Spiritual Formation

Island Time

“Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels;

only when the clock stops does time come to life.” –William Faulkner 

Our official wait for our daughter Amelia began on an island. The island of Great Chebeague, off the coast of Maine.

In the summer of 2006 we mailed our thick dossier to China. Then, just a few days later, we packed my parents—weary and wary—into their big ol’ Buick, strapped our bikes onto our Mini Cooper, and caravanned south from Chicago, through Indiana on Interstate 65. We cut across Kentucky, drove down into Tennessee, and eventually dropped Mom and Dad at my brother’s house in Knoxville for a three-week stay. The next morning Peter and I took a sharp left and headed northeast.

We needed this vacation. Badly.

We had barely begun to heal from infertility and our first two miscarriages and a few adoption disappointments. We had been sharing a home with my parents for almost a year, helping my mom through surgery and chemo and radiation. Making sure my dad was fed and bathed and cared for as best we could while Mom was sick. Peter had just finished his second master’s degree. And we were spent.

Certainly, we wanted to finally move ahead with our new adoption dream. Wanted to turn the page and look ahead and begin again. But somehow we felt stuck. We were each—still—bound up so tightly in our individual fear and anxiety and exhaustion and pain that like two mummies, side-by-side in our coffin of a car, we began that trip.

We were only thirty minutes from my brother’s house when we stopped for brunch at a little French-inspired café. And we lingered, trying to let the reality of our three-week respite soak in just a bit. Trying to peer through the tangled bandages that had for so long covered our eyes. Trying to see one another again. Trying to remember how to breathe.

Then—for the next few days we took our time—traveling up through the Appalachians and over to the coast. Meandering through the mountains. Riding often in silence with the windows down. Sometimes singing along to some CD. Occasionally venturing into cautious conversation. And with each twisty mile, God began to tug away at our canvas coverings. Little by little, we began to leave behind some of our layers of linen and come back to life.

Three long and leisurely days later, we finally pulled into Portland, Maine. For a few hours, we poked around the Old Port section of town until it was time to take our suitcases and our bikes and board the Casco Bay ferry for the island of Great Chebeague.


Almost two hundred islands pepper the Casco Bay off the coast of Portland, though only a handful of them are inhabited. Stretching almost five miles long and one-and-a-half miles wide, Great Chebeague is the largest. And with 360 year-round residents, she is also the most populated. She boasts one main road that rounds her perimeter, one museum, one elementary school house, one little library, one church, one basic market, one clam shack, one 9-hole golf course, and one grand hotel—The Chebeague Island Inn.

I discovered the island and the inn on the internet a couple of months before our trip.

One evening in May Peter and I had discussed again how and where to spend our time away. He wanted cheap and rustic and spontaneous; I wanted quaint and comfortable and relatively calculated. And after a particularly difficult disagreement, we had resorted to our too-often-practiced pattern for dealing with conflict: Peter retreated and went to bed while I took control and got the thing done. I stayed up very late, plotting and planning a vacation that I hoped would satisfy us both, and I surprised Peter the next morning with an apology and a folder full of printouts. Google maps. Campsites. Theater tickets. Random, “spontaneous” things to do all along the way. Hotel reservations. And—to seal the deal—some pictures of Chebeague. Thankfully, he was game.

The island itself certainly intrigued me. The ocean—on all sides. The solitude. The slow, slow pace.

Chebeague side view

But it was the inn that really captured my imagination. A Greek Revival hotel built in the 1920s, the Chebeague Island Inn was completely restored in 2004. And with her freshly whitewashed rooms (free from telephones or TVs), her stone fireplace, her broad porch, and her views of the sea, she seemed like the perfect place to purge our souls of some of our past pain. The perfect place to reconcile my heart to God’s. The perfect place to reclaim hope and rekindle our dreams. Of family and parenthood and the imminent arrival of our baby girl. Eighteen months, we had been told.


When we awoke on our first Chebeague morning, the sheer curtains were dancing in a cool island breeze and a heavy blanket of fog hid the sea from view. When we went down to the inn’s dining room for breakfast, we were surprised to find that—because I had made our reservations for the less-expensive middle of the week—we had the place largely to ourselves.

As we enjoyed our egg soufflé and perfectly presented fruit, and as we peered over the broad lawn through the milky air, Peter looked over at me and asked me how I was.

