Vacation – a time when we’re supposed to remove ourselves from our daily responsibilities and live it up, let our hair down (well for some of you), relax, and set aside the cares of this world. Even better, a vacation on a cruise ship provides further isolation from the world around us with no email, no phones…no contact. I though it also meant that I’d be able to take a break from the weekly responsibilities of a Bible teacher (or “discussion leader” as I’d prefer to call it). For this month our studies have focused on the life of Jeremiah, and we’ve learned much from his experiences. However, the preparation for these Old Testament texts is tedious and time consuming especially for me. I’m much more comfortable with New Testament scripture. Nevertheless, I’ve always benefited from the preparation likely more than the fellow learners in my class, even if it costs me a little rest. So, a vacation seemed like a good time to catch up on some rest since I wouldn’t have to prepare for one week of lesson.
Lesson #1: God doesn’t take vacations.
Sometimes God has to hit you on the head:
One of our excursions was a trip to the Mayan ruins at Uxmal (oosh-MAHL), a fascinating place complete with iguanas on every rock, a Mayan game field, temple grounds, and a grand pyramid. The pyramid was 150ft high and my son and I climbed to the top to experience a breathtaking view. You could see for miles over the tree line in every direction from our vantage point. The trip up the hundreds of steps was fairly easy…the trip down for me was not. I made it down to a large platform about 5ft off the rocky ground around the pyramid and took my last step. As I planted my foot on the ground I somehow lost my balance and wound up falling face first onto a nearby rock. What was a fun experience now turned into what seemed like a life-threatening one as I realized that blood was leaving my head and nose at an alarming rate.
As I sat there, a couple of people from my tour group, despite not knowing me, came to my aid offering a towel and water. A Mexican man who happened to be a doctor was nearby visiting with his family and attended to me, making sure I hadn’t suffered a concussion. Our tour guides Carlos and Louise came to my side and watched over my belongings. A Mexican paramedic arrived to patch me up and conversed with the doctor in a language I didn’t understand about my condition and whether or not I should go to the hospital. As he was able, the doctor translated for me. It occurred to me that not once during the experience was I asked to show papers of my citizenship or proof that I was able to pay for costs, or any form of ID. The people surrounding me were concerned about only one thing, my well-being.
After the experience I also realized another thing. My lesson that I was skipping for the week included Jeremiah 22, where God instructs the leaders of Judah to exhibit compassion and kindness to foreigners, orphans, and widows and not to be harsh but to be just and righteous. In fact, in speaking about good king Josiah, God says that in taking up the case of the poor and needy, Josiah demonstrated what it means to know God (Jeremiah 22:16). The kind acts of the nameless people who attended to me in my time of need were examples of God’s character present in each and every one of us. We have the capability of knowing God and exhibiting this character if we choose. Although I’m a supporter of strong immigration laws and protection of our borders, lesson #2 taught to me on that day was that I need to remember first to think of all individuals, whether they appear to be here legally or not, as people worthy of respect, kindness and compassion.
The Love of God comes from unexpected places:
A few days after returning to the ship, on one of the last evenings aboard, the cruise director threw a “deck party” for everyone. The party kicked off with a bit of line dancing to songs like “Cupid shuffle”, “Cha Cha Slide”, “Macarena”, and “YMCA”, songs that everyone younger than me know dance moves to. Since my special-needs daughter, Katie (she has Down Syndrome), loves to dance and apparently knows all the moves plus some of her own, she joined in with the help of her “O2” group director, Kate. Even though Katie is a little slower than others at the dance moves, I was quite surprised that she kept up with the group. At breaks people were walking up to Katie to tell her how much they enjoyed watching her and how good her dancing was. Eventually, all the people on the deck gathered around in a circle as some uninhibited individuals showed off their moves in the circle. Again to my surprise (why am I surprised by anything now?), Katie made her way to the middle and strutted her stuff to everyone’s delight. The support people showed and the inclusion of Katie in their event is something that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago, but on this night Katie was having a ball.
It was then that the evening turned uneasy for me, but wound up teaching me another lesson. The DJ kicked off a sequence of slow dance music and most of the people left the deck to just a few who paired up to dance. Sure enough, Katie was there dancing as she often does with her imaginary date. For a few awkward moments she stuck out from everyone and I debated whether it was worse for her to dance with her imaginary friend or to have to dance with her father. As I was about to make my way to the floor to join her, a young man stepped away from his date and joined Katie for a little while. This young man was not someone you’d typically think about letting your daughter date. Like most of the other people on the deck, he was drinking and like many, smoking. But, he did something that most of us never do…he had compassion for my daughter. He and his date decided that they’d put their evening aside for a moment, and create a highlight for Katie’s evening. After he danced with her for a while, another young man danced with her. Two young men who based on appearances alone I’d never let near my daughter demonstrated God’s love by showing compassion to Katie. This shouldn’t surprise me. Lesson #3: We all are made in God’s image and possess the ability to love. In fact, Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34) and He won’t command us to do something we’re not capable of doing. Despite their outward appearances, these two men demonstrated the truth that we all bear God’s image by putting Katie’s needs ahead of their own.
The choice is ours:
So there you have it: God’s lessons for me during my vacation. I share them with you because they are the most fundamental aspects of relating to God. We all can choose the path we take. We can ignore the makeup of our being, the fingerprint of God on us and choose the path that is quarrelsome, uncaring, and devoid of love. Or, we can choose the path He intended for us where we love one another, not just those close to us but even those foreign to us. I’m glad those nameless individuals I encountered during my vacation choose the latter path.