Take Two and Lovely Cruise (with Eli and Skipper aboard) spent a week at Dry Tortugas National Park, anchored near Fort Jefferson, a Civil War-Era Brick fort about 70 miles west of Key West. It was used as a prison, and this is an essay about its most famous prisoner.
On April 14, 1865, during a play at Ford’s Theatre, John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincon in the head. Did anyone conspire with Booth in the assassination plot? Perhaps we will never know for sure, but he certainly had help afterward. After firing his gun, Booth jumped off the balcony and broke his leg. He got away and ran to the house of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who set his leg and let him rest. Booth snuck away in the early hours of the morning with his friend David Herald but when federal agents searched for Booth at Mudd’s house, he said he did not know who or where Booth was, though it has been established that the two men knew each other from previous meetings. When they found Booth and Herald in a barn at Garret’s farm, Herald surrendered but Booth resisted arrest, so they set fire to the barn and later shot Booth, killing him and destroying any chance of finding out his secrets.
Back in Washington D.C., eight conspirators, people who knew Booth or had helped him in some way, were questioned and tried in a military court. They were all found guilty and four were hanged, including the first woman ever to be executed in the United States. Four were sent to prison and one escaped. Dr. Mudd was given a life sentence to be carried out at Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas. Mudd ended up only serving four years because he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869, after heroically treating patients during a severe yellow fever outbreak at the fort. When visiting Dry Tortugas National Park, you can still see the cell of Samuel A. Mudd, the famous doctor who set the leg of the man who killed the 16th president of the United States of America.
This month marks four years since we returned to the Florida Keys from our circle of the Caribbean. Had you told me in July of 2019 that we would still be in Marathon in 2023, I would have laughed, and then promptly turned the boat around. We didn’t buy this boat to sit in one place; at the same time, we recognize that there are seasons of life when you need to hold still. Shortly after arrival, Jay and I went on a date to the Barracuda Grill, a place we enjoy, not just for the good food, but, oddly enough, for the paper-covered tablecloths. When you walk in, the host hands you a menu and a pack of crayons at the door and then you can go to town making table graffiti or sketching out life plans while you wait for your appetizers.
We were feeling overwhelmed with the decisions facing us. We had just accomplished a major life goal (to go cruising with our kids in the Caribbean), but we had teenagers and aging parents with needs that superseded our desire to keep traveling. So we sat with our crayons in three colors and sketched out what we thought the next few years might hold, and what direction we might head.
The questions: Where should we settle to give the kids some consistency and the teenagers a stable platform from which to launch? Do we need to be geographically closer to our parents? How are we going to afford groceries? (After living in Central America for two years, coming back to Florida instantly doubled our grocery bill.) What are our family goals, career goals, and personal goals? We wrote them down in three color-coded columns: One Year, Five Years, Ten Years.
With Eli turning 18 later that month, we knew he would probably be out of the house by the end of one year. Aaron, almost 17, and Sarah, having just turned 15, would be independent at the end of five years. All three would need their drivers’ licenses and we would want to find another vehicle or three. They also had education goals beyond our homeschool that would demand immediate attention to take advantage of Florida’s free dual enrollment program at the College of the Florida Keys. Sam and Rachel would need a homeschool community and activities to find new friends. Jay needed to rebuild his consulting career in the short term, but for the long haul, he wanted to grow his side business so that it provided recurring income to set him free from the “time-is-money” model. In addition to homeschooling the kids, I wanted to write and publish a book.
Our boat needed some immediate repairs, but there were other projects we had been putting off, like repairing and repainting decks, redoing the water tanks, upgrading the galley, and buying new sails, which would take longer than one year to complete. Our parents, in their seventies, would be needing more support from family, and we wanted to make some memories with them before we had to address end-of-life issues. At the same time, we didn’t want to abandon travel, so we wrote down “sail to the Bahamas” and “family road trip out west.” All of these goals went onto the one-five-ten chart on the tabletop. By the end of the evening, we had visualized a few possible scenarios for the foreseeable future.
