Saturday, July 17, 2010

I remember it this way...

“I will give them singleness of heart and action...” ~Jeremiah 32.39

“Not by might or by power but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” ~Zephaniah 3.6

The sky was gray when we began the long drive west toward the Long Beach Peninsula. I remember our jubilance as we left the city and the suburban ugliness behind in favor of blue skies and rolling green hills dotted, now and then, with apple trees. We crossed the bridge and headed up the peninsular coastline, past Seaside and Oceanside into Klipsan Beach. We were getting nearer… Over Willapa Bay, flocks of seagulls swooped and sang, riding just above the surface of the water; and on the banks of the bay, in the fading sunlight, the tall grass glistened and swayed in the breeze.

Heaps of oyster shells – heaps, as big as elephants! – announced that we we had reached the outskirts of our destination: Oysterville – the town that had beckoned to me since the day I’d gotten lost there several years before; the town where we would be married three days hence, in the little village church, at one o’clock in the afternoon.

Founded in 1854 by two men who were told by an Indian chief of tidelands covered in succulent oysters, Oysterville had once been a booming metropolis, exporting bivalves up and down the western coast. Local historians say that when oyster schooners arrived to pick up their cargo, they often paid in gold; and because the village could not boast of a bank there was often more gold in Oysterville than in any other town on the West Coast, save San Francisco.

But I didn't know these stories then; all I knew was the way the sky looked as we drove down the deserted highway leading through the middle of town, past the General Store and the cluster of houses whose faces looked wistfully out at the bay as if waiting expectantly for something extraodinary to appear on the horizon. The town itself seemed like something from another world, let alone another century – as if it had washed up out of the mind of God and fallen instantly out of memory, like a sea glass bottle swept onto an undiscovered shore – and I knew that I wanted to be swept up with it, woven into its history and hidden behind its weathered doors.

This is how I remember it on July 3rd, 2002 when a dark-haired girl, riding in the passenger seat of an old Volvo four-door, began waving excitedly to the boy behind the wheel, directing him to turn off the small main road onto an even smaller one, called “School Street,” that was canopied in trees.

I remember how the colors glided by my window – streaks of green and gold – until my attention settled, finally, on the weathered gray slats of the schoolhouse, nestled shyly at the end of a long wooden fence, like an actor standing on an empty stage.

And beyond it, behind a square picket fence, stood the church, standing like a secret that had just been breathed, upon a quiet stretch of lawn. At the sight of it, we held our breaths as we crunched slowly down the gravel road. It was an effort to get out of the car, windblown as we were, from driving four hours with the windows down. But we were too full of excitement to let anything like exhaustion register its presence in our bones. It was our wedding weekend! And here we were, at last, standing humbly in front of the very church where our futures would be fused into one future, our separate lives into one life.

We rapped on the door of the ramshackle residence across the street and Sydney Stevens, the silver-haired woman whose great-grandfather founded the town and built the church, led us on a haphazard tour of the tiny, one-room sanctuary.

We don’t allow much in terms of outside decoration, she said.

Oh, but that’s fine! we replied. It’s lovely, just the way it is.

Sydney shrugged. Some folks, you know, want to bring in a lot of other stuff.

Well, we said, but we aren’t like other folks!

Yes, she said, I can see that. And we hoped it was a compliment.

We followed her down the wooden steps to the lawn, turning to examine the brass bell that hung inside the faded red steeple. Sydney loosed her glittering gray eyes upon us and apologized profusely that summer plans had prevented her husband from applying a fresh coat of paint.

We don’t mind, we said. In fact, we rather liked its look of age. The chipping paint and weathered siding says it has been through things; it has endured.

In fact, she said, it has. There was a storm way back that knocked it to the ground but my father, he rebuilt it, slat by slat. Gave it a better foundation; and it has stood solid ever since.

There, we said. That is just what we mean! But though we joked and laughed about the metaphoric significance of getting married in a church that had once been bowled over and rebuilt, we remained naively confident that our foundation was secure.

Indeed, where our future marriage was concerned, we had the highest of expectations; our hopes were brighter than the brightest fireworks which we watched explode, the following evening, in multi-colored fragments above the frothy ocean waves.

On the morning of July the sixth the sky was clear and blue above the softly murmuring ocean waters. Fears of rain and clouds were all dispelled: the sun shone, but not too brightly. The breeze blew, but not too strongly. And on the little knoll outside the schoolhouse, clusters of wildflowers bloomed in shades of yellow gold and tangerine.

Creation itself seemed to be rejoicing with us! The clouds had parted; the flowers bloomed! And we took it as a sign that God’s hand of favor had descended upon us…

In his wedding sermon, looking down at us with shining eyes, our brother seemed to share our joy: “I have huge expectations for your life together,” he said. “And I want to be able to say that I was there when it started. I was part of it right from the beginning, standing next to them when they said, ‘I do.’” His words gave a certain simultaneous affirmation of our hopes while at the same time suggesting that God's definition of greatness would inevitably bear little resemblance to our own.

And indeed, if our story were mine to write, I would have set us soaring on a perpetually upward scale. Bigger, better, and more beautiful - these would have been the words to mark the movements that we made.

But God, whose story we are in, spun it differently. In His words, "...[T]he vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do" (Jeremiah 18.2).

In the last eight years He has shown us what, on that glittering July day, we thought we already knew: that His ways are not our ways; neither are his thoughts our thoughts. Instead, they are higher and better, if, at times, from our extraordinarily limited vantage point, more humiliatingly painful.

"The vision is not a castle in the air, but a vision of what God wants you to be," says Oswald Chambers. "Let Him put you on His wheel and whirl you as He likes, and as sure as God is God and you are you, you will turn out exactly in accordance with the vision."

It is a messy business, but if we trust Him to do the reshaping, we will, like the bud that bursts forth from the ugly brown bulb, come up ever fresh and green and new.


Joseph Anfuso said...

Beautifully written, Heather. I will always remember the beauty of your wedding day, and YOUR beauty as we walked together from the schoolhouse to the church. One of the highlights of my life. Dad

our family said...

oh man. I was ready to comment until I saw your dad's comment. Now I'm just crying. :)
Anyway, I loved this post and especially the Oswald Chambers quote. It was a beautiful wedding, and it has been a privilege seeing your marriage blossom in the years since. Miss you!

julie trombetta said...

I love the way you express yourself in your stories, and I love your photographic eye. The photo of the KISS is beautiful. Your wedding was as perfect as any wedding could be.

Lindsay said...

Psalm 27:13...and thankfully it's His goodness and not our own crummy definition of it! :)