Pep Talk #23: Hold on Tight

I Want to Hold Your Hand

Are you weary? Perhaps you are weary of 2020, of the pandemic or its cascading consequences, of continued social or economic or political disruption that means your normal safety net is not catching you. Here in the hurricane belt, we are weary of a hurricane season that seemed to last forever. We have heard news from friends in Guatemala and the island of Providencia, places that were recently devastated by the late-season storms. While I am personally in a good place at the moment, I am weary of all the sad news. I left little pieces of my heart in places where there is great suffering, and I bear a burden even when I am smiling.

At the same time, it is not a year to take things for granted, and I am encouraged because we have been able to visit with our family and host nieces and nephews on our boat, some for the first time, during the week of Thanksgiving. I feel more grateful this year than usual; life is fragile, and I am counting blessings large and small.

Weariness shows us the limits of our self-sufficiency. We can only carry so much on our own before we buckle under the weight. I have learned about that this year while carrying around sadness that is often not even my own. We carry the weight of responsibility for our families, our friends, our own decisions and well-being. We carry the things we witness, like violence, bad news, and environmental destruction. And we carry things for which we couldn’t possibly be responsible, but feel their weight just the same. And it drags us down, slowly sucking away joy and motivation and hope. We feel heavy and dark. We feel it, physically, in our necks and shoulders and backs. Perhaps that is why the words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew have always appealed to me:  

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (11:28-30)

A good friend recently explained what she had learned about the way oxen are trained. While two young oxen are often raised and trained as a team, a young ox can also be trained with an older, more experienced ox. In this case, the older ox wears the bow of the yoke more tightly so that it does most of the work while the less-experienced ox is learning. The young ox follows the lead of the older ox but does not carry the weight because the bow is fastened more loosely. Imagine that—walking through life, through hardship—yoked with someone who can carry the burden for you and show you which direction to turn.

Similarly, I love it when Jay holds Rachel’s hand. It melts my heart to see my husband’s tenderness to our daughter, and to see the perfect picture of trust as Rachel walks along, linked to that big, strong man. Holding his hand, she’s able to do things she otherwise wouldn’t, like walk across the Devil’s bridge in Antigua, a natural rock formation where the crashing waves have worn the shoreline down and left a treacherous walkway. You have to time your trip between waves so that you don’t get wet, or worse, get swept off the bridge and onto the sharp rocks below. She also holds his hand while crossing a busy street or walking in a crowd where she doesn’t want to get lost among strangers. His firm grip provides a sense of security and protection. Other times, she holds his hand while on a casual stroll, or while walking on the beach, and their physical connection is a sign of companionship and emotional closeness.

This is what it feels like to walk with God. I am beyond debating whether he’s “there” or not—it would be like Rachel doubting whose hand she’s holding! My faith has given me the confidence that no matter what is going on in my life, I am not alone. God is there, offering comfort and companionship. I can do things even when I am afraid, sad, or worried, because someone stronger than I am is holding onto me. Sometimes life is a walk on the beach—I am happy, feeling thankful, acknowledging the beauty in Creation. But other times, it is a narrow pass over treacherous rocks, and I’m holding on for dear life, trying not to be swept away.

I once prayed that I would learn to depend on God. It was stupid, I know, like praying for patience and suddenly getting a cosmic pop quiz whereby you find the limits of what you can handle. That was 2004, the year we moved to Florida with two toddlers and a new baby. I hadn’t yet made a friend, my parents divorced after 38 years of marriage, the pastor of the church we attended cheated on his wife, Jay traveled for work, and four hurricanes made landfall in our part of Florida (Dean, Francis, Ivan and Jean). I couldn’t even trust the lights to stay on. It was the year I became a morning coffee-drinker and got consistent with my prayer-and-devotions. I did learn to trust God, to sense his presence, to find peace in the middle of a hard and lonely time. It was an invaluable lesson that I have carried into other seasons of life—it made it possible for this neurotic nail-biter to move onto a sailboat and brave storms at sea, and it helps right now.

