Most Uncertain Hours

[Written Monday, July 16, 2018]

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I climbed to the top of “the dune” with my daughter and an assortment of in-laws and friends this evening. Cape Kiwanda, I am told, used to be a lot bigger. It could be that the cape is giving way to erosive forces. But I am convinced that more dramatic forces are at play.

Meet my son, whose frolics in the sand deprived the beach and surrounding land formations of at least 14 tons of sand today.

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My school-age kids studied geology during their respective turns in first grade. They both chose Haystack Rock as their final project, and fortunately, that hunk of rock isn’t made of sand or they might have made it disappear before my son could tell his class all about it. It must be made of sturdier stuff.

They also learned about the geologic rock cycle, which I will attempt to summarize. Basically, the center of the earth houses a hot core that heats up the minerals around it so that they become liquid. This magma finds its way to the surface of the earth via volcanoes on land and in the oceans. The lava cools into igneous rock formations. Then wind, water, and my children break down the material into sediment, which gets deposited in layers like a well-balanced sandwich so that ribbons of color greet you in places like Bryce Canyon, where we spent our family reunion on my dad’s side last week.

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PC Christina Stanley (though I did crop it…)

As the layers pile on, they get compressed into what looks like the rocky version of my kids’ favorite summer potluck side dish that someone else made so I didn’t have to: rainbow Jell-O. Finally, as the earth’s crust shifts in its gradual and sometimes dramatic way, these fluffy layers undergo a metamorphosis through heat and pressure that leave our rainbow Jell-O nearly impenetrable and unrecognizable. Incidentally, this is also how a lot of hospital food is made. The metamorphic rock that is not mined and used to promote love and war alike can, however, be liquefied as it nears the earth’s core, thus beginning the cycle once again.

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As I walk back from the dune and watch the tide going back out with the waves that continue to lap repeatedly at the shore, I think of how this is all just a cycle of breaking down and building up, surging ahead and drawing back. Here my family is, on the precipice of moving forward with our dream (see For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her from March 2017), but it has taken some breaking down to make it happen. Shaking up our daily life, transplanting ourselves, trading the proximity of my family for the proximity of my husband’s, at least temporarily, and all of it surrounded by a lot of uncertainty.

Uncertainty that we can satisfy even a few of the wishes we have: finding land we can build on, land that is not in a tsunami or flood zone, land that is not too steep, land that allows agricultural use, land whose neighbors are respectful of my family, land that is not in a restrictive Home Owner’s Association, land that is not so remote that we lose out on having neighbors (we just provided our buyers with the world’s finest neighbors), or land that would cost so much to get utilities to it that once we get that part done, we might as well explore the joys of the tiny house with four children.

I feel very fortunate to have overheard my aunt retelling the story of the Teeny Tiny Woman to my children and their first- and second-cousins last week when we visited Bryce Canyon, but I am not a teeny tiny woman with a teeny tiny family. I’m more like the giant who wants my toe bone back. Hmm. I think I’ve just come up with a great story to tell my kids the next time they ask where Haystack Rock came from. “Yes kids, that is a giant’s toe. That’s the real reason you aren’t supposed to take these smelly shells home: the giant might come looking for his toe nail clippings.” It can’t possibly be that I tell her to leave their treasures on the beach because old mussel shells smell like a forgotten tuna fish sandwich four days deep in a desert-dwelling mini-van.

[Picking up where I left my writing six days ago…]

I want to say that the uncertainty wrapped around our dream is like the sandstone that gives way to wind and water to reveal the more enduring, compressed layers. We are not simply pursuing a dream; we are revealing it through persistence and continual inquiry.

The more questions we ask, the more questions we seem to generate.  It is no wonder that sand finds its way into every tiny crevice in our beach house and bodies: without placing limitations, the sand of uncertainty takes on the form of whatever spaces we yield to it. Uncertainty knows no bounds, and so we let ourselves bump into our faith and reality as often as we can. That way uncertainty lies ahead, but the light house and the lights along the shore keep us aware of the unyielding truth surrounding us. Between the Lord and our children, we get reminded frequently that we may choose our course, but we don’t get to choose the impact our choices make.

What my family accomplished in depriving the rock cycle of thousands of pounds of sediment, we matched with the gallons of water we used to put that sand into the sewer system. My kids had more showers in a week than they usually have in a month. Water, I would suggest, is the method of inquiry that cleans away debris and sets the underlying form free. It is the questions and soul-searching, the logistical headaches and tedium of minute details, and the deliberations in prayer and pondering that wash away the doubts, the unknowns, and the superfluous concerns that arise while guiding a dream into its living form.

The wind of persistence abates at times and goes into overdrive at others. It is the creative force, the passion for transforming an embryonic future into a vibrant present. But wind can create confusion by burying obstacles in mountains of sand or battering once-obvious landmarks into faded tatters. The persistence of passion and creativity serves a dream well when it yields to patience and waiting as well. Wind can accomplish so much, but sometimes the most welcome thing about it is its absence.

Many moments of my day revolve around my children as I refrain from my creative streams and home management long enough to just be with them in their playtime, in their questions, and in their animated narration of the days’ events so far. It’s amazing how much can happen between bed departure and breakfast arrival. I haven’t even found my brain yet, and they’ve already found enough turbulence to shake a few of my screws loose. By the time I’m helping pour the milk, I see red lights flashing and want to text, “MAY DAY, MAY DAY! We’re going down!” to my husband.

I love the song whose lyrics I raided for this post’s title. My sister, my twin sister, of all people! told me she doesn’t usually click on the hyperlinked text in my blog posts. So this time I am including the words to this American Tune.

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For [we] lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high [up] above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

My husband lies next to me trying to get some rest. In eight hours, he returns to work following a week of vacation and two weeks of a very flexible work schedule wherein he packed and moved our belongings betwixt work calls and online meetings. We both believe we can be forever blessed even if some of the blessings feel like being battered, shattered, and driven to our knees. Our ultimate dream is to be made into what the Lord sees in us, even if that means abandoning the dream we envisioned for ourselves and our family. The fiery furnace of affliction, like the earth’s core, may be preparing us for a more lasting design. So as we work with a master sculptor to reveal and refine his vision of us, we will brush a little sand off of the old American dream we’ve unfurled and look forward to another working day until we know we’re home.

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