Cali – Part I

overhead-bins

Seth and I have very different travel styles. Granted, I’ve traveled the world, and he still doesn’t see any reason to ever leave our state, so differences in travel styles were inevitable. But I am of the opinion one should, you know, pre-book hotel rooms and rental cars. And maybe think about transport to the airport sooner than the night before departure. And possibly pack one’s bags sooner than six hours before a 7AM flight.

Nevertheless, we survived the 4:30AM drive to the airport and landed safely in LA. When we hit the runway, Seth advised me that he takes a while to deplane, so he encouraged me to grab my bag and go on ahead. Confused but opting not to ask any questions, I got off the plane and waited in the terminal near our gate. One minute went by… then two… then five… just when I started to get concerned, Seth appeared in the gate door and made his way to me, duffel bag in tow.

“What happened…?” I started to ask, but Seth put his hand on my back and ushered me forward. Only after we were a safe distance away did he explain.

“I knew I should never come to California. California is already letting me know I don’t belong here.” My conservative, old-fashioned cowboy sighed, half-laughing, and went on, “I don’t like to push ahead of people – older ladies or moms with kids – so I tend to wait a while in my aisle on the plane while I let other people get off. When there was finally a gap, and I felt like I had time to get my bag and deplane, I stuck my hand in the overhead bin without looking and grabbed what I thought was the handle of my bag.”

I nodded, wondering where this was going, and he continued, “It turned out it wasn’t my bag. It must have been some woman’s bag that she hadn’t zipped all the way shut, because when I pulled on the handle, a laptop fell out of the bag and landed on the head of the person in front of me -”

I gasped, and he nodded, adding, “It gets worse. Then – then! – tampons started raining down on everyone. This woman’s bag was full of tampons!”

I was laughing now as Seth continued the story. “I started shoveling tampons back into this bag as fast as I could, not looking up to make sure I didn’t make eye contact with whoever’s bag it was. It was so bad. California is rejecting me already, and we just landed.”

Still smiling, Seth and I made our way outside to where the rental car shuttles would pick us up and take us to our choice of offsite rental car company location. Seth was confused as to why all of the rental car options did not have kiosks right next to each other in the airport itself. He’d wanted to book in person so he could walk up and down the aisle and price check each one. That’s what online booking is for, honey.

I had in fact looked online and found that either Fox Rent-a-Car or E-Z Advantage were the cheapest options, and I made the mistake of mentioning that to Seth. I say it was a mistake because, once Seth knew those were the cheapest options, he was determined to stay and wait for one of their shuttles. Unfortunately, since they are cheap options, their shuttles only came once per hour instead of every five minutes.

After waiting for about half an hour, Seth and I finally agreed to get on a shuttle headed for one of the more mainstream rental car companies. The total bill came to a little over $300 instead of the $200 it would have been had we booked in advance online. Lesson learned. 

The whole trip was a lesson in compromise for both of us. As our first major trip together, I had to die to my natural tendency to plan and be in control, opting instead to take on the mindset of spontaneity and flexibility for Seth. Meanwhile, Seth was slowly realizing that life is a lot easier when you tap into the planning strengths of your more organized partner. We both actively tried to be considerate of the other, and the result was the best weekend we’ve had as it relates to dominance and control.

Seth had specifically told me ahead of time that he wanted to spend time in the mountains, not the beach, but that first day we landed, he suddenly wanted to check out the LA beaches. Thankful I’d thrown a swimsuit into my suitcase last-minute, I sighed and chunked my nature hiking itinerary, and we went to the beach instead of the forested walk to a waterfall I’d planned. We drove up Highway 1, found ourselves in Malibu and actually ended up having a great time walking the shoreline and looking for shells before Seth bravely dove into the frigid water in search of some time in the surf.

As that first day wore on, Seth continued to jokingly find examples of why he didn’t belong in California. When he fought his way out from the shoreline to a sandbar, one of the surfers out there asked if he was drunk. Apparently no one without a wet suit and surfboard attempts to wade out so deep. Later when we got smoothies, Seth made a face at his first sip. “This is the worst smoothie I’ve ever had!” I tried it and laughed. “That’s because it’s an all-fruit smoothie with no added sugar.” He shook his head in distaste and ranted in a teasing voice, “Why would anyone ever make such a disgusting smoothie? And sell it to unsuspecting customers?! California is the worst.”

That night, we stopped at the exact La Quinta I’d looked up online weeks before, but they only had one room left at the $99 rate. Granted, the room had two queen-sized beds, but – determined to sleep in separate bedrooms and maintain our commitment to physical purity – Seth declined the room, and we drove on to a sketchy Knight’s Inn that hadn’t been updated (or cleaned) since about 1969.

