It was a grand idea: joining our son, his wife, and their three kids on a New Year’s cruise. Our grandkids are growing like weeds; you know, that accelerated kind of growth when one day they’re four feet tall and the next taller than you? We try to get together at least annually, which is a challenge since we live in Arizona and they in Alabama. They had decided to switch gears this year. The kids were tired of their annual post-Christmas freeze on the ski slopes and wanted to go where it was warm. One thing led to another and suddenly we were going with them. Fantastic! We would leave Mobile, Alabama and cruise to the Yucatán.
From the first I dreamed of it: five days of blissful, sunny travel; delicious, gourmet food; delightful ports of call; pampering by an attentive staff, and, best of all, time to play games, roam Mexican ruins, and catch up with family. Karon and I had only cruised once before – thirty years ago. It could be that we viewed that twenty-fifth anniversary cruise through rose-colored glasses. In any case, we were excited and started packing a month ahead of time.
Let me say right here that spending time with family is the very best and this was no exception. We had a great room, unbelievably comfortable beds, and an ocean view. Our son and his wife had a suite where we spent happy hours playing games, watching the sunset from their balcony, and planning each day’s adventures. We thoroughly enjoyed our day of tramping together through some Mayan ruins and touring the beautiful coastline of Cozumel. We met great friends at dinner and enjoyed wonderful service by the wait staff, who remembered our names from the get-go and kept Karon’s coffee hot.
Right off the bat my dream of a blissful, sunny cruise was severely challenged the moment we arrived on board. We were herded with thousands of others out onto the Lido Deck where it was cold, drizzly, and there wasn’t much shelter. Fake palm trees drooped by the pool and a lone, dreadlocked musician thumped out steel band music so loud that it rattled my teeth. We found the buffet, but, being new, didn’t realize how large it was and ended up at the taco bar where most of the condiments were already gone. By 1:30 our rooms were ready and we all gratefully trooped into the passageways to find them. Our spotless room with a clever towel-animal created by Alaine, our stewardess, awaited us. Unfortunately, the air conditioning worked way too well and it was freezing. Nevertheless, we figured out how to turn it off and took a nap.
In the afternoon we roamed the deck under leaden skies while sailing south. Where was the turquoise blue water? Where were the seagulls wheeling behind the ship? Where was the sunshine? I realized—sadly—that I had packed too many shorts and too few sweaters. Brave souls overcrowded the hot tubs and a few adventurous ones donned their bathing suits to get a cloud tan. We decided to explore the ship’s interior, which was beautiful. Unfortunately, it was freezing everywhere and I retreated to our stateroom to find a sweater. That night, as I got into bed, I told Karon, “Well, the worst is behind us. The sun will surely be out tomorrow.” Wrong. When we ventured outside the next day, we discovered that our “fun day at sea” was a repeat of the day before: gray skies and chilly temperatures. At least it wasn’t raining. All day long our cruise director reminded us about what a fantastic time we were was having.
So, you’re probably thinking, “what a whiner!” Yep. That’s exactly what I was doing. Just like the reviews you read of other people’s cruise experiences, some have a great time and others find something wrong everywhere. Some people complain about the shower head size and that their cruise to Hawaii plays Hawaiian music. For some the food is inedible sludge, but for others it’s delectable! Some rhapsodize about how beautiful everything is, yet another writes an entire paragraph about how dirty the windows are. How can these wildly divergent views describe the very same ship?
I think it’s expectations. Mine proved to be totally unrealistic. In my mind I had created an imaginary ship and destination where everything was perfect. When my expectations were not met, I felt sorry for myself. Once you start that game, it’s all downhill. Years ago, a good friend told me and Karon that, when you travel, you must be “infinitely flexible” and expect the unexpected. Then, when things happen, you’re emotionally prepared and can laugh about it. Very wise advice. Too bad I didn’t remember it for the cruise.
Perhaps the same could be said for life. Very rarely, it seems, does life turn out the way we had planned. Having specific expectations of how our lives will turn out leads to disappointment. Even expecting a certain day to be a certain way is preparing for frustration. Better to approach each day with “infinite flexibility.”
Expectations of what God will do and how He will act can also lead to disillusionment and depression. We pray that so and so will be healed, and they are not healed. We pray to find a mate, and we never do. We pray for work, yet time goes by without a job. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to believe, and that God answers prayer? Yes, of course. And He does. But God feels no compulsion to conform to our expectations or timetable. He has reasons and plans beyond our comprehension. We know He is good and that He loves us. Let us, instead of expecting him to do thus and so, simply live expectantly, watching and waiting for Him and learning to know Him in the process.
Expectancy—not expectations. This is how I need to live.
In retrospect, it was a great cruise (even though I came home with a terrible cold after spending five days with over two thousand of our closest friends). It was great because we got to spend quality time with our family with no ball practice, school schedules, work hours, gymnastic meets, or anything else. We played games, and laughed around the dining room table. We stood by the deck railing, played shuffleboard, ate ourselves silly, and connected in the very best way—in person. This is and will remain a treasured memory long after we have forgotten the less than perfect weather and the air conditioning.
PS We did have two sunny, warm days in Mexico with those turquoise blue waters and gulls wheeling behind the ship. And I finally learned where the dining room was.
David Shultz enjoys mountain views in Arizona where he lives with his wife and two dogs, Molly and Maggie.