The island and the storms

There once was a man who lived on an island. The island was a good size, and many other people lived there. When he moved there, old-timers told him about the storms that regularly assailed the island. Sometimes the storms were light and passed by quickly. Sometimes they were very violent and destroyed homes. They told him how to prepare his house so it would not get damaged or cause harm to him during one of the storms.

The storms were predictable only in that they were going to happen, only nobody knew when. Sometimes they were seen far off at sea and everyone had a chance to batten their hatches. Sometimes they would spring up, seemingly out of thin air, and everyone who did not regularly prepare was at risk of damage from it.

The first storm of the season came in and he chose to ignore the advice of the old-timers. He’d not even gone to the store to buy supplies. Fortunately for him, the storm was fairly mild and his home did not get very damaged. The roof leaked in a few places, but it was still on at least. He chose to ignore the leaks, deciding they weren’t big enough to warrant his attention. Slowly the water from the leaks ate away at the wood and insulation in his home. Because he couldn’t see it, it went untended to.

Over the years the storms continued, some larger, some smaller. The damage to his house increased bit by bit, but he put it off, that being his nature. He could only be bothered to do repairs when they were impossible to ignore. Of course by then they were very difficult and costly and beyond his ability or skill to attend to. He often complained to his neighbors about how hard it was to be him, how difficult the repairs were, how large. He would often complain to anyone nearby about how unfair it was that he had to do these repairs, and now he had so many other projects he needed to work on. Some took pity on him and came over to help, bringing nails and shingles or new insulation. Some refused, saying they had spent all their money and time on materials to prevent damage to their own homes. Their unspoken statements were that he should’ve done the same, but they were too kind to say so. He often would whine about how difficult he had it, but most would not listen because they were busy with their own homes.

Then one day a large storm was observed far out to sea. There was about a day to prepare for it. It could not be avoided – they couldn’t get off the island and go to the mainland because the waters were too choppy from the winds. If he had been fortifying his house all along as the old-timers and his neighbors recommended, he’d have a chance of weathering the storm, but as it was he would barely have enough time and materials to prevent the windows from being blown out.

The storm grew closer, and he grew more anxious. He could see that he was directly in line of the storm, and started to openly lament his fate, saying that God must hate him and he must’ve been a terrible person to deserve this impending doom. He’d either forgotten or chose to ignore that he was on an island where storms were a regular occurrence. Many of his neighbors all over the island had gone through similar storms and had to repair their homes or entirely rebuild. But he didn’t see that because it had happened before he got to the island. They were the ones who had taken the time to warn him the most about the storms, yet he thought they were exaggerating or that such destruction couldn’t happen to him.

When the storm finally came, his house and everything in it was destroyed. He had no money to rebuild or move back to the mainland. He applied to the government for aid, and they – after interviewing his neighbors and asking if he had ever shored up his house in the past or tried to protect it, arrested him for fraud.
———————–
The island is the human body. The storms are the usual misfortunes, problems, and troubles that happen in life. The old timers and neighbors are all those who advise us. We can choose to heed their advice or pay the consequences. We can choose to think that either we are above the normal storms of life, or that they are directly aimed at us by some twisted deity. Only those who accept the inevitability and prepare themselves for the storms will survive.

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Island adventure (with stamps)

My friend Kate and I decided that we wanted to go explore the Island across from us. We live on the mainland, and going to the Island has always been our dream. Nobody that we knew had been, so we wanted to be the first in our group of friends.

It isn’t something that is done casually, we discovered. It turns out that you have to apply for permission to go there. We didn’t know this and almost got into a lot of trouble.

We set sail on a sunny morning in September. We paid our fare to ride on a sailboat out to the Island. The captain must have thought that we had all of our papers in order because he didn’t ask us any questions. He could have saved us a lot of trouble.

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There were many different kinds of sailboats in the water between the mainland and the island. When we got closer, we noticed that there were actually two islands. From the mainland, it looked like there was only one. We sailed for about an hour, enjoying the salt air and the sound of seagulls. The captain offered us tea and cookies but we declined. Having never sailed before, we were a bit queasy. Also, we’d packed a lunch for later that we were looking forward to.

The captain expertly steered his sailboat right up to a dock and waves us off. We thanked him and started to look around. There wasn’t much activity going on here. This must not be the commercial area. Perhaps this side of the island was just for tourists like us. It looked like we were the only ones today. This was surprising, since it was such a beautiful day and school was out. Where were the families? Where were the young couples?

Then these guards came up to us.

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It was hard to take them seriously with their huge coconut helmets. They must be twins too. Look at all those awards! They have to be wearing these for show. No real soldier who means business would wear all of that nonsense on duty. We relax. Maybe everything is going to be fine.

