A Grand Idea

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.

jon, ms, kids, ds, & ks jan. 2019

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.

 

But then…

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.

Incredibly insightful and hilarious observations about recovery from major surgery.

In the hospital:

  • Make sure and have someone take a picture of you immediately after surgery while you’re still pain-free from that marvelous anesthesia and you haven’t seen the hospital food yet. You won’t look that good again for weeks. (RANT: By the way, why don’t they give you that anesthesia for pain when you’re banging shamelessly on the “nurse” button and when she toddles in an hour later and says cheerfully, “Here’s some Tylenol for you, dearie.” Tylenol is as useful as a mint-flavored suppository.)
  • Do not put your best foot forward or put on a cheerful grin and say you’re doing great. They will believe you and send you home within the hour, still hooked up to your catheter and IV bags.
  • Don’t be a hero when you use the handy dandy hand-held urinal for the first time. Throw your fuddy-duddy inhibitions to the wind and ask for help, or you’ll wish you had. (And it takes a loooooong time for them to change the bed.)
  • Remember that Murphy’s Hospital Laws are in full effect:
    • Murphy’s Hospital Law #1: your dazed, bleary-eyed drooling is in direct proportion to the importance of the visitors who have just come to see you (like Pastor Jeff and Robyn).
    • Murphy’s Hospital Law #2: there will be a mix-up on the scripts they send you home with. (Two surgeries and we’re batting one thousand.) When you call to get the right script, the joyful voice on the voice mail assures you that when will return your call within 24 hours. Translate this, “some time before Jesus comes.”
    • Murphy’s Hospital Law #3: the script you finally get is not covered by your insurance and costs $375 for thirty days.

At home:

  • Get used to the jazzy, new look of old people after back surgery:
  1. You will have permanent, tractor tire-like indentations in your hair and skull from using your CPAP machine not only at night but also for two naps each day.
  2. Your knee-high white compression socks add a lovely fashion statement when combined with your silky black basketball shorts.
  3. Have you ever noticed old people have coffee and ice cream stains on their shirts? Behold, stains are us!
  • Tips for showering. When you have graduated from your walker to your cane for everyday use, leave the walker in the shower to use as hand rails. Yep, it’s nifty.
  • Keep your grabber handy for when you drop things in the shower. However, if you drop the bar of soap, call in the troops because you will run out of hot water before picking up that slippery son of a gun.
  • Keep your grabber handy all of the time, period. I have successfully used it to retrieve apples from the fruit drawer in the refrigerator, a box of oatmeal from a high shelf, and countless other things. However, Karon doesn’t like it when I substitute it for a tender pat on the behind.

People-Watching

The other day I was at Tucson Orthopedic Institute waiting to get two spinal injections. Karon had a concurrent dental appointment and I was alone in the lobby with my cane to steady me. It was a perfect time for people-watching.

At the hospital

Chartreuse phone-croppedA lady in black with a chubby little dog named Yoda talks on her chartreuse phone. (The little dog looks just like Yoda!) A star tattoo embellishes her shoulder.

A hollow-eyed man seems to be with her. A red lanyard circles his neck dangling some kind of badge. His crutches lie beside him. He tries to talk with Yoda’s mommy, but is cut off with her curt, “Shhhsss! I’m calling Mother.”

A gravelly voiced gentleman with silvery bed hair wheels into the discharge area. Although the aide who brought him leaves, he carries on a conversation about predicted thunderstorms and parking meters.

A harried, olive-skinned young man in faded green scrubs hurries by in squeaking tennis shoes as a well-dressed matron makes appointments on her cell phone.Lady on cell phone

A lady recently treated with spinal injections tries to stand up. She waves off the nurse who offers to steady her and promptly collapses on the floor. Some men rush to hoist her up and settle her into a chair. Twenty minutes later she tries to stand again. Again she declines assistance. Again her legs crumple like wet spaghetti! Two different men lift her into a chair. I left before she tried a third time. (Usually such reactions are temporary in case you’re worried about her.)

Two men opposite me (I’m guessing navy vets) chat while waiting for their wives. I overhear them assigning a type of ship to each lady as she arrives. “Yep. She’s a battleship.” “Destroyer.” One slow-moving gal wobbles by. They look at each other and smile. At the same moment they say in unison, “Aircraft carrier!” and break into chortles. Funny stuff to pass the time.

I suddenly remembered another time I watched people and wrote about them. I was in my 30s at a lunch counter in Wisconsin…

At the lunch counter

She sat, stretched to the full height of her six years. Her fragile fingers, smeared with too-pink dime store polish, clutched a fork and partially-demolished piece of cherry pie which gradually spread from the plate to the counter top.

Her mother chain-smoked the time away, nodding periodically to her bright-eyed magpie’s chatter. Behind the almond-shaped, black framed glasses her eyes reflected some other place. Her mind seemed to be far away. Perhaps she was tired.

