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.