He takes us to the guard booth and makes us wait. We can’t go further on the island until he can confirm our story, and he can’t do that until he can get a translator. He picks up a phone and tries it.

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No signal. He picks up an older one. He has the same result. He picks up the oldest style and it works.

After about ten minutes another guard comes.

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He looks at us suspiciously and speaks to us in a language we’ve never heard. When he sees that we don’t understand it, he tries another. And yet another. It is just like with the phones – no connection. By the fourth try we have something that will work. It isn’t a first language for any of us, but it will do.

He interrogated us for about thirty minutes. Somehow we managed to say all the right things and we are free to wander the island without an escort. This is the best possible outcome. We were afraid we’d be sent back home. Maybe he thought we weren’t a security risk because we were school age. Whatever the reason, we were grateful that our adventure could continue.

They had a few rules we weren’t aware of. We weren’t allowed to take pictures. They took away our cameras while we were on the Island, only letting the captain of the ship give them back to us when we were back at sea. We weren’t even allowed to draw pictures of what we saw. They are sure secretive! They didn’t exactly swear us to secrecy, but they sure didn’t want us talking too much about what we saw. Maybe some of our friends had been here, but just had been too afraid to tell us.

I decided to write letters back to myself on the mainland, and use their stamps to illustrate what we saw. They are certainly different about keeping in touch here! They don’t use phones very often. Nobody has a computer. They communicate in person or by mail. They are really thrifty too – they use stamps from all over. They don’t make their own. There is probably something about security in this idea too, but I haven’t thought about it much.

There are no maps for this island. It isn’t very big so you can’t get lost for long. We decided that we wanted to see as much variety as possible, so we went wandering. We went walking into the forest first.

2bonsai forest

There certainly was no fear of getting lost in this forest. It was composed entirely of bonsai trees. These beautiful old trees only reached to our knees. After about ten minutes walk the trees started to get bigger, but still not so tall that we couldn’t see our way through. There were wide easy paths to walk on as well. It was beautifully laid out and made for an easy stroll.

While walking in the tiny forest, I noticed this huge blue dragonfly.

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He sat calmly on an immense fern and let me get really close to him. I marveled at how shiny he was and how he sparkled. He looked like he was made of gemstones, but he was alive. Maybe this was why this island is so well guarded.

Shortly afterwards I saw a lovely box turtle.

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He was walking away from an unusual orange flower. I think he was trying to eat it, but didn’t like the taste. The turtle reminded me when I was a child. I used to rescue turtles who were crossing the road. Sometimes they didn’t make it to the other side. Sometimes they made it to my house instead. Boy, were they surprised! I left this one where he was. If they didn’t want me taking pictures, I’m pretty sure they didn’t want me taking wildlife.

We came upon a hillside covered with castles.

2castles

Normally hillsides are covered with flowers. These weren’t anywhere near as welcoming as flowers. Maybe this is what they were trying to protect. There were five huge stone castles, stacked almost on top of each other. We turned away, sure that we’d not be welcome here.

By this point, we were getting very hungry. We sat on the hillside that had the castles, but not in view of them. I put down my poncho so Kate and I could have a sort of a picnic. She took out our peanut butter and jam sandwiches from her satchel and we quietly ate them, thinking about how unusual our trip had gone. Our lemonade had gotten warm, and it wasn’t that sweet anymore. We looked around and saw just over the hill a large field of strawberries –

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and blueberries.

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We ate ourselves sick on them, and curled under a normal-sized tree for a nap.

When we woke, we were being stared at by a bunch of black birds.

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They were all the same, and all chirping animatedly at us. They looked a little ominous, with their sharp beaks and shiny black feathers. More started coming so we left the area and kept on exploring. We were concerned that their cries would draw attention to us and we’d not be allowed to stay all day.

Soon we found another tree to sit under. This one had three birds sitting on the same branch.

2tree birds

We liked the fact that they were all different and all getting along. We thought maybe this was the nicer part of the island.

Then we went to the shoreline and looked at the fish. We saw some large fish that looked like they were fencing with each other. I wonder how they decide who won, with three of the fencing at the same time?

2sword fish

Then we saw a huge school of fish, all swimming in the same direction.

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We wandered on a little further and found a cove with only pink sea life.

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Well, they all looked pink. Maybe it was just the light at that time of day. The sun was starting to go down, so we knew it was time to leave. We were told when we arrived that we had to leave before the sun set – no exceptions. There were no hotels on the island, and they didn’t like the idea of putting us up in a private house. We wondered how (or why) anybody moved here.

As the sun’s light was fading, we sailed back to our home. We loved the fact that the island was so large that it took two stamps to illustrate it.

