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because...

We just returned from 5 days in Florida. It was a welcome and much-needed break from the pretty hectic year we have had. It is amazing how being in a different location (and without internet for the first 2 days) allows the mind to put aside most of the stresses of current and impending projects and slow down to embrace the beautiful present moment. I try not to have specific expectations about how things will turn out (mostly a waste of time and an exercise in disappointment, I have found), but everything about this trip seemed to be more than we could have asked for. From the moment we stepped into our first hotel room in Miami and saw the view of the harbour through the floor to ceiling windows, I felt like I had won a prize on a game show.

For the most part, we travel very simply and economically, and this time was really no exception. I shopped around for hotel deals, Dean used points to get a free night, and someone generously gave us the plane tickets. The one splurge we did decide on was to rent a convertible for the time we were there. It was a treat for Dean and much cheaper than buying one! The drive along the Florida keys was beautiful and when we crossed the 7-mile bridge with the ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, all I could do was stare and say "Look at that!" over and over.

We spent 2 days in Miami, frolicking in the ocean off Miami Beach one afternoon (it was as warm as bath water; you could walk out for a long time and the water would only be up to your waist!), riding the free air-conditioned sky transportation around town, wandering around the marketplace by the port, and eating a lot of really tasty Mexican food. Then we drove to Key West, marveling at the unique beauty of each island along the way. By the time we arrived at our hotel a block from the ocean late Saturday afternoon, we were pretty hot and tired. Dean wanted to catch a meeting at the local Vineyard church that night and while I agreed in principle, I sighed as I thought about getting back in the car, driving 45 minutes back the way we came, and postponing dinner and seeing the sights of Key West. We were on vacation. Couldn't we skip a church meeting just this once? Of course I never voiced this reluctance, but the thoughts were there as I unpacked a few things in our hotel room overlooking the pool and munched on the warm chocolate chip cookies they gave us when we checked in.

And then from somewhere in my mind or heart or spirit of wherever the truth springs from at times like this when we need to hear it, I was reminded of something: I was here, on this vacation, enjoying these beautiful surroundings because of the blessing and generosity of God in my life. How could I think it was a chore to take a few hours out of my playtime to worship and give thanks to Him? At that point I recognised the ingratitude and selfishness in my heart. It was not that going to a building or meeting was particularly important that night, though neglecting an intentional, regular and communal gathering of Church for whatever reason can be a symptom of an individualistic, self-guided faith (which is a whole other issue that I won't address here). No, the important thing that night was that I saw my attitude for what it was: ingratitude that threatened to turn a gift into self-indulgence. "Because" was the word that caught my attention. I was here because God was good, and I did not want to forget that primary cause.

It was with joy that I went with Dean to the Saturday night gathering at Keys Community Church. They were just finishing serving dinner when we got there and we had a quick bite to eat before the music began. We chatted with the pastor afterwards and were much encouraged by how consistently and generously they serve their community in creative ways. On the drive back to our hotel, we witnessed the most beautiful sunset playing out before us. I was again rendered mostly speechless by the beauty of it and snapped pictures in a vain attempt to capture the stunning mixture of moving colours and textures.
We had a great time wandering around Key West over the next 2 days, taking in all the sights, touring Hemingway's house (perhaps I will write about that experience at a later date), watching another sunset from the boardwalk, and eating seafood (that would be mostly Dean, though I did sample a conch fritter) and Key Lime pie. On the drive back to Miami on Monday afternoon with the top down, watching the clouds and blue water play off each other, I was overwhelmed with a sense of fullness. My life just felt so rich at that moment! And it wasn't really in response to a great vacation - no, it was a sense of gratitude that I was riding in a car with a man who loved me and was one of the most stable, faithful people I knew. It was an awareness that I was blessed to have eyes to take in the magnificent sights of sea and sky. It was a feeling of freedom from petty worries and complaints that sometimes clutter my mind. It was my heart trying to emulate the grandness of the vista before me.I believe that part of the reason I love the ocean so much is because it stretches my heart and mind and spirit and soul. It forces me to look beyond what I normally see, and think beyond the concerns of my small life. It reminds me that I am a speck in this universe, and that perspective is humbling and gratifying at the same time. I love being part of something bigger than myself.

When we arrived at our hotel that night, we opened the door to our room to find that we had been upgraded to a 2-bedroom suite with 3 tvs and 2 bathrooms. What? The place was almost as big as our condo! I ran from room to room, unsure what to do with all that space. Part of me wanted to call someone, anyone, and tell them to jump on a plane and join us! Part of me thought it was wasteful to give us this huge suite when all we really needed was one bed. Finally, I just accepted it and stopped trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with it.

I know that when I talk or write of things like this, it makes certain people feel a sense of lack. When we went to Hawaii last year, several people jokingly said that they hated me. I understand that, I do. I have also been in that place of feeling like I am missing out. But I also know that how I respond to having much and having little says a lot about the largeness of my heart as well as the humility and generosity of my spirit. In some ways, it is easier to be scraping by than to have blessings heaped on you. When gifts come our way, it is easy to think that we deserve them, and it is but a short step from thinking we deserve them to demanding them. It is hard to have much and to remain humble and content.

I am back at home now, doing a lot of laundry today, catching up on writing, and preparing for meetings and talks I have to give. I still feel that sense of richness, even though there is a lot of cleaning and ironing to do and our bank account looks pretty sad. I believe that is part of what vacations and sabbath times are for: to regain our sense of richness. Richness is not in the tasks I do or don't do nor in numbers that come up when I look at my bank account. It is also not in my circumstances. I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the plane ride home yesterday and it was amazing how much richness and depth oozed out of his letters from prison.

I belong to God and that makes my life rich. Always. Because he is with me, whether I am on a fabulous vacation or thrown in prison. Because he is always good. Because he loved me first. Because he will never leave me. Because he is present in my life everyday, no matter what that day looks like. May I never forget where my richness comes from.

First photo: view from our hotel room in Miami.
Second photo: part of the sky driving back to Key West after the church meeting
Third photo: one of the Key Lime Pie places in Key West

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