When times are hard, when all else fails—family, friends, health, finances, church, experts, government officials, self-confidence, even the elements of nature—where does your stability come from? Are you yoked to someone strong enough to handle the chaos so that you can take a deep breath and carry on? My prayer for you is that you will know peace in this hard time, find rest for your soul, and hold tightly to the hand of a Father who does not fail.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Hurricane Plan

Hurricane Plan
Take Two tied in the mangroves for Tropical Storm Eta, Florida Keys, 2020

We have prepared for and experienced several tropical storms in the twelve years we have owned Take Two, but never have we had to enact our hurricane plan, which involves “spiderwebbing” ourselves up inside a mangrove creek. That is, not until this week, when Tropical Storm Eta passed over the Florida Keys. Eta was the 29th tropical cyclone this year and passed this way after raking over Central America and flooding parts of Panama and Guatemala that we visited (2017-2019). News coming from friends in hard-hit areas is heart-wrenching and puts our encounter with the storm in perspective. We are feeling very thankful that we received the less-intense part of the storm, and also that we were able to find a quiet, secure place to practice our better-safe-than-sorry plan.

Tied to Mangroves 1

We have weathered a few named storms on the boat; some of those stories are documented here on the blog. We have been fortunate not to have sustained any storm damage yet, both by luck and preparation, though we have lost plenty of sleep. We prepped for our first tropical storm, Fay, in 2008,  mere months after we had purchased the boat.

Prep for Tropical Storm Fay, Bradenton, Florida, 2008
Take Two at Twin Dolphin Marina, first storm prep

We were anchored during Tropical Storm Debbie in 2012, which lingered over the Tampa Bay area for five days and tested our recently-purchased Manson 80-pound anchor as well as our patience. Later that year, Superstorm Sandy passed by Ft. Pierce while we were tied to a dock there.

Anchored for Tropical Storm Debbie, Terra Ceia Bay, Florida, 2012
Take Two anchored in Terra Ceia Bay for Tropical Storm Debbie, 2012

We experienced the beginning of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 while we were at a marina in Grenada, a storm for which we considered anchoring in a nearby mangrove bay, though we ultimately decided against it. Dealing with seasonal weather patterns is simply part of living on a boat—every year we make a plan for where we’ll be from June to November, and what we’ll do if a storm threatens.

Hurricane Matthew, Grenada, 2016
Mangrove hidey-hole near Calivigny Bay, Grenada

Our best strategy for storm prep is avoidance. We prefer to be outside the “hurricane box” drawn by insurance companies, in places like the Chesapeake, Grenada, Panama, and Guatemala. When we can’t avoid the hurricane zone, which is sometimes the case since Florida is our home base, we watch the forecasts carefully and try to find a “safe” place to be in August and September especially. With every storm that presents reasonable threat, we make a plan that shifts with each change in direction and intensity. If we can’t avoid a storm, we take measures to protect the boat and her crew during the bad weather. For anything more than a Tropical Storm (winds more than 74 mph), we would put the boat in a place where we can reduce the risk of damage and then evacuate for our safety and comfort.

We were in Panama during the last storm that devastated the Florida Keys, Irma in 2017. The memory is still fresh here, and locals take hurricane warnings very seriously. Those who stayed on their boats or in their houses for that storm tell harrowing stories. The mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor, a place we have now spent three hurricane seasons, are screw-type hurricane-grade moorings, but the biggest threat is the “pinball effect” when a boat in the nearby anchorage drags anchor or if a boat breaks loose from a mooring and damages others as it drifts. While we can take proper precautions for our own boat, we can’t be sure of the security of other vessels. This is what prompted us to spend August and September on a seawall up a protected canal, and why we tied up in the mangroves for Eta.

Bow Anchor
Anchored near Sister’s Creek, tied off to mangroves, Florida Keys

One of the good things about our life afloat is the ability to move, and the self-sufficiency our boat provides. Sometimes we can get out of the way of bad weather, and sometimes we can secure our boat in a safe place despite it. We can’t eliminate risk, but we can mitigate it. Because we make our own power, we don’t have to worry about electrical outages. Because we float, we don’t have to worry about flooding. In fact, the rain provides free water as it runs from our hard top straight into our tanks.

rain catching
Catching rain from Eta

We are feeling grateful a lot these days, for blessings large and small. At a time when there is so much bad news, we don’t take health, happiness, or protection from harm for granted. Seems like for every sigh of relief, there is also a sigh of sympathy: our thoughts and prayers are with those who have suffered so much this year.

Day Dreaming

Sometimes it feels like our years traveling in the Caribbean were just a dream. The present, with its mundane tasks, disrupted community, bad news, and “stuckness,” seems very real, while the life of adventure, beauty, and travel, far away. Therein lies the danger of nostalgia: to feel discontented in the present by glorifying the past. But I know that there were hardships, boredom, and loneliness there, too. That’s just life, the good with the bad. I woke up to a fourth day of rain, so no doubt my mood is affected by the wet, gray days. 

