Swimming Strong {Gift from the Sea 5: Oyster Bed}

I’m thrilled to be guest posting for my friend Hayley at The Tiny Twig today. Be sure to swing over there and share your thoughts on how to create a life of “more passion and less fuss”…then come back and join us below for our latest installment in our Gift from the Sea series.

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I cross my arms over my chest to hug away the chill. I am drenched in sea spray, huddled on a rock at the shore. My thin white slip clings to wet skin and I’m trying to figure why I’ve come to this place without so much as a swimsuit or a beach wrap. Salt water gutters down over soggy tendrils, slides over my cheeks. A naysayer jeers me like a castaway and now my eyes are gutters too.

But now someone steps out of the shadows, sends the discourager on his way, and drapes his arm over my shoulder…grace. In my periphery, the sea swells, a small roller in the ocean stretching tall like a boy who eats his broccoli. It rises more. Swimmers shout. My mother stands on the beachfront watching it lift and watching the little people in its path. “They need you,” she yells out in my direction.

I want to run the other way, but I can’t ignore it. I walk in slow motion toward her, toward it. I crane my neck. It’s starting to look like Hokusai’s Great Wave. Who can have need of me in this? I can barely keep afloat with survival strokes on my own. How am I to pull others along fighting the force of this wave?

I hear a shout here, a cry there. Shallow waters pull back, sucked into the monster. The wave is five times the size of me, way more than over my head, but I can’t block the cries or the pleading eyes. I pound into the water. I’m up to my ankles, my knees, my hips, my chest, that flimsy slip twisting in wild waters. I am so close. I hear them.

And then I am lifted on the swell. I gulp a breath of misty oxygen and just like that the thing whips me into the depths. I somersault and twirl, a woman without gravity. I feel for the bottom of the sea and then reach for the surface. Stale air and the weight of the sea press on my lungs. I bubble out my last breath and clench my palate to seal out the water. But I have got to breathe soon. I look up through stinging saline. Light bounces down. I kick up, but the surface eludes. I open my mouth and gasp. And suddenly I awake to heart pumping hard with adrenaline and my hairline dotted with salty sweat.

I had this dream a decade ago, before my engagement, before my wedding, before my family began. I dreamt it in a foreign country, feeling a little like Daniel, praying often at my window, looking out over a people that didn’t know God’s name. This was a dream I might have liked to take to Daniel, to have him give me the lowdown on all it meant. Maybe I was feeling overwhelmed with the task of the Great Commission. Maybe I was feeling my smallness in the scheme of the universe at my coming of age. Maybe I was feeling in over my head thinking on plans for my future.

The prospect of family life can have that effect: a mixture of awe and fear at the thought of a whole new mission assignment. Who wouldn’t feel in over their head, even if happily, in the task of raising little people to love their Maker, to know their unique gifting and to bless their world? Who wouldn’t shy away from all the warnings about tantrums and middle of the night feedings and making it through babyhood only to catch your breath for the teenage years?

But real life resolves the “To be continued…” pause in the wave story, decides whether it is to go on record as an exhilarating dream or horrible nightmare. The hero in the dream, the one who came up beside me and draped his arm over my shoulder…that was the guy who just wouldn’t quit loving me. I knew it even then that he had some guts. So much so that he showed up in my dreams when I was 11,000 miles away from home for the year.

A few years later, I married that guy and got to work building a family with him. Soon after we delivered our first baby, my friend Sarah asked me how I was handling all of the new demands of parenthood. There had been some stressful moments seeing as my newborn wanted to nurse every 45 minutes, even through the night. But as I talked with her, we decided it was a lot like swimming in the ocean. You’ve got to pull hard at the waves to rise above them. You’ve got to put in some muscle and some grit. You’ve got to get the heart pumping and gulp down big breaths of air. She put it this way: “I could say things like– ‘It’s such hard work, you actually have to move your arms to stay above the water! I feel like I’m always kicking my feet! I have to breathe in between waves– ugh!’ But, then I would miss that the ocean is HUGE. The water rushing over my arms and legs, the ability to move about in it, all of this is a gift.”

And there was more. I didn’t have to swim the tide alone. On one of our first sleepless nights back at home, Craig said it would only make things worse if we felt sorry for ourselves. He was with me and we would get through it together. This was a team sport. The sleepless nights, the over-stimulation, the tantrums, the ins and outs of feeding, bathing and clothing little people…it takes hard strokes to push through it all. We force our arms through the water pulling more than our weight, and together we ride the wave instead of being pulled under by it.

