I had high hopes. Hours before my family set course for Houston that afternoon, I’d packed both notebooks, stuffed my duffel bag full of reading material, tossed in at least five pens, and threw in fourteen pages containing 47 blog post ideas with supporting material to develop. Eight days at sea! I thought joyfully. Eight days to re-embrace my writing, re-awaken my creativity, and re-ignite my passion. Eight days sitting in a lounge chair on the Lido deck between two bars and two swimming pools, surrounded by fellow revelers enjoying the tropical breezes, fruity rum drinks, and gentle Caribbean waves. “I’m a writer!” I’d declare when people asked me what I did. “I write children’s picture books and Christian inspirational material.” This is what life is all about!
I’d deliberately left my computer in its bag, tucked underneath my desk at home. Bringing enough pens and paper to last me the week, I had packed with the intention of reconnecting with the “old way” of writing—actually dragging the tip of a pen across the lines of a notebook to produce practically unreadable but blissfully fulfilling chicken scratch on the paper. I eagerly anticipated rebuilding the callous on my right middle finger and re-strengthening my wrist muscles. As we closed the garage door and prayed over the house, I looked forward to producing several fresh blog posts and maybe a short story or two while riding high on the gentle swells of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Such were my noble intentions.
Before we pulled out of the driveway, I had a pep talk with Mary and Hannah. “This vacation is an opportunity to reset,” I said, hoping I’d packed enough pens to last the entire trip. “Over the next week I’m really going to make an effort to live in the moment, like Jesus said we should do.” Lately we’d all gotten a bit . . . grumpy with each other, and I hoped this cruise—our first one, in celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary—would provide the chance to just relax and enjoy each day as it came. We’d all be on island time, after all! Little did I realize my intentions could not have been any further away from my words than Siberia is from Chile.
The moment we opened our stateroom door and stowed our bags, my duffel filled with books, journals, pens, and good intentions got tossed into the corner. And there it sat for eight days and seven nights, wilting from neglect and humidity while Mary, Hannah, and I embraced the true meaning of island time. For the first time in months, maybe years, I turned off my phone and locked it in the tiny safe until the day before we arrived back in Galveston.
I forgot about work. I forgot about home. I forgot about writing. For the first twelve hours onboard the cruise ship I caught myself pawing at my left front pocket for my cell phone, but by the second day I’d broken a habit formed since Apple invented the iPhone. And for the next week I walked around the ship and explored three foreign countries with nothing in my pocket but an empty sunglass case and a handkerchief. How freeing!
It didn’t take long to get caught up into the ship’s laissez faire atmosphere as we met new people, ate new foods, and tried new offerings from the shipboard bars. I sampled braised ox tongue for the first time (and loved it!), ate Mongolian barbecue with calamari, and devoured green eggs and ham (seriously, the eggs were green) at the Dr. Seuss breakfast for Hannah. We kissed stingrays, watched hermit crab races, and poked around ancient Mayan ruins. Mary got her jewelry fix in Cozumel, and Hannah finally got to swim with the dolphins on Grand Cayman Island. We attended a comedy show, watched a “close-up” magician pull off some amazing illusions, and learned how to make animals out of bath towels.
During our shore excursion to the San Gervasio Archeological Zone in Cozumel, we met a lady named Kathy who was traveling by herself that day. After we disembarked, we invited her to walk with our family as the tour guide herded us two-by-two down the crowded pier and through the bustling streets to the bus terminal. We spent the day with her, only saying goodbye so Mary and Hannah could explore the local jewelry shops in Puerta Maya. Later that evening we reconnected onboard. Kathy, a retired school teacher who’d been given the extra responsibility of teaching children creative writing during her career, asked me if I’d been doing any journaling about our experiences. “I haven’t written a word,” I admitted. And I hadn’t. And it sure felt . . . good.
Why good? Because I’d gotten caught up in the cruising atmosphere and had actually relaxed. I’d gotten swept up by the fun and had actually let go. I’d put aside worry and was actually immersed in living moment-by-moment. For years—no, decades!—I’d struggled with Jesus’ commands in Matthew 6, especially the clincher: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34 NIV®). Worry had almost killed me, not once, but twice. Literally. Controlling it was, therefore, essential. But even after all these years I still don’t feel like I’ve completely mastered it. I needed a reset, a shift, a concrete example of what it means to “let go and let God.” The cruise did it for me.
Thank God I’d practiced what I’d preached to my wife and daughter before we left for the trip. Thank God I’d relinquished my ninja-writing intentions and left my journals lying in the corner of the stateroom. Thank God I’d reset. Oh, and the name of our ship? It was the Carnival Freedom. Couldn’t have picked a better ship to get our cruising feet wet. Or to demonstrate Matthew 6 so profoundly. To paraphrase Katy Perry: “I let it go and I liked it.”
Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes