Friday, October 23, 2009

Is it the Destination . . . Or the Journey?

Connie, here. Please,
Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me.

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu (609 BC – 531 BC) said,
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

That is true. Usually.

Two of my favorite modes of travel are via books and movies. Of course, I do have to take that initial step to my couch or recliner to curl up with one or the other. I’ve traveled the world with all kinds of characters – to Rome with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in the 1953 classic Roman Holiday; to Africa with Hepburn and Bogart in African Queen as well as with Forest Whitaker in the Last King of Scotland. Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency gives great insight to the African people as well as the land. Mrs. Mike, the compelling story of a Boston girl who marries a rugged Canadian Mountie has stayed with me for years.

I’ve blasted off into outer space with Tom Hanks and the crew of Apollo 13 and plunged to the dismal recesses of the sea with The Abyss. I’ve been at war against the evil Empire at the side of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker, and have traipsed across the Irish countryside with Nora Roberts and Maeve Binchy. I’ve spun backwards in time and have been catapulted into the future. And, of course, through many an adventure with J. K. Rowling and Harry. There’s nothing quite like glimpsing the people and places of the world with character guides.

Unless you have the chance to see it for yourself. This world our Lord created for you and me is an incredible place. Recently, I was blessed to see a little more of it. The destination of our fifteen day cruise was the awesome Panama Canal. I did my homework before I left and learned it is a lock-type canal approximately 80 kilometers long that unites the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at one of the narrowest points of both the Isthmus of Panama and the American Continent. The waterway’s official inauguration took place on August 15, 1914 with the transit of the SS Ancon.

Zzzzzz. Ho, hum. Did those tedious facts about a fascinating modern miracle put you to sleep?

They did me. But being there, passing under the Bridge of Americas, watching the ships in front of us traverse into the lock, then as magnificently as a bird of prey soaring on the updrafts, rise to the top of the lock on a backwash of water – well, words have failed this writer.

When the water was lowered and the gates lumbered open,it was our turn.

Thick steel cables were attached to the ship by two guys in a tiny outboard. And then we were pulled into the locks by ‘mules’ (train-like cars).

Our ship took up the entire lock. I had no sensation of rising the 85’ that the books said we did as we transited the three locks, nor of us being lowered once again to sea level. But I did see the shore rise and fall beside us. It was ten hours of awe and discovery.

Ah, yes, the Canal – our destination - was educational and enlightening. What man can accomplish through God-given gifts.

But, oh, the journey. The journeys to and from our destination . . .they were priceless.

Our first port was Cabo San Lucas, which was no more than a sleepy fishing village when we first visited eons ago. Not wanting to tarnish our idyllic memories, we instead toured a small oasis village that sits peacefully next to the Pacific, Todos Santos (All Saints). This region is striking in appearance, from arid desert and white sand coves, to swaying palms and the blue of the sea. It’s also home to The Hotel California, inspiration for the Eagles’ song back in 1969.

Our next port on the journey to the Canal was Acapulco and the Tehuacalco Ruins. Our tour guide/historian Ruven transported us back in time. It’s amazing to see, to touch, the pyramids and temples (the stairs so narrow, you’re forced to climb sideways because, you see, one does not turn one's back on one's king),
the sacrificial alters where small children were sacrificed to appease the gods (chills ran up my arm as I laid my hand upon the stone), and the arenas of the ancients. One story was they played a soccer-type game with five players, one being the ‘goalie’. The winning goalie was considered great, powerful, in the prime of his life where he could get no better. His reward? He was sacrificed. I can’t imagine that being an honor, but perhaps one day our ways will be looked upon as savage. I’m thankful customs have changed. My granddaughter is quite a good goalie!

Their technology was amazing. Their ‘time calendar’, a large perpendicular stone is said to be only a fraction of a fraction off what we call ‘real’ time.

Have I mentioned the (shudder) snake that slithered past us at the ruins? By the time we reached the ship, the 24” coral reptile had grown as large as a fisherman’s catch on the tenth telling!

Next we sailed into Huatulco (pronounced Wa-tul-ko), Mexico. Forget pronunciation. We just called it Paradise. This is the next Cabo, but right now it’s the sleepy village on the verge of waking. The crystalline aquamarine waters, white sand beaches and lush landscape are just more proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
The next four countries we docked at were Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama and Columbia. They were never on my bucket list, but I quickly added them so I could check them off. They are beautiful countries, similar yet each oh, so different. We drove past sugar cane fields in the lowlands that gave way to coffee plantations in the highlands. They are proud of their coffee. Volcanoes were shrouded by clouds made of their own steam. These countries are filled with history and sadly are without the funds to excavate ruins or preserve the ancient sites. The average income in Guatemala is 150 a month; Nicaragua, Panama and Columbia only slightly higher.