A young man whose face was cratered with acne perched opposite me like a robin come back too soon. His eyes were full of winter, and his bony hands huddled around the empty cup which had long ceased to give warmth.

An old man in a green sweater had been cornered by a balloon-cheeked woman whose false teeth clacked like castanets.

A frail creature with soda straw hair peered through ashtray glasses at the menu in studied ritual before ordering a small coke. She alternated princess-sized sips with puffs of cigarette smoke aimed through wrinkled lips at some unseen target on the ceiling.

The teen-aged waitress bustled about with ice cubes and napkins, making excuses for dirty spoons. A hair net clung like a refrigerator magnet to her head, her once-white uniform apologizing for being a size too small.

I caught sight of myself in a mirror, hunched over some cherry cheesecake I didn’t need.  I noticed with embarrassment the frayed tee-shirt I was wearing.

We were a semi-circle of strangers from different worlds, careful not to look each other eye to eye, pretending interest in the backs of menus instead.

Now, as then, my thoughts were interrupted by God’s gentle voice, “I love these people.”

God’s interruption

How quickly we judge and criticize those different from us: “Too fat!” “Anorexic!” “Filthy!” “Snobbish!” “No taste whatsoever!” “How can they appear in public like that?” We can be merciless and unrelenting unless someone—or God—stops the flow of our criticism to remind us that we fit right into this group of oddballs.

People sitting in waiting room
People sitting in waiting room

From God’s perspective, everyone is a masterpiece of his loving creation. Each face windows his divergent touch. Every flaw to him is inexpressibly precious.

In our world where so many loud people are building walls and we are encouraged to divide people into groups I need to remember that we all are God’s handiwork. He knows every detail of every single life in every single country in the world and yet he loves each of us completely and unconditionally. When the prophet Samuel was selecting a king for Israel, he had a hard time finding the one God had chosen. That’s when God told him, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height….The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[1]

What does God see in my heart? It is not my place to label and divide but to accept and love. When God is so hugely gracious to me can I not be gracious to those he loves?

[1] 1 Samuel 16:7

Mating Rattlesnakes? Really?!

It was early morning. Brewing coffee smelled like breakfast. The dogs were fed and settled into their morning rag doll poses. I stumbled outside with bleary eyes to fill the bird feeder, retrieved it from the hook under the big mesquite tree, and stopped to look at the sky. Another beautiful day. But that’s Arizona.

As I leaned over the faded blue plastic tub in which I store the seed, I stopped. Something wasn’t right. I rubbed my eyes and focused. Yes. Right behind the seed tub: a huge rattler coiled and lying quietly. Suddenly its abrasive rattle sounded the alarm. I backed away very quietly and hurried inside. Adrenaline was surging wildly through my now wide-awake body. My wife looked up as I entered the bedroom. She was a picture of peace with our dog, Molly, on her lap. “Rattler!” I blurted. “A big one!” No more peace.

I retrieved the gun and checked for snake shot. (If anyone knows where you can buy snake shot for a revolver, let me know. It seems that no one is selling it any more.) Cautiously approaching the snake, which was now in the strike position and swaying, it again flicked its tail a few times to warn me. I stopped and stared. Is that two rattles? Must be a mutant with two tails! It sure is a big one. I realized I would have to pull out the bin to get a good shot. Thankfully the snake remained where it was, ready to strike. I stared again! Two snakes together! Yikes!

Dead rattlers still connected
The male is belly up and therefore appears white. He was 43″ and the female 41″ long.

I aimed the gun and pulled the trigger. The first shot killed them both. Of course, I shot a second time just to be sure. When I pulled them out into the driveway to cut off their heads, I saw that they were mating! I guess I interrupted a little romantic moment. Too bad. So sad. I laughed now that the frightening moment was gone and wondered if they knew what hit them in their early morning ardor. Those rattlesnake babies be won’t seeing the light of day, thank you very much!

The sad end of a love affair gone wrong.

 Three years earlier I had encountered a single rattler in a similar encounter. It was my first experience with both my gun and a rattlesnake and I was shaky. It was behind a couch on the same porch and it took me three shots to kill it. I later had to do some extensive patching in the stucco where most of the shot had landed.

Altogether we’ve killed six rattlers on our nine-acre property. My son-in-law and his boys killed the first one. Such masterful butchers are they! The rattlers were babies, just as deadly.

Some people ask why we would live here where we must be so vigilant. “Well,” we say, looking at the Huachuca Mountains that fill the southern horizon with grandeur and ever-changing cloud formations, watching the hummingbirds dart from one red yucca bloom to another, and thinking of the ice-free winters we enjoy and the quiet and serenity that surround us and feed our souls, “Just crazy, I guess.”