“Grateful,” I said. I had been up early that morning, journaling these prayers while Peter still slept, so I shared. “I’m grateful that we made it through this far. That our marriage is intact. I’m grateful for God’s grace. For the healing that has already begun. And I’m desperate to follow Him forward and see what He has for us next.”

After breakfast we decided to take our bikes and explore. So with map in hand, we peddled down North Road to the southern tip of the island and a place called Indian Point. The beach was deserted that morning, and the tide was out—which meant that a long, wide sandbar lay exposed—seemingly leading straight off the edge of the earth.

Sand bar

According to the map, at low tide, that sandbar connected Great Chebeague with her uninhabited tiny sister island, Little Chebeague. A tempting adventure. And in spite of the fact that we didn’t know the exact rhythm of the sea and didn’t know how far we had to go and didn’t know how much time we had to get there and couldn’t see our destination—we decided to take the risk and make the cross. And little by little, as we moved out away from shore, we were able to catch a glimpse of her through the fog. Fuzzy at first, but becoming clearer with each step. Little Chebeague.

Little Chebeague in Fog

We moved much more quickly on the walk back to Indian Point, the water creeping up the sand on either side. The salty air filling our lungs. I was thanking God for His goodness and for the gift of this trip, and I was praying—for continued healing for Peter and me, for our daughter who was not even born, for the courage and patience to continue to wait—when through the haze I noticed a family on the beach. The only other people we had seen all morning, apart from the staff at the inn. But there they were. A mother and a father and their little Chinese daughter.

She toddled around, that precious little girl, in her rolled up jeans and tiny bare feet, picking up stones and tossing them down. Squishing the sand and squealing with joy. Her mother followed her all around, all smiles and laughter, rescuing pebbles from tiny teeth. And her father captured it all with his camera. “Smile, baby,” he called over and over. “Smile!”

Peter saw them too, of course. And we looked at each other—dumbfounded and amazed. And that familiar pang of longing—which had for years sunk to my gut in the form of grief—now filled my chest with something fresh. Anticipation. And hope. What were the odds? That in this remote place, at this exact moment, we would receive such a clear vision of what could be. Of what was to come. A flash of light to spur us on. We sat on a driftwood log for a few minutes and tried to (subtly) take it all in.

Portland Head Lighthouse

At the end of our island week, we stood on the ferry’s deck for most of the ride back to the mainland, wanting to soak in every last bit of the Casco Bay. But it was another foggy day, and it was difficult to see. Eventually, though, our captain directed our attention a mile or so down the coast to the Portland Head Lighthouse. And sure enough, even before we could see the lighthouse herself, her beam was visible through the mist—rotating, pulsating, warning ships of the rocky coast, and guiding them home.


I didn’t know—when we left the island of Great Chebeague that day—that rather than eighteen-months, it would be six years before I would see that face.

I didn’t know all of the life events that stood between us and her. The sorrows and joys. The death of my parents. The arrival of her big brother D.

Nor did I know how God would grow us through all of those things. How He would prepare me to love my daughter in ways I wouldn’t have known to love before.

I didn’t know that waiting sometimes feels like a fog. Other times the black of night. But that sometimes, just when we need it the most, a light breaks through to lead us on.

Darkness. Darkness. Darkness. Flash.

I didn’t know how much I would need that light or how many different sources God would use over the years. A timely sermon. Or a song on the radio. An adoption support group. A well-written blog. A life-giving conversation. And even an authentic Chinese New Year celebration with a family from church.

I didn’t know when we left Great Chebeague that God often works on island time. That what feels like a waiting room to us may seem like something else entirely to Him. Perhaps He sees a classroom or an operating room or a deeply sacred space. Perhaps where we see sterile walls and stiff sofas and endlessly ticking clocks, He may see a wide porch and wicker chairs and the perfect chance to chat.

 “Waiting is an invitation to intimacy” –Jerome Daley

Peter came home from a doctoral class last night, and I read him the beginnings of this post.

“It’s the difference between Kairos and Chronos,” he said. “We talked about it today in class. They are two different Greek words for time.”

He’s right.

Chronos is what we think of as time. It’s the ticking clock. The ripping off of the calendar page. The need to rush to the next event.

But Kairos is something completely other. And Kairos is how God works. In due season. In the perfectly opportune moment. At the divinely-appointed time.

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