Rainy Days, Marathon
Rainy day, Marathon, 2020

I feel like Puddleglum in C.S. Lewis’s book, The Silver Chair, a prisoner of the Queen of Underland:

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

I know there is More. Bigger. Brighter. I’ve seen it, I’ve been there, and I’ve communed with other travelers in the Sunlit Lands. As I work on a second revision of my memoir (which feels as if it shall never be complete), I am reliving the memories, and whether I dreamed them up or not, I will allow myself to spend some time looking at pictures and longing for the beauty of the world. The rain will no doubt pass, and sunny days come again. I stored these memories for just such a dreary moment.

Rainbow, Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica
Rainbow, Dominica, 2016

Some random adventures mined from our flickr photostream

Bubble Bath
“Rachel’s Bubble Bath,” Bahamas, 2016
Mahi Catch
Sam with Jay and fresh-caught Mahi, 2016
Rachel, Leaving Anguilla
Rachel, sailing past Anguilla, 2016
Perch
Eli, St. Lucia, 2016
Sarah
Sarah, passage to Colombia 2016
Tanya with Big Tree
Tanya, cloud forest of Panama, 2017
Stingray City at Sunset
Family, sunset in Grand Cayman, 2018
Swimming with a Whale Shark
Swimming with whale sharks, Utilia, 2018
Waterfall Aaron 1
Aaron, waterfall in Jaguar preserve, Belize, 2018
Hiking Pacaya 1
Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala, 2019
Wakeboarding Lake Isabal
Wakeboarding, Lake Izabal, Guatemala 2019
Cenote Fun
Cenotes of the Yucatan, 2019

Galley Refit 2020

In the spring of 2008, we bought a custom wooden catamaran built in the Netherlands in 1991 named Take Two. This is what the galley looked like:

Original Galley (2008)
First view of galley, December 2007

We lived with it for a couple of years so we would have time to think about what we really wanted/needed in a galley. I love food preparation and spend hours each day in the galley cooking homemade meals and baking bread and goodies from scratch, so this is an important part of our life afloat. It’s why we chose a boat with a galley-up instead of galley-down (in the hull). If I’m going to be in the galley, I still want to be a part of the action.

What we loved was the light and space; what we hated was the Bosch electric cooktop (50 hz) that required a generator run for cooking, the small marine fridge and freezer, the dishwasher, and the grey formica countertop. After our first cruise to the Bahamas in 2010, we came back to Florida for a refit after Rachel was born in spring of 2011. We switched to marine plywood/teak veneer countertops, standard-size propane gas stove/oven, and AC under-counter fridge and freezer. We got rid of the dishwasher, build storage drawers and installed a washing machine under the chart table. It was a significant improvement.

Galley (since 2011)
Galley Refit 2011

It was beautiful and functional, but not as durable as we needed. The appliances lasted 9 years before rust started to affect the stove’s safe operation, and the moisture around the sink caused the countertops to rot. I was sad to see the pretty wood go, but the new solid surface countertops are really beautiful! I love the new stainless outdoor-grade refrigerator and freezer, the new stove/oven with extra safety features, and the undermount sinks with integrated draining board. This will (hopefully) be our last upgrade!

Galley (refit 2020)
Galley Refit 2020
New Undermounted Sink
Undermount stainless sinks, integrated draining board to the right
New Fridge/Freezer
U-Line Stainless Fridge and Freezer
New Stove/Oven
Unique Stainless Stove/Oven with Cast Iron Grates

For more photos of the demolition, before-and-after shots, and details, click here (or any photo) and it will take you to our flickr photostream. So far, so good…I’m really enjoying the new galley!

New Oven Interior
First batch of cookies in the new oven!

Pep Talk #22: Shelter From the Storm

What is peace? And where can it be found? Maybe you, like me, are asking these questions a lot right now. We certainly know what , and where, peace is not.

Tobago Cays Squall
Approaching squall, Tobago Cays , SVG

I’ve learned a lot about peace from the ocean. If we have a “peaceful” passage, it usually refers to the sea state: a gentle swell, a nice breeze and smooth sailing, sunshine sparkling on the water, maybe a pod of dolphins playing in our bow wake. Or it might indicate the condition of our crew: no one suffering seasickness, everyone occupying themselves and getting along well with each other. Likewise, a peaceful anchorage is a quiet respite from the motion of waves, the promise of a good night’s sleep at the end of a long day.