And here we find ourselves, four years into our mid-term plans. So, how did we do? In the first year, we settled in Marathon, reconnected with old friends, and rebooted Jay’s career. Our teenagers got drivers’ licenses, jobs, and started college classes. Our oldest son, Eli, finished high school during the pandemic, got his AA degree, and took flying lessons. He bought his own truck, and made an exit plan. We replaced the galley appliances and countertops in a 2020 galley refit, and even squeezed in a Thanksgiving/Christmas buddy-boating cruise with Jay’s parents before Eli left for a job at my brother’s painting company and a rental home with his cousins on the mainland.
Aaron graduated high school a year later, about halfway through an AA degree before deciding he wanted to go to technical school. He acquired a mid-90s Ford F150 that he slowly rebuilt, buying parts with his employee discount at Advance Auto Parts. He moved to Orlando and now works at Sunbelt rentals, where he occasionally gets to work on heavy equipment. He will graduate this August and then head to Jacksonville to train and work for Mercedes Benz for a couple of years. He’s very happy with the choices he’s made and we are pleased to see him fulfilling his own short- and long-term goals.
We took an 8000-mile road trip with the three youngest kids in 2021, one I had always dreamed about, allowing us to hike the Grand Canyon, all five National Parks in Utah, and Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as doing some spring skiing in western powder, catching up with old friends along the way, and even seeing springtime in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the way back to Florida.
Sarah spent six months at a dude ranch in Colorado before graduating in December of 2022—receiving her high school diploma and AA degree simultaneously. She bought a 1997 Jeep Wrangler which she works on herself, and had a job helping a fellow homeschool family successfully open an ice cream shop. She’s considering joining the Coast Guard, which will help her further her career and education goals, and likely take her back out on the water.
Sam and Rachel are still homeschooling, pursuing their own activities like competitive Jiu Jitsu and dance, and enjoying time with friends in the Keys. Sam just returned from a mission trip to Cuba, where he had an opportunity to use the Spanish he learned in Central America. We’re watching him grow from a boy to a man; he’s now almost as tall as Jay. By the end of our ten-year goal post, our sailing crew will have shrunk from seven to three, and, for the first time, we will have empty cabins on Take Two.
After Jay rebuilt his consulting career, he decided to take a break to make his side business his main gig, something he hopes will help us plan for further travels and, if we’re lucky, retirement. I wrote and published my first book, and am about 25% into a second manuscript, with a third outlined and ready when the next book is finished. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Greece last year, a trip of a lifetime.
Take Two is doing well, too, with new galley appliances and countertops, new starboard water tanks, repaired bulkheads in the starboard head, repaired and repainted cabin top, and deck work in progress. The dinghy got a new electric winch to make lifting it easier, and discussions about going sailing have started up again, with a trip to the Dry Tortugas planned for this summer, Lord willing and barring hurricanes.
As we suspected, our parents are happy to have us closer for this stage of life. I am so happy I got to spend the last year of Mary’s life making good memories with her, and that I was there to hold her hand at the end of her journey last October. My mom also had a medical emergency last year which prompted some changes to her living situation, and I’ve been glad I could just hop in the car, drive over a few bridges and across the Everglades to be there when I’m needed to help out and spend time with family. And I’m always relieved to return to our little island home, just far enough from civilization, but not too far. We have a wonderful community of friends around us, and we are seeing the benefits of our intentional dreaming and scheming, with the one-year goals checked off, the five-year goals almost complete, and the ten-year goals a little clearer. It reminds me of the saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…”
Fifteen years ago (December 8, 2007), our family drove to Ft. Lauderdale to look at a catamaran called Take Two. Sometimes when opportunity knocks, you chicken out (we almost bought a monohull called Katie Rose), but, if you’re very fortunate, it may knock twice and give you a second chance. When we found Take Two, we just knew she would be ours and that our lives would never be the same. The following is an excerpt about finding our floating home from Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat, available here or wherever books are sold.
