Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Man with the Plan

Eighteen years ago, a boat builder in the Netherlands began work on a custom-designed wooden vessel. Every detail had been thoroughly planned and considered and she would be both fast and comfortable, with plenty of storage space, yet attractive, with sleek lines, uncluttered decks and a spacious interior. Though built in a northern clime, she would probably spend her life in the Caribbean, taking couples on sailing vacations in the islands. 

At about the same time, several thousand miles to the southwest, a boy met a girl in a high school English class. He had grown up sailing on his Dad’s catamaran and dreamed of sailing into the blue someday. She, though born in the mountains, was a water person, feeling most at home on a beach looking out toward the endless expanse of blue and green.

So begins the tale—our tale—of two converging lines that led us to this point in time, sitting on the deck of our water-home, sharing a drink on a breezy August evening. I pondered those lines a bit and realized that our life looks less like geometry and more like two streams that meander toward the same river, replete with twists and turns, dams and falls.

Somewhere along the way, you may hear someone say, “God is sovereign.”  That means different things to different people. It usually means, “God is in control,” but for some, that makes God a tyrant, pre-determining doom for the masses of unbelieving pagans, or, at the very least, a God that allows a lot of suffering. For me, it hints at a parental guidance undaunted by childish disobedience. Somehow, no matter how much I may try to screw it up, the loving Father will make it all come out right in the end. Not that I won’t suffer along the way, but that the suffering (sometimes at my own hand, sometimes at others’) will produce something good.  I have done nothing to merit this particular favor, merely asked to be called His child by identifying with His Son, and sought His advice and desired to live life His way. (Admittedly easier said than done.)

Looking back at the course of my life, it is easy to see the convergence of unwarranted serendipitous circumstances (I call it grace, but some call it luck, and others fate). This begs the question, “How did this happen?” Were these truly coincidences? I tend to think not; like random mutations, accidents are generally not beneficial. Was it design? And if so, who designed the course of my life? I believe in free will—I made lots and lots of small decisions that altered my course immeasurably. But there is something at work that I cannot explain.

We did not buy Katie Rose. She was a fifty-five-foot solid glass monohull that presented herself to us very appealingly, despite the work necessary to make her livable.  We delayed making the final decision because we were afraid to take the plunge and follow our dream, and someone else bought her: free will. But there was an unseen Plan there not to be thwarted. For the next six months, we had to live on our boat savings while Jay was unemployed. A year later, when Jay found Take Two, we had built our savings, and our courage, up again some. But when we finally decided to buy the boat, we reached an impasse with the owner about repairs that needed to be done before we were willing to finalize the deal. The owner was unwilling to spend another cent on the boat he had been trying to unload for a couple of years and considered a great deal. That’s free will. But sovereignty—God making a way despite human activity—that would be the rock pile near the channel the owner hit on the sea trial, which gouged the keels and  forced him to haul out for repairs and acquiesce to our most pressing demands. We felt pretty confident when it all worked out that it was supposed to.

Two teenagers in love somehow survived four years of long-distance dating and philosophical obstacles and married. They somehow simultaneously arrived at the conclusion that life on the water would be great and began to share a dream that would materialize this year, eighteen years after they met. Just like our boat, which seems like it was designed for our family, the direction of our lives appears to be clearly marked out. Detours, yes; setbacks, of course, but a path that causes us to trust in an unseen designer. How did that Dutchman know what we would need in a boat? Why didn’t anyone else want her while we dawdled and dilly-dallied? Trust is funny. You can’t know anything, not really. But looking back at the evidence on this gracious path makes us able to walk forward into the unknown more confidently.  Free will is in the walking, but the confidence comes from following the directions of a sovereign Planner.


I can tell we’ve become more flexible. We used to plan out our entire lives and now I can’t even tell you what we’re doing tomorrow. Or in five minutes, for that matter. Jay says, “Be ready to head to the boat,” and the kids pack a bag and put their shoes on and stand on the rug by the front door. I ring the ship’s bell and all hands are suddenly on deck, ready for a meal or further instructions. Jay says, “Stand ready with the boat hook to grab the spring line,” and everything goes like clockwork.

When we packed up yesterday for our weekly trip to Bradenton, I didn’t know if we were staying for the day or the whole weekend. So I packed extra clothes and food, just in case. Up until the last moment, I thought we were going to eat dinner and head home. Then we ended up staying the night, and got to try out our new coffee percolator the next morning. Last weekend, I canceled plans to drive my sister to Naples so I could take a “now or never” weekend sailing class on docking, anchoring and man-overboard maneuvers. This kind of loosey-goosey, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of life would have driven me mad before, but now it just makes me laugh. It’s the first time in my life I am not signed up for anything, leading anything or teaching anything (besides homeschool!). No commitments beyond being committed to learning to sail and live aboard this worthy vessel.

