I’ve always had a thing for water. Whether churning, splashing, or frozen, quiet or raucous, I want to see it, hear it, and (sometimes) be in it. So for me, living in Michigan, where you can’t two miles without running into a body of water in some form or fashion, makes me pretty-much ecstatic.
That being said, I still get the “itch” this time of year for a different type of water “fix”—namely someplace tropical, where I can sit under a palm tree, tropical drink in hand, as an aquamarine sea hypnotizes me with its undulating rhythm. I gaze over the tips of my toasty toes to my husband frolicking in the waves with our three happy urchins begging him to toss them in “just one more time, daddy, pleeeaaze”, thinking “ah, life really is better at the beach!”
Stop! Did I miss something? Press the rewind button!
This summer there were no palm trees, sand between my toes, or alas, wave frolicking. It was a summer that left me feeling high and dry.
Let me explain: For starters, we had just come off of a major basement renovation this spring. So instead of a tropical vacation, I got a new Tuscan-themed lower-level, complete with sliding barn door, adorable little under-the-stairs wine cellar and bubbling wall fountain (because, remember, I love water) to replicate what in my mind was to feel like the courtyard of a Tuscan farmhouse. For months, my brain felt like it would explode from all the cool design ideas I conjured, but eventually there was not one more inch of space in which to squeeze Italian ambiance without it looking like a cheap Italian restaurant, and thus the decorating came to an end.
Furthermore, to add to my idle-brained conundrum, after nineteen years (yes, nineteen years) of working religiously on my fantasy trilogy, the last “t” was crossed and “i” dotted, my “magnum opus” was complete. No more scenes to create when I lie awake in the middle of the night. No more character development to ponder when I’m in the shower. All I had left to focus on this summer was the next step—publishing. It is, after all, what I’ve been working towards all these years, but now that it’s almost here, I find myself walking a tight rope between subdued excitement and sheer terror. While I was writing, it was easy to have hopes and dreams of someday being a successful author, but now “someday” has arrived, and I stand on the brink of discovering where my little fantasy trilogy will take me, and those dreams that have carried me for so long will either turn to dust or take me to heights unknown.
Despite this being the summer of the “in between”, the winding-down of some dreams and the expectant waiting for others, I have had to reach beyond the quagmire of creative idleness to find my joy re-ignited, even if only for a few hours. It happened one hot afternoon in late June, when my friend Sue invited the boys and me to her pool, one of those private swim clubs that have a wait list as long as the Great Wall of China—no chance my family could ever be members until the boys are practically graduated. So, I knew we’d best make the most of our afternoon.
It was there that I found myself staring down a diving board dangling there above the dive well, suddenly appearing a mile long and fifty feet high, and my heart did a belly flop in anticipation of the one I would certainly perform a moment later. Let’s just say it’s been decades since last I attempted such a feat, but I hoped muscle memory would take over and I wouldn’t completely embarrass myself in front of all those other, more respectable moms who sat on their lounge chairs reading their People magazines.
I took a deep breath and traversed the distance to the end of the board, pumping my right knee up, as I had so many years ago, and coming down hard on the board, propelling myself into mid-air. From there, I managed to bend over, touch my shins (touching my toes is out of the question these days), and then stretch out just in time to hit the water in a more-or-less straight fashion. My awkward but successful first dive in years was rewarded with the glorious feeling of weightlessness that comes from being surrounded by a gazillion H2O molecules. All at once, the joy I once found in the simple pleasure of plunging into cool, refreshing water came flooding back.
I climbed out of the pool and looked around, and as no one appeared to be pointing at me and laughing hysterically, I took to the diving board again. And again. And again. Each time getting a little closer to Olympic perpendicular perfection. Or at least not looking like a flying squirrel, arms and legs splayed out, but with not nearly so graceful a landing.
After a while, the lifeguard called over to me. “Did you used to dive?”
Me (sheepishly): “Only for fun—never for competition.”
“You have good form.”
“Thank you,” I replied, taken aback and suddenly feeling quite smug that this 51-year-old body could still kinda do what it did as a teenager. And just where were those thirty-something moms, anyway? Why weren’t they out on the diving board?
Despite my small personal success at my friend’s pool, the remainder of my summer had been fraught with creeping self-doubt, a sense of purposelessness and basic “blah-dom”. Even my faith had gone on a seeming summer hiatus. It’s not like I didn’t know Jesus was there beside me—I just couldn’t feel him with the same joy I’d experienced just months before when I was at the height of my creativity—His creativity in me. Deep down I wondered if the creative phase of my life was over and, if so, what would I do now that would give me that same exhilaration?
And so it was that my family packed our bags and went on a weekend outing toward the end of August, to a Young Life family camp up in northern Michigan, our only “vacation” this summer. After hearing a sermon at church only a week before on wading deeper into the ocean of God’s glory, the theme continued at camp when the speaker announced that she felt God was leading her to talk about water during the weekend inspirational time. Only water to her was something to fear, not something that brought a sense of joy and calm. But as she talked about how God called her into deeper waters, both literal and spiritual, she was assured of His presence, that He was always beside her, keeping her afloat.
As we drove home from our weekend away, I turned to my husband and asked, “So, what was your take-away from the weekend?”
There was a pause. “That it’s fun to spend time with my family.” I waited for more, but it was not forthcoming. My husband is a man who doesn’t waste his words as he only has a certain allotment of them per day. He turned to me and asked, a little hesitantly: “Is there anything you’d like to share?”
Unlike my husband, my word-per-day threshold is slightly higher before I start to experience convulsions. Still, I don’t think either one of us was prepared for the torrent that poured from my mouth. All those weeks of bottled-up fears and insecurities finally gushed. “I’m . . . I’m just dealing with this sense of inadequacy,” I blubbered. “I’m not sure I’m ready to be an author. What if I can’t handle a blog? Without my editor, no less? What if I run out of things to write about? What if no one comes to my book signings? What if I go to speak somewhere and I bore everyone in the audience? What if . . .? What if . . .?” (This went on for a while.)
“And what exactly did you get from the weekend?” Rob asked patiently.
“Well, that I can trust God to help me with whatever’s next,” I explained. But there was something else that bothered me. “But what if my creative days are over? All my major projects done? How else will I use my gifts? What am I if I can’t be creative?”
“Is creativity how you define yourself?”
“What about you?” I answered defensively. “What’s going to happen when you retire and can’t go around fixing a company’s technology problems? When you’re no longer helping to steer an organization into the future?”
“Then I’ll find something else that gives me meaning.”
With those few words, my man of few words said a mouthful— and I realized that I am not defined by what I do but Whose I am—and I can trust that the One who created me is continuing to create me. And everything He does is good.
And so, I stand upon the diving board, peering down at a confusing ocean of blog posts, speaking engagements, book signings, and something called “tweets”—all things that would normally make me want to turn around and climb back down the ladder onto the firm concrete, not willing to risk excessive attention or worse– embarrassment. But that has never stopped me before.
The book writing may be finished, but God will help me write the next chapter of my life, a chapter that may be as exhilarating as plunging headlong into crystal clear water. Because I know that no matter what happens, He won’t let me drown.
So, here goes . . .