I sit in a comfy blue beach chair on ‘our’ island off the coast of South Carolina. The one where we’ve spent family vacations since our children were small. Where baby Grace learned to swim.
It’s a place as thick with memories as the Charleston summer air is thick with sticky humidity.
Innocent childhood times. Crazy college ones. Adventures of every kind: some fortunate; some… not so much. A place of refuge at times of loss or stress. Every year a different experience, set within the frame of comforting familiarity.
It’s one of our favorite feel-good, chill-out places.
Plane tickets had been bought and the house deposit made long before we knew we’d be up against the clock with a house closing. Things are still a mess at home, but we loaded up the cars like the Clampetts and fled to the coast for a time-out. Chaos will just have to wait.
The sun glimmers dimly behind a cloud layer, sneaking out every now and then to wink. There’s a brisk breeze stirring up sand and keeping things cool. In front of me, my grandson dances ecstatically in the waves. You can actually swim in East-Coast oceans!
Loved ones surround me. We are just better together. I don’t worry so much when I can gather up all my chicks. Laughter and chatter fill the empty places.
For the first time in weeks, I feel a sense of peace.
It’s the first time we’ve all been back on the island since Katherine’s AVM rupture.
The first time since everything changed forever.
Slowly, carefully, Katherine made her way through the treacherous sand: cane in one hand, Jay’s arm in the other. Starting to sit down in the rented beach chair, she took a little tumble in the sand. “I’m okay,” she said, as usual.
A huge straw hat on her head, she sat under the umbrella to keep the sun away from her many scars. She watched her son play in the sand and the waves with everyone else.
The joy of being together was marred by my thoughts of the then and now.
Katherine was always the first one to sign up for a field trip. She was game for anything.
“Anybody wanna go on a walk with me?”
“Who wants to go on a bike ride?”
“Shopping in Charleston?”
“Whatev.” (i.e. If I must.)
In between my turns playing in the ocean with James, I watched my daughter just sitting there. I wondered if she felt sad.
“Want me to get you a book?” I asked.
“Mom, you know I still can’t see well enough to read a book. I’m fine.”
But I wasn’t.
After Katherine and most of the group went back up to the house for lunch, I sat there and stewed for a while. “Lord, so much has been taken away from her,” I grieved. “It’s not fair. I still can’t believe You allowed this to happen.”
I picked up the weird little book I’ve been trying to read off-and-on for a while now. The card I was using as a bookmark fell out into my lap. It was a blue pew card with notes from a sermon scribbled all over it… from who knows when.
Glancing at it, I deciphered my hen-scratch handwriting:
“It’s what’s taken away that reveals what we really are.”
A chill… in spite of the humid heat. He still speaks.
I remembered an illustration from the sermon. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Camille Claudel. The aspiring young French sculptor was given a rough piece of marble from the workshop of the legendary Auguste Rodin. The male workers smirked, certain that the young student’s efforts with the marble would be disastrous.
She returned the rough chunk of raw material to Rodin’s studio covered with a cloth. When one of the craftsmen removed the cover, the ugly slab had been transformed into an exquisitely crafted human foot.
“How did she know there was a foot in there?” a bemused janitor asked.
It’s what’s chiseled away that reveals the core.
Musing on these thoughts, I picked up where I’d left off in my strange little book. It was Godric, a work of historical fiction by Frederick Buechner.
Godric is an 11th Century monastic hermit. An unlikely saint.
A scribe has been sent to Godric’s cave by the River Wear to transcribe his life story as an example for generations to come. But Godric’s story reveals far more sinner than saint. His is a rocky, winding path to faith.
Towards the end of his life and his wild tale, the ancient Godric describes how he immerses himself in the River Wear every day, winter or summer:
““Praise, praise!” I croak. Praise God for all we lose, for all the river of the years bears off. Praise Him for stillness in the wake of pain. Praise him for emptiness. And as you race to spill into the sea, praise him yourself, old Wear. Praise him for dying and the peace of death…”
“…She is Mary’s star. Within that little pool of Wear she winks at me. I wink at her. The secret that we share I cannot tell in full. But this much I will tell. What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”
That was all I could digest.
As I replaced the makeshift bookmark, I noticed a scribble on the other side. I’d written, “When we lose one kind of freedom, we must choose another.”
What’s lost is nothing to what’s found.
Is there a better kind of freedom?
Is freedom of the spirit more crucial than physical freedom? “It’s a matter of looking through the prison bars, not at them,” read my sermon notes.
Katherine, Jay, and James left the beach before the rest of us to attend a family reunion on Jay’s side.
As Katherine prepared to leave, I asked her, “Did you really have fun?”
“It was a blast,” she answered.
“I thought it might have made you a little sad with all the things you can’t do now. What’s your secret?” I questioned.
Her reply was spontaneous: “Just loving life and loving people.”
When Katherine was a little girl, she absorbed and believed everything I taught her about my new-found faith.
Now she is teaching me.
When everything else is taken away, what remains?
“…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.”