Bottle This Life

I have been around the world, seen the beauty of cultures and places I’ve never imagined I’d step through their soil. But there is nowhere that I love more than the home water of Lake Michigan seen from different places up the shoreline.

The billow of smoke swelling into clouds from the power company across the pier. Curve of cross atop the arch of steeple jutting into break of blue sky from the overcast Monday. Dance of white caps disappearing beneath swirl of cobalt and cerulean.

My dad sits across from me in our favorite harbor cafe in a wicker chair with a view of the water. Glass of Diet Coke fizzes in the buoy of ice cubes. He shares more of himself with me than he has in years, honesty flashing behind his humor, glimpse of his inner-wiring seldom shown.

I want to bottle this moment, this life.

Heading back to work for an appointment, he brushes my cheek with a kiss and thanks me for being his daughter. I switch to his seat so I can have the view of the harbor. He waves outside the window, walks across the street with his blue jacket straining in the wind. His life is nowhere near where he thought it would be, but still he steps on, courageous. Isn’t that the truth for all of us?

A cup of three quarters drunk cocoa stands open on the table, lid face up with remnants of whipped cream, milk, and chocolate. I sip through the cooled liquid.

Here comes a boat speeding from the open water, waves of white spray spread behind like the train of a wedding gown. I miss the rhythm of the lake, cadence of community. Familiar warmth of nipping cold that bites early spring.

I am fully myself here and I don’t even have to think about it. I just breathe. I just am.

Dad snaps a picture of me on his phone through the glass. I am sitting in his chair, cup outstretched in greeting, grin etched on my lips, while behind him is a layer of parked cars and a sliver of blue from the breakwater. He eyes his phone and smiles at the image, and I keep smiling, watching him capture this blink of time.

How Much The World Changed

**Rain falls soft, mist-like, over the moon, shrouding the deep navy sky. I sit on Eric’s couch, Cider Lane candle lit to fill the apartment with the light scent of caramel, crunched leaves, and harvest moonlight. He is in his office doing work, and I am in the living room working on a freelance blog post. It is enough to be under the same roof together. This begins to feel incredibly good, routines with him. Sunday nights at home. The subtle warmth of falling in love. I allow myself to imagine what it could be like, if this turns into an everyday occurrence.

                How much my world changed in such a short amount of time.**

**I knew, back in that September, that I wanted this everyday occurrence with you for the rest of my life. I wanted that more than anything I’ve ever wanted. You were gently teaching me the boundless outpouring of love, what it meant to give of myself for the sake of another.

Eight months later, I walked to you over the water and we stood face-to-face, promising to give ourselves to each other, in all the struggle and softness this world would offer. This past year has been full of adjustments, surprises, and growing pains that have stretched us both into new people, fused as one. My eyes are open to the world with you, and I find myself pausing in the middle of a moment, grateful to God at the great gift I have been given in loving you.

Thank you for being my husband for one year. It’s a chasm that keeps growing, the years of our love. Here’s to the ones to come that draw us deeper, tighter together. You’re my favorite.

 

Align My Hope

Birds are chirping out my window, somewhere in the split-wide blue sky.

Spring is coming. The light lingers, air holds hope of warmth in weeks to come.

I have learned to wait through the winter, watching for signs of more welcoming weather.

I have learned patience, and also how impatient I really am.

Life should be enough. Breath, beautiful enough.

I have learned to be content. But is it wrong to want more?

Life in full; overflowing, rich in experience.

Is it wrong to want?

He has promised life in abundance; what was given through a life lived true and perfect.

Is it wrong to hold out my hands and ask for more?

Wrong for my soul to speak and ask for revival?

Peace. All I want is peace to know there is goodness within my grasp.

People are strolling the street, ducking in and out of shops, stopping for homemade bread and chocolate.

This town has its charm, albeit reminiscent of the dark mystery of Stepford Wives.

Lord, I want to break free.

Come alive, dig deep beneath surface and find a way to align my hope with what’s in the world.

Piece together my passion, explore what makes me curious. Connect the dots.

Lord, I want to be obedient.

Follow where I am needed, walk the way woven together for me.

Spring is coming. But where are the buds that should shoot forth from my heart?

Is it wrong to ask for more? For my heart to come alive?

Come alive, heart. Please God, find a way.

Recoil

Why do I recoil against life here?

Why am I refusing to let go of my life plans and expectations? Why am I clinging so tightly? Why can I not just open to what is here and embrace what God may have for me? Why am I having such a problem releasing things to God? I stiff-arm.

It feels like my glass box of expectations has been taken out of my hands and cast to the ground and shattered. And I don’t know what to do with it.

Let it go.

Let go.

 

But what’s the point in having plans and hopes and expectations if they don’t come to pass? I feel if I let go of my expectations for my life, then I will be settling for a second-tier life, and I don’t want to settle.

 

“Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”   -Matthew 10:39

 

Why even have hopes and plans in the first place if I have to let them go? And what kind of life will I get in return?

Right now, I have more questions than acceptance.

