Friday, July 2, 2010

push and pull.

Listening To: I and Love and You by the Avett Brothers
Lyric Love: "Dumbed down and numbed by time and age, your dreams the catch the world the cage, the highway sets the traveler stays ... all exits look the same."

In the last post, I wrote about graveyards and banjos and fried pickles - the staples of any good vacation. Today I'm writing about the second part of my trip, which is becoming more of a saga than a blog post, so do get comfy.

Instead of sticking around in Savannah all day on Saturday, we drove about an hour to St. Simons Island ... my absolute favorite beach town. If you don't know anything about St. Simons Island, I am beyond delighted to try and describe it for you.

St. Simons Island is a cozy and quirky little nook of a town off the coast of Georgia. Old moss trees canopy the streets: they shake their leaves when warm breezes blow through and send sun patched shadows dancing down over the pavement. Trolleys ching-ching back and forth, full of tourists who wants to see ghosts and forts and the path Eugenia Price's star-crossed lovers walked in Lighthouse. There are plenty of amenities for those of us who can't leave civilization behind - a small movie theater, a Starbucks *angel chorus sounds*, a couple of bookstores, and a McDonald's. But the funky oddities of the island will woo you away from your comfort-zone. The pier, for example, is the heartbeat of this quirky community. And if you stand on the pier at just the right time, you can catch the silver backs of dolphins as they wind through the waves. That part always makes me squeal like a little kid.

St. Simons doesn't feel commercial. It doesn't feel uptight. People actually live there all year long, and love it. And I'm rather smitten with the people who live there. The Rouge Accountant and I arrived sometime after lunch and stopped at a little ramshackle BBQ place near the water, which is mostly just a bar that serves delicious chicken tenders. The owner was sitting at the bar, eating lunch, talking to one of the cooks about how she'd kicked out a bunch of college kids who tried to buy beer without ID. She was talking a tough game, and she made her point loudly and clearly, and then she waved the cook away and cranked up the television above the bar. So she could finish watching the Barefoot Contessa. Moments like that make me smile.

A few years ago, I was rummaging through records at a thrift store on the pier when I met a super sweet older guy, with spikey white hair, who owned the place. He also owned (maybe still owns?) a hamburger shop on the pier called Zuzu's - which is now my favorite restaurant to recommend. Zuzu's (named for the little girl in It's a Wonderful Life) serves burgers, fries, ice cream, and milkshakes. I recommend sitting at the bar stools by the front window. You can see kids run by with yellow balloons, watch buskers strum old guitars, and smile as cute old couples with matching visors walk by hand in hand. Did I mention this island is completely charming?

Also. If you go to Zuzu's, and you're feeling adventurous, I recommend trying the Penny Lane - a burger with bacon, blue cheese, and apple slices. I know it sounds bizarre but it's a strangely yummy combo (and blue cheese isn't even my thing). Zuzu's is also home to a milkshake called The Blackjack - a swirly mix of chocolate ice cream and root beer. I'm not a root beer kind of girl, but I hear it's delicious too. My other favorite eatery is a pizza place called Moondoggies. My brother is partial to a sushi place in Redfern Village (... that I can't remember the name of). (Actually, Chase is a fan of a place in Brunswick called Willy's Weenie Wagon. I meant to buy a shirt for a blog giveaway and forgot. I know you're crushed.)

And like any small, southern town, St. Simons Island boasts a special blend of superstition and religion. There's a legend that says Blackbeard buried some treasure on one of the barrier islands. They say the ghosts of his crew still roam the shores every night searching for what they lost. (I've met some quirky people on the beach at night, but so far no pirates.)

If you drive to the farthest tip of the island, you'll discover Christ Church - one of the oldest churches in the state of Georgia. If you are smitten with history, like I am, you will swoon over this place. John and Charles Wesley preached under the oak trees there just before they sailed back to England to found the Methodist Movement. The church is still an active community and it holds one of the most beautiful graveyards I've ever seen. The sidewalks in the cemetery are made of seashells and big pink flowers tumble from the trees and scatter over the graves. Silent. Sacred. Lovely.

