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Hope floats. Or so I’ve heard.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the movie; but this morning that title is in my head.
‘So do dead bodies,’ my heart responds. ‘And garbage. Plastic bottles and debris.’
I hate when I wake up in a sea of cynicism.
For me, that’s not the norm; but some mornings, it happens.
I get ready for the day, feeling like any of the thousand directions I could head will just be futile. Moving forward is like having my hands, feet and soul in a tangle of abandoned fishing line. Maybe it’s best to just sit still instead of getting further trapped and tangled; but that feels like laziness, so I sit and struggle to get loose.
In the gray dawn that covers this lavender room where I slept last night, my eye catches one tiny dot of glitter on the side of the white sheet. I smile slightly, knowing I hate how errant glitter from a card can invade a space, spreading like an epidemic; but also knowing that I desperately need to see something shine this morning.
There’s a jaded oppression inside me today regarding the future of my stories – and my life, which feels entangled with them in a way that exasperates me and makes me long to be free.
My loyalty to the story on my hard drive, and the story in my heart and head, continually threatens to drown me.
Hope floats – supposedly.
I had hope for these stories. Every now and then they have glittered in the sun; but this morning they just feel like worthless, shiny invaders to my world. Like glitter from a card that only has a signature, and no words of encouragement – or worse yet, one of those long typed letters – the kind that come in droves every December – ruthlessly stating lists of accomplishments – steady jobs, advanced degrees, new homes, beautiful grandkids… dropping glitter and unhelpful hints that I don’t have my stuff together.
But I’m going off on glitter when I meant this to be about having a hard time with hope.
Oh crud – I’m mixing metaphors. I need to get off the glitter track and go back to what floats on the surface of the water. I see from above, and I suffocate beneath.
As a wanna-be-writer, I’m like a lifeguard pulled under by a flailing swimmer with these stories. If I could let go, I could be saved; but I feel it’s my duty to somehow rescue and preserve all those sentences and paragraphs and unprinted pages gathered against me.
And if I’m honest, I had hope they would somehow save me. Or at least give me a sense of purpose. Perhaps a lifeguard feels that way after sitting in the sun all summer with nothing to do. Aside from a tan, they want purpose.
Skin cancer comes to mind – oh brother, I’m in a bad spot this morning. Maybe I should just shut my computer; but I know I will just be writing these words in my head. I might as well type them out to get unentangled…
Maybe hope does float; but it feels more like an oppressive vessel, preventing me from coming up for air, blocking the surface, under the pretense of being called a life raft – or a very rough draft.
Hope and dead bodies, and discarded bottles – those float.
What about my manuscripts? Even if the pages float, the ink blurs and fades.
I hate feeling like I have to save this story. It’s drowning me. It would be so much easier if I would just let it go and swim away to rest.
Corpses and abandoned plastic, those float. What a depressing image. And here I am among them.
A still small voice whispers.
“So did baby Moses.”
“So did baby Moses.”
Why he came to mind, I can not tell; but I stop desperately treading water for a moment, wishing I could just drown, to consider that sentence.
My mind goes back to the story I’ve been hearing since I was a little girl:
Pharoah wanted to kill all of the baby boys. He commanded them to be tossed into the Nile River. Because Moses was a beautiful child, his mother daubed a basket with tar, set Moses in it, and hid him among the reeds. She put him in a place where he might be found – a strategic spot where mercy might be shown. She took what she treasured most and set him on the surface of the water to be saved by somebody else.
Moses’ mother had hope for his future and didn’t want him drowned by Pharoah with the other children of Israel. She could not accept that fate for her beautiful boy. A “goodly child” – I believe that’s the wording in the old King James.
Dead bodies, and plastic bottles, and the baby Moses. Those float.
Pharoah’s daughter found him, and the sight of that helpless, little boy sparked compassion in her. Moses’ older sister, Miriam, just happened to be waiting and quickly volunteered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. That’s how Moses was restored to his mother; but also raised in Pharoah’s house. That’s how he was saved for the purpose of saving his people.
Sometimes my story seems beautiful to me, and sometimes it just looks like death and debris. Maybe the best thing for me to do would be to daub a little basket, set my manuscript inside, and release it upon the surface of the water, to let someone else decide.
I have to stop clinging to my story, if it’s to be preserved.
Maybe hope does float. Perhaps it could also help me rise.
I tell myself the story again. The one about baby Moses.
Once upon a time, there was a little baby boy who floated in a basket by himself, thanks to his mother’s faith. Then one day, he had the courage and faith to part the Red Sea and lead his people to safety and freedom from slavery.
