Friday, November 20, 2015

Celebrating a Major Milestone

St. Marys, GA to St. Augustine, FL
November 2-20, 2015

Celebrate with me! Before we stepped onto Pelican on November 2 for a new season of cruising, I passed a major milestone and joined an elite club —those who have lived fifty years with Type 1 Diabetes. If I fill out the proper paperwork, I can even get a beautiful bronze medal inscribed “for 50 courageous years with diabetes” from the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and also a Diabetes Journey Award from the Eli Lilly Company.

Halloween marks the anniversary of my diagnosis. Fifty years ago when I was first hospitalized, people in costume came to the pediatric ward to hand out treats. The nurse stopped them near my bed: “Don’t give her anything. She has diabetes.” As they walked away, my new reality began to sink in. A short time later, one of those lovely people rushed back in holding out an apple. (Kind acts toward a stranger that seem unimportant might be remembered and appreciated for a very long time.)

Over the past five decades life with diabetes has sometimes been a challenging sea to navigate. My faith was snuffed out for a while and later reignited. I’ve felt a tangle of emotions and experienced discipline on a sliding scale of near-zero to near-perfect.

Treatment has come a long way in fifty years and so have I. I didn’t always, but now I work very hard at maintaining the best control I possibly can. Every day includes multiple finger sticks to check my blood sugar, calculating how every bite of food will affect my blood sugar, and matching it with the correct amount of insulin.

Coming in to a marina or anchorage, doing a watch, going out on deck, walking on a beach, I need to know my blood sugar is in or near the normal range. I can’t go anywhere without my test kit and glucose tabs at hand. To be honest, sometimes I get tired of the whole routine. Balancing blood sugar is a job with never, ever, a vacation day. Part of me would wish away the blood tests, injections (cannula insertions), diet, and struggles in a heartbeat.

Even if I could turn back the clock and undo the diagnosis, would I really? Well, not if it meant that I would lose all the good that living with diabetes has worked into the fabric of my life. Living with this disease has woven compassion, empathy, discipline, endurance, and determination into my character. Without it, I wouldn’t be the same person at all.

God has used this for good, to change me, to grow me, to show me that He is always loving and faithful. Over the years, my feelings toward diabetes untangled into acceptance and gratitude. I thank God for making our bodies so “fearfully and wonderfully” that mine could withstand years of less-than-ideal blood sugar levels and still thrive.

Since I embarked on this journey in 1965, I’ve led a wonderful life that happens to include diabetes. For more than thirty-three years, Keith’s love and support have been the best possible help. What a gift that with my health issues we can be on a sailboat far from medical care without extraordinary concern. This Thanksgiving, I am profoundly grateful to be so amazingly healthy fifty years down the road.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hallelujahs and Last Hurrahs

Marsh Harbour and Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas
March 26 – April 8, 2015

By the time we made it to the Abacos, we knew our trip was drawing to a close, and our hearts seemed to jump ahead of us. Even though we’d talked about taking our time exploring remote anchorages, the pull of home grew stronger.

Given the fact that Easter fell in early April, though, we wanted to slow down enough find a special place to worship with other people. During this week of the greatest celebration of the church, we attended services in three places. It was especially moving to be with three different groups of people worshiping in very different ways. What a great reminder that anyone, anywhere, can worship God in his or her own way—and He loves it all.

Palm Sunday we went with George, our friend who makes conch salad on the Marsh Harbour waterfront, to Grace Baptist Church. Now, these people know rousing gospel music and how to raise the rafters. They love to worship at full volume and enthusiasm. We joined in and raised our voices. Full disclosure: by the time the service was half over, I stuffed tissue in my ears to relieve the ringing. Theirs was a zealous hallelujah. And everyone was so friendly and welcoming to the two strangers in the congregation with light complexions.
With George in front of Grace Baptist Church
Settled by Loyalists soon after the Revolutionary War
By Good Friday we had moved on to Green Turtle Cay, one of our favorite islands in the Abacos. Edison and Eunice, with whom we reconnected on Cat Island, have a daughter Stacy who lives there with her husband and seven children. She invited us to join them at the New Plymouth Gospel Chapel for a Friday morning service. We rode two and a half miles on our bikes, working up a sweat to arrive on time. Appropriate to the commemoration of the death of Jesus, the service was meditative and restrained, featuring familiar old hymns. This was a quiet hallelujah. And everyone was so friendly and welcoming to the visitors who looked a lot like them.
New Plymouth Gospel Chapel
Then came Sunday. On Saturday we’d stopped by St. Peter’s Anglican/Episcopalian Church in New Plymouth and were told by a custodian that the service would start at a spot several blocks away where everyone would meet and “process” to the church. We showed up there Sunday morning to find a small group, mainly celebrants and acolytes. For all we knew, that was the entire congregation. We marched in time with a drummer, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “We’re Marching to Zion.” As we entered the church, we found it nearly full. Apparently not everyone wanted to be in the Easter parade. But what a beautiful service, with stirring responsive readings, choir numbers, communion, and a glorious solo at the end. This was a joyful hallelujah! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, no matter their skin tone. And we were happy to be part of it.
Participating in the Easter parade