“Losing Katie Rose had taught us that regret feels worse than fear, and meeting the Tuckers showed us what was possible with a large family with young children. Our kids were growing fast, and we didn’t want to miss the chance to travel with them while we worked through a slow, multi-step process. No matter how much practice we had on small boats in inland waterways, no matter how many baby-steps we took, there would still come the unavoidable moment when we would need to actually buy a blue water boat in order to take our family out sailing on the unforgiving ocean. Regardless of preparation, that would still feel like a sink-or-swim moment. We wouldn’t know whether we were ready, or capable, or even whether we would enjoy it, until we tried. And not trying would mean always wondering, and possibly regretting. With crystalline determination, we decided to skip the baby-steps and take a giant leap. We began looking for a liveaboard boat, opening up the search to catamarans. Though we knew a multihull might be more expensive than a monohull of similar length, it would provide enough space for our growing family and maybe even satisfy my husband’s desire to go fast.
“That is why I got so excited when, several months later, Jay came home from a week-long business trip and announced, ‘I think I found the boat.’ Not a boat, but the boat. He opened his computer to show me and, at least on the listing, Take Two looked perfect. She had four cabins with double beds, a spacious interior, an enclosed cockpit (safer with small children), inboard engines with prop shafts, a generator and watermaker, and beautiful lines. She ticked off so many of our boxes and looked so attractive that we felt that we should pursue the next steps, ready or not. We knew the cost of hesitation and didn’t want to end up like so many other planners, armchair sailors, and readers-of-adventures.
“All the same, we were naturally a little nervous about buying a large, custom-built wooden catamaran, built in Europe in the nineties, which had sat unwanted in Florida for three years, sustained some damage in a hurricane, and cost more than our first house. It was a risk against which we could not measure the benefits. What if it cost too much to fix? What if we hated living on the boat? What if we changed our minds and then couldn’t sell it? But then, what if it was wonderful? What if this boat was the answer to our hopes and prayers? What if this was a second chance at adventure—the boat’s name was Take Two, after all!
“We reminded ourselves that we weren’t committing to anything yet. We didn’t have to buy a boat, just go look at a boat. Anyone can get in their car and drive to Ft. Lauderdale—it doesn’t take much courage to do that! We buckled our four little people into their car seats and drove our van across “Alligator Alley” between Naples and Fort Lauderdale. We invited Jay’s dad and stepmom, Al and Mary, who were also boat-owners, to come along and give us their opinion.
“Looking at Take Two was like falling in love—sometimes you just know it’s the right one. All the things that had scared other buyers away excited us. She was custom-built, cold-molded marine plywood and epoxy. The designer, Dirk Kremer, had thought of everything; lots of built-in storage, a roomy galley in the main cabin, an enclosed cockpit with lots of seating. But, unlike a name-brand production boat, there would be no manual, no warrantees, and no company support. Parts would have to be special-ordered or manufactured. The electrical system was European, fifty-hertz, and needed upgrading. In fact, everything needed upgrading—it would be a labor of love, but if we took on the project, it was an opportunity to make the boat our own. Her bones were good, her lines sleek, and the space was perfect for a large family. It was as if she had been built just for us.
“While Jay was lifting every hatch and discussing systems with Al and Mary, I was corralling three excited kids while holding a baby. To them, the boat was just a new playground. After a while, I gathered them up and climbed off the boat so the adults could get down to business. At last, Jay climbed off the boat and I asked if he could watch the kids so I could have some time to look around all by myself. The next twenty minutes would likely change my life. I walked slowly around the boat, imagining what it would look like if we lived there. I climbed up into what could someday be our bunk and just lay still for a while. Even at the dock, I could feel the boat swaying beneath me. Does a person get tired of moving all the time? I wondered. I couldn’t answer that question, nor any of a dozen others. Soon it was time to get into the car and drive back to Clearwater. It turns out that just looking can be dangerous; we found ourselves buzzing with excitement on the drive home as we contemplated the next risky step.