But sometimes “peace” is what we have despite circumstances. In the middle of storms at sea, I have felt an amazing inner calm (after the initial panic, of course)—I understand that the situation is dangerous and that my life is fragile, but can accept with tranquility whatever may come. Peace can also mean running from a storm and finding an anchorage in the lee of an island. The wind still howls, the rain pelts, the lightning flashes all around, but our anchor is buried in the sand, the motion of the waves is stopped by the island, and our boat is still afloat. Despite the noise of the storm, we can relax.

For me, inner peace is a supernatural occurrence—a state contrary to my normal, anxious, internal monologue. It’s a sense that no matter how bad a situation is, I don’t face it alone or without hope; I have an anchor for my soul. It takes conscious effort not to focus on the outward circumstances, but to take a deep breath, pray, and change fretting into meditating on the positive. This has helped me access this peace-in-the-midst-of-chaos. I still have an embarrassing tendency to freak out, but I’ve learned to pause and find this place of peace with a little concentration.

Many times over the last few months I have had to draw on this well of peace—as I see and hear of turmoil both around the world and close to home. Chaos reigns on personal, social, and political fronts, but I have not lost the hope of peace. Sometimes after receiving bad news, it feels like my anchor is dragging, but in life, as on the water when we experience a sudden shift in wind or tide, I reset the anchor in a firm place, pay out some chain, and go back “inside” to find rest.

Take Two Anchored in the Bahamas 2016
Take Two at anchor in the Bahamas, 2016

I don’t know whether you are experiencing a personal crisis, whether you are feeling isolated or afraid, whether the country you live in is experiencing disasters natural or man-made, but I know that we are all touched by the storms of life at one time or another. We can seek and ask for peace—inside our own hearts, with God, in our relationships, and in our spheres of influence. We can pray that our leaders will seek peace. Maybe circumstances will change, or maybe we can effect change ourselves, but if not, then the only thing we can control is our response. Let these words anchor your soul as they have anchored mine:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” –Jesus, in the gospel according to John (14:27)

Blue, a poem

Ocean Sky

Tree shadow on a hot afternoon

A snow-sparkled field under full moon

The song of a whale heard far away

Soap bubbles blown on a cloudless day

Chromis darting in coral caves

A boat afloat on foaming waves

Brand-new eyes of baby’s first blink

A curling wave at the ocean’s brink

Sapphire stones in a velvet case

A blue-swirled marble in the dark of space—

Blue beneath and blue above:

I ask you then, what’s not to love?    

–Tanya Hackney, September 7, 2013

Pep Talk #21: Change is the Only Constant

“The only constant in life is change”-Heraclitus

It’s the time of year when we watch the weather carefully. We’re from Florida and have experienced our fair share of stormy weather, from the afternoon thunderstorm that can pack 50-knot gusts to tropical storms with sustained high winds that can last for days and make sensitive crew seasick at anchor. We’ve managed to avoid hurricanes since we bought the boat (though we’ve experienced a few in a house), both by luck and by active avoidance. We’ve spent past hurricane seasons in “safe” places like the Patomac River, Grenada, Panama, and Guatemala.  We know our limits—when to hunker down, when to sail away, or when to tie up the boat and evacuate.

Watching weather analysis videos or tracking storms with NOAA is a whole-family affair. We usually have a lot of warning before a storm threatens, giving us time to plan. Even when a forecasted track crosses our path, there is a lot of wiggle room in the “Cone of Uncertainty.” For those who do software development, project management, or live in a hurricane zone, this is a familiar concept. Those watching weather reports know that it’s that shaded patch between “where the storm is now” and “where the storm is likely to land,” fanned out to account for margin of error. Small directional changes at the point of origin result in large changes as you follow a trajectory. And just because you’re “inside the cone” doesn’t mean you’re going to get hit, nor does being “outside the cone” guarantee nice weather!

The Cone of Uncertainty is a helpful tool for assessing danger and for making decisions about risk mitigation. In some ways, the computer models that predicted spread of the new global pandemic are like hurricane models. Remember the red circles on the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 map? Even now, getting a visual picture of higher-risk areas could be a useful tool for deciding whether to travel, for example. Unfortunately, right now it feels like the whole world is living inside a Cone of Uncertainty! Even if you live in a place of relative safety, the Butterfly Effect predicts that you will still be affected by small changes in faraway places, like economic fluctuations, social unrest, global supply chain disruptions, or travel bans.

