Saturday, March 8, 2014

And Run

I stood beside the gray-green edge of Old Tampa Bay.

The waves lapped quietly, almost respectfully, against the soles of my favorite pair of Converse Chuck Taylors. My white cloak floated gently on the cool March breeze. I took in the scene with the default delegated eyes for my heart: a camera lens. The steady click, click of the snapping shutter served as a metronome for the rhythm of my thoughts.

I hadn’t caught even the ocean’s reflection in nearly five years, since I encountered the Pacific for the first time during an unforgettable trip to California. I wrote a blog post about that experience that, in many ways, captured an era of my life, my thought patterns, and my faith. As I looked out over the bay a few days ago, I was sharply aware of the contrasts.

At 18 and scared I tackled the waves head on, fighting them, raging, drinking their salt tears-- to end by dancing with them. In present day, I told myself that had the weather been warmer and circumstances different, I may have tried something similar. But the reality is that my lifestyle now automatically shaped circumstances to make that a very unlikely eventuality. I realized with a sense of wry self-awareness that not only was I not bothering to enter the waves anymore-- I don’t even own a bathing suit. I threw the last one I owned away years ago now.

I don’t want to paint an idyllic portrait of the naive bravery of youth, because honestly my friends, my adolescence was nothing like that. It was a series of shadows and near misses and I am fully serious when I admit that I barely made it out alive. But in the early days of my faith, I hadn’t yet grown to understand the potential both for beauty and pain locked inside the beating, breathing human chest. Even as I took on my own demons and those I saw in others, I had no idea of how far I could potentially fall-- or climb.

A few years back I hit a wall of deep doubt, a kind of crisis point in which everything I thought I believed was stripped away. I wrote as an 18 year old kid of God as the rock solid ground beneath the breaking waves, a foundation that wouldn’t just fall away. But there was a season of my life when I felt like that was exactly what happened-- the earth fell out from under my feet.

Ever since my venture to Colorado post-college graduation, the story has been one of slowly seeing harmonies added back to the song of my heart. Restoration is the word one of my dearest friends spoke over it from the first, and it may be the most true word. What was restored is not exactly what was there before though. It’s a faith more vulnerable, less sure of details but more real, a heart more trembling, more humble, a love less like a golden idol and more like holding a hand in the dark.

But part of the fallout is that I fear facing tumult like I have never feared it before. I fear risk, I fear being swept high, I fear falling. So I wrap myself in the defense mechanism of "alright." I walk on the shoreline of my life, watching without engaging, remembering the days when I dove in headfirst and chasing the mementos from bygone moments (the songs, the tastes, the places) with the hope that I can still catch an echo of what it was to feel so strongly.

After getting married and moving into our first apartment, I thought for a long time that I hated domesticity and the kind of adult stereotype the settled season would bring. I also told myself it was what I had to be good at now since it was all I’d ever get to do again, and I quickly found it having a peculiar numbing effect on my heart.

I’ve realized now it was never domesticity or adulthood I hated. It was living in a place where I had reduced my identity to checklist form. It was this terrible coping mechanism I’d created: for fear of facing all the things that matter so much, I’d submerged myself in a state of being where nothing mattered at all.

I stood on that shoreline with a lot of thoughts prickling underneath my skin. I have some new possibilities on the horizon for this year that are both exciting and terrifying, and I’m not entirely sure how to hold fast and navigate through it all yet. But as I remembered who I was and considered who I am, one thing I knew for sure: I don’t want to stand confined to my self-inflicted shorelines anymore.

My husband and I piled our cloaks, my camera, and our shoes on a bench. We walked down to the water. And somehow, for no reason at all, I ran.

I ran partway into the waves and then ran with them, bare feet against syrupy sand, saltwater soaking me to my waist. The wind carried its sharp taste across my tongue when I opened my mouth to laugh, tugged at my arms, filled my pulsing lungs. My husband had caught up to me, was running with me along the water as waves broke across my knees.

I still believe all the things I wrote in that post so long ago. As I learned then, you can’t always face these things with brute force, viewing the waves of this life as simply something to be conquered by the right formula, to be owned by your superior life skills. Even doubt itself can’t be conquered that way. But if the person I was five years ago needed to learn to dance, the place my faith is in now lends wings to my ankles and whispers run.

I don’t really know what life’s going to look like in six months. I can’t calculate all the variables, the risk, before engaging it-- and I’m done trying. It doesn’t really matter anymore if I have the appropriate attire for the water or not. Maybe it never mattered to begin with. I’m going to face these oceans knowing that God is not just known as the earth, but also the wind-- the keen, intangible taste of Otherness that pulls at me, leaves me aching for the other side. And I’m going to brush off these scars from all the times I’ve fallen before and run.

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