All this exercise to the muscles and lungs, it strengthens our bond like the cement that holds Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s beloved oysters in the oyster bed: “Here one forms ties, roots, a firm base. (Try and pry an oyster from its ledge!)…. For marriage which is always spoken of as a bond, becomes actually, in this stage, many bonds, many strands, of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taut and firm. The web is fashioned of love. Yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow-growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship. It is made of loyalties, and interdependencies, and shared experiences. It is woven of memories of meetings and conflicts; of triumphs and disappointments.”

For all my past fear in losing my footing and being pulled under, I chuckle to find myself now so grounded in this stage of life…and actually liking it. I am with AML: “Its form is not primarily beautiful, but functional. I make fun of its knobbiness. Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences. But its tireless adaptability and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes even my tears…. I will not want to leave it.” Oh, tears…my firstborn turns five this week. We are about one quarter done with raising him. That is a whole new wave rising up over my head. Indeed…I will not want to let family life go.

But I am encouraged by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, this woman who boldly paddled through family life and beyond, that “there is still the afternoon opening up, which one can spend not in the feverish pace of the morning but in having time at last for those intellectual, cultural and spiritual activities that were pushed aside in the heat of the race…. In our breathless attempts we often miss the flowering that waits for afternoon…. For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth?” And, Lord willing, my husband and I will swim those new waters as a team with the strength of all kinds of love that we built here in the hard work of family life.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 5, “Oyster Bed” 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.

24 thoughts on “Swimming Strong {Gift from the Sea 5: Oyster Bed}

    • Just this morning I was thinking about when I will have some time to rest and I thought not as long as I’m raising kids. I need to do a better job of appreciating the blessing I have in motherhood (like the ocean). I appreciate this illustration.

    • I love her comparisons. You do have to step back at times to appreciate *the whole* of what phase you’re in. It certainly feels like such a struggle. Often! And I thought your comment, Darcy, about parenting as a team sport – so important! We have to remember we’re together in all this, as spouses yes, but also as mothers and fathers all over the world. That helped me a lot in the sleepless nights phase. Knowing moms everywhere were nursing their babes with me. And the exhaustion. I’m not alone. Now, in the bit older stages and phases – post toddler, Tweens…etc. still in great company and still important to step back and appreciate. Same with marriage.

      • What you said connects well with a story I read today: http://storybleed.com/2012/07/discoveries/. And my friend Amber was talking in our writers’ group the other day about insomnia and how it helps to know there are others, like nursing mothers, awake with you even if you can’t see them. And sometimes the blogosphere is helpful in letting us know of some who are tired and struggling (camaraderie) and some who have made it through the this phase (mentoring).

    • It makes me think I’d better start training now for the swimming ahead! There are some benefits to starting a family later in life, but I know one down side will be the physical demands on our aging bodies.

  1. REFLECTION QUESTION #2: On page 74, the author says: “The web is fashioned of love. Yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow-growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship. It is made of loyalties, and interdependencies, and shared experiences. It is woven of memories of meetings and conflicts; of triumphs and disappointments. It is a web of communication, a common language, and the acceptance of lack of language too; a knowledge of likes and dislikes, of habits and reactions, both physical and mental. It is a web of instincts and intuitions, and known and unknown exchanges.” Considering the many bonds of love, share a personal story or reflection on an older couple whose relationship you have admired.

    • Yesterday was a day of contrasts on the topic of marriage. In church we celebrated with Don and Shirley, applauding their 65 years of marriage – joking and laughing, but really being in awe of their enduring love. They have raised children and, tragically, lost a daughter to the waves. Their unwavering faith in God has bound them together even through tragedy.

      Later at home I texted a friend who has been struggling in her marriage… a scene similar to your dream of fighting against the waves. I’ve heard that lifeguards often have trouble rescuing victims because they try to fight off the rescuer. Maybe it is human instinct to believe we can save ourselves.

      • Don and Shirley’s relationship reminds me of another quote from this chapter: “In these years one recognizes the truth of Saint-Exupery’s line: ‘Love does not consist in gazing at each other (one perfect sunrise gazing at another!) but in looking outward together in the same direction.’ For, in fact, man and woman are not only looking outward in the same direction; they are working outward…. Here one makes oneself part of the community of…human society” (73). And, I’m praying for your friend today. I don’t know all of the details, but I know there is hard work to be done.

    • Sadly, it’s difficult to think of people we admire who have been married through the years these days. I look at my grandparents who want nothing other than to be together in these final years of their life together. They have always been an example to me. How much richer their life must be because they went through all the many kinds of love. To long for the days of romantic love all the time negates the opporunity for the love that lasts a lifetime.

    • My hubby and I both had sets of grandparents that were so in love. Outsiders (and family) admired their relationships and that special something each relationship possessed. Hard to put into words. They cared beyond measure and put each other ahead of theirselves. They protected their marriages and you just knew nothing could ever shake their bond.