Uncertainty is nothing new. We humans may operate under the assumption that we are in control, but our lives are, in fact, fragile, circumstances can change quickly, and safety is largely an illusion. Instead of crippling us, this realization gave us the courage to leave suburbia and buy a boat. We thought, “Since we can’t know what tomorrow brings, we’d better enjoy today!”

Living on the water has helped us to grow comfortable with discomfort. On the boat, we are affected by weather changes, motion, breakage, and the whims of officials in foreign ports. I am a planner by nature, and sudden changes and a lack of predictability rocked my boat (sometimes literally) at the beginning of this adventure. But living aboard for more than a decade has helped me learn to recover a lot faster when plans change and to develop qualities that make survival inside the Cone of Uncertainty possible: patience, courage, persistence, creativity, perspective, faith, and peace of mind.

I am reminded of the oft-quoted Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” I also found a helpful article on mental health during COVID-19 that offered these five strategies and lots of practical tips (see link below) :

  1. Take action on the things you can control.
  2. Challenge your need for certainty.
  3. Learn to accept uncertainty.
  4. Focus on the present.
  5. Manage stress and anxiety.
https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/dealing-with-uncertainty.htm

Tied Up: a Love-Hate Relationship with the Dock

Dock life

I love/hate being at a dock. Does anyone else feel this way? There are pros and cons to every mode of living on a boat: anchoring, mooring, docking, or hauling out and taking a trip.

It’s hurricane season and we’re in the Florida Keys. We’ve been on a mooring for a year, which is a long time for our boat to be in one place. We tied up to a seawall last weekend ahead of Laura to get out of the mooring field, where we felt vulnerable to storms (and the pinball effect of other boats dragging). We’re in a place where boats survived Irma, so we’re feeling secure for September.

We’ve got A/C, so I’m sleeping better, new neighbors who are friendly, and we’re taking evening walks. We’ll use the next few weeks to do a galley refit–appliances, sink, and counter-tops. Our older kids are able to come and go without arranging multiple dinghy trips ashore.

But…I miss the breeze, the sunsets, and the freedom and privacy of being our own island. Plus, mooring is less expensive! We knew there would be a period of time when our kids got close to independence when we would need to stay put for a while to help them get on their feet, but we certainly didn’t plan for a pandemic that would limit even opportunities to escape occasionally to the Bahamas. Being tied to a dock accentuates that loss of freedom.

So, we’ll appreciate the benefits of being tied to land for a few weeks, and when hurricane season is over, we’ll be happy to head back out!

Tour of the Interior of Take Two

Take Two is a custom wooden 48′ catamaran designed by Dirk Kremer and launched in the Netherlands in 1991. She was built for charter in the Virgin Islands, and we have the brochures to prove it! No, those two on the front are not Jay and Tanya (we were still in high school in 1991). And yes, that is a pretty accurate diagram of the floor plan.

Take Two charter brochure (1991)

We’ve been steadily improving the boat since we purchased her in 2008. While there are lots of pictures of our boat anchored in interesting places, we seldom post photos of the interior. If you’ve never been aboard, here’s a photographic tour of the inside! (Out of respect for my kids’ privacy, I tried not to take any invasive photos of their spaces.)

Cockpit
Cockpit
Galley
Galley
Salon table
Salon Table, “Bench” is an Edgestar Free-standing Fridge/Freezer
Nav station/desk
Navigation Station/Desk
Interior salon settee
Salon Settee
Port hull companionway/engine hatch stairs
Companionway to the Port Hull/Engine Hatch
Port aft cabin/Jay's office
Looking aft from engine hatch, Port Aft Cabin/Jay’s office
Port aft head
Port Head
Port forward locker (used to be a head)
Port Forward Hanging Locker (used to be a head)
Starboard aft cabin
Looking aft from starboard engine hatch, Aft Cabin
Starboard aft cabin lockers/desk
Starboard Aft Cabin, lockers/desk area
Starboard aft pantry (used to be a head)
Pantry, Starbord Aft (used to be a head)
Starboard hull, looking aft
Looking aft from Master Cabin, Toolbench and Starboard Engine hatch
Master cabin, starboard forward
Master Cabin, Starboard Forward
Master bunk (full)
Master Bunk (standard double bed)
Master his/hers lockers
Master Cabin His/Hers hanging lockers

Pep Talk #20 Let Your Light Shine

Emily Dickenson Quote
If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one life the aching
Or cool one pain
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again
I shall not live in vain

--Emily Dickenson

Part I: Accidental Kindness

I was supposed to meet a friend at the park the other day to practice ukulele, but it didn’t work out. It was one of a long string of disappointments that day. Homeschool and chores hadn’t gone smoothly that morning, and when I went ashore to run two errands, both businesses had closed early. After a week of rain, we finally had sun but we didn’t make it to the beach. And then the timing for meeting the friend didn’t work out, either. As I sat in my car, wondering whether I should just go back to the boat and call it a bad day, I realized that I could keep the appointment and go to the park to practice by myself. So I did.

