Since I am a slightly more land-locked than I used to be these days, partly by circumstance and partly by choice, I have been living vicariously over the past year or so through the wanderings of a friend who is making her way all over Europe; and she is having some of the coolest adventures. I think, watching all of the things she is getting to experience (via social media, of course) has brought back some of those fun memories and experiences from my own travels. Remember, after all, (if you have been paying attention) that my suitcase has been packed since I was in the fourth grade.
I have been truly blessed to be able to experience, first hand, so much of God’s magnificent creation. I have gone from breathtaking views of snow-covered mountain peaks to the blustery wind and warm sunshine of the shores, across wide, wondrous oceans to the tranquil peace and calm of a rain forest, from a water way of canals in Italy to an Olympic city in Austria, from the mysteries of the Incan Empire to a sun kissed dessert with hundreds of balloons lighting up the night sky. One of my favorite, by far though–which I have been reminded of this week–is a seven day adventure throughout the western Caribbean.
This adventure was a cruise, and a very special cruise at that. A life-long friend was renewing her wedding vows for their twenty-fifth anniversary. They wanted to do it somewhere “Caribbean.” This friend has a twin sister and the three of us grew up together, some three hundred or so miles apart. Our parents were young married couples together. Their mom is my mom’s oldest friend. They have written letters to each other for, probably, over sixty years….yes, hand written letters. It is still done people! Our families made many trips between Ohio and West Virginia. We always have such fun together. Let’s just say that our friendship has surpassed the number of years that I am willing to share! For this cruise, other than the wedding-vow renewal, we had plenty of excursions planned. I believe there were a total of about fourteen people or so in our party.
We headed out from southern Florida with a first stop in Nassau, Bahamas. We spent some time there wandering around the markets. The next stop was Labadee, Haiti. We spent the whole day there on a private beach, sunning and funning in the ocean and exploring the forested area that is adjacent to the beach.
This cruise was fun and was packed with activity, but my favorite part of each day was getting up early, going up on deck to find a solitairy place to catch the sunrise and have some quiet time with my Lord. I should have searched through my journals and found the journal for that week. I do remember, though, that those mornings were peaceful and precious.
The next stop got a little more interesting. We hit Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Our excursion for the day there was the Dunn’s River Falls waterfall. This is a 1,000 ft. high waterfall that falls from the forest into the Caribbean Sea. The cool part of this attraction was that you got to walk down a million steps (exaggeration mine, of course) to the beach to begin the climb back up within the waterfall itself. This was a fun, beautiful, wet hike! There are basin areas within the waterfall. Some of them have natural rock formations that make it easy to slide down from one basin to the one below. I think I got stuck in a loop there for a little bit. The water was so refreshing and the slide was so cool! They had to drag me away from the slip-n-slide! We did make it to the top though. I must say, getting out of there, the marketing tactics of the locals were just a “bit” aggressive, but we made it out unscathed!
Then back on the ole paddle boat….well souped-up, mega cruise ship kind of paddle boat. We headed westward toward George Town, Grand Cayman Island. I must say, if I ever were to desire to live in a Caribbean island, Grand Cayman would be the one. I fell in love with it there, although currently there are no dreams of living the Caribbean lifestyle. I’m pretty satisfied with good ole Tennessee and our schizophrenic weather patterns, where it is spring one day and winter the next three, then throw in a summer afternoon and spin out of control for a snow day! Yes, who wouldn’t take that over sunny, 70-plus degree days? We did a bus tour of the island to include the turtle farm (which is amazing!) and Hell. Yes, we drove by Hell, and it is a pretty dark, barren looking place. Glad I’m not going there!