Locals wash their colorful clothing in the streams that trickle through the villages. Many of their ‘homes’ are corrugated metal sidings with black plastic bags for roofs. The women still carry goods in baskets atop their heads and many men still travel on horseback. Mules packed to the hilt replace trucks. The old narrow cobblestone streets were a challenge to ankles and knees. They are a beautiful people, many of Mayan descent. Their features are distinct – wide and expressive and welcoming.

In El Viejo (translated means "the old one"), Nicaragua, we visited the Menor Basilica, a colonial church constructed in the early 17th century. Within, there is a small statuette of the Virgin Mary. In 1562 the Spanish conquistadors used the little Mary statue for safe passage through the native villages. Inhabitants were so fascinated by this stunning image, they came from far and wide to view it. It's said when thieves ransacked the church and stole the Virgin, their horses, no matter how much they were prodded or beaten, would not cross the river. The thieves lightened the load time after time, but it was not until the statuette was removed that the horses resumed their journey. There is an aura of holiness surrounding her that my camera couldn't capture.

Next stop was the tiny island of Carti, of the San Blas (St. Blaze) Archipelago, home to one of the nation’s most populous remaining Cuna (or Kuna) tribes. Talk about time grinding to a stop. These are the people who greeted Columbus. And now me. They still have an essentially self-ruling society, live in thatched-roof huts with dirt floors and their public transit is dugout canoes. The women’s handiwork is known worldwide. While we speculated that perhaps, after we left, the ‘native’ people disrobe, change into jeans and catch the next flight back to the capital, we were assured that this is their chosen everyday clothing and life.

And it hit me. All my prized possessions, everything I work for and covet – in the end, none of it matters. It will be my actions, not my accumulations, by which I will be judged.

And, so, while the sights were spectacular, it was the people, brothers and sisters in Christ’s love, who made this trip special - those on the ship (waving to all we met, especially our Team Trivia partners) and those on shore. A smile, a nod, and a kind word transcend all barriers. Despite the differences in looks, culture and custom, we are all so alike – in our dreams, our love for family, our desire for peace. We have such a small amount of time allotted to us here on God’s perfect creation. Instead of fighting over a piece of land or demeaning one another for ideals not shared, perhaps today we could share a smile, a nod or an encouraging word with all those we encounter. Perhaps today we can be truly worthy of God’s love.

On Tuesday as I pondered how to convey this message, God sent me the following verses via email. He truly does listen and answer.

.=: S C R I P T U R E S F O R T H E D A Y :=But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” ~Luke 12:13-21.

.=: M E D I T A T I O N F O R T H E D A Y :=.It's tempting for us to accumulate many "things." Houses, cars, boats, pension funds, etc. seem to be our security. If we have enough, we won't have to worry. Then we come to see that none of these things come with us when we die. Funeral coaches don't have luggage racks. So we need to treasure the things that will last forever.

.=: P R A Y E R F O R T H E D A Y :=.I pray that I may not seek security in material things. I pray that I may work for the things that last forever.

Reprinted with permission from Father Pat's Place -

Next time you're ready to leave home, remember to pack God. He's an awesome traveling companion.

If you’re interested in being placed in the drawing for Philip Gulley’s Hometown Tales (beautiful recollections of kindness, peace and joy) please leave a comment with your email address. Be sure to put parentheses around the @ (@) and the dot (.) to foil phishers. I’ll draw a winner on Monday, the 26th.

Thanks for sailing with me.


  1. Buenos Dios Constance. I've been waiting for this post and it was a lovely way to travel away on a rainy friday morning. What a blessing this trip must have been.

    It made me think about how much our possessions really end up owning us. We often see a different kind of joy in people who don't have a lot of 'stuff'. A deeper sense of family and community and the meaning of work.

    thanks for taking us away. Hey, you should have been in one of the photos! Come on now.

  2. My mom wants to go on a Panama Canal cruise. Sadly, a lot of people have sacrificed over the years. But I never knew about the doll. Definitely interesting.

  3. I read a book to my kids called Me Oh Maya, from the time warp trio series. So I kind of feel like I've traveled back to the Mayan pyramids and witnessed the cool games with the goalies and everything.

    Somehow, what a shock, they managed not to get sacrificed and made it safely into the next installment of the series.


  4. After reading the brilliant post, gazing at the sights of Panama, enjoy the rest of the song introducing Connie's piece.

    Who can name the band WITHOUT GOOGLING? You might be surprised!

    "Come Sail Away"
    I'm sailing away,
    Set an open course for the virgin sea,
    'Cause I've got to be free,
    Free to face the life that's ahead of me,
    on board, I'm the captain, so climb aboard,
    We'll search for tomorrow on every shore,
    And I'll try, Oh Lord I'll try, to carry on

    I look to the sea,
    Reflections in the waves spark my memory,
    Some happy, some sad,
    I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had,
    We lived happily forever, so the story goes,
    But somehow we missed out on the pot of gold
    But we'll try best that we can to carry on

    A gathering of angels appeared above my head,
    They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said,
    They said come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads,
    Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me,
    Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me baby,
    Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me

    I thought that they were angels, but much to my surprise,
    We climbed aboard their starship, we headed for the skies
    come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads
    Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me
    Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me
    Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me...

