The Glorious Gift of the Unexpected
by Ceejae Devine
Jade was only minutes old when they placed her on my tummy. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Actually, her eyes. They were huge, bright, fixed intently on mine. I lay there thinking, “Aren’t newborns supposed to have their eyes closed?” The midwife told me my life would change when Jade was born, but this was different from anything I’d envisioned. I held on to the moment, deeply affected by this glorious gift of the unexpected.
To everyone’s surprise, a few hours later my husband and I decided to head to our home in the San Juan Islands to save on hospital expenses. We caught the 8:30 p.m. ferry and stayed awake with Jade until midnight. The next day passed in a blur, then the following morning I took Jade to her first checkup. When I mentioned how alert she was, the midwife said, “We call these babies ‘little wizards.’” She tossed the words out casually, as if people said things like this every day.
It was fun to imagine that this was an omen, but I’d been compelled to make a number of life changes, so I figured a couple of them had probably affected Jade’s level of attention. In my late twenties I struggled with exhaustion, so I stopped drinking alcohol and made changes to my diet. I’d also become a business owner and, even though long hours were often required, I was able to work from home. I hadn’t planned any of these things for Jade’s benefit, but they turned out to be ideal—she spent most of her time in the care of a college-educated health nut.
Jade inspired me to start writing. I had to take occasional business trips, and flying down the freeway, trying to catch the let’s-make-this-just-a-fourteen-hour-day ferry, sometimes made me wonder if I was going to make it home at all. I wanted Jade to know who I was and how much I loved her. I started reading about women’s issues because my work/life balance was significantly more difficult than I expected, even given my circumstances, and Jade continued to amaze me, so I thought, “I need to tell this story.”
Months later, I shared my book about “becoming an awesome mother” with a friend and she said, “It’s too personal. You can’t publish it.”
After hours of heartache, I realized she was right, so I tried to restructure it. As I learned more about writing and publishing, I realized no one was going to publish my book if I didn’t have anything more than brilliant-kid credentials.
I thought, “Maybe I’m not good subject material.” My interests and concerns had also shifted significantly, being a mother was now just part of the story. So, I stepped out of the spotlight and started a collection of humorous essays about expectations and challenges I suspected many other women were facing.
Then, one weekend, an event occurred that affected me in a deeply spiritual, but unconventional way. I grew up believing that everything about God was known, that all anyone had to do was read one book. I was also led to believe that nothing was going to happen to anyone after what happened 2,000 years ago, so I didn’t know what to do except write about it. A couple of years later, another event occurred at a writing workshop. I didn’t know what to do with that, either. I just wrote about it, wondered a lot, and kept writing.
I participated in more workshops, read books on a wide range of subjects, and generated a collection of essays called Brave New Girls. In 2012, I attended a writers’ conference where I received positive feedback and interest from a couple of agents, so I thought, “Finally, I’m on my way.”
About a month later, while attending a fund-raiser at a bird sanctuary, another remarkable event occurred. The sanctuary cares for my two parrot friends who needed a home when I lost mine in 2010.
As I was walking around the grounds, I saw a woman who was wearing the same shirt I had on. I’d heard this kind of thing was supposed to be embarrassing, but I decided to say hello anyway. We talked for a few minutes, then I went to find a seat for the live auction. I decided to bid on a framed print even though I felt sure I wasn’t going to get it, and the woman who was calling the auction items came over and asked for my name. Little did I know, the woman with the matching shirt was watching.
When the auction ended, a little girl came storming toward me, arms pumping, jaw jutting forward, demanding to know my name. As I replied, the woman with the matching shirt and the girl’s mother caught up to her. It was incredible. We had matching shirts and the same name.
You’re probably thinking the odds of something like this happening was bound to occur sometime.
But, by this point in time, I’d experienced a number of other events that had been pushing me to think of them as something other than luck or coincidence. So, for me, the message was clear: I used your name; this didn’t happen by chance.*
Once again, I felt compelled to start over with my writing. I struggled with the idea of writing a memoir, thinking, “Who was I to write about a spiritual journey? Who would want to read about the details of an ordinary woman’s life? Especially, a feminist.”
As I worked on it, I began to see how disparate combinations and a broad range of information and experiences could generate startling, unexpected perspectives. I was subject, again. Not just the easy, pleasing parts—all of me.
As everyone does while growing up, I’d developed ideas about the rules and limitations of life. I was certain mine would be commonplace. For years, I believed that “anything that didn’t fit within the rules” should be kept quiet. I knew there would be challenges and I was led to believe that most people found happiness through the pursuit of worthwhile work, marriage and family. I’d lived most of my life thinking of God as an abstraction: distant, perhaps the source of love, something we wouldn’t understand until we died.
As I looked back over my life, I realized that I’d been on a life-long spiritual journey. Always open, always wondering, then finally seeing that as I chose to do what was right for me—a woman and a feminist—I was getting what I needed in some ways and more than I dreamed in others. God had always been there for me, and I began to find myself experiencing blessings in ways that were beyond my wildest expectations.
As I pieced together the details—the depth of the hardships and the breadth of the gifts—they revealed experiences that create a storyteller. I was supposed to combine the knowledge I’d acquired with the experiences of a woman who’s done things some people claim are harbingers of evil and, instead, found herself immensely blessed.
I found a voice I never dreamed could come from me—a voice needed to help this generation move forward in solving many of the conflicts the world faces today, conflicts that revolve around women’s lives, the nature of humanity, and misguided ideas.
*This is only part of the story. Other significant elements occurred that were similar to what happened at the writing workshop.