Keep Taking Field Trips (tiny way #1)

There are no easy answers, just these shells.
Anne Morrow Lindberg Gift From the Sea

I wanted to start the summer with at least one trip to the sea.

I texted my friend Heidi,

Whadya think of a beach day, just the two of us or maybe Lauren too? I don't care if its rainy or sunny. Just friendship, coffee and the shore.

She wrote back,

YES! Me too on all you said.

We chose a day around our work, in the middle of the week, and took off with just those three goals - friendship, the Pacific Ocean and good coffee.

We also had several "did-nots". We did not wait for the perfect day. We did not set a time to be back home and we did not care what the weather forecast had to say.

You might think this kind of trip is a luxury and it is on first thought, but on second thought, it is a necessity for soul keeping.

And our second thoughts are the ones that take us farther, keep us going and help us understand difficult things. I'm not talking about the second thoughts of doubt, but the second thoughts that help us steer. David rights his soul "on second thoughts" throughout the Psalms (See Psalm 73:16-17) as does Jesus when his hour finally comes. (See John 12:27)

Back to field trips. Remember them from school days?

Field trips are a piece of childhood when you got out of the classroom. You got out of your desk chair, broke up your everyday routine and widened your view of the world, but kept learning. (I know, eye roll.) And yes, you had to ride a bumpity bus. But that part you can skip now that you are grown up.

Other than the bus part (and the eye roll), that's what I did and I want you to find a way to do it too.

Take a field trip.

It might be for an hour, an afternoon or a day. It might be in your own backyard, your hometown or just a stone's throw away. I might be a local museum, the mountains or the beach. It might be hard to do, to set aside the time and re-arrange your responsibilities, but don't give up easily. Think about it while I tell you about mine.

Neither of us knew it at the time, but in the days leading up to our getaway, Heidi and I each dusted off our copy of Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg to get our hearts ready for all the ocean had to offer. A little bit of homework makes any field trip richer.

In that big little book, Lindberg speaks of "zerrissenheit", a German word which means "torn-to-pieces-hood". Zerrissenheit is fragmentation. It implies rifts and brokenness. It is being pulled apart from many directions. Lindberg wrote these words fifty years ago, but they are as modern as today.

Woman's life today is tending more and more toward zerrissenheit. She cannot live perpetually in zerrissenheit.
She will be shattered into a thousand pieces.
On the contrary, she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today.

Don't you feel it? The demands of life pull from all directions - from school, family, work, church, friends, even from inside our own hearts. Their various needs demand our immediate attention, often loud, persistent and simultaneous. If we don't find a way to juggle them or push them back for a moment to catch out breath, we may not hold together.

Lindberg suggests,

This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of.
It leads not to unification but to fragmentation.
It does not bring grace:
it destroys the soul.

So what will bring grace? What will fill up our souls?

Done right, field trips can be that breath of simplicity that brings grace and restores the soul. A little time away can give us perspective and bring us back together again from our scatterings.

This day trip to the coast was plain and simple, but then the sea holds mystery and healing all her own. We know we meet the Sea Maker there at the shoreline even while we doubt it.

Heidi and I parked at the far end of the beach and walked the shoreline. We watched the surf, the kites and the kids with buckets digging in the sand. We listened to the surf rise and roll in on itself before crashing and then smoothing out on the sand leaving seaweed tendrils, jelly sails and bits of shell. We gathered driftwood and marveled at the twists and turns, weathered by sand and surf, bleached by the sun.

We bent down to examine jelly sails. I found out later that these purple and blue sailors with a cellophane sail are called "Velella". The little jellies have stinging tendrils hanging down into the water and are pushed ashore by warm currents against their sails, and then stranded. These strandings come in three to six year cycles, seasons of a sort.

Heidi found a single unbroken keyhole limpet to sit in her kitchen window at home.

We meandered to the main road, found a local coffeeshop and shared an acai bowl sprinkled with homemade granola and a cup of good coffee. With windowsills of smooth stacked stones and gathered driftwood as our backdrop, we chatted about celebrating Heidi's mama's eightieth birthday, berry picking, jam making (she's gonna teach me), kayaking and our empty nests full again for the summer.

Our season of life.

Full of details like those in the coffeeshop - stones stacked in a windowsill with a view to bright blue shingles, driftwood on a fireplace mantel, whitewashed brick, unadorned and holding a photograph of Haystack Rock.

Filled up with the warmth of friendship and connecting conversation, off we went. In search of our favorite locally roasted coffee, Sleepy Monk, we poked around in a shop called "Found" looking at driftwood wreaths, buckets filled with shells, vintage postcards and historic photos of the shoreline a century ago.

Like many beach towns, the shops at Cannon Beach keep their own quirky hours. The Sleepy Monk coffee shop we were hunting for was closed on Wednesdays. The paper sign on the door said we could find the whole beans at Found. Back we went and each bought a bag of coffee beans and a few postcards to share with friends back home.

In Sleepy Monk's own words,
"Incredible, indescribable, caffeinated love. Shipped directly to your own morning ritual."

We were here to escape our daily routines, that's true, but only to replenish our hearts and return to our actual lives. The lives we love, the work, families and communities we adore. This was our filling up so we could go home and pour out again.

