Friday, August 12, 2011

Frozen peas and the Atlantic horizon

Last night I found part of a bag of frozen peas, lonely in the freezer.

We’d spent an extra long time out at the beach, and when we got back to the house we were so tired we saved the marinated chicken to grill “tomorrow” (today). Instead, Jon grilled up a bunch of Hebrew National franks I’d intended for a lunch, and we had a weird, cobbled together, vegetable-less dinner. I discovered that plain yogurt mixed with honey and cinnamon is rather delicious.

Of course I felt guilty for the lack of balance in the meal (Shawn ate two franks and two bowls of granola). So when I found the peas, I symbolically hit myself on the forehead and said, “Argh. Here are some frozen peas I should have served with supper!”

The kids wanted to eat them then and there, frozen, from small bowls. We ate them in the living room while relaxing with a little TV.

We are a bit sunburned now. You have to get just a tad sunburned right before you go home, or you would be far too sad to leave. The sunscreen we’ve been using, Coppertone WaterBabies Lotion Spray, SPF 50, has been impressively effective. I’ve figured out a good sunscreen; yay, me.

About six or eight months ago, I had everything figured out. Shannon would go to graduate school at Notre Dame. David would transfer to Wheaton. Shawn would get a job in Chicago. And… Ta Da! We would live within one day’s drive of my parents, and Shawn’s parents, too. In fact, we’d be about exactly in the middle between them.

David did not transfer to Wheaton. He stayed where he was. And instead of choosing Notre Dame, Shannon moved another five hours to the east, the opposite direction. Now if Shawn gets a job opportunity in Chicago, I’m not sure I even want to go.

I get things figured out, and they never come to pass. Like our land. We bought it a couple of years ago, and we keep paying taxes on it, but we never seem to build, or even to come near getting our present house ready to put on the market. I thought we would build a house with a beautiful in-law apartment and have the privilege of spending the late years with my parents after missing family fellowship for the last two decades.

While we were walking on the beach the other morning, I told David, “I get things all figured out, but God never seems to like my plans much.” David told me that we always plan what would be most comfortable for us, and God knows that our comfort is not our greatest good. He has something better for us.

When we get comfortable, we just settle in and don’t notice what is happening to us. It’s like at the beach when you go out to bob in the swells, and you think you are just hanging around in one place, but after about twenty minutes, you look back to see where your chairs and umbrella are, and you realize that you have drifted quite a distance up the shore.

Yesterday Shawn and Laura and I set our chairs in the edge of the water and sat looking out at sea and sky, watching breakers roll. The tide was coming in, and after awhile Lu and I decided that there was a little too much water hitting us. We moved our chairs back, but Shawn wanted to stay where he was.

We sat a distance behind him, and watched him sink lower and lower into the water. I’d have loved to get a photo of him there; it looked like a scene on a poster. All horizontal lines stretched from east to west: the changing, foamy white lines of the breakers, the real horizon where the sea meets the sky, the thin white clouds extending across the blue above, even the horizontal cobalt and aqua lines patterning the fabric of Shawn’s beach chair, which made a small, colorful square in the vast expanse of gray-green sea. And above the top of his chair rose his beautiful neck and the back of his strong head which looks more like the head of a twenty-five year old than that of a forty-seven year old, due to his full crop of brown hair. His beard is white and grizzly, but he was facing away (and he will shave as soon as we get home).

He sat there all stubborn as the water swelled around his legs and then around his waist. While we watched, the lines on his chair became more diagonal than horizontal. The waves began to lift him chair-and-all when they struck, lifting and then dropping him at angles ever more askew. Finally a wave struck that nearly toppled him over in a chair-inclusive backwards summersault, and then he got up and moved his chair back.

Like being at the sea-shore, living life is a matter of anticipation, keeping your eye on a mark and adjusting your path in order to reach it. Settling in is a fiction. You can’t settle in and just stay in one comfortable spot. You can fight this truth, or you can embrace it, but if you ignore it you will come to ruin.

I can plan for a week at the beach with menus and activities, movies, books and even a strategy: go to the beach later in the day so if you forget to reapply sunscreen, by then the power of the sun is waning and you won’t get burned so badly. I can thwart the prophesies of the churlish checker at Walmart and use up the food I bought for the week.

But can I plan and live my life in accordance with the will of God? Or do I have a choice?

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