February 19, 2015

The Love Boat

We board the cruise ship, my daughter and I, full of excitement and anticipation for the journey ahead.1  When I saw the advertisement just a few weeks ago for an island getaway, and when my husband offered us the use of his frequent-flyer miles to get to the port, how could I pass up the opportunity?  This is the first time being away from my special-needs foster child in over a year, and I am greatly looking forward to the respite.  To a chance to recharge and rejuvenate, returning home at the end of the trip with renewed joy and resolve.  Caribbean, here we come!

Although it isn’t quite noon yet when we climb aboard, already there are people at the bars, drinking their margaritas, rum and other tropical drinks with colorful umbrellas poking out the top.  The clanging bells, bright lights, and blaring music coming from the doorway to the casino let me know that the gambling has already begun.

We take our bags to our little cabin on the starboard side of the vessel, and pick up the welcome packet waiting for us there.  This “fun ship” has every amenity, every service to pamper and indulge.  European spa treatments, deep-tissue massages, and body-sculpting classes with a personal trainer.  Private photo sessions with a professional photographer.  Nightly comedy shows, music of every variety, outdoor movies by the pool, duty-free shopping onboard, an art auction, 24-hour made-to-order pizza.  Round the clock ice-cream.  Every opulence and luxury to spoil guests and help them forget, if only for a few days, the real world and all of its responsibilities.

We decide to take a walk around the ship and explore everything there is to see and do.  Of course, it is the people, the other passengers, who are the most interesting to watch.  It’s almost painful to see the scantily-clad young lady in the Jacuzzi who is shamelessly flirting with the young man sitting across from her.  There is the older couple sitting at a table for two, maybe on this cruise to celebrate an anniversary?   She is engrossed in her novel and he is returning for 2nds and then 3rds at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

We are looking forward to dinner tonight, tasting the award-winning cuisine prepared by a world-class chef.  For me, a stay-at-home mother who never goes out to dinner and most days just throws on comfy jeans and t-shirts, having the opportunity to dress up and put make-up on, and then to eat delicious food that I did not prepare for myself is a treat indeed! 

The meal is every bit as delicious as we had anticipated!  My daughter bravely orders the Escargot Bourguinonne, something she would never be able to try at home, and I relish every bite of my fresh chilled Gazpacho soup and Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato soufflĂ©.  And what could be more heavenly than strawberry cheesecake for dessert?

Sitting next to us at our table just happens to be another mother and daughter traveling together.  I like them instantly, and within minutes we learn their story.  Although the elderly mother lost her husband almost ten years ago, she has never quite gotten over the grief of her loss.  And yet she bravely carries on, even offering to raise her great-grandchildren when their mother was unable to do so.  Her daughter had invited her mother on this cruise, hoping that it would be a fun adventure for them both.  And indeed, just as my own daughter and I have experienced, the preparations and anticipation for this vacation have been a bright spot in their lives.  I’m so thankful that, out of all the thousands of people on this cruise, these two ladies are our dinner companions!

After dinner, my daughter and I go to the auditorium to get seats for tonight’s Broadway-style show.  The pre-show activity is a Bingo game, which sounds like fun until I hear that the cost for each Bingo card is the low, low price of $25.  I am shocked! I am even more surprised to see the long line of people waiting to purchase cards!  For me, a frugal member of a single-income family who has to talk myself into buying a specialty coffee on special occasions, I truly cannot understand what would motivate someone to spend his or her hard-earned money on something so frivolous!  Perhaps the prize is the incentive: $500 off of the bar tab.  Seriously?!  How high are these bar tabs going to get, anyway?

On our way back to our cabin, we stop to look at the wall-sized map, trying to guess where in the middle of the ocean we are, and locating the tiny islands where we are currently heading.  A middle-aged couple stops to examine the map as well. I can tell from their accents that they are from somewhere in the United Kingdom, but when I ask where they are from, the man is so inebriated that he cannot remember the name of his home town, and his wife (or girlfriend?) thinks that this is hilarious.

As I sit in the quietness of our cabin at the end of this embarking day, I contemplate all that I have seen and encountered the past few hours.   Music, food, shows, distractions.  And most of all, the people.  People from all walks of life.  People just like me, who are attempting to escape life’s burdensome responsibilities for a few days.  People who need God’s love and grace just as much as I do.

For me, a busy foster mama whose obligations and difficulties at home can sometimes feel overwhelming, I thought I was taking this vacation to rest and rejuvenate and restore my weariness.  I thought I needed a respite from serving and giving, loving and ministering to the needy children who are ever in my care.

But now I realize that the Lord might have had another purpose in mind.  Although I am deeply grateful for a few days to bask in the sun, I realize that I don’t need a Caribbean vacation in order to find peace.  What I really need is to remember.  To remember, once again, that God’s love is the only thing that will truly satisfy the deep longings of my heart.  That He is the One whose promises fill my empty soul.

When the storms of life are raging and I feel as if I’m drowning, I do not need to fear.  After all, I know the Rescuer!  The One whose strength is sufficient for me.2  The only One who is able to provide the peace and joy that I so desperately seek!  I do not need to travel to the ends of the earth . . . His love is just as real and just as powerful in my own home as it is on this boat.  No matter where I am I can find refuge in Him.  How thankful I am for His unfailing love!!3

1.             In case you’re wondering, here is the reason I am vacationing with my daughter instead of with my husband:  The Relay Team
2.             “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
3.             “How priceless is your unfailing love!  Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.” – Psalm 36:7

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