There was no one there. So I sat in the shade and played and sang to the trees. And when I say “sang,” I mean I sang my heart out, like I was in the shower, like no one was listening—all my joy and sadness, pent up energy came out in that music. It cheered me up considerably. I finished a song (one I recently wrote) and was dismayed to hear the sound of applause. I turned to see a man in the nearby pavilion smiling and clapping. I mean, it’s better than booing, but still, I turned bright red. I laughed and said, “Uh…thanks…I didn’t know I had an audience…” He said it sounded good and encouraged me not to quit. So I played a couple more.

After a few minutes, he came over to the picnic table where I was sitting and introduced himself. He offered me an Altoids curiously strong mint. His name is Michael. And he said that he too had been having a bad day. He had felt discouraged and didn’t even know anyone else was at the park until he heard music. We talked about the ways humans deal with sorrow; he had drowned his in alcohol, but was free of it now. I don’t always deal with mine in a constructive way, either, but one of the reasons I love the ukulele is because this small-but-cheery instrument, believe it or not, is making the world a better place (Amanda Palmer would back me up, she says so in her Ukulele Anthem).

Sound carries. I had unintentionally made his day. I wasn’t even trying. In fact, it’s better that way, because instead of being “proud of myself” or some other self-righteous nonsense, I instead felt pleasantly surprised, amused, and humbled. I let my soul shine, and someone saw it. Sometimes I have been the recipient of unexpected joy, so I was just paying it forward. When he left, he gave me his box of mints. I can say for sure that I received more of a blessing than he did from the interaction. And all I did was show up.

Part II: Random Acts of Kindness

This is a story from February. We were at the park for Homeschool P.E. and it was our Valentine’s Day celebration. All the homeschool kids were running around with pink cupcakes and cookies and swapping Valentines. Rachel came running up to me with a pink glitter heart on which she had scrawled a loving message. She said, “Mommy, I noticed that man over there seems lonely. I want to give him this Valentine I made, but I don’t know him and I shouldn’t talk to strangers. Can you give it to him for me?”  

I asked if she wanted to come with me and she said, “No. I just want you to give it to him for me.” So I did. He was sitting on a park bench, accompanied by his suitcase and wheelchair. I introduced myself and said that my daughter (pointing to Rachel) had made him a Valentine but was too shy to give it to him. He laughed and said, “that just made my day.” And then he dug around in his backpack and pulled out a small heart-shaped mylar balloon. He said he had found the balloon that morning and knew he would meet the right person to give it to, and asked if I could pass it on to Rachel. I was touched, not just by my daughter’s act of compassion, but by the thoughtful exchange of gifts between strangers—the way kindness multiplies.

Part III. Regular Acts of Kindness

We are looking at each other over our masks with suspicion these days, viewing strangers and even friends as if they are the carriers of our demise. We are limited in our communication, some feeling literally and figuratively muzzled. But we must not let the current circumstances stop us from practicing kindness. And I don’t mean random acts of kindness, but regular acts of kindness. We must form a habit, daily looking for opportunities to be kind, loving, and considerate. It requires intention, and sometimes it’s not easy, especially to those we see every day. But it’s worth it.

Five Reasons to Be Kind:

  1. Compassion takes the focus off of ourselves and our own unhappiness—it lifts our spirits.
  2. Kindness, even a small kindness like good manners or a smile (smiling eyes?), lifts the spirits of others. Something that seems small to you can mean the world to another person.
  3. Regular acts of kindness give us a sense of purpose and community. We are feeling isolated, but we must not forget we are part of something bigger. Doing something kind reminds us that we are part of the human family.
  4. Kindness is disarming. We can speak and act kindly no matter how other people speak and act. We can’t control others’ behavior, only our responses.
  5. The qualities of kindness, gentleness, and compassion are good for our health. Really. Look it up. They can produce hormones like oxytocin and serotonin which reduce anxiety and and lower blood pressure, among other things.

Beyond cheering someone else up, lightening your own heart, and adding something beautiful to the world, there is one more reason why you should practice kindness. It reflects the love of God. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” –Jesus in the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:16