“There was unanimous agreement about, and enthusiasm for, Take Two. She would need an out-of-the-water survey and a sea trial to tell us if she was sound, but we knew we liked her, and we felt that we could be happy living aboard. She was spacious, without the space being wasteful; she looked fast, but comfortable; and she came equipped to sail across oceans, a real blue water boat. To be fair, the kids didn’t really know what they were signing up for—they thought the boat was a new jungle gym, and they imagined that they were heading out to sea like a band of pirates. What little kid wouldn’t be enthusiastic? Jay’s parents approved, too. But there were risks—the boat would be hard to sell if we changed our minds. There would be no turning back. Added to the fear of the unknown, there were the known fears, like bad weather, endless repairs, and seasickness. Before we could even buy the boat, there would be questions to answer…” –Chapter 3: Sink or Swim
In Loving Memory of Mary Tanner Hackney 12/13/62 – 10/12/22
Mary, Jay’s stepmom, has been an important part of our lives for over 30 years and joined us on our sailing adventure many times. She and Jay used to crew on race boats in Naples, Florida when we were teenagers. She and Al took us on our first cruise to the Florida Keys on their catamaran when we were newlyweds in 1998. We sought her and Al’s advice when we took them with us to see Take Two for the first time in Fort Lauderdale in December of 2007. They have buddy-boated with us over the years, meeting us in their own boat in the Bahamas and Florida. We spent time with them when we sailed to Panama in 2017, where they had a house, and Mary was always up for flying wherever Take Two traveled and spending a week in an exotic location. So it is with a heavy heart that I share that she passed away last week. I spent the last days of her life at her bedside, keeping the night watch while other family and friends kept the day watch. Her last passage was a peaceful and joyful one. She lived life to the full and I feel so thankful for all the memories we made. Her obituary is posted below.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
–Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church (Chapter 4, verses 13-14)
Mary went bravely and joyfully to be with her Father in heaven on Wednesday, October 12 in the care of Avow Hospice in Naples, Florida, after a bout with pancreatic cancer. She spent her last days surrounded by loving family and friends, hearing words of peace, joy, and gratitude. She was herself to the very end, making jokes with the nurses and smiling when words failed.
Mary worked as a flight attendant for Allegiant Airlines. She is survived by her husband Alfred Hackney II, her sister Susane Brown, and her two stepsons Jay and Jeff Hackney.
Mary was a lifelong learner, an avid reader, a Spanish speaker, a Chartered Financial Analyst, a pilot, a sailor, a Toastmaster, a Kon-Mari consultant, and a world traveler. She was a recovering alcoholic with 25 years of sobriety and a mentor and sponsor to many, a loving wife of 33 years, a friend to nearly everyone she met, and an “adventure grandma” to her stepsons’ children. Her shi-poo Bailey and cat Charlie will miss her dearly. The depth of our sadness at her passing is a testimony to the love we bore her, to her open and outgoing personality, and to her generous investment in relationships.
Mary wished to be cremated and there will be no public service at this time. The 1281 LLC will host a celebration of Mary’s life on December 10th.
If you wish to honor Mary, please consider making a donation to:
“Mawage is wot bwings us togevvah today. Mawage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam within a dweam…”—the Impressive Clergyman (Peter Cook) in The Princess Bride
This August, Jay and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. While we try to do something special every year commemorate the beginning of Us, this feels like a milestone. I know it’s only silver, half-way to the golden 50th, but these days, that’s a big deal. And whether due to death or dysfunction, neither our parents nor our grandparents made it to the golden anniversary and so we’re even more determined to keep going!
