The Fascination and Fear of Waves

Of all the elements of nature, water is my favorite. Maybe it’s because my name is Cherokee for “falling water” or maybe it’s just coincidence, but I’ve always been drawn to water. Rain, Creeks. Pools. Lakes. Oceans.  Even now, as I write this post, the sky roars with thunder and raindrops rush to the ground, calming my thoughts.

I was two or three years old the first time I went to the beach. My parents were chaperoning a singles retreat and brought me along. There are few things I remember about that trip—mostly just that I fed a flock of greedy seagulls the French fries from my Happy Meal and soaked up the attention and adoration of the group of twenty-somethings poolside. I don’t remember seeing the ocean for the first time or sticking my toes in the surf.

While I don’t remember that initial trip well, I can recall my second trip to the beach.
I was eleven. It was September—still balmy enough in South Carolina to enjoy being on the beach and in the water, but not oppressively hot like July and August. This was the trip during which I fell in love with the ocean. It’s vastness and mystery issued an invitation and claimed my heart. Since that trip, the beach has continuously beckoned me back, its pull a little stronger each time the gritty sand slides between my toes, the sticky salt air tickles my nose, the steady heartbeat of the waves echoes in my ears. When I’m standing on the edge of the ocean, a sense of calm washes over me. It’s a security blanket for my soul.

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As deeply as the ocean drew me in, it also terrified me. The sheer force of it repeatedly crashing against the shore. The unending vastness.

One day that week, my father and I were wading out into the waves. I was knee-deep in the surf and happy to be there. I didn’t trust the unpredictability of the waves I hadn’t yet learned to read. And I wasn’t all that trustful that my dad wouldn’t let me go under either. Eventually though, and with much apprehension, I managed to brave the looming waves and wade into waist deep water.

~*~
Keeping my eyes locked on the horizon line and the larger waves forming a little farther out, I was poised to run for the shore at the sight of any threat of going under. My dad was a few feet away in slightly deeper water when I felt it brush my leg. Panic rose in my chest as I glanced down at the creature circling my legs, its distinctive dorsal fin just inches below the water’s surface. It swam away just as my brain registered “run!” And run I did. I fought those waves, my feet sliding against the shifting sand beneath my feet as I moved as fast as I could toward the shore.

~*~

It was just a baby shark…maybe three feet long. But it was big enough to make me afraid of deeper waters. That was the last time I waded farther than thigh-deep in the ocean for more than a decade.

~*~

Earlier this year, during Spring Break, I found myself standing in the waves again, eyes locked on the horizon line. It was the end of March and the water was still quite chilled. A restlessness stirred in my soul, my heart felt like it was breaking into a thousand pieces, and salty tears glistened in the eyes hidden beneath my sunglasses. As I stood on the Carolina coast, two dear friends in two opposite directions were walking through very hard days. My heart ached to be with both of them, my mind hyper aware of the distance that separated us. And my own family had recently been slammed with a grim diagnosis. I was numb and carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders at the same time.

~*~

The waves gathered strength and crested all around me, beating themselves against my legs and stomach. My feet shifted in the sand, my muscles aching as they braced against the ocean’s continuous attempts to shove me under the water. Drowned out by the roar of the waves, I sang the same two lines over and over and over: “So I will call upon Your name/ And keep my eyes above the waves.” Over and over and over. I stood there until my legs, chilled to the bone, began to give way. I turned and stumbled back to the shore, where I continued staring at the horizon line.

~*~

For weeks, I’ve sat in drought-ridden northern Texas and thought of the ocean. I’ve written and re-written a dozen metaphors to parallel this particular incongruity.

And for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—I’m allowing myself to both feel and display the depth of my emotions. I’ve spent decades suppressing them, stuffing them down, terrified of what I might find if I wade out a little deeper—what startling creatures are lurking in the depths of my soul? Do I trust my Father enough to allow Him to lead me out farther—where the waves are less predictable and seem more likely to drown me? What will people think if I let these pockets of pain and weakness bob up to the surface? Can I keep my eyes fixed on the horizon of truth and not be thrown into a panic when something unexpected or unpleasant brushes up against me? Am I strong enough to withstand the repeated battering of the waves?

Fighting the waves is exhausting. When you’ve stood in the waves for a while and head back to shore, your legs feel shaky and your body feels heavier. No longer buoyed by the waves, exhaustion rushes in. Fighting emotion and vulnerability and honesty is also exhausting. But so is walking through it.

~*~

Raindrops fall softly on the parched grass. The sky is gray and dotted with heavy clouds. Sitting on the porch, feet propped on the table, my eyes are fixed on the horizon line. There are no ocean waves here, but the internal waves build and crest, battering my heart and mind. Some days my legs give way and I feel as though I am drowning, swept under by the weight of the water. I am exhausted. But tonight, I choose to let them carry me. Tomorrow is another day.

This Is The Sign For Drowning

DSC_1313The roar of it fills her ears, drowning out her thoughts. Over and over and over.