One of the qualities of a good field trip is bringing home a souvenir. The best ones are usually found like a shell, a stone or a photograph, but this one you can bring home. You can order their beans online at Sleepy Monk Coffee.

(I receive nothing here but the happiness that you have great coffee in your cup.)

We walked back down the beach to our car. The sun rays were bright, the clouds swept like the sand and the wind chapped our lips. Sometimes I think the clouds look like sand ripples mirrored in the sky. I can stand between two shores, one below my feet and one above the kites.

We drove to a scenic point and hiked to a bluff to take in the wide view. After all the details down on the sand, a good field trip adjusts the focus to higher up, to panorama. Back up and back up and backup again. Put your hand to your brow like a deep sheltering eave and just look as far as the eye can see. Take a tip from the hawks circling overhead gliding on the wind currents.

The view made us breathe in deeply, smell the salt-scrubbed air and gently rub our shoulders chapped sore by the whipped-up wind. We shared the silence of the scenery. We peered over the bluff's edge. The sight made our hearts appreciate God's mighty world, something a good field trip will always accomplish if not immediately, then on second thought.

Parts of our hike were interrupted by inaccessible areas, new since Heidi's last visit. Erosion had eaten away parts of the bluff and now they were cordoned off from the trail even more than the summer before. Gone was an entire lookout point where once there was a deck and a bench solitary against the sky.

We all learned about erosion back in elementary school, probably on a field trip. Erosion, that weathering process that breaks things down and carries them away. Our science teacher told us it happens naturally over time in a struggle against wind, water and gravity, but I always thought it sad. Erosion makes things dissolve. It changes the shape of things.

Now, we know about this weathering in life, how our own edges get beaten down and need tending, shoring up and sheltering. How sometimes we can't stop it no matter how we try. It is a disappearing, a falling away, a shifting down deep.

There are still fallen away spots scrubbed by life's grit and grief like the places in my heart where my friend Jenni once lived. I'll tell you more about her some time. I know I keep telling you that, but first I am just admitting I miss her and the shoreline where we once met has slipped away into the ocean, into the hands of the Sea Maker. That's enough for now.

This trip to the sea exposes me to the Brillo forces of wind and water and scrubbing sand. The waves rise and fall in a rhythm that demands I be both anchored and free, but I tend to want to be only one or the other. Time passes and the shoreline of my life looks different than I imagined, somehow rougher, somehow better, somehow more melancholy and always immeasurably a deeper blue.

And then, eventually, over scrubbed time, we grow into the new contour of our heart and our life. We begin to fit the new curves of the land. Because of erosion, we can see where we stood before even though it is a ghost of a place, and now we peer from a new vantage point. We haven't given up, but there is surrender at hand.

For wherever we lose (like a you or a me)
Its always our self we find at the sea.

ee cummings

Late in the afternoon near Indian Beach, the sun lowered his eye in the sky. On our way out of town, we stopped for a last cup of coffee and a shared scone for the trip home. We talked about bringing our kids next time or our hubbies. We wanted to share the sea. We talked about when we might return with Lauren.

A few days later, I was remembering the rocks and waves in my mind's eye. She was likely teaching piano, so I texted a thank-you to Heidi for our ocean adventure. I was savoring a strong cup of Sleepy Monk's Brackish Brew swirled with cream.

Brackish Brew:
Like the blustery winter storms of the Oregon coast, this dark stout brew rolls in with thunder, sharp undertones and a smoky finish. Grab a warm blanket and watch nature take its course.

She wrote back,

Thanks-----it was a tank filler for me!

In the weeks following our trip to the Pacific coast, I realized my own gifts from the sea. I
had been considering where I might have been stranded like the jelly sails, had parts of my landscape eroded like the bluff, was worn as the driftwood and several times when I was lost, I had been found by the Sea Maker.

That's another thing about field trips, their lessons and their joys linger and wind their way into your life's routine. You can re-visit in your mind's eye long after you're home again.

The Psalm we read in church the next Sunday was Psalm 93 and hearing it continued my time by the sea.

The seas have lifted up, Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea—
the Lord on high is mighty.

Psalm 93:3-4

Here is a bucket of shells from me to you, gifts from the sea. Take one or two for your windowsill or scatter the whole bunch out on the deck and sift through the one at a time.

A good field trip -

  • Brings breath to your life
  • Encourages questions
  • Examines details and takes a panoramic view
  • Continues learning and exploration
  • Breaks from routine
  • Teaches you about yourself
  • Connects you to your world
  • Sparks curiosity
  • Includes friendship
  • Brings home a souvenir
  • Makes you grateful for home

Our souls seems so invisible. It is easy to neglect their thirst and their cry, until one day it isn't. Our souls will be heard. I am learning, slowly but surely, there are visible things we can do to take care of our souls. Those are the things I hope we can share in this series I call POUR: tiny (practical) ways to fill your soul.

Let's start tiny and see what happens. Let's bring all of our doubt and our wonder and our learning hearts to bear.

To keep taking field trips, you need to,

  • Rearrange your routine
  • Observe a few "did-nots"
  • Keep it simple
  • Do a tiny bit of homework
  • Pay attention
  • Just go!
  • Come home again

A good field trip will fill you up. A good field trip will make you want to pour out again. A good field trip is sheltering. You might be leaving home for a bit, but you will be deepening your eaves for much longer than you were away.

Where will you go?