Into the Mist

4-night-beach-walk

We decide to go on an adventure. We’ve all just had dinner, crunched the last bits of ice cream cones, begin to put the little ones down for bed. The night is still new, if dark, and the beach is mere miles away. The wind tugs at us to come, dance with it.

We older ones pile into the car, three teens—my brothers and I—and our twenty-year-old cousin. When we arrive at the beach, the last family is packing up. At first I want to bring my camera, haven’t gotten shots of the beach at all this vacation, but I soon realize it’s too dark, mist obscuring moon and stars.

I grab the keys and run it back to the car. When I get back to the edge of the beach, the dunes parting around me like my own Red Sea, the others are far, far down. All I can see of them are tiny black shapes moving into the mist. I run down the boardwalk, past the dunes, and halt when my feet hit the soft sand. The others are farther away still, and I suck in a deep, cool breath that tastes like tears of freedom.

The world around me suddenly feels alien, and each step forward is like coming home.

Fog hangs over everything. It sweeps all the vast shore into its embrace. I see it draped all around me, cloaking the sky, the sand, the sea, and yet the space unfolding in front of me feels open and wide. Up on the dunes, far away on each side, sit the houses, delicate doll toys against this great gray darkness. Their lights pierce the cover, blurred and bright and distant. They seem to be in a different world than me, mere trappings on the wall of this breathless reality.

Infinitely soft beneath my feet, the sand surrounds me, colorless and countless. I can feel it changing as I walk, becoming wetter, firmer, telling me the tale of the tides. The tides—the ocean—I cannot see it. I stare out ahead of me, and I know it is there, but all I can see in this thick mist is gray smears and fuzzy droplets of muted silver. The figures of my family dance in the darkness ahead.

It all comes crashing down on me, the incredible vastness of the world, as the sky falls upon us, around us, encircles the hugeness of the shore and the sea in its even huger arms. The houses on the dunes are nothing before this grandeur. We marvel at bright flowers and sunny islands and blue skies but this—this gray expanse that swallows up everything, this gossamer veil thick enough to shutter stars but thin enough to dance like rain in faint rays of light—this is beauty. It is wild and mysterious and you lose yourself in it, and in the losing you find yourself. This is belonging.

This is love.

I feel tears at the back of my throat, because here in the darkness, in the vastness, I feel so small and I feel so loved.

Because these past few days have been so hard, and I have fallen so much, and then this gift, this divine drama that sings on the breeze, I love you.

“You are so good,” I whisper. “You are Name above all Names and King above all Kings.” I can’t even find the words, so I let snatches of verses fall into the wind and be carried away, whatever He brings to my mind.

Sometimes I struggle with the idea of worship. What even is it? How do I do it? But now it is easy, and I know what it is.

I am nearing the others now, the grays taking on different shades, and as my feet press into the wet sand and leave a trail of glory behind me, I whisper over and over, “Thank You.”

Thank You thank You thank You.

Thank You. 

Then I’m at the edge of the sea. It springs up on you, all of a sudden lapping at your feet, and the pounding of the waves fades into the muffling cloak of mist. It is the same color of the sky above, as all the whispering air around, and you realize that you could just walk out into it and lose yourself.

But you’re not afraid. You are in His hand, and you cannot be lost. Even the sea in all its strength cannot obliterate you.

Still, the waves rolling up at me out of nowhere, the line of faint foam appearing without warning is slightly unnerving, so I stick to the edge. Dark clumps hover in the shallow water around my feet—seaweed. I notice small flashes of light scattered among it, like water-bound fireflies. Our cousin turns on her phone’s flashlight, and we discover that they are jellyfish. We pick them up, small, clear, harmless things. We watch as their transparent bodies suddenly sizzle with electric blue light. Here we humans are, thinking ourselves so clever for figuring out electricity when God has been working magic with it for millennia.

As we walk back, water still coats lower areas, like a silver smear on the gray ground. It is not like a bright moon path, just a vague image glinting dully ahead, fading away when you reach it like a desert mirage. Your feet hit water, the sand rippled with the pattern of waves, and then you emerge from it onto dry ground, and the whole world is wild and eerie and unfathomable.

I think of one of my favorite authors and his characters who dance with the mist, and I wonder if he ever had a night like this. I can see it now, more clearly than I ever have, how those characters must feel. I can see how they could become one with the mist. I can feel it, how it draws you in and makes you part of it, and how you do not lose yourself but become part of something bigger and wilder and more beautiful.

As we start toward the car, I don’t want it to end. We reach the firm, cool sand, and I hang back from the others and pray for one more perfect moment. Then I do a perfect cartwheel. And a perfect roundoff. My feet sink into the sand with a pleasant thump, and the sand clings lightly to my hands. I dust them off, feel my soul dancing—thank You—and join the others.

