Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Days like yesterday leave me awestruck.

As my Mother's Day present, Darice and Ron took me to down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward, Alaska, where we took a four-hour Kenai Fjords gray whale-watching tour. The grays are migrating from California to the Bering Sea this time of year and it was our hope (as well as the hope of everyone else on board) that we'd spot one of these glorious creatures doing what it does best--that is to say, inspire awe and renew our mouth-dropping wonder at God's creation. The drive to Seward from Anchorage took four hours and with the tour and the drive back, we put in a long day. (Ron took the brunt of it, driving both to and from Seward.)

The snow-swept peaks, etched in perfect relief against the bluest sky I've seen in years, made me feel as though I were inside a living, breathing (and windy!) calendar picture. Everywhere I turned, whether on the top, lower, or middle deck, inside or out, there were wonders beyond any ability of mine to adequately describe. Dall porpoises darted alongside the boat to escort us both to and from the mouth of the Bering Sea, racing through the waves at a speed that rivaled ours; sea lions by the hundreds sunned on the rock outcroppings along the shore or on small granite islands that rose from the bed of the bay. They sprawled haphazardly against the warmth of their stony beds and looked for all the world as though some great wave had hoisted them high above the water and slapped them against the rocks where they stuck--velcroed to the spot. There they lay, warmed by the afternoon sun, content, sleeping for the most part (although one or two got shoved off their perches and had to flipper their way back to the rock) and braying in that sexy way sea lions have. A bald eagle perched majestically atop a towering tree; a brave and nimble mountain goat nibbled alder branches on the side of the steep mountain and watched us watch him. Sea birds swooped and darted, tended their nests, or skimmed over the water in search of an afternoon snack.

All the while, the boat bobbed and rolled as we grew closer to the open, unprotected water of the Bering Sea. The sea spray dotted our faces and I tasted salt on my lips and felt the brisk breeze sandpaper my cheeks. For a few minutes there, I felt as though I were on the deck of the Northwestern with Captain Sig Hansen and his crew, braving the elements, bringing in the king crab on an episode of "Deadliest Catch." Ha! It did, however, make me wonder how those men survive twenty-foot swells when six-inch whitecaps were enough to make me grip the railing to keep from pitching overboard.

Then came the whales. The first one we spotted was a rare fin whale--rare to these waters and capable of growing to 85 feet in length. Our boat was 85 feet long! It surfaced, water sluicing off its back in great shining sheets, its gigantic back glistening, then waved to us with its fin and headed for parts unknown. Next came the humpback whale and her calf. They spouted water, dived below water, and frolicked the way only mama whales and their babies can frolic. Just when I thought we'd have to turn back without seeing any migrating gray whales, there they were! Their "blows" drew us toward them. We cruised quietly and waited for them to appear after their initial sounding dive. And they didn't disappoint us. First came the blow, followed by the graceful curve of their backs, then the magnificent tail wave for which they are famous. Then it was down for another sounding dive. About seven minutes later, they were back up again to repeat their magnificent aquatic performance. After that, we left them in peace, content to have witnessed the natural movements of one of God's greatest creatures in the very spot He specifically designed for them.

Glaciers, hundreds of waterfalls, caves, towering granite cliffs, snowy mountaintops that resembled the prickly spine of a mile-high stegosaurus, rocky beaches, terminal morrains, islands covered with trees or perhaps starkly bare, peppered with only the seabirds that perched atop their granite mass, the emerald waters of inland bays, the sun glistening off the softly rolling, white-capped water of the Bering Sea--all of it blended into a panorama of such gut-wrenching beauty as to nearly hurt with the joy of seeing it.

What a privilege I've been given. I know there are many other beautiful places on earth; I've visited some and lived in others. But yesterday, on the deck of the Orca Voyager in Alaska's Resurrection Bay at the mouth of the Bering Sea, surrounded by ancient mountains and in the presence of countless natural wonders--well, at that moment in time, that was the most beautiful spot in the world. Thank You, God! You never cease to amaze me and resurrect my wonder.