When he had no place left to go, he had to make a decision to step into what had been the Red Sea just moments before.
His enemies – Pharoah, and the army were in hot pursuit; but when they chased him across the dry land, where there had once been water, the waves came back and the bad guys were drowned.
Moses and the people made it to safety on the other side.
Moses’ story started with a little basket, hid among the reeds, by a woman who knew there was no other way he could be saved. To cling to him, he would have been cast into the Nile.
She had one hope – to have him float on the surface of that river, rather than let him be cast to the bottom.
I know my story isn’t going to have the magnitude of Moses’; but I keep feeling like the Author and Finisher of my faith wants me to daub it and set it on the water. If I keep it for myself alone, the story will surely die along with me. Letting it go means exposing what’s precious to me to all sorts of perils; but it’s really the only way the story will be preserved.
As I write, and especially as I consider publishing my work, my enemy is in hot pursuit, telling me to daub bricks instead of baskets, like the children of Israel, when they cried out to God to deliver them from the oppression of Pharoah.
If you’re writing a story and afraid to expose it to the elements and all your enemies, daub a little basket, then find a safe place to leave it in someone else’s care. Perhaps it will die; but there is always the chance that like Moses’ sister and mother, you might be invited back to assist with raising the story until it is fully weaned and ready to face the world.
As for me, I keep going back to a certain verse from the book of Hebrews:
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;
who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
despising the shame,
and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I reflect on Jesus the Author.
I think about Jesus the Finisher.
I am amazed at how He despised the shame He endured.
And walked on water.
And filled baskets with bread crumbs, multiplied, from a little boy who gave up his lunch.
I go back to the verse that is the hardest for me to hold onto.
“And hope maketh not ashamed;
because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts
by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.“
How I long for the courage to not be ashamed of hope.
I need some glimmer of hope in the midst of this discouragement.
Lying facedown on the bed I slept in last night, my mind went back to a poem I wrote on a day when I was struggling with similar feelings. It was a day that I thought I at least ought to dust; but felt too weak to even move, and wound up just watching dust spin through the air, thanks to the only thing that was moving – the ceiling fan.
I’m terrified of patting myself on the back; but something about the way the words flow like waves as I read them makes me wonder if maybe they are good.
I’m not totally sure; but if they are, I need to recognize that some of my best work is done at my lowest moments. I guess even grave diggers do their best work at the bottom of a hole. I’ll let you decide…
“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, But Both To So Much More”
Today I watched a light show
There was glitter everywhere
Sparkles spinning round the room
As they scattered through the air
What looked like fireworks floating
Perhaps tiny bits of gold
Was something rather worthless
No one ever bought nor sold
For it was but dust, but dust
Tiny cast offs in the air
Yet a beam of glorious light
Is what made me stop and stare
On a bed of languishing
With discouragement to bear
‘Twas then my Savior showed me
A sweet answer to my prayer
For my hands are full of dust
All that’s left of what I’ve done
What I sought so hard to hide
Is now dancing in the sun
A picture of His promise
I’ve heard many times before
For dust is what we’re made of
But He always makes us more
Though dust is so unwanted
Bought by neither you nor I
To Him it is so precious
And the reason that He died
It was a good reminder
Of the offer from His Word
That when we give Him ashes
Then a miracle occurs
I’ll trade you for your ashes
And give beauty you will see
Just give me what you’ve ruined
And I’ll show you My Glory
I wrote that when I was too discouraged to do anything else, and couldn’t even muster the strength to do something as mundane as dusting. I think it was also the first time I willingly shared any of my poems with anybody else. Some friends and family members said it was beautiful; but then it just stayed hidden on my laptop for a couple of years.
When my mom was dying, and I’d begun to post updates on CaringBridge, to keep up with her concerned friends, I finally decided to dust off the poem and share it with them. It seemed appropriate at the time.
My mom is gone now. I started writing publicly because of her pancreatic cancer diagnosis. It caused me to send my words out into the danger of the world and gave me a means for collecting my thoughts and preserving her story; but it also kept me from having time to write the stories I had planned.
And now here I am, in this season of grief, surrounded by thoughts of dead bodies, discarded objects, and baskets of hope.
A friend asked the other day if anyone had a poem to share. I hesitated; but decided to pull out the one on dust I’d written and give it to her.
She read it and said that my words made her picture the dust sparkling. She could see what I saw.
I felt embarrassed; but was glad someone else could.