Recently, I have been contemplating what this relationship means to me. I watched a young couple get married on a quiet beach one morning in June. It was just the two of them, barefoot, with an officiant and a photographer for a witness. I was remembering my own wedding, the promises we made before we knew what they meant, the giddy feeling that is equal parts joy and terror, and how far we’ve come in the intervening years. What we did with our family—leaving the beaten track to follow our dreams and live an adventurous life—would not have been possible without the stability our marriage, the partnership based in love, teamwork, good communication, and hard-won problem-solving strategies. What is this “dream within a dream” we call marriage, and why is it worth fighting for? Though the global divorce rate hovers around 50%, we all know that a good marriage is more than a flip of a coin. These are my reflections after spending a quarter of a century with the same person.
The promise I made on my wedding day was not only to Jay, but also to God. Marriage is not merely a contract between two people, but a covenant made before and with the Creator. It is a promise to stick it out and treat each other with love and respect regardless of changing circumstances, and not merely a legal arrangement between two people that can be easily broken when one person doesn’t uphold their end of the deal.
Because we have children, this covenant involves them, too. By promising to work out our difficulties and stay together, we provide stability for our family. We are also setting an example, and we want our kids to be in relationships where mutual respect is the norm, where they feel safe to be themselves, and where conflict can be resolved.
The benefits of staying are things you can only learn by staying. Romance is magical, honeymoons are wonderful, and early marriage is full of both mountains and valleys, but “middle marriage” is when maturity happens, when (ideally) you have stopped trying to change your partner, stopped expecting the impossible, and have even begun to appreciate the things about him or her that you might have complained about at the beginning of the marriage.
Love is not just a feeling, it’s also a choice. We may describe love as something we can fall in or out of, like an accident, but the kind of love that makes a marriage work is purposeful. It involves a lot of hard work and forgiveness. Unconditional love is demonstrated only when challenges are faced, when potential conditions present themselves. Sometimes, love is how you act toward another person despite the way you feel at the moment.
Sex is important, but it’s not everything. Our culture celebrates sex before marriage and makes fun of sex after marriage. But a good sex life in a committed relationship is a rare and beautiful thing. It can promote bonding, build trust and communication, encourage selflessness, add fun and pleasure, prevent infidelity, and create new life. Over a lifetime, a couple’s sex life will go through many transitions, but if intimacy and communication are at the center of the relationship, sex complements the emotional bond, but doesn’t make or break it.
Love is like your favorite pair of old shoes. At this point, our relationship is comfortable. We have begun to take our marriage for granted and can finish each other’s sentences. But comfort can lead to complacency, so we still have to do the little things that say “I love you.” We need to take care of the old shoes so they last a long time.
Love never fails. That’s what it says next to the date engraved on the inside of the gold wedding rings we exchanged. And I still believe it. I may fail, Jay may fail, but love itself—the Eternal Source of love, the power of love, the feelings that follow the choices to love—these things do not fail. When we pick ourselves up after a failure and try again, we witness the power of this kind of love that doesn’t quit or walk out. It is, perhaps, the best demonstration of the gospel: we have a God who loves his people unconditionally, a God who forgives, a God who is faithful. The fact that we survived and stayed happily married despite raising five kids on a boat is a modern-day miracle! By the grace of God, we still love each other.
I read a book with a group of friends this year by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? His observations are timely and echo my own sentiments: “I love marriage, and I love my marriage. I love the fun parts, the easy parts, and the pleasurable parts, but also the difficult parts—the parts that frustrate me but help me understand myself and my spouse on a deeper level; the parts that are painful but that crucify the aspects of me that I hate; the parts that force me to my knees and teach me that I need to learn to love with God’s love instead of just trying harder. Marriage has led me to deeper levels of understanding, more pronounced worship, and a sense of fellowship that I never knew existed.”
I don’t know what curve balls the next few years will throw at us, but because our love is based on something transcendent, something that lasts even after we are gone, we face the future with optimism and hope. In the immortal words of Westley (Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride), “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for awhile.”
Click here to listen to an interview with Elise Peck on her podcast about how a stable love relationship helped us fulfill our dreams, break negative patterns, and stay in love in different seasons of life.