It reminds me of our move to Florida. We had laid carefully-timed plans: Sarah would be born at the end of April, Jay would fly to Tampa for a job interview, and we would close on our house and move at the end of May.  But the job fell through, the buyer fell through, and Sarah was late. We had almost made a local move the previous January, but both felt misgivings and backed out. That left the door open for a move to Florida, but then that didn’t seem to be working out either. What were we supposed to do? We asked God for guidance and ended up more confused than before. So we threw up our hands, said, “Whatever,” and waited. God worked out the details better than we ever could have through a series of carefully-orchestrated coincidences. When we moved, it was God who moved us; not our plan, but His. All He required of us was to be available to go or stay as He worked it out.

When moving the boat this evening from her hurricane slip back to the dock end, I stood at the ready, boat hook in hand, and waited for Jay’s guidance. We ended up grabbing the bow line instead of the spring line amidships as planned, but I was ready and waiting, so it went smoothly. I think that is what God is asking of us. To be free is to be ready and available, patiently waiting for whatever comes next. Sometimes at a moment’s notice, the vista changes and we must be open to that, since we can’t see the Big Picture.

Part of this readiness is freeing ourselves from obligations (debt, schedules and commitments, stuff, etc.) and the other part is pure flexibility—being ready to change our plans mid-stream without whining and trying to get our own way. For us that means being surrendered to doing things God’s way and making space for Him to work. We must build in margins—financial, time, energy, and otherwise.  Jay and I realize we can’t just “go” at the word because we owe debt, own a house and have not settled all our land business. It behooves us to do that as quickly as possible because if God says, “Now!” and we aren’t ready, the plan will not go off without a hitch. It would be like trying to pull out of a boat slip with dock lines still attached.

But that wisdom is not just for us. All of us can be made more available—more attuned to the purpose of our existence. We all have something that holds us back—often our own desire for control and security. In order to open ourselves to a more rewarding and fulfilling life, we have to let go of that control and grasping for safety, for sameness, and embrace uncertainty.

How I Caught My First Fish

I was fishing off the back of the boat with salami on a hook. I was talking to Daddy when I turned around and looked at the pole. It was bending so I went down to the first step and grabbed it. Eli came out with the blue net. I reeled in my first catfish and Eli grabbed it with the net. We used teamwork to catch my first fish. My next goal is to catch lunch or dinner one day!

Trying to Reason with the Hurricane Season

Props to Jimmy Buffett.

The last 24 hours have been spent in semi-frantic preparation for Fay.  The forecasts have been a bit erratic on this one, leading us to sometimes expect a Category 2 hurricane off Tampa, and sometimes a tropical storm further south and passing inland. It is looking like the latter for the moment.

It is really surprising to me for how large these storms are and how slowly they move, how quickly the situation can change.  An air of uncertainty always exists leading up to a hurricane. People wonder if they should prepare and how much.  If you wait to be sure, it will be too late since the weather starts getting bad long before the storm arrives.You almost need to be ready to either leave the state for everyforecasted storm, or to ride out a Category 5.  By the time you knowthe storm will be a Category 5 and that it has a reasonable chance ofhitting your area, the roads will be so clogged with people that youwon't be able to leave.  Your only choice then is to stay home or go to a shelter.

One must prepare with the mentality that it is better to do too much than too little.  It is a little disappointing to work so hard in preparation, feel you're in pretty good shape, and then have nothing happen.  I can understand how a few misses can make you lackadaisical, but nonchalance could also be deadly. 

Having prepared the house several times, it is almost a no-brainer now.  We've experienced the stress and last-minute scrambe for supplies and it isn't pleasant.  Since then we've hardened the house pretty well and live in a more prepared state.

You can't do this very well with a boat.  Boats are difficult to be usable and storm-ready at the same time.  As for any object in coastal water, "safe" is a very relative word.  The best thing you can do for a boat is pull it out of the water, take it inland, and anchor it to the ground.  And that only makes it about as safe as a mobile home.