We try to get the sand off our feet, climb into the car, and head back home. This venture into the mist was an adventure, a gift. But isn’t it always that? Isn’t it always an adventure when you know the God who hurls waves onto shore and covers the stars with clouds? Isn’t always a gift when you get to breathe and feel wind on your face and speak directly with the God Beyond All Time?

Thank You.

{Fireside Fridays} My Favorite Settings in Fiction Books

I don’t know about you, but setting often makes or breaks a book for me. When an author uses a unique or memorable setting, it enhances and moves along the plot, adds another dimension to the characters, and makes the theme stick with me longer. Powerful imagery goes a long way in helping me enjoy and remember a book. Today, I thought I’d list my favorite settings from fiction books. I’m going with fiction only instead of just books in general because then I’d probably end up with a list full of fantasy books, since those usually boast incredible settings. However, I want to highlight how settings in our own world can still be poignant and exciting.

Also, let me note that these are my favorite settings—places that I’d want to visit, places that thrilled my soul. Many books, like Dickens’ and The Great Gatsby, employ setting masterfully, but those places aren’t beautiful or appealing to me. Instead of an essay on which books use setting best, today I’m highlighting locations that captured my imagination.

goodmastercover

1. The Good Master // Kate Seredy

Eastern Europe is a place I know very little—and have read very few books—about, so when a friend recommended this young adult book about a girl in pre-war Hungary, I was so excited. I’ve never been to Hungary (big surprise, I know), but this book made me fall in love with its huge plains and rolling hills, with its quaint towns and colorful customs. The story follows a city girl who goes to live with her cousin in the country, so in a way, she’s as unfamiliar with the land as I am. Her growing delight in the rural life and vast fields poured through the pages into me, and I dream of one day actually visiting the wild, harsh, beautiful plains of Hungary.

ninetailorscover

2. The Nine Tailors // Dorothy Sayers

I could have listed any number of Dorothy Sayers books, actually; she does a remarkable job of weaving the setting into her plot, making it an integral part of the solving of the mysteries. However, The Nine Tailors‘ setting stood out to me the most of all her books. It takes place in a small village in the English fens, another place I want to visit (you’ll probably be hearing that a lot in this post). The wild weather, harshness of the land, and threat of flooding brood over the book, percolating into the plot and characters, filling it all with a sense of danger and ruggedness. It adds to the already ominous mystery, and it provides a striking and majestic backdrop to the church with its old and glorious bells. The combination of the mysterious theft, ancient bells ringing on through the storm, and the mighty storm itself is something I’ll never forget.

Anne-1

3. Anne of Green Gables // L. M. Montgomery 

Who could forget Prince Edward Island? Yes, you guessed it—I want to visit there, too. (My To Be Visited List is probably as long as my To Be Read one.) I love its quiet charm, the calm, quaint pace of life, the fields of wildflowers blowing atop the dunes that run down to the sapphire sea. I want to wander through the placid, sun-streaked woods with Anne and visit the secret coves by the ocean. I want to walk on Lover’s Lane and, most of all, along the Birch Path. I want to live in a little cottage in the forest or near a field or by the sea. *sighs wistfully*

greendolphinstcover

4. Green Dolphin Street // Elizabeth Goudge

This is it, guys. This book has my favorite settings of all time. Are you ready to hear about them?

You’ll notice that I said settings plural, because the wonderful thing about this story is that it happens in two places: the Channel Islands of England and New Zealand. You might have realized by now that I love the ocean, and the island where the first part takes place sounds like heaven on earth. It’s washed over with salt air, ringing with the waves pounding against its cliffs, thrumming with the wildness and energy of the ocean. There are caves in the cliffs where you can climb and secret coves with rare shells that only the adventurous stumble upon. Its beaches stretch out to rocky stepping stones only visible at low tide, where you can stand at the edge of the sea.

Then there’s New Zealand. I’d wanted to go there before I read the book—mainly because that’s where The Lord of the Rings were filmed, ahem—but Green Dolphin Street magnified that desire a hundred times. It’s wild, too, but ever so beautiful. From the thick forests and rocky mountains to the lush, emerald fields nestled in rolling hills, the place sounds magical. It’s so diverse—mountains and ocean, what could be better?—and every part of it sounds rich, vibrant, and stunning. It’s the kind of place that you could lose your heart to. Plus, Elizabeth Goudge’s lyrical descriptions of both of these places literally make me starry-eyed.


There you are! Four settings that grabbed when I first read about them and are still dazzling my mind. They’re all a little different, but I’m noticing common themes—they’re all natural, first of all, no cities. They all also have a hint of wildness, ruggedness, of vastness and expanse. I guess they awaken the adventurer in me.

Now I want you to tell me what settings you have loved most. It’s so fun to see how everyone’s different and in love with such varying places. Close your eyes and remember which books had locations that you just wanted to jump into, cities or mountains that captured your heart. And then let me know!