 

I will not doubt, though all my ships
at sea
come drifting home with broken
masts and sails;
I will believe the Hand that never fails,
From seeming evil works to good for me.
And though I weep because
those sails are tattered,
still will I cry, while my best hopes
lie shattered:
“I trust in Thee.”

-Streams in the Desert

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

Stand Wherever I Am

Tired after just day three back to work and counseling this morning. I’m feeling the effects of the week, up again in the night, thinking and heaving through fears and emotions. But I had a good talk with one of the baristas this afternoon at the cafe, talk of hope and hurt and the will to keep going. This is a reminder to hold fast.

Good. You are good, Papa. In my tiredness, in my fears and suppressed emotions, in my doubts. And You allow rest for restoration.

I’ve been off pace. Show me the right cadence, I briefly pray. And soon enough, I find my response in the vein-like pages of a poetry book I’ve picked up and am combing through.

Sometimes I need
  only to stand
    wherever I am
          to be blessed,

-Mary Oliver, “It Was Early”

 

Poetry is a textbook God uses to teach me beauty and reverence. This alone could be my prayer that reminds me to see and worship where I am, see the small, see the beauty, see the good.

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

Elements of Silence

Today’s the kind of day where the damp goes straight to your bones.

Where the wind laughs wildly and slaps the waves of Lake Michigan and makes them jump ten feet in the air.

Where rain and snow merge amidst the clouds and storm to earth as slick and sharp sleet. Like your skin’s stitched with daggers.

The boards of this house creak and rock like a ship sloshing through the mass of water. Cold filters through the windows as if there are no panes at all.

I keep the lights off and let the muted gray move its way through the halls; pace the room and collect the silence, save the howl.

Howl.

Is that what this noise in me is doing?

Looking for you in all the wrong places and lashes out in frustration when you’re nowhere to be found? When the truth slips my feet from under me and turns me upside down?

Wind rolls sideways, upturning the tree branches. The sky is turning slate quicker than I would have thought. Can I light a candle not in remembrance, but to forget?

Let the elements roll in. Limbs become submerged in ice and face turns to the tide. At breakwater’s edge atop this hill that holds these howls for what has been, I drink the mist into my eyes, translucent fuse of fog and dusk, become a myth, the silence.

We Said We’d Never Speak of It

We said we’d never speak of it.

How we’d never let our hearts out of their cages. How you couldn’t look at me, half smile upon your lips, and let me lose myself in your eyes.

How I’d never greet you at your door in the middle of a moonless night because I couldn’t bear to be so bold and ask to bathe in your light.

We said we’d always keep it tucked away in some airtight space, nestled between memory and dreams. I promised you that I would be a brave girl, that when someone asked, no matter how recent or distant, that I would pinch my tears and remember in a detached sort of way.

“Cage the heart,” you said. Because a caged bird couldn’t be shot down. Because it could not soar it could not plummet. And being one who listens, I wrapped us tightly in the creases of my mind so we couldn’t see the sun and yearn to fly.

 

 

 

The Sunrise of My Sleeping Heart

My heart hovered over the abyss, gray swirled shadows swathed without form. It longed for light, for love. It waited over time, over hope, over time and again of disappointment and no arrival. Like before creation, my heart hovered over unformed waters, waiting.

Then, a spark of light, a warmth of welcome rising from the depths. One pierce of orange, dusted yellow, dance of blue creasing the edge of the horizon. Your eyes, clear and gentle, alive with love and assurance of a safe place. My heart began to recognize yours, and they began to fit together, align themselves in the sky of an unknown future becoming visible.

You, the sunrise of my sleeping heart, awakening me to dream, to believe in hope, and accept the terrifying and wonderful gift of love. God knit our hearts, helped mend what was broken, and brought glorious color to the skyline of a new life that dawned when you dropped to one knee asked to be mine. //

**

The Story:

February 7, 2020 was full of snow and blue skies. I was already on Washington Island for a solitary writing retreat, and Eric caught the 9:30 AM ferry to join me for the weekend. Around four in the afternoon, we needed to get out for fresh air. Winter on the island doesn’t afford as many opportunities to explore outside for long stretches of time, and we contemplated the options.

It was Eric who spoke up first. “Want to go to the observation tower?” We had climbed the tower back in October, and he had carved our initials into the wood. This was a special place for us, and he wanted to do a bit more clean up work on the initials, so we took the dipping roads to Mountain Road. It looked a little different in February than October, as it took two tries to get the car through the unplowed snow, and then there was the trek up the steep staircase layered with snow and ice. Both of us were on a mission to see this idea through, and the view at the top was worth it, with a span of the island, sun dipped below the trees in the west, and reflective light illuminating the lake.

Eric seemed a bit disappointed that the sun wasn’t over the water, but I reminded him that I had told him the tower faced northeast, not west.

He contemplated it for a while before asking, “Would you like to come back tomorrow morning and catch the sunrise up here?”

I laughed. Get up early in the morning, come back out in the cold, and all before I had my coffee? I declined with an emphatic, “NO.”