Three years ago this week, we returned to Florida after a 5000-mile circle of the Caribbean. We have never stayed in one place so long, and due to my incurable wanderlust, I am itching to go cruising again. We came back to the U.S. to pursue some important goals–many of which have been crossed off our list. Our three oldest kids completed two years each of college, and have their own vehicles, jobs, activities, and plans for the future. Jay rebooted his career. I published a book. Sam competed in his first Jiu Jitsu tournaments. Rachel participated in her first dance recitals. We’re taking care of some much-needed boat projects. We took an epic road trip. We adopted kittens. We have gotten to see our families a lot more than we did while traveling, even though we miss sailing and island-hopping.
The emotions I feel when I see this picture from three years ago are not merely nostalgia and longing, but also deep gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. We did it! When we were teenagers, we dreamed a dream that we never gave up on. We left a comfortable life in suburbia for a harder, but more rewarding, life on a boat. We have paid the price and also reaped the rewards of that choice. We homeschooled our kids, we learned new languages, we made friends from all over the world. We saw the incredible beauty and diversity of nature. That we were able to do these things is an incredible privilege, one for which we are so thankful.
In a world that sometimes feels like it’s falling apart, in the middle of grieving losses, amid illness and disruption and disappointment–I am so grateful. I wrote a blog post many years ago called “Store It Up” , documenting a beautiful day, a snapshot of words, if you will, that I could take out and savor on a rainy day. I have hundreds of these memories stored up. In retrospect, there is nothing I would trade for these days–no amount of money, spacious housing, comfort, or luxury. It was worth every sacrifice.
I say this not to gloat, but to encourage. If you are in a position to buy an experience instead of a gift, if you are considering doing something different with your life, if you want to go on an adventure with your family but are feeling uncertain: do it. There may be risk and difficulty, it will most assuredly not go exactly according to plan, but if you “collect verbs and not nouns,” you will never regret it.
The crew of Take Two is setting off on their own adventures. Aaron graduated from high school in December and applied to Universal Technical Institute’s Orlando campus to study automotive and light-diesel repair, as well as doing some Ford-specific training. He moved into an apartment with roommates from the school, transferred to an Orlando Advance Auto Parts store, and started classes at the beginning of April. It’s an intensive, hands-on, one-year course that will give him an Applied Sciences degree and have him well on his way to being a master mechanic. He’s feeling enthusiastic about the program–he was not enjoying the academic track he was on at the College of the Florida Keys. We are not surprised, as he was always the tool-kid, the take-your-toys apart kid, the I don’t-want-to-read-and-write kid. He’s finding his own path to success, which is what we always wanted for each of our children.
Sarah is in Colorado for the summer, working at Wind River Ranch, a dude ranch outside of Estes Park. It is her first time away from home, and she is loving the work and the social aspects of the ranch.
We are now just four aboard—Jay, me, Sam, and Rachel. As we have noted before, every time someone joins or leaves the family, the chemistry changes. I find it strangely quiet. The two youngest crew members used to bicker like crazy, but they are suddenly getting along great. There’s not even conflict over the chores, which now have to get done with fewer helpers. Then again, there’s less laundry, fewer dishes, and less clutter. We are finding a new rhythm, and I am realizing that as our kids get older (and move out), I will have plenty of time and energy to write.
Below is an excerpt from my journal, written while I was in Colorado with Mary and Sarah, during our weeklong stay in Estes Park, before we dropped Sarah off and flew back to Florida without her. I shed a few tears as I hugged her goodbye but managed not to be embarrassing. Even though you prepare yourself for the day your kids leave, it is still bittersweet.
May 16, 2022
In my life before children, as a kindergarten teacher, I remember the weepy moms in the hallway on the first day of school. As a homeschool mom, I have been able to delay this day of “dropping off” for about eighteen years, but still it must come, as inevitable as time itself. Now I am the weepy mom.
We have spent a wonderful week together, my mother-in-law/best friend Mary, and my oldest daughter Sarah. We rented a little cabin on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the mountains, and have made the most of our time here—hiking in gorgeous spring weather in Rocky Mountain National Park, shopping for necessary items like boots, jeans, and a cowboy hat in Fort Collins, making fires on chilly mornings, watching chick-flicks, working on jigsaw puzzles or playing games, and sharing good meals.