The large man in line ahead of us at the registration desk (if it could be called that) was trying to book a room by paying in cash only, but when the clerk refused, the man took his wad of cash and left. Between the rapist vans in the parking lot and the tattered, moth-eaten draperies behind the counter, I was ready to bolt, but the Knight’s Inn had two separate rooms for $75 each, so there we stayed.

Seth later acknowledged that we should have booked the La Quinta in advance. And booked the rental car in advance. And thought through more of the trip logistics. I appreciated his admission, and I acknowledged that we did make some great memories and have some fun adventures when I let go of my plans and just lived in the moment. Overall, this trip was a good lesson in compromise, valuing one another’s strengths and actively seeking the good of the other person in the relationship.

Authentically Aurora

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Cruise of the Bruised – Part II

Book BeachLaying on a quiet beach reading a good book is my idea of a good time, so at the first port stop of our Bahamas cruise, I convinced the girls that we should find a secluded beach location rather than one of the party spots (it helped that my travel companions were 32 and 42, whereas I have no excuse for my preference). No Señor Frog’s for us!

After chatting with one of the locals who advised us of the best beach for what we were looking for, we got in line for a taxi headed to the appropriate location. As our group of three climbed into the back of a long taxi-van, a much larger group also stepped forward to board: Jordan, his slender orthopedic buddy and the entire gaggle of kids! Of all the taxis going to all the beaches in Freeport, we managed to end up in the same one. With a cruise ship of literally thousands of people, and with everyone disembarking at different times, I can legitimately say it was not planned. At least, not by mere mortals.

It was a cold day in Freeport – overcast and in the 60s – so everyone huddled together on the bench seats, joking and laughing as we all shivered at the cold wind cutting in through the open windows of the van. As soon as we got on the beach, some shady guy with dreadlocks came up to me and let me know he could set me up with the goods if I wanted to have any illegal fun. “What kind of illegal fun?” I asked, perplexed. “You’ll know what to ask for if you want it,” he told me with a wink, slinking away.

Shaking my head, I found a flat stretch of sand and laid out my beach towel, digging in my backpack for the book I’d started reading the day before. All the Carolinians (for the orthopedic group was from a mix of North and South Carolina) got out snorkel gear and splashed out into the chilly water. Verna and Marina got into the water, too, but they quickly returned and wrapped themselves in their warm, fluffy towels, chatting away in Spanish (they are from Argentina and Ecuador, respectively).

Less than half a chapter into my book, the Carolinians returned, and Jordan came over to talk to me. Only, he didn’t say anything; he just stood near me, pretending to examine his scuba gear. “Wanna explore?” I asked finally, gesturing to the beach.

“Sure.” He sounded relieved. The beach was ruggedly beautiful – rocky with a dense tree line close to the water – so I grabbed my camera and followed him down the shoreline, my long hair whipping around my face in the wind.

Jordan and I made small talk for a while, stopping occasionally so I could snap landscape photos as I felt inspired. We fell into an easy rhythm, and before long – as I have come to expect – Jordan started opening up to me about his past, telling me about his nine-year-old daughter Grace and his divorce from her mother four years ago. Apparently his ex-wife was abused as a child, and she became violent herself during the course of their marriage. According to Jordan, his ex was suicidal during the few years of their marriage; then she turned homicidal near the end. Jordan is still fighting a custody battle for their daughter.

After a time, we turned the conversation lighter, and Jordan told me more about his work. He loves what he does. He loves being a healer. “It’s amazing to see people who were wheelchair bound for twenty years start to walk again,” he told me with awe in his voice. His enthusiasm was palpable.

“How does your faith play into your role of healer?” I asked Jordan. He’d made a passing reference to a church, and I was curious how deep his faith went.

Jordan looked surprised but not uncomfortable. “I tend to keep a pretty tangible, scientific outlook, but I also know that God is ultimately the Great Physician,” he told me. As our conversation continued, I found out that Jordan had gone to seminary for a few semesters. Prior to becoming a massage therapist, he had been a youth pastor. It was my turn to be surprised. Jordan knows Greek and Hebrew, is an orthopedic massage therapist, and is also working as a carpenter, remodeling his home himself. This simple country boy was quickly becoming more and more interesting!

About a mile down the beach, Jordan and I came upon a large outcropping of rocks. I am normally pretty sure-footed, but my wet flip-flops kept slipping, so Jordan offered me his hand to help me climb over the rocks. Once I was safety on the other side, though, he kept my hand in his. For a moment, I thought of pulling my hand away, but I was cold, and his hand was warm and welcoming. Besides, I thought, there’s nothing wrong with holding hands.

