A Wink from God (Alaska Memories)
Last week onboard the Holland America Westerdam, we were busy meeting new friends. Greg taught three times, and we had the joy of having Jonathan, Brittni, and their three little ones to keep us happy in the in-between times.
Most summers in Southern California are so dry, it’s hard to imagine the intense lushness of an Alaskan rainforest. The giant spruce, hemlock, and cedar trees with delicate lichen gracefully draping their branches. Underneath the giant canopy grow wild foxgloves and the salmonberry shrubs covered with berries in red, yellow, or orange.
When we entered Glacier Bay, there was an eerie stillness over the stark landscape of jagged blue-white ice. No noise, no traffic, no cellphones ringing! But underneath the dark glassy waters, enormous whales: humpbacks, grays, and orcas would be swimming. We’d occasionally see a spout or tail in the distance.
Several hundred people had joined us on this adventure and engaged us with their personal stories. It seems funny how they feel like they know us from Greg’s books or the A New Beginning radio program. Some told us stories of their grief and how our story had helped them. What they don’t know is that any help they may have received was a byproduct of our experience; we didn’t set out to help anyone. How could we? We were hanging on for dear life ourselves. But we were watched nonetheless, and what they saw in us was an ordinary family and the God who never lets go.
This entire trip, the ocean was blessedly calm. Once, on a previous Alaska cruise, we had seas so rough most of us stayed in our cabins; not even the lobster dinner could lure us out of bed. Steve, our cruise director, told us a story about one Alaska cruise he did with Tony Evans. Leaving Ketchikan one evening, they encountered a night and day of 40-foot swells! Pastor Tony’s wife was so upset after that night and day of rough seas that she went to the captain and demanded to know why he would have dared to leave port knowing the seas would be so rough. This was his matter-of-fact answer: “Madam, I’m the captain, I’ve done this before, I know where I am going, and I know what this ship can take.” Boom! What a perfect sermon illustration, right? Only I’m sure Mrs. Evans, like all of us, would rather stay in port a day or two and avoid the stormy sea altogether.
After the cruise was over, Nick, our cab driver, took us to the airport for our return flight home. After all of the activities and conversations of the trip, Greg and I appreciated the quiet in the car. We were using the time to think about home and the many things we had waiting for us there. But then Nick interrupted the silence: “I often hear you speak on the radio. I enjoy listening to you very much.” Truthfully, I wasn’t interested in making small talk, but we managed to say a few polite words in response.
And then he told us his story. How he discovered his faith after living a wasted life. How he met and married a girl from the Philippines who had two sons, one of which he had adopted—the other was living with his father.
“Do you have any children?” He asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “We have two boys. Our oldest, Christopher, would have been 40 this year; he is at home with the Lord. And our youngest, Jonathan, is 29.”
His voice changed and he said, “I’m so sorry. That’s awful. You see, I am a grieving father as well. My wife’s oldest boy lived in the Philippines still and I planned to adopt him as well, but he died last week in a drowning accident. His name was Christian; he was 10 years old this past April 1st.”
“April 1st was Christopher’s birthday as well,” I said.
Nick continued sadly, “I shouldn’t have waited to adopt him. I thought I had time. I should have sent him gifts. I should have brought him here to live with us.”
Greg’s words were strong and loving, “You can’t change the past. None of us can. We all would like to have done some things differently. It’s not what you could have done that you should dwell on, but what you can do. You can let God strengthen your life. You can let Him help you love your wife as you should, and determine to raise your children in the way of the Lord.”
Why are we often afraid of storms, of dark places? I have come to realize that though we all would rather stay in a safe harbor, we shouldn’t run from storms God has allowed. Places of trial, fears, and pain—it’s there in those dark places that God shows up in unexpected ways. If we will just be quiet enough to hear His voice, He is speaking. And there is something beautiful that is forged in the fellowship of His suffering.
We made our way through the late afternoon traffic, silent once again. Our lives intersected for a brief moment. We shared our stories about our two boys with similar names, born the same day thirty years apart. At this moment, Christian and Christopher are with Christ.
Nick shook our hands and we said goodbye. “God must be winking at us from heaven,” he said.
A wink? It felt more like a nudge to me. You know, the way you nudge someone right before you say, “Hey, did you see that?”
I did. Just a small reminder. No voice in the thunder. No burning bush. More like a nudge . . . or a wink.