Homecoming

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Over the trees, the sound of trumpets came to me. Drums bellowed back at mallets punching. Summer days, the marching band played like always. I could hear it from my backyard. Some days it was the sound of war, other days of celebration. I knew something was coming one way or the other.

I hadn’t known if we’d get to keep this house, this town and its music, these neighbors and our walks to school. I hadn’t known if we’d have the money to send my four year-old to preschool, the dream she’s been talking about for two years straight. I hadn’t known whether to plant my garden. But I planted it anyway, there in the backyard to the sound of distant music. Continue reading

So, I Guess I Needed an iPhone Break {A Less Digital Life Postlude}

mmjiphonebreakI had just dropped off a meal at one friend’s house and was on my way to a birthday dinner for another. My bags were as full as my brain, overflowing with diapers, bib, baby food and somewhere in the bottom of my purse were my own belongings. I had grabbed my phone from the passenger seat where I had laid it after sending a text at a stoplight to ask for a high chair at the restaurant. Maybe I stuffed the phone in my purse or maybe I put it in the cup holder on the stroller, wherever I put it I did so on autopilot. Making my way into the restaurant, I balanced my friend’s birthday gift along the stroller handle and tipped the stroller up onto the curb. I hadn’t had enough foresight to look for the ramp on the other side of the entrance. Continue reading

Writing Butterflies and Brokenness {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 11}

I combed through gritty words and searched for my own like a beachcomber after high tide. I pictured this particular shell opening up to look like a butterfly with wings spread. I imagined the swish of the surf, like young love, and then straight away came the weight of the cargo ships in bay. If I was going to write authentically in response to this part of Gift from the Sea for my summer book club, I had to write about the days of swollen eyes and headaches and doubt.

I would have rather taken the whole experience, tied a rock around it and thrown it out to sea, but something told me I had to write it down. I had to write my brokenness. Maybe sharing about a confusing and embarrassingly immature time in my life could help some other young woman choose true love over fear, just as a mentor’s wise words had helped me.

We don’t want to hide behind the happy highlight reel or go around looking like a 50s sitcom star vacuuming in a dress and pearls, but neither do we want to be the girl without a filter, spewing teenage angst on our readers.

Before I went to Influence, I weighed in with other attendees on Nish Weiseth’s final preparations for her talk “Blogging Dangerously,” asking how we can decide what’s appropriate, how we can discern the difference between just trying to be edgy to get attention and writing something hard or thought-provoking that could really make a difference.

Sometimes, in order to speak authentically on an issue or experience, and to let people know they’re not alone, we have to write outside the lines and share stories of our own failure or brokenness. But even when we write dangerously, we need to do so with some sense of caution.

Nish wisely encouraged us to begin with praying about our idea, asking our Counselor for wisdom. Why share this particular story? Is the risk of conflict or misunderstanding worth it? Next, we ask permission from others who may be affected by the story. How do your people feel about it? The trust and security in our closest relationships should always come before any supposed benefit for our wider circle of readers.

It took me a whole day to edit “The Butterfly Effect”. I shared it with my husband and had him redline anything that made him uncomfortable. I shared it with my mom who had prayed me through the drama to begin with. She did some more redlining. They became the filter I needed when emotion had clouded mine.

Finally, when I had permission to publish the piece, I wondered if readers would make false assumptions about the validity of my relationship or make judgments about my emotional stability. Yet, I felt the risk was worth the possibility of reminding people like me that strong love is based on trust and that while the butterfly sensations of different phases are not illusion, neither are they are a fit foundation for relationship.

That day after I’d put my story out into blog world, I followed a random string of links and comments and more links that led me to three other blog posts covering similar issues. I felt a camaraderie in my writing when I had just hours ago felt odd and alone. Here was a little group of us synchronized by the Spirit to put this truth into the blogosphere that particular day…to challenge those who mistakenly believe that romantic feeling is the substance of relationship, when it is really just an accessory like a seashell on a shelf.

{How do you decide what sensitive topics and personal struggles are publishable? What stories of others’ weakness, failure or brokenness have ministered to you? What stories have you shared from your own life and what has been the result?}

This is Day 11 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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The Butterfly Effect {Gift from the Sea 4: Double-Sunrise}

Sometimes I want to forget that summer. I want to forget the tangled strands of brunette and the stomach that knotted as the ferry lurched into the Tangier port, the place where bold turquoise cranes hid earth-toned buildings that stair-stepped the hill, where hefty ships hauled towers of metal cargo.