St. Peter's Anglican/Episcopalian Church
Easter Sunday at St. Peter's
What to do with buoys that wash ashore on Green Turtle Cay
Green Turtle Cay settlement harbor
Vertram Lowe's model ships, with all working parts

Many of the residents of Green Turtle Cay are descendants of the original Lowe family
The Olde Gaol (Jail) in New Plymouth
Coco Bay, Green Turtle Cay
Easter Monday is a major holiday in the Bahamas. Almost all businesses are closed. That didn’t include Brendal’s Dive Center. Brendal is a SCUBA diving legend. He has a “wall of fame” in his shop with names of celebrities who have dived with him (including Jacques Cousteau) and television programs and magazines that have featured him. For a last hurrah, we went diving. It had been at least ten years. A gorgeous reef called “The Fish Bowl” was the site of our first dive. Keith dives like a pro, as though he does it every day. His dive buddy (me) had a rougher time. It proved to be challenging with roiled seas, strong current, and constantly changing depths. We had fun, though. On Keith’s second dive, he came face to face with quite a few sharks and lived to show the pictures.
Curious reef shark
A Nassau Grouper camouflaged in the coral
Wednesday, April 8, we said goodbye to The Bahamas. Throughout this season we have truly been overwhelmed by all the fabulous experiences and special connections with old and new friends—grace upon grace upon grace. In The Divine Conspiracy, the late Dallas Willard talks about the “heart-wrenching goodness of God, his incomprehensible graciousness and generosity.” This winter, we sailed on a tidal wave of that goodness. Our last hurrah is a heartfelt hallelujah.
A typical Bahamian scene. A sight we'll miss!
The sun sets over the Little Bahama Bank as we leave the Bahamas,
a fittingly beautiful farewell
All we are and all we have is by the love of God! The goodness of God is infinitely more wonderful than we will ever be able to comprehend.
A. W. Tozer

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Hop, a Skip, and a Jump

Little San Salvador –  Abaco, Bahamas
March 18 – 25, 2015

Our time at this fantastic playground of The Bahamas is coming to an end. Now we are hopscotching our way north. On our first hop, fifteen miles from northern Cat Island to Little San Salvador, a pod of dolphins joined in the play, jumping in our bow wave. We can never get enough of them! Among all God’s creatures, dolphins have to be best at capturing the pure joy of living. 
Three of several dolphins jumping for joy
 Little San Salvador, or Half Moon Cay as it’s now called, is anything but an isolated anchorage every day but Sunday. Owned by Holland America Lines, it’s a daytime playground for cruise ship passengers. Before we arrived that day, 3,000 other cruisers had been ferried ashore. They choose from activities such as swimming, snorkeling, walking the beach, eco tours, watersports, horseback riding, renting a private air-conditioned cabana—even getting married (the ultimate shore excursion!). In the course of a year, 441,000 ship passengers will visit the little island. Fortunately, only 45 of the 2,500 acres have been developed. The ecosystem on the rest of this pristine island is maintained as a bird sanctuary and nature preserve. The ships depart by 4 p.m., taking their loud music with them. For our own shore excursions, we snorkeled on pretty reefs northwest of the cay and, after the ship left, walked the exquisite half-moon beach from one end to the other and back, four miles in all. The next morning, as that day’s liner pulled in, we made a quick departure.
A big ship, a little island