Then we boarded back up for the last leg of our journey heading west. The last port of call was Cozumel, Mexico. Our excursion that day was snorkeling. Doesn’t that sound just lovely and fun, with all those beautiful fishes and the warm ocean water and the lovely colors…such a nice, pleasant easy way to spend an afternoon? There were only three of us within our group taking this adventure. It was myself and my friend’s twenty four year old daughter and her husband. Well, now that I think about it, there was another person present, due to the fact that her daughter was pregnant with their first child. We boarded a huge, double-decker catamaran for our journey out into open ocean, (should have been my first red flag!) probably about an hour to an hour and a half or so out. (Truthfully, my memory somewhat blanks out when I go back to this particular adventure!) I think the excursion was set up for about fifty to sixty people. The day was absolutely gorgeous, as days in the Caribbean can be. The breezes were warm, the water was beautiful. Ah what a lovely day for snorkeling in open ocean…the deep, endless, open ocean <GULP!>
We arrived at our drop off location. Did I mention that this was a double-decker catamaran? Well, where do you think the “dropping off” part was taking place? I obviously did not think this through very well. So they herd us up to the highest point at the back of the catamaran (oh my lord…it was eight stories high!!) My blood froze in my veins. Although I like to go toward adventure, I generally like to stay back, just touching the outskirts as an adventuring wallflower. I am pleased to let everyone else get their adrenaline racing and I get just close enough to get a taste. I stayed as far back of the crowd, sort of as far outside of the crowd as I could. Man oh man, this wallflower was trying so hard to blend in with the boat! Could I just crawl under a bench and hide? With a bright pink swimsuit and neon blue snorkeling gear (that I had, obviously, unwittingly donned…Hey, that’s the way I remember it. How DID I get here?) They were giving us instructions on how to properly jump and hold onto our snorkel to minimize… what, I don’t know! I was thinking possibly so I would not drown! I did not hear a word they said. All I could think was that I was going to die if I jumped ten stories into the swirling ocean. Plus, hey, there was no land anywhere in sight. Were these people crazy? Were all those sheep that had been talked into jumping already crazy? There they were, bobbing up and down like shark bait, floating with the current. I was not jumping, no way, no how, having no part in this, you can’t make me, absolutely not. I was backing down the stairs when my exit was cut off. (Obviously, I was not the first to try and make a break for it.)
I was backing away from them, shaking my head telling them I was not jumping. There had to be another way to get into the water. Couldn’t I just climb down the stairs? They kept inching me closer to the edge. I was in complete panic mode, tears were coming. Look at this, crazy girl from Tennessee that can barely dog paddle…what was I thinking? They told me I had to jump, that I could not stay on the boat. That was so mean. I don’t know why I could not have stayed on the boat. There was no sane, logical reason why I had to jump off a twelve story pier into a bottomless ocean when I could have enjoyed a leisurely cruise down the coast.
So, here I stood, looking down a fourteen story drop into the pitching, raging ocean. They were just about, at the point, to push me in, I believe. Apparently I was messing with the schedule. The last guide left on the boat told me, one more time, (and he meant it) to hold onto my snorkel tightly and drop straight into the water. He promised to be right there beside me. I believe we all know what happened. I jumped, holding onto my snorkel as hard as I could. I hit the water and it went flying, I went down, down, down with water going up, up, up…my nose, but eventually bobbed back to the top, sputtering and barely aware that I was still alive. I suppose, since I did survive, that I do, also, have to confess that it was probably only a fifteen to twenty foot drop into an ocean that was absolutely perfect. Perspective people, perspective!
The guide rescued my snorkel and brought it back to me. He tried to instruct me in the proper way to “snorkel.” I struggled with it at first, trying to hold my breath the whole time my head was under water. Plus, I was so tense that I could not get a good flow going. Eventually though, I got it and relaxed and enjoyed the swim. They guided us over to where the more shallow Yucatan Shelf drops off into the deep ocean. Now that was eerie! Looking over into the deep, black nothingness! I swam back over to the group as quickly as possible. Since I was sticking so close to the guide that I could see his beard growing, once I heard on the radio, “sharks in the area.” <EEK!> Oh my goodness! My plump, juicy, white drumsticks would be a feast! At that point, I swam right into the middle of the crowd and stayed there. I figured that the sharks would have to get through all of them first to get to me! The boat met us pretty quick after that. We were in the water nearly two hours and by the time we met up with the boat again, I could barely climb up the ladder. As much as I fought it, it really was a very cool ending to a great trip.
I can look back and see that fear had me completely paralyzed with a multitude of horrible scenarios while I was standing on the edge (of that forty story drop), absolutely NOT trusting anyone. That is kind of how we are when we are facing gigantic fears in our own lives. We have a Heavenly Father that is saying, “Trust Me, I will not let you down.” Are we listening, or are we looking for the closest “safe” exit? The voice of the Father gets blotted out by the anxiety blaring through our brains like the ocean waves crashing against the side of the boat in a storm.
I am so glad that I have a God that loves me enough to send His Son to face all my fears for me, to give His life for my life, to give me eternal life. I pray that when you are facing those fears that seem too enormous to even think about that you know my Lord and have the assurance that He will be there for you during the swirling, crashing of the waves.
Oh yea, just a note…no way, no how, having no part in this, you can’t make me, absolutely not going to willingly sign up for that again! For the time being, I will continue to live vicariously through my friends!
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10 ESV)