I grew up on the water, spending all my summers on a tiny lakeshore town in Michigan. From morning till night, we ran the beaches, soaked up the sun, picked blueberries till our fingers were stained. We shucked ears of sweet corn on the porch before dinner and caught crayfish with bubblegum and safety pins and string, and sold them for ten cents each to the bait shop.
This is what we did on regular days. But if there was wind, we sailed. We dropped everything, changed our plans. The corn could wait, dinner could wait. My mom would pack up a huge canvas tote with drinks and snacks and sweatshirts and towels, and we’d race down the marina—wind! There’s wind!
Both my grandfathers had sailboats in that little marina, and later my dad and brother, too. All our friends in that little town are sailors, equally happy to drop it all if it’s blowing. There’s a vernacular unique to sailors, a shorthand or code language that I’ve been hearing all my life. The phone rings: “Dad, Jim wants to know what the lake is doing.” “Tell him it’s blowing 8 to 10 offshore.” “Tell him it’s screaming out of the north.” My favorite: when it’s really windy, they call it DOC—blowing so hard it could blow ‘dogs off chains.’ “It’s DOC out of the NW. Get down here, dude.”
The wind dictated everything, all summer long. It still does. Our kids are totally accustomed to naptime on the boat, mealtime on the boat, running down to the boat with a moment’s notice, another generation chasing the wind.
Sailors are crazy when it comes to wind because the whole venture depends on it. If you’re a power boater, the wind means almost nothing to you. It might make things wavier than you’d like. It might make your guests spill their drinks. But for a sailor, the wind is everything, the most important thing, the center. If you want certainty, you don’t sail. If you want to be in control of what’s happening, you don’t sail. If you want certainty, you get a powerboat, and you stick to engines instead of wind.
I can feel that tension in myself right now: the tension to trust the wind or control with my own engine. I want to be a sailor. I want to trust the invisible power that’s moving all the time even though I can’t see it. I want to be patient, grounded, faith-filled. But in my fearful moments, I can feel the impulse to fire up an engine and create some motion, to pick a spot and head there fast, to burn some fuel instead of waiting around for the wind to do its powerful but invisible work.
I’m a firstborn, a planner. I’m a saver, a list-maker, and I already have a running scrawl of restaurants I want to try on an upcoming trip to London. In 2014.
Planning and preparation are my jam. Except for one little thing. Except for the fact that I’ve decided for the rest of 2013 to be guided by prayer and listening, instead of planning and preparation. I’ve decided to learn my way into the future instead of planning my way there. In this season I want to live by the power of the wind and not the engine.
For many years, I’ve had a clear path, an engine. When I was twenty-nine, I signed a book contract. The same week I found out I was pregnant. Now, seven years later, I’ve written three books and given birth to two lovely, funny boys.
During these last seven years I was often tired and a little overwhelmed by the amount of things that had to get done in a day, a week, a month. But I didn’t find myself asking those fundamental question: “What am I here for? What am I made to do?” I knew, at least temporarily, the answers. I had a path. And I powered along the path, and it kept me temporarily safe from those questions.
But now for the first time in a long time, I don’t have that path. I don’t have that certainty. I’m intentionally choosing to not know what’s next. I know it’s the right thing for me in this season. It feels a lot like going back to my childhood, being willing to drop everything for the wind. For the last several years, I was too focused on working out the details of my plan to drop everything for the wind. I was a power boater. I liked the safety and predictability of it.
But I miss the rush, the freedom, the feeling of letting the wind take you wherever it will. I’m ready to drop everything for the wind again, to leave a mess, to walk away from the plan for the day—for the year, for my life, maybe, in order to feel the wind again.
This is what I know, both on the water and in my life: the wind is where it’s at. If you’ve never sliced through the water on a boat powered only by wind, you can’t even believe how oddly quiet it is—the only sounds are hull slicing through water, wind humming in the shrouds. You have a sense of getting away with something, almost, like creating something from nothing. It’s exciting and calm at the very same moment, which I find is true in our lives as well.
When you trust the wind instead of pushing through with an engine, when you wait for life to lead and unfold in its own timing instead of shouting out your answer, when you create space for uncertainty instead of pushing for a plan, the feeling is the same: exciting and calm in the very same moment, one of the best feelings in the world.
And this is what I know: you can trust the wind. The wind takes us places we’ve never imagined, and it often knows us better than we know ourselves. It brings us to futures we longed for but couldn’t even say out loud. I believe God is that wind in my life, that he’s working all the time, and that he’s good and loving. I know that spiritual journeys are circuitous and personal, and that God’s presence can look all sorts of different ways in all sorts of different lives.
I also know how scary it can be to give ourselves over to that beautiful terrifying wind, how hard it can be to trust the journey, but I also believe that it’s worth it, that when you do, you’ll feel alive and free and you’ll want that feeling over and over for the rest of your life, like a drug, like falling in love.
When people ask me what’s next these days, as they often do, I tell them it’s all about the wind and not the engine. I tell them I’m practicing not having a plan. I tell them I’m trying to re-learn how to not know, how to wait for the wind, how to trust the silence. It’s awkward, and it’s great. For me, these days, it’s all about the wind.