I always get a little bit teary when I leave the island. For some reason, it feels a little bit like home. I think home is what happens when you start making memories in a place.

And there are so many sweet memories there - summer days full of melty milkshakes and late nights swimming in the pool, when we watched planes zoom overhead and made up stores about where the people on board were going. There were long walks along the shore early in the morning, when seashells rolled up against the sand. I remember watching my dad carry my nephew while we walked on the beach one night. Andy kept flinging his head back and pointing to the sky, stretching his little fingers higher, and higher. I hope I never forget the look on his face when he tried to poke the stars.

I went to St. Simons during the off season a few years ago (my favorite time to go to the beach). One morning I got coffee from Starbucks and went down by the water. I tugged the sleeves of my sweater down over my hands, held my coffee close to keep warm, and watched the sea and the sky roll together in a perfect, peaceful winter gray. My world was heavy and crazy, but I felt steady by the water.

I've drawn hearts in the sand while I talked to certain someones on the phone. I've sat in the sand writing angsty (eloquent) poems about how certain someones can fall in a hole for all I care. I wrote a chapter of Paperdoll there (Chasing Gilbert) which ended up being the least edited chapter in the whole book (I like to think the island has a magical way of getting my stories unstuck.) (The restaurant I mentioned, in case you like trivia, was the 4th of May Cafe - also on the pier).

Sometimes, when I'm there, near the ocean, I feel close to God. I know that sounds kind of nutty. Maybe it's because the beach makes me feel peaceful, or because it makes me realize how big creation is, and how teeny-tiny I am. Regardless. When my brother mentioned driving to St. Simons, I jumped at the idea. I wanted to go because I'm happy when I'm there. But I also wanted to go because I feel close to God when I'm there, and I really needed to figure some things out.

And these things? They are most definitely of the heavy and crazy persuasion. In the words of those brilliant Avett boys, "my hands they shake -- my head it spins." I'm about to attempt some brave and scary stuff up in here. There are some decisions coming up that I need direction over. I have situations in my family I'm desperate to see worked out. And I'm going through a journey right now that is changing me, literally, in ways I never thought I could change. Inside out, outside in. (I hope I can write about it someday.) I had this idea that, when I got to the ocean, and sat on the beach, my Bible would fall open to some perfect verse I could latch onto for the duration of this heavy-crazy season. And then I would leave encouraged, and invigorated, and I would go home ready to work hard and love unconditionally (even when people cut me off in traffic) and do good things.

And it was like my plan was thwarted from the start.

First, I forgot to pack my Bible. I wanted to take a small Bible, the kind that fits cutely in one's purse. The Bible I typically use is kinda big -- because I like to scribble and underline and write in the margins, etc. I had "mini-Bible" on my check list (I even had little boxes for check marks), and I still forgot it. I'd taken a small book by Beth Moore called Praying God's Word and I thought - ya know - that could sort of work. Because that thing is packed full of scripture and prayers based on those scriptures. WIN. Sort of.

When I got to the island, I realized I didn't pack flip-flops either. I didn't want sand in my flats. So I had to make an emergency run to Old Navy on the mainland. I ended up buying a beach towel too, because I also forgot that (my brain went on vacation long before I did, apparently). And then, finally, we trekked on over to the beach on Jekyll Island (a bit less crowded) so I could read. And be inspired. And leave the beach renewed and invigorated and ready to do good things.

I walked out on the beach, and sat down, and I sat - I kid you not - in a pile of ants. I didn't even know ants lived on the beach. So then, while those stupid little creepers were biting my legs, I tried to shuffle my stuff on down the shore to an ant free zone.

New site found, I tried to shake out my towel so that it would spread it out over the sand. And then. The wind caught the other edge of the towel, flipping it back into my face, sending crusty-sand bits into my eye sockets.