Beachfront bar and water toys

Shore excursion beach villa

Half Moon Beach, sand so soft your feet sink in
A ten-mile skip north landed us at one of our very favorite spots: Lighthouse Point on Eleuthera Island. Although there is no symbol in our chartbook marking it as a recommended anchorage, on another visit by car we had seen a catamaran anchor in the bay for a few hours. So, with settled weather, we gave it a try. Here we were the only ones in the anchorage. On the Atlantic side of the point multiple tiers of reef hug the shore. We dinghied over there and jumped in, Keith loaded with spear and weights, me with camera. Immediately Keith saw two lobsters walking across the sand. In the middle of the day! Usually they only risk coming out of hiding at twilight. The taking of spiny lobster is prohibited April 1 through August 31 for mating season. We think these two, a big male chasing a female, just couldn’t wait. The lady lobster found shelter in the reef. The big boy turned and struck a threatening pose. It was his last stand. And our delicious dinner.

Dinner, anyone?

Fresh as can be! (the lobster)

After snorkeling a while, I was chilled but Keith had more hunting in him. He dropped me off at the shore and headed back to the reefs. Walking down the glorious beach, I was completely wonderstruck by the overwhelming beauty of sky, sea, and sand. My heart bursting, I said, “Oh, Lord, heaven has to have places very much like this. I can’t imagine anywhere more perfect and soul satisfying.” Just then, I think I saw Him smile.

Beauty puts a face on God. When we gaze at nature, at a loved one, at a work of art, our soul immediately recognizes and is drawn to the face of God.
Margaret Brownley

Lighthouse Point Beach
We made a few more skips up the big island of Eleuthera for laundry, fuel, groceries, and stone crab claws. Then it was time for the blue-water jump to the Abacos, a different section of the playground. The Abacos are the only area of the Bahamas with an inland sea between a larger “mainland” (Great Abaco Island) and a chain of sheltering cays. Now at the end of the hopscotch course, we’ve landed in a “safe” space. Soon we’ll turn and make the hop for home base. 
Rock Sound, Eleuthera

Hurricane damage, Spanish Wells

The boatyard, Spanish Wells

Sunrise after a squall, departing Eleuthera

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cat Island’s Many Charms

Cat Island, Bahamas
March 7 – 17, 2015

Cat Island is home to the highest point in The Bahamas, 206 feet above sea level. Around it, lush green hills with low scrub and tropical vegetation undulate to rocky ironshore or sparkling coves and beaches. It’s a quiet island with a much smaller population than other large Bahamian islands. What it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in the charm of its people and places.

The High Point
On the highest peak, Mt. Alvernia (formerly Como Hill), sits the Hermitage. It’s the masterwork of Father Jerome, the priest/architect who built seven churches on Long Island (see post below) and four on Cat Island. At age 64, he began work on this one-man monastery in miniature, his retirement home where he would dedicate himself to seclusion and contemplation, inspired by the 360-degree view. Stone by stone, bucket by bucket, he hauled materials up the steep incline, maybe as an effort to share in the sufferings of Jesus. On that rocky pathway he carved monuments to the Stations of the Cross. Although he was a tall man, he crafted the buildings and doorways of the Hermitage to be small enough that one has to stoop to enter. His intention is obvious.
Path to The Hermitage with Stations of the Cross
Bas-relief sculpture of Station XIII
The Hermitage, chapel and bell tower
The Hermitage roofline
The Hermitage from the back. Or is it the front?
When Keith lived in Nassau as a teenager, he was part of a church youth program called Stockade. Among other adventures and activities, they would camp where Atlantis now sits. He remembers his group leader, Edison Pinder. Edison married Eunice, the pastor’s daughter. Her sister lives in Minneapolis and attends church with Keith’s parents. Through that connection, all these years later we found out Edison and Eunice live on Cat Island. We called them when we arrived on Saturday, and they picked us up for church on Sunday. The church was associated with an orphanage. At the end of the service, the twelve kids who live in the home sang a closing song. It was beautiful and touching!

