Astonishing Discovery {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 5}

The book on my nightstand waits like an old friend on the line, voice buzzing through miles of wire into heavy handset, me listening, twisting my fingers in the curl of the cord of words. I’ve known the author all my life, though he never knew me. I repeat his words like they’ve come out of conversation because when I read C.S. Lewis, I feel a camaraderie, the surprise of friendship when you’ve thought yourself the only one and then you find that person who’s thinking exactly what you’re thinking, feeling what you’re feeling…and saying it.

When young Lewis discovered his favorite childhood book on his new friend Arthur’s table, the story went this way, “’Do you like that?’ said I. ‘Do you like that?’ said he. Next moment the book was in our hands, our heads were bent close together, we were pointing, quoting, talking–soon almost shouting–discovering in a torrent of questions that we liked not only the same thing, but the same parts of it and in the same way; that both knew the stab of Joy…. Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.”

This has happened to me on occasion when I’ve met an instant friend in real life, scoured a life-changing book or even stumbled upon a blog post that seemed to be published just for me.

In every case, someone has to be the first to share, the one to lay the book out on the table.

After I wrote We Play Marbles, exploring the little bit of letting go as my firstborn prepared to enter kindergarten, I got a message from a friend in another stage of life who is opening her arms to let her adult daughter venture into new love and a life of ministry in a faraway land. We shared together in writing and in person and put our arms around one another, “our heads bent close together” both of us knowing “the stab of Joy”.

When we write and share it, we leave the book out on the table in plain sight for the friend who needs to know she is not alone.

{How have you experienced this kind of “friendship” as a reader? How have you experienced it as a writer? What is your biggest obstacle in making your story available for others to read?}

This is Day 5 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

Surprised by Summer

I started last summer with a list.

Cloud gazing.
Firefly catching.
Bird watching.
Running through sprinklers.

I was all set to lead my kids on a tour of the season’s simple joys.

Strawberry picking.
Bare feet on grass.
A boat ride on the lake with friends.

I had plans for them to take it all in.

Fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Buttered corn on the cob.
Growing a watermelon from seed, then sinking teeth into the ripe red.
Walking to the local parlor for ice cream.
Cotton candy at a carnival.

I was writing their future memories.

Reining in the wind with pinwheels and kites.
Waving flags and watching the parade.
Swirling their sparklers and gasping at fireworks.

It was all I planned for summer, these little pleasures, this simple list. I needed this intentionality to kick me out of the phase of weariness that had carried over from the previous fall and winter and into spring.

But then the first week of this new season started with surgery to uncover and leash my unruly canine tooth, the one that had been hiding in my palate since childhood, one that we meant to pull forward to join the rest of my teeth. A few weeks later, I learned the surgery was useless and that I’d need another.

I felt a bit foolish to look at my summer’s simple joys list now, to revisit all of the idealistic pleasures I had planned…. What did it matter if joy came near, anyway if I couldn’t smile?

As soon as I’d stumble on a happy event and my lips dared to open, I’d slap my hand over my mouth to keep people from seeing my flared teeth and the horrible empty space in the front of my smile. Behind the scenes, it was even worse. One of my teeth had been pushed so hard from orthodontic treatment that it was thrust outside of my arch, its root protruding, almost piercing my gums.

But in the midst of the leftover cloud of anesthesia, the haze of pain meds and the almost-daily visits to the surgeon when the recovery went awry…in the middle of it, joy found me.

I visited my newborn niece and talked misty-eyed with her mom about the pretty things that hang on discipline and hard times, and I thought how pain is often the backdrop that makes joy stand out all the more. And vice versa. As I shared in the comments section of the Stars Dancing in the Water post the other day, in Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.”

When joy finds us, we feel the full meaning of the moment. We soak in the good, but we also feel the pain of knowing that all is not perfect…yet. These little joys in the middle of hardship, they are glimpses of the full redemption to come, when we will have these gifts as they were meant to be.

Like Ann Voskamp and her list, I was starting to keep one of my own, not things I planned to find, but things that found me….

My little beauty playing behind the sheer curtain in her room, looking like a veiled bride.
Her eating strawberries right from the field, this confidence that all He makes is hers to enjoy.
My little boy clipping his sailboat tie on his T-shirt before heading to the playground, a creative-type surely starting a new fashion trend.