Before her, a calmer path opens as the crest languidly rolls toward her, promising reprieve.

A break. Infrequent and welcome.

It glides passed her, unassuming.

Another swells in the distance.

It obscures the horizon line and draws strength from its belly.

The spray stings her eyes, springing from the surface with innocent exuberance. It crashes against her thighs, threatening to knock her down.

She fights to maintain shaky balance against the force of it.

Determined, it returns again and again and again.

The next builds, rising faster and stronger than the last.

Teetering backwards, her feet grasp for solid ground. Her muscles tense, braced for the impact. It’s too strong.

Gritty sand digs into her kneecaps.

The water rushes over her head. The roar is muffled, still filling her ears.

Her eyes burn and her lungs scream for the surface.

Arms and legs flail.

Her fingers find themselves instinctively.

Fingertips to palm, pulling downward, swirling.

This is the sign for drowning.

When The Gift Isn’t Pretty

My younger brother (I’m not telling you which one) is known for his lack of gift-wrapping skills. His gift-picking skills are pretty on point, but once he needs to pretty it up, all systems fail. Spotting his gifts on Christmas morning almost always means looking for lumpy packages with too much wrapping paper and duct tape. Yes, duct tape. Lots of duct tape. Then there’s my sister, who painstakingly selects matching paper, ribbons, and tags for her gifts. The resulting package is often almost too pretty to open. In both cases, the presentation isn’t always pleasing to the eye, but the heart behind each gesture is genuine.

~*~

This is a post I don’t want to write.

It’s a post I haven’t wanted to write for almost a week.

This post is hard.

It’s a post that has to be written.

This post is about the not-so-bright-side of moving a million miles away from home. (Okay, a thousand. But really, is there much difference? I don’t think so.)

For the last six months (has it really only been six months?), I’ve encouraged both myself and others to “own their brave.” Heck, I even coined a hashtag to accompany this mantra: #OwnYourBrave. And my friend Kelli wrote a post about me and my “life plan” of owning my brave. At the beginning of the year, it sounded good and inspiring. Six months later, that phrase has slapped me around, come back to bite me, and mocked me more than I care to admit.

(I’ve had the beginnings of a blog post about this phrase drafted since mid-January, but I’ve been too chicken to finish and publish it. Soon.)

Own Your Brave.

That’s what I’m doing today.

Showing up to do something hard and uncomfortable when I’d really just rather not.

Here goes.

~*~

I’ve been in Texas for nearly a month. I find that hard to believe in a lot of ways.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve actually made it a month without a full-on panic attack and a one-way ticket back to South Carolina. In a lot of ways, I’ve surprised myself—in getting here; in staying here.

I could sit here and tell you that it’s been totally easy—that I’ve had no moments of doubt.

I could pretend—or at least hide—the parts of this journey that are more vulnerable and uncomfortable.

But I won’t.

~*~

For the first two weeks I was here, time seemed to pass fluidly. Because I’m so routine-oriented, the sudden lack of routine was disconcerting. For the most part though, I was still riding pretty high on the adrenaline of the move, the excitement of seeing friends, and the prospect of “adventure.”

I’m not exactly sure when it shifted, but I’ve wrestled through more than a few days of intense homesickness over the last week and a half. I miss a lot of things. I miss my sister. I miss my mama. I miss my brothers. I miss “adopted” brother, sister, and nieces. I miss my co-worker friends and I miss my workplace. I miss my routine. I miss my familiar.

And because I always want to protect my people from hurt and harm, I have avoided saying these things like the plague. I don’t want people back home to think I’m having the time of my life just because I moved to Texas. And I don’t want people here to think I hate Texas because I miss my people at home. (Please note that NO ONE has imposed these feelings on me. It’s just what my brain does to me.)

Transition and all its emotions is just messy. I don’t do messy feelings well. They make me shudder and cringe and I will do almost anything to avoid them. But if there’s ANYTHING I’ve learned over the last six months, it is this: the messy feelings don’t just go away; they linger until you acknowledge them. And if you just try to stuff them down, they’ll do more damage than good. The only way around uncomfortable emotions is through them.

Part of the reason I’ve avoided writing about this is that I prefer my writing to be tied up in a pretty little bow—a complete package with a polished conclusion.

This kind of post—if it’s truly honest and raw—can’t be tied up. Instead of a pretty box wrapped in shiny paper and topped with a flawless bow, it’s a bit more like the awkward, lumpy packages that look like they’ve undergone drop tests from many-stories-high. That package may not be pretty to look at, but It’s pretty safe to bet that it’s full of good things.  Those things cannot be revealed unless the giver is willing to hand over that hot mess of a present, though. And the recipient has to be willing to rip through the layers of covering to get to the heart of the gift.

Sometimes before you can do that, you have to just sit with the whole package and ponder it. Then, maybe, you can open it.

For now, I’m sitting with the package of missing the familiar and wondering when the present will become the familiar.