I stomped on the edge of the towel and pushed the other edge down into the sand. Then I plopped down and opened my book. To be encouraged. To be invigorated. To find one verse I could hold onto through this crazy season I am currently, sometimes unsuccessfully, surfing. I opened the book. I leaned down close to the pages to read ...

And the ocean came swooping up underneath me, soaking my towel, my purse, my book, and me. FYI - the ocean? It does not taste good. I would describe the flavor like a salty-sushi-milkshake. It was at that point - wet, ant-bitten, gagging on salt water - that I might have mumbled something that is not blog appropriate.

I shoved the book in my bag, yanked the towel off the ground, and marched toward the stairs. As I climbed the steps back up to the sidewalk, I realized another one of those skanky, turbo ants was biting my heel. So I trotted back down the stairs, and walked into the ocean thinking I would simply shake the ant, and the clustered pieces of sand, out of my flip-flop. Don't be sad. It's a noble way for an ant to go.

I stepped into the ocean ... and I tripped. And then I staggered across the shore, trying to regain my balance while the waves crashed against my knees, all the while tilting sideways and hobbling like Quasimodo because I had my camera in my purse and didn't want water to get inside the bag and kill my camera.

I finally up-righted myself, just in time to see the waves recede ... and realize I was only wearing one flip-flop. I turned around just in time to see my other flip-flop wash out into the ocean.

"You can still run for it!" some girl on the steps said.

Right. Because I'm sure that would have gone over well. I didn't run for it. I watched, eyes narrowed, as my $3 flip-flop floated toward the horizon. I imagined all those stupid ants that had previously assaulted my ankles standing together, united, on the edge of my shoe, pumping their little fists in victory as they sailed off into the sunset.

(Or maybe they had their own ant version of Goonies happening. And one ant on the shore said to the other, "We're here at Jekyll Island staring at ... what appears to be ... a pirate ship.")

I stomped back up the stairs with only one flip-flop. My brother was waiting at the top and if you think he was understanding, and compassionate over my series of disasters ... then obviously you've never met him. He was laughing so hard that I became even angrier than I already was.

At first, I tried to walk to the car with one flip-flop. But the sidewalks are made of shells and sharp stuff and the car was approximately sixty miles away. I told my brother he would have to drive over and get me (I did not say this calmly). And then I stomped off in the grass. I threw my towel down on the ground and waited.

Within minutes, my towel was crawling with more of those freaking ants - they were unstoppable. I had to throw the towel away. I threw the flip flop away too. I got in the car, and slammed the door, and said, "All I wanted was to read on the beach!"

That night we split an order of cheese fries from Outback and watched boats roll over the marshes (and raccoons come up to the screened in balcony and stare at the cheese fries ... which was only moderately creepy). We talked and laughed - not just about the flip-flop fiasco - but about so many things. The night got funnier and funnier. It was a great way to end the beach trip. The next morning, we went for coffee and then drove to the ocean. I didn't try to read. I didn't try to walk on the beach.

I watched the tide -- push and pull, give and take. It's the weirdest thing to me, how the ocean roars and I feel calm. I think that's how Narnians feel when Aslan roars, don't you?

We got back later that day, tired and happy. I listened to my record player while I dotted my ankles with itch stuff. Then I went out on my back porch and sat in my rocking chair. I have the chair positioned at just the right angle to see that first big, shiny evening star blink awake every night. My dog jumped up in my lap and cuddled up against me.

The sun snuggled down behind the hills. And it was a seriously gorgeous sunset:

I re-read one of my favorite verses in Isaiah:

"Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,"
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

And I remembered God is closer than my heartbeat, no matter where I am, no matter how heavy-crazy my situation becomes. I don't have to stand beside the ocean to know He's close to me. He's close to me when I'm safe by the sea. He's close to me when I'm staring starry-eyed at a new city skyline. He's close to me when my dreams come true. He's close to me when my world starts to fray. When I'm barefoot on the back porch, sitting in a rocking chair, watching the stars pop out, He's close to me. I read a verse in Hosea this week, a verse toward the end of the book where God is reminding Israel of how much he loved them even though they kept messing up (have I mentioned how much I love the way He keeps loving me even when I screw up?). The verse says, "I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them."