Happy Friday!

10 Ways South Africa is Different From America

One of the coolest—and hardest—parts of my trip was experiencing a different culture. I’ve lived in Europe, so I know what culture shock is like, but I have to say that South Africa is far more different from America than Germany is. Sure, they speak English (which really was a huge blessing), but it’s a whole different world. Here are ten differences, big and small and in no particular order, that stood out to me.

10 Ways South Africa is Different From America

 

1. They have a British accent.

So it’s not a pure British accent, but it’s way closer to British than it is to American. I loved listening to it. It was also pretty strange to be the one with the accent. I’d open my mouth, and people would look at me funny and say, “You sound like you’re from America.”

There’s a reason for that.

2. They drive on the left side of the road. 

This reveals my embarrassing lack of research, but I was not expecting this. I could not for the life of me figure out which side my seat buckle was on, and I kept freaking out when we turned onto the left side of the road. Actually, the driving there in general was freaky. Everybody is a bad driver, and I won’t even go into the terrors called taxis. Let’s just say if they got fined for running red lights, they’d be bankrupt in a day.

3. Everything is gated. 

Because the level of crime is so much higher there, everything—homes, stores, you name it—is gated. The sight adds to the atmosphere of fear there. No one walks too close to each other, everyone’s clasping their purses tightly, and when you ask someone anything about themselves, they get a wary expression and answer guardedly. It’d be an obvious lie to say America’s anywhere close to crime-free, but I know I at least take for granted how safe I feel in day to day life. If I avoid sketchy parts of town, I can into any store and not even think about getting stolen from or hurt in any way. But in South Africa, threats of theft and danger are a fact of life.

4. Whites are the minority. 

I have to admit, this was strange. It was also really, really good for me to be in the minority. And honestly, after a few days it didn’t feel that abnormal anymore. But it was eye-opening to live in a place where I was by far in the racial minority and to realize that that’s perfectly okay. I loved the racial diversity of South Africa. I’m realistic enough to realize it causes a lot tension and trouble, but it’s also a beautiful thing everyone should experience.

5. They have no insulation or central heating. 

Yeeeeah. And we happened to go during their winter. It’s not like their winters are all that bad—it was sixty-ish degrees Fahrenheit during the day while we were there—but there’s nowhere you can get warm. It’s nice in the sun during the day, but the minute the sun sets, it’s freezing again. And I mean freezing: At night, it gets in the low thirties. Fortunately, the missionaries gave us a space heater and tons of blankets, so we got through those chilly nights just fine.

6. Apple sauce is baby food.

No kidding, this was one of the first questions South African teens asked us: Do you guys really eat apple sauce? Some Americans had visited them a few years ago and wanted some apple sauce. And apparently, apple sauce is baby-only food for South Africans, like those mushy carrots and peas in glass jars in American stores. They thought it was hilarious that adults in America still eat it.

They also thought our obsession with pumpkins was strange (I wasn’t aware we had one, but they couldn’t believe we ate pumpkin pie and cookies and carved pumpkins for fun).

7. Robots = stoplights 

And jelly is jello and jam is jelly and flat phones are dead phones and serviettes are napkins and pacifiers are dummies and chips are fries and biscuits are cookies and buggies are shopping carts. Et cetera.

8. People clean your car while you shop at the mall. 

Because poverty is so rampant, they create jobs wherever they can. You pay people to watch the parking lot so people won’t steal your car. You pay people to walk your shopping cart—excuse me, buggy—to the car and then someone else to load the groceries into your car. And when you’re in the parking garage about to go shopping, people ask you if they can wash your car while you’re at the mall.

9. They have eleven national languages. 

Okay, but this is so cool. Here they are (thank you, Wikipedia): Afrikaans (basically African Dutch), English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Most South Africans can speak more than one language, which is so impressive. Traveling always makes me wish English wasn’t my first language, because then I’d have to learn it in addition to my native language. If your first language is English, it’s so hard to learn another one fluently because you usually don’t really need to.

10. They are good at dancing.

I’m not saying Americans aren’t good at dancing, but everybody there—well, blacks primarily but they’re the majority, so—has amazing rhythm and moves. As I’m stiffly trying to shift from side to side, they’re shaking their hips and clapping and stomping their feet and just … moving in such a cool, graceful way. Ugh, it makes me so jealous. It was amazing to watch, and I love the energy and spirit they put into singing.


and pictures:

 

scenery from a game reserve
scenery from a game reserve
at the camp we went to
at the camp we went to
a real live zebra (they pronounce it zeh - bruh)
a real live zebra (they pronounce it zeh – bruh)
at camp
at camp

There you go! Ten (of many more) differences between America and South Africa. Let me know which ones surprised you or interested you most!