    • I admire a couple in their 50’s or 60’s? (Not sure) In their “empty nest” years they are caring for their elderly mother in her 90’s with dementia. They have done this for over a decade often without breaks. While the older lady is sweet, it is hard work and exhausting for them. They have a tenacity I have never witnessed up close before. They have a strong love for each other and for their mother. I feel honored to be in their lives.

  2. REFLECTION QUESTION #3: I was drawn to two quotes that AML shared on page 77, one from a friend of hers and one from a Virginia Woolf story: “I no longer worry about being the belle of Newport.” and “Things have dropped from me. I have outlived certain desires…I am not so gifted as at one time seemed likely. Certain things lie beyond my scope.” What do these say about the changing perspective of middle age?

    • It’s good to not have to worry about what others thing about you. To allow yourself to let go of the expectations of others and live only as God desires. I appreciated her thoughts on shedding our pride, false ambitions, mask and armor. Maybe we become more realistic in middle age. At the same time, dreams can still be achieved and life can still be lived to the full in growth.

      • Her examples here reminded me of the verse: “Cease striving and know that I am God.” It is a welcome thought that middle age may provide some passage out of the desperation and competitiveness I often witness (and sometimes participate in? Eek.) in the younger adult stage. I like Ann Voskamp’s philosophy of writing and trusting God to use the words in whatever way He wants, not worrying a bit about her statistics or her bestseller status.

    • It says I have wasted a lot of time… I have painted my face and curled my hair and paraded around in expensive clothes for about 15 years. I wish I could pull those hours back to myself, like a yo-yo. Being the belle is so temporary and unfulfilling. I wish I would’ve spent those hours in heart boot camp instead…

      The middle age perspective on appearances suits me more. In fact, today I went to a work meeting immediately after swim class. And I forgot a brush. Soaking wet, I didn’t explain or apologize to my colleagues. I’m here for my brains, right? :) I have found that I have little patience for people who think work is a fashion show.

  3. REFLECTION QUESTION #4: On page 79, the author says: “The signs that presage growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing, are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not as often misinterpret the signs; one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains…. But in middle age, because of the false assumption that it is a period of decline, one interprets these life-signs, paradoxically, as signs of approaching death.” What are your thoughts on her comparison of adolescence with middle age?

    • I read this chapter outloud to my husband while on our way to the grocery store (with one child only, thank you vbs!)… I backtracked at AML’s mention of 40’s and 50’s and asked my husband, “am I really middle aged since I’m nearing 40???” and we laughed. But admittedly I felt this pang. I don’t feel I can be in that category! Why are we so petrified of this sometimes. I love the age I’m at and I don’t want to go back in time. I love where ourvmarriagevisvright now. All we’ve been through and survived. The deeper love. I wouldn’t trade that for “youth” any day.

      I think the thought that we’re nearer to death is the fear, but we truly never know what tomorrow holds. And as a believer I grow more and more excited to be in the presence of the One who made me and the baby I never got to hold. I’d love to be around to see grandkids, though, also. We’re so indecisive aren’t we?!! :)

      • I hear you. My 35th birthday is a week from tomorrow and I’ve been feeling a little like time is slipping through my fingers. I don’t feel like I’m only five years from middle age. I still feel like a young parent. Maybe when my kids are older I’ll feel better about the idea of middle age and be able to define myself that way. Luckily, AML left us the option to wait until 50 to call ourselves middle age. ;) But then, you say it well…why am I so resistant to the prospect? I think part of it for me is the thought that other people might count me out and not find my voice of value if they don’t see me as young/fresh. My husband just finished co-writing a memoir about football legend Walter Payton and some of the controversy about his real age shows this kind of fear. I grew up memorizing the verse “Let no one despise your youth” and now I’m seeing the importance of not letting anyone despise my age…including myself!

    • After reading this chapter with hubby he said, “it’s interesting how sometimes we want to go back to old shells but we are beyond that fit.” Interesting. And the idea she instilled that there is always more to explore, talents to tap into, and so much love left to accept and reciprocate and give. The journey continues, and if anything, you gain wisdom for the wear.

  4. “And there was more. I didn’t have to swim the tide alone. On one of our first sleepless nights back at home, Craig said it would only make things worse if we felt sorry for ourselves…it takes hard strokes to push through it all. We force our arms through the water pulling more than our weight, and together we ride the wave instead of being pulled under by it.” – I feel this Darcy… the not feeling sorry for myself when a tidal wave force pulls me there. Although I do share this with the hubs. It is really God (and God in the hubs) who has me, who really keeps me afloat.

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