I can't stop thinking about it now. I like picturing Him like that, leaning down to take care of people. I think it's crazy how God spoke all creation into existence but created a man and woman with His hands. I like that He doesn't just speak us better either - but leans down to take care of us. I don't know the answers to all these situations ahead of me just yet, but I'm confident He'll carry me through.

Which brings me to you. I cannot send you postcards from St. Simons Island. I cannot offer you a Blackjack or a yellow balloon. But I can promise you this:

Whether you're bored to tears in summer school,
or in tears -- grieving and growing up,
breaking up or breaking to pieces,
whether you're drawing hearts in the sand,
or you feel like your heart is liken to a bludger being slapped around mercilessly in a match between Gryffindor and Slytherin ...

... even then ....

"The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture ... None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing

—nothing living or dead,
angelic or demonic,
today or tomorrow,
high or low,
thinkable or unthinkable
—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love ..." (Romans 8:35-39 The Message)

I hope you know that you're loved -- truly, completely, unconditionally.

Here's hoping the ocean roars in your dreams tonight.


  1. Oh my. Oh my. Thank you!

  2. First, I'd like to say I really would LOVE to be you! You are what I want to be in life actually! What you write. How you write. Everything, it's my dream and I look up to you for it too! You've got a big fan here LOL!

    I love how you can make every detail come to life. For a moment I was in St. Simons, sitting on a bar stool at Zuzu's dipping my fries in my milkshake! (I just enjoy that so much!) I was on the beach, watching this women attempting to read a book, but ended up watching her lone flip flop go out to sea. You truly have a gift and I thank you for sharing it with us, with me.

    And if you're wondering, I am crushed that you forget the t-shirt LOL well not crushed, but I did say "aww snap" (Mom happened to be reading over my shoulder and then snapped in my ear.. she hates that I say that, but oh well LOL hard to break old habits)

    I use to try to jump for the stars. When I use to go to Georgia to visit my grandparents I would attempt to jump and grab them... I never could. I guess that's why the saying is 'Reach for the stars". They never said you could, but they said try. I did. Didn't work.

    I love what you said at the ending about Jesus leaning over people and helping them. Whenever Im hurt, I just say "God hold me" and I picture him actually around me and I go into a place (in my head) and I can almost feel His loving arms around me. And at times, I think I can almost hear Him say "It's ok Haylie. I'm here." Sometimes you just need to be held and God is the one to run to. He's our protection. We need no one else but Him and His love.

    Sorry, rambling, but you can tell I really enjoyed this post! ILY Natalie!

  3. I don't care for the beach, but I totally want to go to St. Simons now. My parents would love to eat at a place honoring their faovrite movie (It's A Wonderful Life), is it called Moondoggie's because of Gidget? It sounds really fantastic, and the flipflop story was great, sorry but I'd be right there with your brother laughing my head of at you. It's just too funny. I love that you snuck a little HP into you lesson, I love qudditch, even though people tell me it doesn't count, it's my favorite sport. Thanks for this blog, I love it so much. The days I read it, always seem to turn out well.

  4. Thanks for the coupon organizer tip and link on my blog. Those are definitely adorable! I'm not sure how one would go about doing the accordion part, but I'm going to do some web research. I actually made my mom a coupon organizer for Christmas a couple of years ago, a brilliant idea considering I had been sewing for about 2 months at the time. It's pitiful looking, but she, being the lovely mother she is, uses it faithfully.

    I'm sorry your experience at Jekyll Island was less than perfect. :) I think it's so awesome that you went there, though. The only experiences I had there were lovely...walking on the beach at night with the moon reflecting on the water and watching one of the most perfect sunrises I've ever seen from our hotel. Not to mention that the hotel was ridiculously cheap (we were there in January) and the continental breakfast included waffle makers (amazing! Something we had only seen at the Heartbreak Hotel in Memphis :).

    I confess that I giggled a bit. I think it was somewhere around the part when you were staggering across the shore. I hope you know how many people around here appreciate you, Natalie. :)


  5. After the day I have had today, your post just ended it perfectly. I am so sorry you had such a rough time but Natalie, I ahven't laughed that hard all day. :) Thanks for sharing your trauma.

    That island osunds beautiful. It's funny because when I read Paperdoll, I wanted to know so badly where you were in "Chasing Gilbert". Now I know and I will make the trip sometime (hopefully many times) to this beautiful place. And the food sounds amazing. If it would be anything to draw me to a new adventure, it is food. :)

    Thank you for the reminder of how much our God loves His girls. It is such a refreshing and healing thought to reflect on, and exactly what I needed to hear. Your writing is such a blessing.

    Oh, and bored to tears in summer classes....i somehow think you are psychic :)

    Have a happy fourth!! :)


  6. oh my goodness nat - this blog hits so close to home on so many different levels! i haven't read in a while because life has been so crazy. i was never a big fan of the beach until i walked the shore along the arabian sea while in india and had precious time with the Lord there. ever since whenever i come near a pounding turf i can't stop but to think about his power and pause to listen for his voice. it was on that trip that he revealed to me that i was in fact created for a purpose and when i'm walking with Him in life I can be confident that I'm on the right path. Coming to that realization in life is incredible! The verse you have from isaiah I have in my signature at work, and the flipflop thing - I'm sure something similar will happen to me very soon. disregard my lack of grammar etiquete and mispellings, i should be leaving for home and the work day has wiped me out.

  7. Natalie, I must say that after reading any mentions of The Avett Brothers on previous blog entries, I was rather indifferent to them. "Eh, whatever, must be a southern thing that I've never heard of."

    But this last time, I wanted to watch the Youtube video, and when it didn't work, I went to to listen to the entire "I and Love and You" album. Now, I've been listening to it as I sit in my room and clean or whatever. I only wish it was already available so I could listen to it while I drive! It strikes me as the type of music to listen to while driving through country roads!

    Thanks for introducing me to the Avett Brothers! :)

  8. Natalie,
    This post has been one of the most encouraging things I've read in a while. When life gets hard, it's so easy for me to think God forgot about me. And then I read that verse from Isiah, and the one from Romans. And I could cry right now. I really could, because God hasn't forgotten about me, He hasn't left me, He still loves me. And that is a relief. So thank you for your words. You're awesome : )


  9. Amen to what Sara said...times 20

  10. Your comment about quidditch made me laugh- i was just reading Harry Potter today :P And your conclusion really comforted me, thank you. It's been too long since I thought about God fighting for me because He loves me. Thanks.

  11. You really know how to tell a great story! Thanks for sharing your not-so-funny-at-the-time adventure. It made me laugh. A lot. :) Also, I don't think you're crazy for feeling closer to God when you're by the ocean. Whenever I am confronted by his overwhelming beauty, be it the stormy ocean or the never ending green of a northern Minnesota forest or a dazzling sunset that fades into the deep purple of twilight, I can't help but feel closer to Him. And I am pulled toward those places with a magnetic force. We're totally wired to feel that way. :)

    P.S. I've finally made my way back here! It's been too long!

  12. I needed this sweet truth today! And your time at the beach made for a much needed laugh! You are awesome Natalie!


  13. Thank you. Your comments about the Lord was something I really needed to hear today.

  14. Thank you soooooo much for your amazing blog and sharing your amazing writing abilites with all!!
    I get the Susie magazine (and used to get Brio) and your monthly articles are my favorites!!
    You are such an example to me!!
    Ur awesome!!1 (:
    ~In Christ

  15. this was a beautiful post natalie! and St. Simons sounds like the cutes town ever!

  16. I read every single post you write and I'm a better person for it.