It is mid-May, but there is still snow at the top of the trails we have hiked in the park. We step over slushy ice, muddy patches, and the dribbling brooks of snowmelt, the remains of winter. These drips and dribbles gather into brooks and streams, which gravity takes trickling over rocks and tumbling over waterfalls down into the valley, delivering rushing water to the Big Thompson River that runs through town, and then through a mountain gorge with flash flood warning signs, to the base of these majestic peaks. This water, which once fell as tiny ice crystals from a cloud, ends up hundreds or even thousands of miles away, some of it eventually making its way to the salty ocean at the mouth of the Colorado River.
Sarah has just turned eighteen, the same age I was when I left for Middlebury college in Vermont. How callous I was then, hugging my parents goodbye outside my dormitory! They unloaded not only my stuff, but also a part of themselves, and until now, I had no idea what that must have felt like, how devastating it is to say goodbye to a daughter’s childhood. But just as a droplet of water runs to the ocean, only to be picked up and dropped again on a distant mountain peak, so goes the cycle of life. It is a joyful, painful experience, not unlike childbirth: watching my children become adults and begin their own adventures.
I finally did it. I took my Caribbean rum collection to a Mom’s Night and did a tasting tour of the islands. The bottles have been sitting half-empty in the bottom of our pantry–the oldest ones since 2016 and the newest since 2019. It wasn’t exactly a temperature or humidity-controlled environment, and some had decidedly not improved with age. Then again, some were not particularly good to start with! Did the Puerto Rican Don Q Limón always taste like Lemon Pledge polish? What happened to our favorite St. Lucian rum, Admiral Rodney, that made it taste like cheap cologne? It was worth a few laughs, anyway.
After tiny sips of rums from a dozen places, we finished off with my favorite, the Guatemalan Zacapa 23. And then had Bahama Mamas, my favorite fruity cocktail. It was fun to relive, by taste and smell anyway, the 5,000-mile voyage we took on Take Two.
Today I sorted the remaining bottles by drinkability. Some got stored away and others got poured out and recycled. It was cathartic to clean out that space. I realized that we have these wonderful memories, and I don’t need to keep all the detritus around to remind me. You would think that someone who lives in a small space would know better than to store souvenirs, but I admit that I am a sentimental fool. I bought necklaces, tiny art, and artifacts at open-air markets, and picked up shells, seaglass, and rocks on countless beaches from the Bahamas to Bonaire and from San Blas to Belize. I am now asking myself: “Am I keeping this stuff because I am afraid of forgetting?”
Those who make travel a lifestyle, as we have, are like gluttons at a smorgasbord of new places–we feast on new cultures and languages, new sights, smells, and tastes. We collect new friends like mementos. When I’m traveling, I may have a pang for the familiar occasionally, but the thrill of exploring pushes it out of my mind. When I come back from a long sailing trip, it feels so good to slip into comfortable old habits and visit old friends and old haunts that the opposite happens. The longer I stay, the more it feels as though the travels were just part of a nice dream from which I have awakened. A souvenir is like a talisman that can magically transport me back to a place I have been, a hint that jogs the memory and reminds me it was very real.
I felt a little melancholy when I poured out the Marigot Bay St. Lucia Coconut Cream, because it smelled so good, almost as if the place itself was going down the drain. On the other hand, it had turned a funny color, and I was using precious space to store something I will never use. Perhaps this is indicative of the stage of life we are in. Every time I clean something out, like the cabin my son Aaron inhabited until he left a month ago for a new life in Orlando, I have to admit that nothing lasts–that travelers must eventually come home, that children grow up and leave on their own adventures, and that everything in life is, ultimately, ephemeral. As with rum, experiences must be savored and enjoyed as much as possible, in the moment. Their very fragility is what makes them precious. I have come to the conclusion that is fine to keep some reminders–humans are forgetful, after all–but not to be weighed down by them, or to attempt to live in the past.