I guess that’s the goal of any writer.
I’ve been going through my mom’s papers and came across a Snoopy journal she kept of our sayings as kids. Most of the pages are blank. She must not have had much time to write.
I came across this page:
August 16th says, Taking swimming lessons in Crestwood, Jody (2) closes her eyes & sucks her thumb when the instructor talks to her. She has no fear of the water…
Her statement for the day, “You should have seed what I sawed.”
In a lot of ways, I want to go back to the heart of that little girl.
Since my mom spent so much money fixing my teeth and having to deal with my creepy orthodontist, I’ve given up sucking my thumb, and have tried to be less of a mute; but over the years, the fear I didn’t have back then has crept in, invading so many aspects of my life.
I don’t remember what I saw at that particular pool; but knotty pine always reminds me of the ceiling at our local YMCA, and how I could lay indefinitely upon the surface of the water, looking up at the planks above me, content as could be, with my thumb in my mouth, and the taste of chlorine on my tongue, having total faith in the floaties on my arms.
I remember the day the Y burned, and I remember when it was rebuilt. The first time I went back to that pool, probably around middle school or late elementary, the silent thought in my head was, “Oh good – the ceiling over the pool wasn’t destroyed.” That ceiling was my favorite part of the Y. Nobody would have guessed that. I wasn’t one to talk back then.
And now that I’m in writing mode, just because of my determination to type that thought about baby Moses, I’m tempted to re-enter the larger story. To go back to the many laps I made around the brand-new track at the YMCA, trying to strengthen my lungs as a skinny kid in middle school, who thought she was as fat as a monster. Despite having pneumonia, I ran, because I was determined that I wasn’t going to give Katie or anybody else cause to call me “fat” ever again.
It’s so fitting that the last conversation I had with Katie was in front of that YMCA.
We stood outside and said hello. We spoke as friends. Why did my thoughts always make me go back to being a competitor? Self-protective and self-conscious, instead of just a friend.
I didn’t need her to call me fat that day. I called myself that name every day.
Standing in front of her only magnified what my reflection accused me of every time I faced a mirror. I’d come to the Y to outrun those accusations, and run into her when she was going, and I was coming.
I didn’t think about why she was at the Y. I was too busy thinking about how I ought to be there more often, so I could look more like her.
The next time I saw her, she wasn’t standing in front of me. Her parents were, and I was in a long line, with thoughts that wouldn’t end. It no longer mattered that she was thinner to me. The comparison contest we’d both endured since seventh grade had come to a complete halt.
The next day her dad said, “We know where she is.”
It could have been me in that casket. So many times, I consider that. Yet here I am, sitting and typing, including Katie’s story mixed in with mine. I wanted to be thin like Katie, little knowing that she was dying to shrink herself. When her heart stopped beating, it wasn’t the only one that broke.
Allowing myself to sit this morning to type about not wanting to tell these stories has helped me re-enter them and gotten me unmoored from the misery of self-doubt.
I want to share Katie’s story, and my mom’s. The date written in her mostly blank journal is August 16th, the day of her brother Danny’s birth. He’s the reason I started really typing in the first place.
I remember being by his side for his last August 16th. His doctor wanted him to go on hospice that day. I’d wanted him on hospice for a long time before; but it didn’t seem like anybody was seeing what I saw, and it made me ashamed to keep looking.
One month later, I returned to his bedside from a funeral for his aunt and mine, fearing he’d died during the few hours when I’d gone to the cemetery and then for a run. I wanted to be there for him; but I didn’t want to deal with any more death.
The seizures started again that night. His doctor had warned that a glioblastoma brain tumor includes seizures. They were like waves sweeping over us both. Within two days, his breaths made him like a boat, rising above slow moving waves. There was a peaceful beauty about death that I hadn’t expected, hadn’t hoped for; especially after two days of listening to him breathe, thinking it sounded like he was slowly drowning.
Then the last breath came, and no more air was expelled. I could finally exhale.
There was a holy peace about the room.
Then what was in his lungs poured forth and I found myself rushing for paper towels, desperately wanting to wipe up the evidence of ugly humanity off of his beautiful face, while the sound of a car approached on the gravel driveway and the dogs suddenly went crazy.
Writing has seemed like the only remedy for reliving those scenes.
I had no idea how many times I would re-enter the fear that I would have to witness something like that repeated. Two more aunts and my mother have died since. Each time death approaches, I have quietly stashed paper towels somewhere close by, just in case.