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One day wasn’t enough to explore all of this island. I’m sure there were more curious parts to it. If only we had more time. If only we were allowed to stay. If only never gets you anywhere, though. I’m just grateful there was a way to show you what we’d seen that honored their requests.

“Still waters” meditation – part one.

My still waters aren’t that still.

I’m trying a meditation at the retreat. We are supposed to be led to the “still waters” of Psalm 23 by Jesus, but I’m not liking the still waters that I see in the picture I was given to focus on. They are too still. The water looks dead. There is nothing to look at. The color is autumn and not spring. I need the green of spring, the promise of it.

I change the meditation to somewhere I think I’m going to like. I change it to a mountain stream, or a brook. Something like that. Surrounded by trees, not an open lake. Maybe twenty feet across, but I’m not concentrating on the distance. I’m looking at the shore. I’m looking at the rocks and the shells buried in the mud. There are clam shells here, and a little evidence of humans. Soda cans. Coke bottle caps. A little, not much, but enough to remind me that other people have been here. The metal is interesting in a casual way.

The light catches in the pools of water, sparkling. A fish swims by, scales flashing. There are bubbles and swirls in the water and dappled light from the sun filtering through the leaves. I thought I would like it here but I’m a little ill at ease. There is a little too much of everything and I’m a little overwhelmed. Everything I see is beautiful and everything I see is special and I want to take it all home with me. There is a just too much and yet not enough at the same time.

We sit down, Jesus and I, by the side of the water. We sit down on a large dry rock, warm from the sun. There are bits of green moss clinging to the side that edges the water. It is plenty large enough. No worry about falling off, and there are plenty of flat places to put our things down without worrying about them falling over and spilling.

Jesus hands me a sandwich. The bread is homemade and brown and warm. It’s warm out like an afternoon that stretches out forever, an afternoon of naps, an afternoon of no appointments, of nothing to do. Nothing to do except just be.

There’s hummus on the bread and spinach leaves and there’s cucumbers that have been sliced. There’s no skin on them so there’s no bitterness. The sandwiches are wrapped in wax paper that has been folded carefully and mindfully. It is sealed with a tiny bit of masking tape. It is a delight to unwrap. I enjoy the sound and the feel of the paper. I bite into the sandwich and it is everything I need. I didn’t expect it, and I wouldn’t have thought of it on my own but it’s just what I need and he knows that. We sit together, eating our sandwiches.

We drink lemonade that he made. It is a little tart and a little sweet. Perhaps he used a lime or two in with the lemons. We drink out of glasses he brought along with him. The lemonade is cool but not cold. It is a simple lunch but it is enough and I am thankful. I’m thankful he thought to bring lunch, and thankful that it was handmade.

He keeps showing me these kindnesses, these bits of thoughtfulness. I’ve never known anyone to love me this much. They are usually so wrapped up in their own busyness and their own problems that they don’t have time to think of me. He is always as near or as far as I need. He’s never too much.

We’ve finished lunch and while it was soothing, the place where I am isn’t quite what I need. It was what I thought I wanted. It was where I thought I should be. I allow Jesus to take me somewhere else. I can’t imagine there is anywhere else, but he knows the way.

He leads me a little further along and I see a way out. I see there is an island in the distance, across a wide expanse of water.

It looks something like this –

desert-island-discs

There are steppingstones to it. They are sort of like this –

Garden-Stepping-Stones

Or maybe this –

Stepping stones across the water

Or kind of this –

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I don’t really want to work that hard. So we look to the left and there’s a small rowboat just big enough for two. It is wooden, grey, weathered.

It is facing out, ready to go.

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boat

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It looks sturdy. We get in.

He rows out in the sunny day. It is bright, and there’s a little bit of a wind. He’s rowing and it’s hard work, and he’s doing it all. I smile into the sun and I enjoy how I can hear the sound of the gulls and the wind out here.

We are rowing alongside the steppingstones. There’s not a path like in Marazion. It isn’t solid –

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But it also doesn’t disappear with the tide twice a day.

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These stepping stones are always there, he says, even when the tide is high. Boats don’t come through this way this way because it is too shallow for them. I could wade in these waters and be safe.

We get to the other side and I enjoy the walk through the woods. It’s a small island with a lot of trees and shade. While I’m there I think it would be nice to rest here and we go looking for a place. There’s a cabin with a stone base but there’s also wood to it. It isn’t quite a stone cabin or a log cabin. It is a bit of both.

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There’s a fireplace, and the cabin is just big enough for two. It is cozy and welcoming.

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There’s food there. It’s already stocked, and there is even tea ready for us.

I want to stay here but I can’t. There are other responsibilities, so I’ll stay here as long as I am allowed.

(No pictures are original – all are from Image search on Google. Ideally, I’ll paint this, but I needed some reference points.)