: “The pouring out without resting is violence. The resting without pouring out makes misers of our souls.”

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