I want to forget the tears that dried before they could trickle into my mint tea in the market town that burned like an oven. I want to forget how I shushed him and called him simple when he tried to cool me down, talk me out of my fear.

I want to forget the girls at the Algeciras port and all their talk of butterflies in the stomach that told them for sure they were in love with their men. It wasn’t that I’d never had the fluttery feeling. I had felt it when a friend introduced Craig and me in the low light of the bowling alley six years earlier. When he walked in to meet my parents wearing a Vandy T-shirt and right away had my mom convinced that he was the one for me. When he whispered the carved words in the echoing chamber of the Lincoln Memorial.

When we sat on the steps of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at the circle, counting every American flag in view before I left for my year abroad in China. When he sent the “Esc with me” card during my stay in Thailand. When we spent Memorial Day at the park hiking and talking about family and future and stretching the day into evening listening to music on the floor of my room.

When he read Jim Elliot’s journals and talked the entire dinner about them right before my first trip to Spain. When he showed up in his dad’s brand new Corvette and drove me on dirt roads under the lemon-wedge moon squeezing out the last bit of summer. When he took me on the Ferris Wheel in the sweet corn capital of the world, and when he kissed me after. So many times, I had felt the butterflies.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh opened the two halves of the double-sunrise shell and described it this way, recalling the flitting innocence of fresh love: “Each side, like the wing of a butterfly, is marked with the same pattern; translucent white, except for three rosy rays that fan out from the golden hinge binding the two together…. For the first part of every relationship is pure…. It is pure, simple and unencumbered….a self-enclosed world.” I had felt the butterflies all those times before, and now I wanted them caged, with me always as proof of enduring love.

Three months from our wedding date, instead of the tickly, light and airy sensation in the stomach, I felt all the weight of those cargo ships at the port. I wanted to keep “the artist’s vision” without ever having to “discipline it into form.” I wanted “the flower of love before it has ripened to the firm but heavy fruit of responsibility.”

Soon, I found myself walking down the sidewalk with our team leader, Fouad. Tears kept flowing and I was on the verge of hyperventilating. I was embarrassed that my emotions had gushed out and created all this turbulence. He had known me seven years by then, even longer than Craig, and had seen me through my college years and several continents’ worth of ministry. And now, he was helping guide me through these uncharted waters.

As we walked and talked about my relationship with Craig, Fouad led me to one vital question. “Who do you trust?” he asked. Not “Who makes your veins go fiery?” or “Who makes you weak in the knees?” though Craig had indeed caused those symptoms in me before. I tilted my head. No hesitation. I trusted Craig. I brushed the tears from my face.

Craig’s name means “rock,” and it fits him well. There had never been a time in all my years of knowing him that I had been unsure of his feelings for me, or his intentions for us. He stood unshakeable and I liked that. I needed that.

Fouad and I continued to talk. He asked more questions. What does the Lord say? What does wise counsel say? All of it added up. Our leader was righting this wayward vessel. I had been expecting the impossible, believing the fable that love was equal to a continuous tingly sensation.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in all of her relationship experience (and failure), recognized that “…there is no holding of a relationship to a single form. This is not tragedy but part of the ever-recurrent miracle of life and growth…. Beautiful, fragile, fleeting, the sunrise shell; but not, for all that, illusory.”

The butterfly sensations of our young love were no illusion, but they were not a fit foundation for relationship either. While I already loved and trusted Craig, the heavy work of getting through my insecurities that summer only made me trust him all the more.

So often in these eight years of marriage, we’ve been able “to find the miracle of the sunrise repeated,” in witnessing God’s miraculous intervention in hopeless circumstance, in perfectly-timed shooting stars, in the raw emotion of natural childbirth, in catching each other’s eye in the teamwork of raising little ones, and as we follow our creative call in making music and working with words together.

And while the fluttery feelings are no prerequisite for enduring love, they are not absent either. In this changing, growing relationship, we can take time to renew the youth of our marriage “like a dip in the sea” and welcome the butterflies when they come.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 4, “Double-Sunrise” 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.

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.}