Shortly thereafter, I suggested we turn back around and start heading back. We could no longer see our group of friends down the winding stretch of sandy beach. Jordan agreed, and we started to turn, but then he stopped. With my hand attached to his, I had to stop, too. I looked up at him, and he stepped closer, eyes full of intent. I barely had time to think before his arm was around me and he had lowered his lips to mine. I let him kiss me, but when we pulled away, I told him, “Jordan, I’m not dating this year. And you live in South Carolina. And you’re still fighting for custody of your daughter.”

He sighed and smiled. “I know.” He paused. “But I enjoy your company.”

I smiled, too, and we kept walking. But it was further back to our group than either of us had realized. And the day was getting colder and colder. And I had brought nothing with me but my camera – no towel, no I.D., no cell phone, no cash. So when we got back to where our group should be and found an empty patch of sand, I started to panic. Just then, the illegal-activity-encouraging dreadlocks-wearer appeared from behind the trees to offer some insight into the situation in which we found ourselves.

Apparently our group had left him as a messenger that the last taxi driver had capriciously decided to go back to the pier an hour earlier than agreed upon. And our group had been forced to leave us behind or be left behind themselves. But the drug dealer told us that he knew someone who could take us back to the cruise ship from our remote location. He gestured for us to follow him back to the parking lot where we’d been dropped off, and he introduced us to a heavy-set woman whose name I never caught. She seemed unhappy to be the errand girl, but clearly the druggie held some sway with her, so she hurried us into her car, and away we went, presumably back to the pier.

I was glad Jordan was so ripped.

I was not glad when I found out that Jordan had purchased marijuana for the high school boys from the dreadlocks man.

“It’s better than the stuff they usually do. At least this will keep them away from the pills,” he whispered to me in the backseat of the rotund woman’s car. “Last night, one of the kids was doing uppers and downers at the same time. I told him he’s going to kill himself that way.”

I was scandalized.”I thought you were a youth pastor at one time. Why are you encouraging this?! You told me you were on this trip to be a positive role model to these kids!”

“I am. I’m better than what they’ve got back home,” he told me in his slow drawl. “And, like I said, they’re going to do drugs regardless. At least I can help guide them toward the softer stuff. I won’t smoke any of it myself.”

“But you’re enabling them. And you’re a Christian. Don’t you believe that God is able to emotionally heal these kids fully, not just control how bad their drug usage gets?”

Jordan shrugged. And then, to my astonishment, told me the biblical story of Zacchaeus. “God doesn’t change our outward actions and then our hearts. He changes us from the inside out. Making these boys do the right thing – not doing drugs – without getting to their hearts first is just going to create a bunch of little Pharisees. I’m doing what I can to have a more lasting impact… and try to keep them out of too much trouble in the meantime.”

I was absolutely stunned. Jordan speaks with a   v e r y   s l o w  Southern accent, sometimes pausing so long that I think he’s forgotten to finish his sentence. During our walk on the beach, he seemed nice enough, but he didn’t come off as overly intelligent, and after the marijuana revelation, I had doubts about his moral code. So to have him pull out the story of Zacchaeus and insightfully apply it to our discussion left me dumbfounded.

I was momentarily swayed into understanding where he was coming from, but then Jordan went on to tell me he’d taught the kids how to smuggle alcohol onto the ship using listerine bottles. “They tried doing it last year, but they did it wrong, so they got caught. At least if I teach them, they won’t get in trouble with the authorities. A couple of them have already done jail time.”

I remembered my own childhood, my mother telling me, “If you ever do anything wrong, I hope you get caught!” I was hurt at first, not understanding, but she explained, “I would want you to get caught because I love you. And sometimes being disciplined is the best blessing we could receive.” If we are never caught – never disciplined – we may never turn from wrongdoing. Getting away with wrongdoing is often a worse punishment than getting caught because, without facing the consequences of your actions, your character may never be refined.

I tried to talk to Jordan about his approach to mentoring these kids. “Be relevant and relatable to the kids, yes; meet them where they are, yes, but don’t damage your witness in the process. Don’t compromise the line between right and wrong in order to try and reach them. I can’t imagine that’s God-honoring.”

We had to agree to disagree. Jordan told me I didn’t really understand the kids; didn’t know what it was like to come from a broken family. He told me they wouldn’t understand all my “high-and-mighty talk” if I tried to reach them my way. But the next day would prove otherwise. All these kids needed was a little love, encouragement, inspiration, I thought. …and boundaries.

Authentically Aurora