While we’ve been “holding station” and busily working on Take Two’s water tanks, launching our teenagers, homeschooling, and making a living, I’ve also been writing something new. My morning routine (based on Hal Elrod’s book,The Miracle Morning) has been so beneficial that I want to share an entry from my daily journal, which is slowly becoming a new book of daily readings, Deep Calls to Deep (working title). Here’s a sneak peek:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” —Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthian Church (chapter 4 verses 7-8)
I have a jar full of sea glass that I have found during our travels while walking on the beaches of various Bahamian and Caribbean islands. I have collected the pieces one at a time, meandering slowly while looking down, searching for anything that stands out against the sand like a colorful gem embedded in rock.
The collection is a mixture of beautiful earth tones that borrow their hues from the sky and ocean: the frosty white of clouds, the turquoise of shallow water, the green of mangroves, the brown of sand, and the cobalt blue of the deep sea. It is a treasure made of up of broken, but not crushed, glass. The edges have been worn smooth by the tumult of wave motion against sand.
And this is the lesson I take from sea-glass: we too can be made beautiful by hardship. Our rough edges are sanded down by mistakes from which we have learned, by trials we have survived, by pain we have overcome. If we find the grace to forgive and change hurt to compassion, even the suffering we have undergone can round our sharp corners.
Everything in God’s kingdom can serve a purpose: not just the joys we experience, but also the adversity we face and the burdens we share with others. It is the ultimate trash-to-treasure recycling program—the wonderful upside-down nature of God’s love that makes “all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 8 verse 28). Without the hope that our suffering will serve a purpose, many of the hard things in life would be cause for regret, bitterness, or despair. Knowing that good can come from bad is a source of peace in a turbulent world.
What mistakes or hardships have you experienced that later brought you wisdom or led to something good in your life? Are you experiencing regret, bitterness, or despair? What would it look like to let go of it and see God use it for good? Write down one hard thing for which you can give thanks-in-advance and revisit this journal entry later to see if anything good has come out of it.
I was on a mission this morning to get something out of my car, which is parked in the driveway at my in-laws’ house where Rachel and I have been visiting. I woke up this morning, as I often do lately, feeling troubled. I filled my gas tank yesterday and it cost $114. This was a reminder of the horrible conflict happening in Ukraine, and how something seemingly far away has an effect on everyone, because we are all interconnected. I have a friend whose marriage is collapsing, multiple friends whose teenagers are struggling, and a family member beginning cancer treatment this week. And yet–I was stopped in my tracks by a rose, it’s glowing face turned to welcome the morning sun. I could not walk past it; it demanded attention. I needed to know if it smelled as beautiful as it looked. It did not disappoint. And then I chuckled, because stopping and smelling roses is something I often advocate, at least metaphorically, but rare is the rose in the subtropical climate where I live.
Here’s what it means to stop and smell the roses: to be arrested by that which is lovely; to think, if just for a moment, about something other than war and cancer and teen suicide. It is not to deny or ignore the loss and pain happening in and around us, but to acknowledge that even this dark and broken world there are moments of clarity and delight, things that seem absurdly out of place sometimes. It is to change our focus. Amid some hardship, we may be told to look at the “big picture,” to see a rough time as a chapter, and not the whole story. This isn’t bad advice, but we can also zoom in on the details, and know that even when everything looks grim, there is breathtaking beauty—it reminds us that there are always things for which we can be grateful.
Stopping and smelling roses becomes a kind of prayer. Despite the horrors I see on the news, despite the gaping pits of sadness around me, despite the inevitability of death: thank you! Thank you for this freshness, this loveliness, this reminder that all is not lost. Thank you for growth, for a new day, for life itself.
Stop and smell the roses. Do not be overcome by despair. As long as there is life, there is hope.
(If you have not read it, I recommend Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, a book that helped me form a gratitude habit.)