And then, if only you could have seen my son when we went to the farm to visit Hoover, our original unruly canine. My boy saw the open fields and he didn’t need a list of summer’s simple joys to tell him to do this, he just felt it, real freedom, and he ran with all his might and turned himself upside down in somersault after somersault after somersault, open-mouthed grinning all the way.

And, sometime I want to tell you the whole story, how my children piled puppy after puppy on my lap that night, all eight of the little Hoovers, just days old. I want to tell you bit by bit how I went to the farm that night with teeth gritted and shoulders squared, a fighting failure of a mother and homemaker, and how they piled those sweet, sleepy, trusting puppies on me and made me know my worth. I ended the night with open hands, fireflies landing in them and taking off again over fields of soybeans, a joy hoped for that summer, but until then, not yet seen.

The summer went on. I kept on playing despite the pain and uncertainty. We read Feathers for Lunch, made nests out of salad and got to our bird watching. We ran through sprinklers. We twiddled our toes in grass. We walked to town for ice cream…more than once. We grew our watermelons and chewed them down almost to the rind where they curved like toothy little grins. We waved our flags and swirled our sparklers, checking off some more boxes on our original summer to-do list. And still, the spontaneous surprises came.

I clapped at the sight of my friend and her new husband kicking off their sandals on the dune where they said “I do,” laughter and grains of sand soaring. Afterward, my non-dancing husband twirled me and pulled me close in the low light of the bandstand. I laid my head on his shoulder, trusted his lead. Earlier, at the wedding ceremony, I had read from Joel, and the words came again to me now: “I will make up to you for the years that the locust has eaten.” I needed to trust His lead, too, to count on Him to make up for the months ruined by my unruly canine(s). And soon, He would do it– He would lead my family to one of our favorite restaurants, not even on our usual night, and cross my path with a friend who works for a different orthodontic provider.

I felt we were getting somewhere, but then, on my birthday, I lay in bed depressed again. Unlike my old provider, this new one was confident he could lure my tooth back into the arch, make my smile presentable again and even close my bite. But my first two years in braces would count for nothing. We were starting from below ground zero. I would have to pay the full price for a completely new orthodontic plan. This had been weighing on me for weeks, me feeling like a money pit.

Then the phone rang. I wiped my eyes and put some cheer in my voice so as not to give my mood away. It was my husband. He had gotten a call from his boss just then, an unexpected raise, six months before review time. And it covered all but twelve dollars of the monthly fee for my new orthodontic plan. A surprise…just for me.

The boss didn’t know it was my birthday, but God did. And He knew just what I needed that day. The attentive One who sent me a heart-shaped tomato in the garden in the heat of summer, He had a birthday gift picked out for me, an all-expense-paid trip to healing and wholeness. I needed to know I was not a burden and that my situation hadn’t escaped His notice and that I didn’t have to plan or provide for myself. He knew all that.

He has a list, too, these simple joys He’s just waiting to give. And when He surprised me with it all last summer, in the middle of trouble, I couldn’t help but smile…with my teeth showing.

{So far, this summer is much less eventful than last! Have you ever been surprised by what a season had in store? What do you have planned for this one? Share your story in the comments.}

Stars Dancing in the Water {Gift from the Sea 1: The Beach}

We drifted over silvery waters from the big island to the tiny one. I looked out the panoramic window onto open sea and atmosphere. It was like scales had fallen from my eyes to take in that view, that true blue sky. For four months, I’d been living under a man-made sky, a firmament of soot, in the city where I was studying abroad. But there on my holiday away in Thailand, the sunlight glinted so hard off the waves that I couldn’t even make out what was underneath.

Next to me, my sister gave in to the boat’s gentle rocking and fell asleep with a pair of headphones in her ears. My friend scratched something in her journal. I had a stack of books to read and postcards to write and a lot of thinking to do on our ten days on the island. I was looking for closure on a bad relationship, looking to get out from under that kind of grey. The happy island life, away from cars and computers, and near the sand and sea and people who loved me– it was just what I needed.

