It’s hard to be sad when I’m eating cheese…with wine…on a sailboat in Maine…with friends I’ve known for a really long time. All my friends are funny (although I must admit it doesn’t take much to make me laugh), which only adds to the lightness of my mood at the moment. I have laughed so hard, and with such volume, I’ve been invited to become an honorary member of the “wineosaurs,” a group on our sister schooner. (I don’t have the heart to tell them I don’t need wine to make me laugh, but I will accept the honor graciously. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a member of a group with such a fun name?) This trip is a foodie’s dream; I am close to fighting back tears of delight every time the chef announces his menu for the upcoming meal. He bakes as well as he cooks, so our meals are never without homemade bread, rolls, scones, muffins, cakes, cookies, or bars, and wait for it…homemade English muffins. Who does this? I’ll tell you who—Chef Jason. (All of this is produced on a wood-fired stove in the galley of a 150-year-old sailboat, mind you.) I am in absolute food and friendship heaven. The highs of this beautiful trip are made all the more poignant because it was only just over two weeks ago that I lost my 54-year-old sister to cancer.
This trip has been a tonic and an invitation. The tonic–food and friends shaken with seas and trees—is a total winner for me. It’s been a glorious reminder of God’s goodness and grace—that in all things, He is working for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). None of us on this boat have escaped heartache, whether it be divorce, reconstructive surgery, death of parents, or grandkids with medical challenges. The experience of pain is either something we’ve lived through or a present reality, coming and going like an unwelcome house guest. This is a consequence of living in a sinful and broken world. Although most of us don’t welcome the pain when it comes, God is always there with a tonic in hand, helping us walk through the valley of the shadow of death. His presence on this trip, in nature, friends, food, and laughter, has reminded me that I’m not left to grieve alone. I have felt God’s embrace in the sun shining on my face and have been reminded of His promises as I’ve watched an eagle in flight over the water. God. Is. Good.
“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 faint.” (Isa 40:31)
It’s important to mention that with the tonic—God’s kisses from heaven— comes an invitation to step into our pain so it can manifest in whatever way it needs to. Pain ignored never really goes away; it’s stored in the body until we allow it to surface and be released. I experienced this very thing the morning we were due to leave for this trip. Emotionally tired from my sister’s death and helping my mom after her painful surgery, I didn’t feel like going on vacation—even with the promise of a cheese tasting every night. Instead of popping out of bed to pack up to go, I lingered there with a mixture of numbness and fatigue running through my veins. I planted my head on Jeff’s chest, surprising him by my refusal to move. He let me be until the first of many tears began to flow. When he began to massage my upper back to break up the knots scattered along the surface, I suddenly realized that they were little pockets of grief and anger that had been building for weeks. With each push of his thumb into the lump on my body, a wracking sob escaped from my throat. I was relieved that the emotional numbness of the last two weeks was being broken open within the safety of my husband’s arms and the probing of his thumb. It hurt really bad, but I intuitively knew that this release would be oh-so good.
The timing of our emotional release sometimes (often?) is not the most convenient or comfortable, but I am determined to roll with as much as I can. Last night after an amazing day of eating lobster on the beach followed by dessert tacos made of homemade pizzelles, chocolate, peanut butter, and toasted marshmallows (oh my gosh, it was good), we were entertained by our boat captain singing various tunes. Captain Noah was only a few words into Somewhere Over the Rainbow, when my tears again began to flow. Grief hijacked the party atmosphere like a thief. The funny thing is, I didn’t feel robbed. “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high…” is my sister. I know she would have loved being on this sailboat and may have even stopped being a vegan long enough to eat some amazing cheese. She would have been one of the funniest and most interested individuals on this trip, bantering with Chef Jason about all things food. Thinking about her made me cry; it also made me smile. Like the consistent waves that our sailboat rides on the journey to our destination, are the blessings of the people whom we get to do life with. My sister was one of those people.
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles are like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me…