He considered the answer with a shrug of his shoulders. “Alright. In that case…”

I turned to see him bend to one knee, look up, and as the sun continued to descend down the trees, I rested my hands on his shoulders, ready for what I’ve been waiting for for nearly thirty-five years. He had one more question. “Sarah Rennicke, will you marry me?”

This one I quickly said yes to, and I wrapped him in a hug. The wind whipped cold around our faces, but the air felt invigorating, with the leading light of pastel colors in the sky, bright moon already making its appearance in the evening, and my favorite person with me in my favorite place, asking me to live life with him for the rest of our days.

 

**Happy one-year anniversary of our engagement, Eric. You have brought such light to my once shadowed heart.

 

**

Continuing my attempt at the Five Minute Friday weekly writing challenge. Five minutes to write on the assigned topic. Raw and unedited. (Yikes!) This week’s topic: Sunrise.   // symbolizes where five minutes started and/or stopped.

Counted Sacred

The colors are pressed so bright I am awash in light, serenity of earth changing its garments. Soft leaves swaying to the ground. I am in my peace place, an island at the end of the earth, it seems, where I am allowed to catch my breath, slow my pace, fill my heart with quiet, with love, with God’s presence so palpable I feel His arms around me.

Each breath is counted sacred, a gift. I am here to breathe in the air, gulp the fresh scents of fall as nourishment for my body, my soul.

Slow. Give up the hurry and linger long and soft in the sway of branches swollen with color, the dance of wind on water.

For the first time in a long while, I allow myself to dream. To paint a picture for days to come, months, even years.

For a girl who could not get herself to hope for anything past the current day, this is another gift, a quiet miracle.

The Boy and I are dreaming now, together, and this is unfamiliar to me. But when we curve around the gravel lane arched with burning reds and yellows in a robin’s egg blue sky, windows cracked and glimpsing the diamonds on Detroit Bay and every water in between, we can’t help noting which lots for sale we could make do on, envision life later.

It’s a beautiful thing, to lean into God and let Him lead through the long way right where I most need to be. Where I never expected to meet my blessings face to face, full on, where they have been standing in the sand, watching, waiting to show me around.

Begin Again

Three more weeks.

I glance at my calendar hanging on the wall on my way to grab my coffee steaming in the kitchen.

Three weeks left in my lake house, in my favorite town.

Yes, God has provided me with my new place, and it is good. But it will be so different.

I can’t believe I am moving again. This will be the third time in 22 months. That’s actually a lot of moving when I think about it. Packing belongings in boxes, taking down paintings and words that make my space feel special, paint on the walls I chose that made me feel safe and calm.

I never thought I would be leaving my lake house so soon. That I would be making my way to a new town again, breaking in a new space.

The memories. So much has happened here in the span of 15 months. Learning to breathe again. Cups of tea with my friend Sarah late at night. Working myself into a frenzy writing freelance until my bleary eyes couldn’t see the screen. Curling up with a quilt and good book to soothe the turmoil within. //

My stroke, right there at my living room table. Coming home to a quiet house on late December and January days for a few hours as I recovered at my parents’, just to get out and keep from going stir crazy.

My heart procedure, two months later. A few minor bouts of anxiety as I reckoned with the aftermath of life turned upside down, magnified in silence, in my aloneness. The deep reconstruction of my soul over an impossibly cold winter and spring. My recovery. God shifting and saving my life.

The hole in my kitchen ceiling for three and a half months, and my landlord finally sending someone to fix it. Opening my door one morning to The Boy who would repair not just my ceiling, but my heart, my joy, my light. Our friendship, then relationship, developing over the months, his constant kindness.

All my walks to the water, wandering out to the lighthouse on a Tuesday morning or Friday evening, just because I could. Hearing bands perform at the restaurant on the lake, people milling about on a summer evening, the softness of a fall weekday when everyone heads back to work and school.

There is so much I am going to miss. Moving on again. Getting used to somewhere else. New seasons I have no say in. Am I not allowed to feel settled in my life? What I wouldn’t give to learn a rhythm I can rest in, find a normal.

My reading room is full of boxes. I should have kept the boxes from last year’s move, but how was I supposed to know?

Always we begin again.

The timeless words of Saint Benedict. A balm for the bumps along the journey.

We are constantly unlayered, always a shift of who we are, who we are becoming. Always, there is good at the end of every tide, the beginning of a beach that leads into a wide berth of land.

I tell myself, treasure what you’re losing, but stay hopeful for what you will gain.

Right now, I am trying to savor every minute, every crow caw, the smooth gleam off the lake. Walking down the hill to the ice cream and chocolate shop. Just walking around downtown, along the harbor. Those sweet, lazy, carefree moments, healing me, watering the soil of my soul, the bloom.

Because I will begin again, grow into the next phase of myself, into the world around me. Because there will be gain. God’s fingerprints are pressed all over the page, ready to turn. Always, what God brings, who God is, is what is good.

 

Continuing my attempt at the Five Minute Friday weekly writing challenge. Five minutes to write on the assigned topic. Raw and unedited. (Yikes!) This week’s topic: Again.   // symbolizes where five minutes started and/or stopped.