  5. I'm always fascinated by people's journeys. Especially if it is their first time over sees. There is something about travel that seems to expand our minds so that we see things we wouldn't notice at home, and we are more open to experiences. It is in some ways like being a child again. And I think it is in moments of childlike awe that we are closest to God, innocence and wonder renewed.

    Or maybe I'm just sentimental and even a little maudlin today. I do love to travel though. It changes us, broadens our worldview and once a mind is expanded by new ideas and perspectives it can't ever quite return to its old shape. (Much like my thighs)

  6. Hey, Deb: I'm the one behind the camera! Though it's true our possessions become almost too important to us, when we use them to glorify God, they can have a dual purpose. Satisfy us and satisfy Him. It's another fine line to walk!

    Adge, I will pray your mom's dream of cruising the Canal comes true. It is an awesome experience. The French tried to construct a canal for ten years and lost over 20,000 workers to uprisings, disease, poisonous snakes and insects and the grueling tropical weather. There is a small section called the Frenchmen's Cut that's a tribute to those men. Their sacrifice is not forgotten.

    Dina, we writers can rewrite history! But then again perhaps those goalies in the story were perfect yet! :-)

    Patti, thanks for continuing the lyrics. It's a magical song and I do know the group. So if anyone out there doesn't want to know, close your eyes now! Shhhh. It's Styx!

    Lisa, your thighs and my middle. Oh, I expanded more than my mind and experiences on this cruise. But that's half the fun - eating. (Well, eating is always fun to me!) Back on our diet for a while, but we expected that! On the heels of all the excellent food at ACFW - a double whammy!

    I know I felt like a wide-eyed child as I visited the new places. I cry easily, so seeing some of these churches and customs brought out the Kleenex. The Mary statuette sure did.

    And a cute side note: Both inside and outside the church, children tried to sell us Chicklets gum. While I knelt in prayer -- while my eyes were closed -- the little girl placed her hand on my arm and waited quietly. The instant I opened my eyes, it was "Chickletts, Lady? One dallar." Priceless is what it was.

    I am blessed.


  7. Oops, Dina! Of course I meant they probably WEREN'T perfect yet! Makes a lot more sense when you write it right!


  8. Connie, I've been so anxious for this post! (and you had me at the mention of Mrs. Mike, sigh!). What an amazing journey. Thank you for sharing some of the highlights with us, and reminding me to love God and "pack Him" with me everywhere I go.

    Dina, we love the Time Warp Trio at our house. They're hilarious. I love watching my kids' eyes light up with excitement for history and new places when they're reading. I wonder if my eyes get that look too!

  9. Nicely designed site, all of you.

    Enjoyed taking the journey with you, Connie. You did well in putting us there with you, rising in the locks, walking sideways up the temple steps, shivering at the snake.

    I'll visit again!

  10. Susanne, I'll have to look into the time warp trio books for the grandkids. To blend humor and history makes for good reading and good learning.

    Jan, it's so nice to have you 'on board'. Welcome. Reliving a journey by sharing it with friends is most fun. We look forward to getting to know you.


  11. You forgot to mention the daily Mass onboard the ship followed by a wonderful meal in the dining room where you could pretty much order whatever you wanted. Even vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

  12. Am I the first to answer Patti's COME SAIL AWAY question? It's STYX, of course! Can I admit that I have their greatest hits album? Ah, takes me back.

    But CONNIE... what a fabulous trip you had! And your pictures are terrific. Thanks for sharing it with us, and some profound thoughts as well. Glad to have you back :+}

  13. Great writing mom. I hope to see pictures 1st hand and here more about trip. I love you

  14. Yeah, Honey, it was those nightly ice cream sundaes (along with three four-course meals daily) that did me in. There's so much that didn't get mentioned. Daily Mass was definitely a gift! And Reverend Bob, the Protestant minister aboard, will always be a special memory! :-))

    My anonymous son, welcome. (I'm assuming it's you and not your sister since it's not even 2 PM here yet! Thanks for checking in. I love you, too.

  15. Okay Bob, Caught you. Now you have to come back and visit.

    Well, I missed the Styx question. I heard it in my head but couldn't remember was 70s group it was. I'm slipping.

  16. What a great post, Connie. Wish I could have traveled with you--but you made me feel as if I were along for the ride!

  17. Connie, it was so wonderful to read about your trip. Thank you so much for sharing. Great pictures, great journey. I loved it.

  18. Ok now I have that Styx song in my head and I want ice cream.

    Jan, thanks for visiting! Glad you could come by!

    Connie, the Time Warp Trio books are cute. Do your grandkids already know about the Magic Tree House series? Those are popular in my house, too. Two kids travel to important dates in history via their tree house...very cute.


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