This is the first time I've prepped Take Two, so I probably spent much more time than needed.  Much of the time was spent considering how much to do and how to do it.  But now that I've done it once, the next time it should go quicker.  I think I've prepared as much as I practically can.  I can only think of a few more things to do, but the cost-benefit is not attractive.  I pretensioned the awning, but did not remove the fabric from the frame.  I put out about a dozen lines, but not an anchor.  I could have run chain to the seawall instead of rope.  I took the jib off the furler, but only lashed the main to the boom instead of taking it off too. The next step on the preparation scale would include removing anything from the boat that I wouldn't like to see thoroughly immersed in salt water.

I feel that I'm in good shape for a Category 2 and have a fair chance for a Category 3.  There isn't much you can do to prepare for anything stronger.  The boat will survive or it won't.

The whole exercise did point out some weaknesses in my gear.  Faced with storm conditions, I really wish I had not procrastinated on replacing the fenders.  On our pier end the boat is not tied off to anything on the port side, but now she's in a safer slip where I can tie off both sides and I realize that I'm not at all happy about one of my cleats.  The fenders are ordered now, but rebedding the cleat will be a bigger job.

The docks have been awash in storm stories these last few days.  Hopefully there won't be any new ones. 

Recovering Gracefully

When Jay and I were dating, back in high school, we used to have this thing we called “recovering gracefully.” It happened when we were on a date and the Ben and Jerry’s shop would be closed when we got there, or we planned to go to the beach and it started raining on the way there. Would the date be ruined, or could we recover gracefully and come up with—and implement—a “plan B” quickly and without ruffled feathers?  That, indeed, is the question.

I like change, for the most part. I admit that I am not a furniture-re-arranger-type, and that once I think things are “perfect” I don’t mess with them any more. But on the whole, I like to try new things, meet new people, and go new places. Unfortunately, I don’t change gears quickly if I am not the one who planned the change!  When things go wrong, I am more likely to be found standing in the rain, as I was today, shouting, “What do you mean you left the duffle bag at home?!”

There have been multiple opportunities presented to our family lately to practice recovering gracefully. The pancake incident is one, as told in an earlier essay. Last weekend, I baked two loaves of bread on Friday morning, to last for the weekend. I didn’t remember about bringing them until we were on the boat and I was unloading groceries. I made an ugly scene, not unlike our four-year-old daughter when she can’t find her favorite stuffed animal. I did recover and managed to bake a fresh loaf on the boat, but I can hardly claim gracefulness.  Then on Saturday morning, I went for a sail in the dingy, a ten-foot Walker Bay with a floatation collar, oars and a sail kit. It was lots of fun once the wind picked up and I got to really practice filling my sail with wind and tacking and jibing, but the wind changed on the way back to the boat and it did not “blow me right back home” as Jay had promised.  I was forced to row, which was made more difficult by the broken oarlocks, the boom, which kept hitting me in the head, and the rudder, which I did not know how to remove. Never mind about my deflated mood and the feeling of panic as I tried to avoid being swept out to sea! (That may be a small exaggeration. I would merely have been swept out into the Manatee River, which does eventually end up in the sea.)  It was humiliating to say the least, as folks were standing on the dock watching me struggle. I am not sure if I recovered gracefully, but I did not completely lose my sense of humor, and I did get home.

This afternoon, realizing that we did not have our duffle bag containing all the clothes we packed for the weekend, it seemed for a few moments like the end of the world.  Jay’s response to my exasperated shouts were, “Then fix it.” 
“I can’t,” I shouted back.
“Then stop hollering about it and come on.” 
That did it. I snapped out of it and from then on, I began to recover gracefully.  Ideally, I would begin the recovery the moment I realize something was amiss instead of freaking out first and apologizing later.  When we leave for a vacation, or a weekend away, the response to “I keep feeling like I’ve forgotten something,” is “Do you have your wallet?” There’s almost nothing I have forgotten that was not at least temporarily replaceable.  And so it was today, that as I walked in the rain down the dock toward the boat, I remembered that there was an outlet store right next to the grocery store, and I could easily replace two changes of clothes for several people at a small cost, and buy groceries at the same time, killing two birds with one stone. I also took stock of the things we didn’t forget and began to be thankful. My recovery could have been quicker, but you might still call it graceful, because grace also means offering another, though undeserved, chance.

I am glad we are given these “opportunities” frequently, because it keeps us on our toes. And we are learning the antidote to disappointment and frustration: thankfulness and joy. What is an adventure if it is not encountering the unexpected? That is both for good and ill. True, the pleasant surprises are easier to handle, but if one can learn to recover gracefully, there is good in even the most unpleasant ones as well.