Edison and Eunice formerly lived on a boat and traveled to different islands to work with young people. Now they work with the children and teens on Cat Island. Their summers are filled with Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs. During the school year, they present weekly programs much like VBS in the small primary schools that dot the length of the island. We had the privilege of seeing what they do one afternoon. The kids were amped up when Mrs. Pinder arrived with her guitar. They gathered for a rousing assembly featuring entertaining songs with motions and a Bible story. Then they filed (Girls first! Quiet, please!) back to their individual classrooms, and we moved from one to the next assisting with a craft that incorporated art skills. There are no art or music curricula in the schools, and many students need to learn basics such as how to hold a scissors properly. We had such fun doing goofy song motions and loving on these polite, happy, and energetic kids.
Eunice leading a fun song with motions

Eunice and Edison with Puppet (whose eyes don't look like this is real life!)
 After hosting us at their home for dinner, Eddie and Eunice loaned us their extra vehicle for three days. That allowed us to reconnect with another old friend from Keith’s Nassau life—a classmate from St. Andrews named Andrew Jones. Andrew is a Bahamian-American singer/songwriter. His home lies at the end of a three-mile-long bumpy dirt road where there are no other houses. We’d heard that he was “off the grid,” and so I pictured something humble and rustic. Au contraire! Andrew’s sister-in-law is a Parisian fashion designer/architect. Made from Brazilian hardwood, the custom house she designed is elegant, dramatic, and serene. Completely powered by solar energy, it blends into its natural environment beautifully. If you’re interested in renting a fabulous house/retreat center that can accommodate groups of 10-15, a place nestled in seclusion on a hilltop overlooking a private crescent beach, check out Spirit House Bahamas. Keith called Andrew out of the blue that morning after no contact for forty years, and the connection was instantaneous. Neither of them could have imagined at the end of Form Three the paths their lives would take, or that the next time they’d see each other, it would be on Cat Island.  It was a true pleasure for me to meet Andrew and for Keith to catch up. Our hearts connected over lunch as he told his story of battling life-threatening illness and feeling renewed on Cat Island.
The deck of Andrew's home

His private beach
Keith and Andrew
Driving back toward our boat after lunch with Andrew, we stopped at a resort in Old Bight that other boaters had talked about on the VHF radio. Rollezzz Beach Resort had welcomed anchored cruisers to come ashore and the owner, Carl Rolle, generously allowed them to enjoy a bonfire on his beach. At the resort we talked with Mr. Rolle and somehow got on the subject of Keith’s earlier life in Nassau. He was well aware of the Christian Bookshop on Shirley Street, which Keith’s parents had managed. He said they would know his wife, Yvonne Smith, because she was in the bookstore all the time. In fact, his sister-in-law, Margaret, had worked there. What?? Margaret Smith? We know her! She’s a delightful person who had come to Minnesota to attend our alma mater. There were more old connections on Cat Island than we anticipated.

Thursday we toured the north end of the island and planned to sail north on Friday. But the wind came on strong and we stayed put for another day. It was a fortunate turn of events because there was rake ’n’ scrape music on shore that evening. Traditional Bahamian rake ’n’ scrape includes a concertina or accordion, a saw, and a goombay drum. The music style evolved in the Out Islands, most notably Cat Island. We’d met and talked with Pompey (Bo-Hog) Johnson several times but didn’t think we’d get the chance to hear him play. He and his renowned group, Bo-Hog and the Rooters, have appeared on The Today Show and even in Paris. That night at the regatta site on the beach in New Bight it was a treat to hear them in person.
Heating up the goombay drum on the stove. Really!
Crystal Smith, saw; Pompey (Bo-Hog) Johnson, concertina; Cedell (CD) Hunter, goombay drum
Other Highlights (from south to north)
Cristo Redentor Church, designed by Father Jerome
Interior of Cristo Redentor
St. Francis of Assisi chapel, designed by Father Jerome, in disuse and being overtaken by the bush
Fernandez Bay Village resort; we had a delicious lunch when anchored here
With Julian, owner of Da Smoke Pot, who hasn't cut his hair in 27 years!
Beautiful stone church in Arthur Town
Orange Creek Beach
At the mouth of Orange Creek; dries at low tide
Shanna's Cove resort, where we had a most amazing dinner!
Cave at Man o' War Point
A gorgeous natural sculpture garden of hurricane-tossed, sun-bleached casuarina roots 
Speaking of charms, Cat Island is said to be the center of the practice of obeah—a Bahamian/African form of voodoo that combines bush medicine and witchcraft. We’d heard we might see bottles hanging from a tree in a yard or objects above a chimney to ward off evil spirits. Some islanders won’t leave a window open at night because spirits might enter. It isn’t spoken of openly by practitioners, and we didn’t see evidence of it. What we did see all around us were signs of God’s grace and goodness in the extraordinary beauty of creation and the charming people we met.
God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon…. 
Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, 
But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere. 
Psalm 19:1-4 MSG