I’ve been grateful to be with each person that has crossed to the other side; but so often feel left behind in the midst of floating debris. I’m not sure why my heart is so compelled to gather these accounts; but I think it’s for the purpose of helping others get through their own Red Sea of caregiving and grief.
In the meantime, the simple tasks of things that need to be done pile up.
- My parents’ house needs to be emptied.
- Neglected papers and pictures need to be sorted.
- My cellphone is out of storage, and for some reason, pictures that keep popping up in my memory feed are of my mother’s face, just after her death, when we’d washed and readied her body in preparation for the funeral home to come and take her to the mortuary.
It was a comfort at the time to see peace in her expression after so much labored suffering; but now that image just makes me shudder.
I don’t want to see it on the screen with today’s date and weather. I just haven’t had time to store it on my hard drive, and then hit delete.
It’s something precious that I feel like needs to be hidden away. So why am I telling you?
Such is the life of a story teller.
Less than a week ago I was floating on a pond in front of a house where I first started to see some sort of redemption in this story I want to share. A dear little woman leaned forward in her chair, having invited me into her house for the first time. She surprised me and my breaking heart by saying,”You loved that barn?! I loved that barn, too! I used to play in it when I was a little girl!”
Jean was ninety-four when she announced that, and the connection made her an instant kindred-spirit, at least that’s how Anne Shirley would have described it.
When Danny died, Jean had just died, too. Her pond had its dam ripped out and was drained into a dry, muddy mess. That empty mudhole felt so much like my heart during that season; but it’s also the state I was in when I determined four years ago to sit down and write, even if I was at risk of drowning in my own tears and snot – sorry to be so graphic and gross; but let’s just say, I completely understand what Carrie Underwood is saying when she talks about not being able to cry pretty.
I sit here listening to this song, watching the glitter on my screen, thinking back to floating – to my mom taking us to the pool, and how she didn’t like to get her hair wet when she was swimming laps.
I can still see Danny taking us out in his boat the day the barn sold. People had patted him on the back and said to me, “He won the auction!” but I’d never seen him look so defeated, and couldn’t see how they could say he’d won when the trees and so much of the land from that farm were sold to other people – strangers to me.
Besides, the most important part – the barn – was gone. It had been on my heart to write a story good enough to save it, and I had failed.
I remember how many times that pain brought me back to Jean, and how people have told me that she was famous for treading water in her sparkling pond. Jean had a soul that glittered, and when she was gone, and her pond was dry, and Danny was dying, I didn’t have much hope.
In the midst of this discouragement, I have to remember that pond has been repaired and refilled. That truth is like a life raft of hope for these stories. I floated in that pond myself just last week. It was a tangible reminder of hope.
The barn has been rebuilt, even if it isn’t a part of my happily ever after. How ironic that it’s a wedding venue now – my dream dismantled in order to bring people together. Shipped to Colorado, to a state I had come to be afraid of, because of an accident over twenty years ago – coaxing me back into being brave by making me want to go see it. So many things. So many parts of this story – like floating pages surrounding me.
I hurry to snatch them up, lest the print be marred by the water, knowing they are in just as great of danger of being blurred by my tears.
It’s astonishing to me that I’m sitting here, dry eyed, telling my story. I didn’t mean to do that. I just meant to record that thought about Moses and how he was set afloat, so he wouldn’t be drowned. I guess that’s what the determination to sit down and type can do for a writer.
It’s like starting to tread, when you feel like you will drown.
I have to laugh – I was reminded last week that it doesn’t always have to be hard. Maybe it’s a good thing to be fat enough to float when you don’t have the energy to keep paddling.
I’m sure this post is filled with all sorts of typos and things I could fix and tweak; but that’s half my problem – the pursuit of perfection keeps me from setting my handcrafted vessel out and saying bon voyage. I think it would be better to just hit post and send this forth like a helpless little raft of hope, rather than have it drown in my stack of half-finished rough drafts.
Even if this part of my story doesn’t make sense, I hope it will give you some courage to take the time to record yours. Who knows, maybe someday someone will come across it and find some hope and humor and have the encouragement they need to record their own words.
This weekend, I hit publish on my Book Review of The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. I see he has a new course starting in September called, “The 90-Day Memoir”. The anonymity of a book seems so much safer; but perhaps it’s time for me to wade a little deeper into the reeds, like Moses’ mother, and sign myself up. We shall see…
It would cost some money, and for some reason, investing in myself is the scariest thing of all. It keeps me on the banks, instead of stepping out in faith.