When I thought of our destination, somehow I had pictured a hill of sand with a scattering of palms. But as we neared, what I saw out the window made me gasp. No one told me it would look like this. I wanted to nudge my sister, but I couldn’t look away from the sight of the two enormous limestone cliffs glowing bronze in the morning sun. They stood like twin guards to the secrets beyond the gate. Our boat entered slow, the engines relaxing, bringing us inside the huddle of rocks.

Later, when I took a book out to the beach, I fell asleep to the rhythm of the waves and got the worst sunburn of my life. If only I had read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s words by then, how “one carries down the faded straw bag, lumpy with books, clean paper, long over-due unanswered letters, freshly sharpened pencils, lists and good intentions,” I would have been wise to the fact that the “books remain unread, the pencils break their points and the pads rest smooth and unblemished as the cloudless sky.”

The body and mind need first to breathe fresh air and clear out the smog of urban noise, busy schedules, and complicated relationships, and to become “like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today’s tides of all yesterday’s scribblings.” Oh, that…and the body needs sunscreen.

In the morning, I walked to the empty beachfront from our bamboo bungalow. The sandy path was strewn with fragrant flowers, good morning mercies fallen from the trees overhead. I had this sense that my Maker was romancing me, bringing me simple joys to erase complicated hurts.

Out on the sand, smoothed by the night tide, I sat in a tattered lounge chair. In the cove, the cliffs shone golden and the water lapped gentle. A kitten sneaked up and batted his paws at the strings of my swimsuit. I sparred with him, then tickled him under his chin. Soon, two wild pups trotted out and put their paws to the sand, each in their own spot scratching for something just beneath the surface. The alpha quickly left his post and nuzzled his brother away from the hole he was digging. He took over and worked fast, flinging wet sand into his white mane.

Suddenly, I noticed a little surprise poking out from the little pit, a claw of a different sort. From its hiding spot, a crab danced out into the open and clicked his claws like castanets, the prey teasing its predators. The pups ran in circles around their little jester, snapping their teeth and pawing at the creature. Right within reach, the crab could easily have been breakfast, but they missed him on purpose and chased him in silly circles back into the bubbling surf.

When we three girls came to the spot that night, the pups were out again wrestling, one taking the other by the scruff of the neck, both growling with their tails up like little exclamation points. “Remember when we used to act like that?” my sis asked. Lights glimmered in the distance from the karaoke stage. We took our footprints as far away as we could.

In pitch black, where the sand met the foliage, we threw our towels into a pile and waded into inky water. When we got waist high, we double-checked that it was still just the pups keeping watch. Then, we tossed our suits in the pile, too, and giggled at the freedom of nothing between us and the water. I ducked under to wet my hair, then rose up and kicked onto my back to look into the dotted deep of the sky. “It’s like we’re snorkeling in the stars,” I said.

When I turned toward the girls where they were treading water, I saw something strange. Glints of light followed their arms and legs as they moved. I shook my head. We were too far from the stage lights for this to be a reflection. There was so little light that I could hardly see the details of their faces. Again, they moved their arms and the fairy dust followed. I dragged my fingers through the water. Flourescent glitter shimmered there, too, stars dancing in the water. I blinked my eyes to check my vision. “Do you see that?” We were all watching by now. Again and again, it happened, magic before my skeptical eyes. There are no words to do justice to the feeling that came over me. This water was alive and I was fully alive in the moment, jumping and clapping like a happy seal at the wonder of it. I thought of the One who thought this up, this bioluminescence. I looked up, down, all around…surprises everywhere.

As Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, “One never knows what chance treasures these easy unconscious rollers may toss up on the smooth white sand of the conscious mind….”  The wild pups went digging for their pleasures, but I don’t have to. I can wait in faith for all-out joy.

In C.S. Lewis’ memoir, Surprised by Joy, written the same year as Gift from the Sea and situated on the same shelf in the bookstore, I read that “…Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is,” and then meditated on the fact that, “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’” Anne concurred, expressing that “to dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.”

No one told me just how breathtaking that place was going to be. Instead, I got to be surprised by joy, to walk and swim in the moment by moment attentiveness of my First Love, every wonder leading my thoughts away from man-made troubles and back to Him.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 1, “The Beach” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here. Special thanks to a fellow blogger who got me thinking on the theme of Surprised by Joy this week. Also linking up with my friend Charity at Wide Open Spaces for the High Calling’s Summer Writing Project.}

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.