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

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Cruise of the Bruised – Part I

Yankee capI noticed him the moment I stepped from the cab and onto the rain-soaked sidewalk beside the pier. He stood bent over a blue Team USA duffel bag, biceps bulging and baseball cap pulled low over his eyes to shield him from the light drizzle that was already beginning to mist my hair. His sandy brown hair poked out from beneath his cap, and as he righted himself, I saw deep smile lines etched around his eyes and chiseled below his cheekbones.

Marina and Verna made a beeline for the cruise ship so, pulling my gaze away from the tanned athlete, I grabbed the handle of my lavender suitcase and hurried along behind them. Five minutes later, we walked through the metal detectors of security, and I glanced behind me to see Mr. Team USA standing directly behind Verna in line to board the ship.

The two other girls were oblivious to his presence, but as we snaked our way through the line toward the gangway, I glanced in his direction each time we turned a corner to circle back the other direction. The ball cap wearer and I made eye contact a few times, and the third time, he smiled at me. I smiled shyly before ducking my head and scurrying forward in the line, chiding myself. You’re not dating this year. You’re not dating this year.

My younger brother met his wife on a cruise a few years ago, so it was hard not to get the idea in my head, but I kept coaching myself that I am committed to taking this year off dating. It’s a lot easier to keep that mindset when you don’t have two married women – your only travel companions – teasing you, encouraging you and constantly looking to set you up with every young, able-bodied male on the cruise ship.

Long after I’d started making eyes at Mr. Team USA, Verna started complaining about wrist pain from her poor computer set up at the office. I watched in fascination at the various expressions flickering across Mr. Team USA’s face. He was obviously listening, and eventually, he spoke up. “If you wear a rubber band around your wrist, you can do finger and wrist strengthening exercises like this,” he gestured, and we all looked down to where he demonstrated the exercise for us with a rubber band he wore encircling his wrist.

Marina, being a fitness instructor, jumped right into the conversation, asking him what he does for a living. Jordan (as he introduced himself) is an orthopedic massage therapist who studied under the Yankees’ orthopedic physician and also does work on a few guys in the NFL. He is currently studying for his physical trainer certification and has a few patents in the works.

I tried to ignore the winks from Verna and wiggling eyebrows from Marina as we boarded the ship. “Who are you here with?” I asked Jordan nonchalantly. He appeared to be traveling alone.

“One of my orthopedic buddies and his kids,” Jordan answered as – sure enough – a slender man in his late forties approached with five boys and one girl in tow. Only two of the boys turned out to be his sons; the others were friends who’d come along for the vacation.

Our now-huge group was starting to block the gangway, so Marina, Verna and I started moving in the direction of our cabin and, after an only slightly awkward pause, Jordan extended his arm for a handshake, wishing me well with a nod and, “Maybe I’ll see ya around.”

And see me around, he did.

Authentically Aurora

“That Person”

I was just “that person.”

There are lots of versions of “that person”, like that person who picks their nose in rush hour traffic. And that person who takes the last chocolate chip cookie at a party. And that person who asks you why you’re not married (don’t be that person, especially the week of Valentine’s Day).

I was just “that person” who hears a playful comment from someone else and throws back a serious, depressing, I’m-offended response that makes the other person feel terrible about themselves.

Cruise ship…I wrote that intro last week as I was getting ready to go on my weekend cruise to the Bahamas. I didn’t have time to finish the post, what with last-minute packing of pink bikinis and whatnot, but here’s what happened.

In preparation for vacation, I tried to check in online, but I kept getting an error message from the cruise line’s website. I tried checking in on Sunday. And Monday. And Tuesday. Finally, on Wednesday, I conceded that I was going to have to call and talk to an actual human being. I hate talking to actual human beings.

When John the Cruise Concierge picked up the phone, I explained that I was going on 4-day cruise and was having difficulty with my booking. He talked me through all the usual online troubleshooting scripts, until we finally realized that Marina – the friend who’d booked the cruise for our group – had entered my birthday wrong (incorrect month, day AND year), so my passport number wasn’t being validated.

When John and I realized that my friend Marina had entered my birthday wrong, he joked over the phone, “She doesn’t know your birthday? Are you sure she’s really your friend?”

I knew he was kidding, but I was sensitive to his comment partially because I was stressed out about not being able to check in, partially because I was afraid he was going to think I was a fraud and wouldn’t help me, and partially because I already felt a bit odd about the cruise due to a lack of closeness between Marina and myself.

Marina was my fitness instructor about five years ago. We never really talked outside of quick small talk before and after the workout class. We did go out to dinner a couple of times in the past few years, but we don’t really know each other very well, so I was surprised when she asked me to celebrate her 32nd birthday with her by going on a cruise together.

I’m not sure how many people she asked, but only three of us were going on the cruise – Marina and some girl Verna who I’d never met before. Verna is a 40-something mother of three, and the reason Marina reached out to “the girls” to celebrate her birthday is that she’s getting ready to file for divorce from her husband of eight years. Not exactly the posse I imagine when I envision a Bahamas cruise with my girlfriends. 

Unfortunately for John the Cruise Concierge, I explained all of this to him in a very long run-on sentence. “I’m not surprised she doesn’t know my birthday – I mean, we don’t really know each other; we were just in a fitness class together, and she was trying to find girl friends to go on this cruise with her because it’s her thirty-second birthday, and she wants to celebrate her birthday but not with her husband because she’s about to file for divorce even though they’ve been married for eight years and have a two-year-old daughter, and I guess she doesn’t have a lot of girl friends since she’s been focused on trying to fix her marriage and raise her daughter, so she ended up asking me – a single twenty-something – and the other woman going is a mom in her forties, so it’s going to be an interesting group with me and two moms, and you’re right; I guess we’re not that great of friends after all.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence before I heard John whisper meekly, “I am so sorry.”

Now poor John the Cruise Concierge feels terribly about himself and is going to go home and drink a lot of alcohol and need to go on a cruise himself to recover from the conversation I just thrust upon him with my anxiety, social awkwardness and blunt delivery. Sorry, John the Concierge. I was just “that person.” 

Authentically Aurora