Until the next time...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Amazing Grace

On average, I hurt myself about every twenty minutes. Round-the-clock. I can drift off to sleep relatively unscathed and awaken the next morning marred with colorful splotches, scratches, lumps, and perhaps one or two broken toes. I have no idea what I've done to myself. Discounting otherwordly abuse or alien abduction theories, common sense tells me I did it to myself while I was awake (rather than during my sleep as it appears), and just don't remember doing it. Experience (lots and lots of self-abusive experience) tells me I cannot be trusted with myself. My family agrees. I've been known to trip, slip, collapse, plunge, bounce, ram, and skid over, on, through, into, and against anything in my path. Or off the path. Doesn't matter.

Once I fell over while sitting astride a bicycle parked in our garage. One second I'm sitting there, feet on the floor, hands on the handlebars; the next I'm flat on the cement floor with my legs tangled in the spokes and my head just inches from a workbench that should have cracked my skull open. Another time I fell out of the shower--just standing still, lathering, no fancy turns, no dizzy spells, when bam! I'm flat on my back on the bathroom floor, the shower curtain billowing in my wake. Then there was the time in Alaska when I hurt myself running from a charging pregnant moose I was stalking... okay, I had that one coming.

My all-time best performance, however, had to be the "Great Sprawl." It was a Sunday morning and I was taking my daughter and her husband and my four grandsons out to breakfast. Before we could get inside the front door, I managed to nosedive, gracelessly, to the sidewalk. In the split-second it took me to land, I remember thinking, "This one's gonna hurt." And it did. I bounced--yes, bounced--off the concrete with my right cheekbone. Why I didn't break all my teeth or nose or neck or skull (or cheekbone, for that matter) is a matter of divine grace. There can be no other explanation. And of course, I could have done this in a stadium packed full of NFL fans on a Sunday afternoon, but no, I had to do it in front of an even bigger crowd--the Sunday morning gathering of post-church breakfast eaters at a Cracker Barrel in Kentucky.

While I lay sprawled, broken and bruised, dazed and dumbfounded on the hard concrete, my daughter and her husband hovering above my throbbing face asking me if I'd had a heart attack, the manager drifting in and out of my line of sight with pillows for my aching head and drinks and bananas for my four grandsons, the EMTs arrived. I convinced them I wasn't dying, just clumsy, and with my thanks, sent them away to tend to accident victims who, unlike me, didn't deserve what they got. After thirty minutes of staring at the sun and answering questions, I announced I was fine and more than anything in the world, wanted to stand up, brush myself off and get some breakfast. I needed coffee.

I limped into the store and up to the podium and asked for a table for seven. We were escorted through both dining rooms, past two hundred or so people trying not to stare at the crazy lady with the skid marks on her face and the legs bruised beyond repair, where we had a wonderful breakfast with lots of coffee.

For once, my clumsiness paid off. In what was probably an attempt to keep a lawsuit at bay, the manager picked up our check and told us our meal was on the house. We thanked him profusely and I assured him I did not hold the restaurant responsible for my show-stopping inelegance, that I had a history of spectacular spills. He seemed relieved and promptly refilled my coffee cup.

I thank God for watching over me when I can't be trusted to take care of myself. I can only imagine the number of times He's saved me from certain death--or broken bones, gouged eyes, a fractured skull, you name it; the many times I've been oblivious to His love and attention, those times He's kept watch over me like a shepherd watches over the one sheep who keeps getting lost. Or falls into the creek. Or over the cliff. In short, I thrill to His amazing grace in light of my amazing lack of grace.

Until the next time (and there will no doubt be a next time!)...

Laughing with the Lord #6

Welcome to Laughing with the Lord #6!  Sometimes I wonder if my purpose in life is to make God chuckle. I do so many ridiculous thi...