Blue sky littered with puffs of cloud, sun breaking through above, lifeboats to my right, sea all around, and I can only sense the rise and fall of the ship through the slight change in the horizon ahead as the bow lifts and settles in rhythm with the sea. Florida is west though not visible, the Bahamas south and not visible… yet.
There is nothing traditional about my writing this week. It is, after all, day and not night, no pre-writing mix CD, no drive home, no house at all, and no loveseat. Charming is at my left in a lounge chair reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, marking in the margins with his blue Carnival cruise pen. I cannot read his scribbles, nor am I trying. I am simply aware of him beside me and happy to be aware.
Completely absent routines, I did not plan to write tonight. We’re on a five day cruise — on vacation — and during such a holiday it would seem unnatural to spend two hours holed up with my laptop somewhere in the stateroom cabin when there are evening comedy routines and karaoke sets to make laughter bubble up from my diaphragm, the hearty kind especially when Charming’s arm is about my waist.
Today, we are at sea, and the noonday sun marries with the 40 mph winds to provide the perfect beach day… sans sand of course, with the pool a deck below and the ocean dancing with the ship some thirty feet down. While the sun warms, the winds cool, and as I stretched out on my stomach an hour ago, eyes closed to the surreal beauty of this December excursion, I was inspired beyond reason.
I wanted to write, had to write, could see or feel nothing but that urge to capture this moment in words, overcome by the realization it would be a shame to waste this sort of inspiration. It seized me, I obeyed, and Charming obliged my indulgence.
I covet neither my white wicker loveseat nor the solitude of my front porch, forgiving even the cruise director for his announcement this moment reminding us of the Very Hairy Chest competition followed immediately by Vanilla Ice Ice Baby over the loudspeaker to accompany the ever-present conversations of people of all ages and shapes and sizes convening around me, a rather unusual soundtrack for my mind’s wanderings today.
I am here, in this moment, and would not wish for anything usual or ordinary to substitute.
The sky disappears into the horizon, and it’s difficult to determine where the ocean ends and the sky begins save for a thin line circling endless miles around the ship. Two days ago, this cruise seemed to be a missed opportunity, having booked up completely before we’d made our reservations. I’d resolved to be content with that, assured that our waitlist status had not changed, when a Google search resulted in a curious reservation prospect.
On a whim, I entered in our stateroom preferences and payment information, clicked “Submit,” and was unhappily greeted by a landing page stating, “Could not complete reservation. Please try again.” I did. Again and again and again, all with the same outcome. We’d missed the boat, it seemed. Charming had been approved for leave this week, and my students are surely thinking about anything but persuasive essays during holiday break, and rightly so. We were hoping for an adventure.
As we began to search for other last minute travel deals, Charming received an email confirming our reservation for a five night Bahaman cruise! Could it be real? He called the cruise line. It was real. We left Hampton, Virginia in the early morning hours yesterday, giving ourselves two extra hours for any potential driving mishaps to make it to the Charleston port for a 4pm departure.
Traffic did not cooperate, and it seemed even those extra hours were not a sufficient buffer. Stuck behind an accident, GPS alerting us that we remained an hour away for nearly an hour in itself, anxiety began to stir in my stomach. Charming reminded me that he was good in a crisis, and he was committed to see us on this ship, joking with a smile that the saying, “That ship has sailed,” was a real threat indeed, but reassuring me we would not meet that end.
At 3:20pm, we arrived at an obstacle course of orange cones and a half a dozen check points to navigate before finally parking and checking in for the cruise. We boarded the ship at 3:58 pm, breathed a well-earned sigh of relief in unison, and snapped a selfie to commemorate the antithesis of anxiety before finding our way to our stateroom, pleasantly surprised to have landed a room with a window overlooking the Atlantic.
The immensity of the ocean surrounds and inspires. Late last night, it began to rain, and I vacated the hot tub on deck to stand at the back of the ship, unable to see anything in the heavy darkness but the sea below. The wind and rain were cold, but I didn’t mind. There was a rare moment of silence in which I felt somehow a part of the world, subject to its elements, and remembered only then that God deserved my gratitude for bringing us here, despite the obstacles. And thank Him I did.
The quiet of that moment seems now a distant memory, as I am surrounded as much by activity and movement and joyful noise as I am by the vast ocean. Yet my mind continues to return to Sunday’s sermon at a church I visited with Charming before the miracle reservations were secured, when I discovered the prophet Isaiah and I have something in common: garden analogies. He writes in chapter 61 verse 11, “For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.”
The preceding verse comparing the anticipation of a bridegroom and bride may have better captured my attention in previous years, evidencing the evolution of my own life. My experiences as an amateur gardener this summer invited a more certain accord with the following metaphor as I recalled the weeks after planting where I waited in delighted anticipation for the certain blooms that would come in my garden beds.
And now, as I write, with Sir Mixalot’s Baby Got Back unsuccessfully tempting me away from my train of thought, my mind cannot forget the comfort of the following verses in Sunday’s message. Isaiah continues in 62:3, “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” That verse was inscribed in a wooden frame that graced my walls growing up: my name verse. Laura means “Crown of Beauty”. My mother would say that I was a joyful crown of beauty.
And verse 4, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight is in Her.” I was moved to tears in that church pew on Sunday, and again here on the deck of this ship, I am overcome with tears of joy.
This is what my God has done in my life. He is due all gratitude for reclaiming me. In the wake of my divorce, I was forsaken. I was desolate. I was beyond comfort, lost in the dark night of my soul, doubting even God’s presence. Here, on the open sea, God’s greatness abounds in the ocean and endless sky. He is in the sun and the wind. He warms and He cools.
A year ago, I could not have anticipated I would be on this cruise ship with Charming bringing in the New Year in the Bahamas, writing yet another chapter in our Hallmark story. But I should have known, as Isaiah did, that God would cause righteousness and praise to sprout up from that which God has sown. That He would, as He promised, redeem me, and make me His delight.
A crown of beauty, sitting upon a shelf, is a pretty thing. Tangible and concrete. But its fulfillment of purpose is not found on the shelf. Isaiah writes of this crown, the meaning of my name, in another verse. “He holds it aloft in His hands for all to see, a splendid crown for the King of Kings.” The beauty of my life finds its purpose only in the hands of the God of all, the sea and land.
How grateful I am that with God, no ship has sailed and one has never missed the boat. He portions off His grace to those such as me, who may have lost sight of purpose for a season, but who, in the dead of winter, are blessed to feel the full warmth of His love and favor.