Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gold Fever with Heart

   I’ve always looked at Labor Day as a time to celebrate hard work and American ingenuity. There were times in our nation that the worker was taken advantage of or even used and abused. This modern day holiday is a time to acknowledge that folks spend their lives in this country working hard to improve their lifestyle and provide for their families. Sometimes just to survive.
   In our nation, there are many ways to make a living. Options are unending if you’re willing to work at it.
   I met a couple of men over the holiday weekend that are really living up to that American Dream. But beyond that, their kindness, generosity and giving spirits struck me to write about them.
   My sister was here visiting for a couple of days from Minnesota. We were driving her around the mountains near us sightseeing and also looking for a specific spot in a mountain stream. A spot with black sand.
   My adult nephew is back in Minnesota with his own struggle to survive kidney disease. His life is full of health issues and days upon days of dialysis. He has a lot of down time and developed an interest in learning about gold panning and mining. He watches a lot of shows about it now that the Discovery Channel has numerous programs about this challenging occupation. His request of his mom on her trip was to bring him some black sand to practice panning with. So we were on a mission.
   In one particular canyon over the last hundred years, a lot of gold had been found in the cold mountain creek. We drove along looking down at the water hoping to find a calmer spot where sand could have collected. And maybe even some gold. We forgot to bring a bucket, but I did have a plastic potato chip container. I emptied the contents into a bag, wiped it out and had it all ready to fill with gold laden sand.
   We spotted a couple of pickup trucks parked on the pull-off next to the creek. The back ends loaded up with what we guessed was gold extracting equipment. They had just made their way up the rather steep bank as the sun was setting behind the hills. I parked behind them, walked up to one and asked if this was a public area for gold panning. I’m sure they got a good chuckle thinking this crazy woman didn’t even have grubby clothes on and she wants to pan?
   They said it was for anyone with questioning glances at me. Undaunted, I pressed on to explain briefly about my nephew and that he can’t really travel to do this sort of thing and we hoped to just send some creek bed back with his mom so he could try panning.
   The one man got a spark of a look on his face, held up a finger and said, “Hold on a minute. I have something you can take to him.”
   This was getting odder.
   He went to the passenger side of his white pick-up that was plastered with bumper stickers about America and God. That’s a good sign. He dug around tossing stuff up out of his way muttering, “Where did I put that?” I stood next to the truck wondering what this was all about and have I met a nutcase?
   My sister walked up and with a look that asked if I was crazy she said quietly, “What are you doing?”
   I shrugged. I had no idea what I was doing or what I was waiting for.
   His head popped back out of the cab with the exclamation of, “Here it is.” He held a small plastic zip locked bag out to me and said, “This was given to me and guaranteed to have gold in it. Give this to your nephew.”
   It looked like a bunch of sand to me. Somewhere within and out of sight could hold flecks of gold and this man was handing it over.
   What??!! Why would this man give this to us? He went on to explain that he was given it and he wanted to pass it on. I was dumbstruck by the generous gift. Obviously no nuggets were within the bag, but who knows how much gold dust there could be.
   The other man had joined us by this point along with my husband who had been walking up behind my sister. We chatted about their learning curve several years ago when they began the adventure of searching for gold. They didn’t share how much money they make doing this ingenious and undependable method of income, but by the looks of their equipment, they must be making some. They showed us their sluicing method that separates the first stage of the process and the fine sand that was left over. One of their buckets held that product along with some strange magnetic something or ‘nother.
   The next shocking bit of generosity was when the second man said, “Open up your container.” He began to scoop out the processed sand out of their bucket and transferred it into ours. Then he said, “Give this to your nephew and tell him it’s been through the first sifting. He should pan it and he’ll find gold.”
   This was so surprising that they’d turn over their processed dirt. That took some work. Granted the best stuff was still in that magnetic thing, but still. They didn’t have to do that. We were willing to go down to the bank and just scoop up some sand and see what he could get out of it.
   This happenstance visit in a Colorado canyon as twilight approached really reaffirmed in me that there are still some really good people out there. Hard working, generous people.  
   Gold fever over the centuries has turned a lot of good folks into greedy people, but we happened upon a couple of really kind hearted men that work hard to add a little extra into their pockets. Men that wanted to share the prospect of gold with a young man they’ll never meet, but a man that shares their interest. One that isn’t able to get out there working the sand. They are providing just a little bit of blessing. I hope they know it.
   We were all pretty speechless but so enjoyed talking with them and hearing what they went through to learn the work, to succeed in the work. Isn’t that the American Dream after all? Work, learn the job and do it well.
   I came across this verse in 1 Timothy starting in verse 17 and it made me think of these two modern day gold prospectors, “Instruct those who are rich (not that they’re rich, but they are after riches) in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.
 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
   I believe God set that meeting up, I believe that he put it on their hearts to share what God had provided for them in that creek, and I believe that their hearts are good and generous. They just stored something up that can’t be found here on earth.
   Matthew 6:20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rescue in the Caribbean

     I’m straying a thousand miles from my usual Colorado adventures. Being a writer at heart, when things happen, events take place, or something just plain touches me deeply, I must write about it. The latter happened on a recent dream vacation.
     We were blessed to take a Disney Cruise with our daughter and her husband a couple weeks ago. We planned this dream for a couple years and it finally came true. You know the Disney saying, “Dreams really do come true!” The biggest blessing was being able to spend a week with our kids just having fun. Going on adventures together as family.
     We looked forward to our planned excursions of swimming with dolphins, seeing Mayan Ruins for the first time ever, and a dune buggy ride on an island leading to a snorkel adventure.
Blue as blue can be.
     The ship was beautiful. We loved exploring it at every opportunity on the first full day out to sea. The sky was clear and blue as we headed through the Straits of Florida heading southwest toward the western edge of Cuba. Grand Cayman being our first destination. The water far below us was a blue like you’ve never seen. One can’t even describe the beauty of the water as you head for the Caribbean Sea. It just gets better as you go. The color alone can instill such peace in your heart, let alone being on vacation and no worries that you could do anything about.
     We had gone to a delightful church service that Sunday morning up in one of the funnels with thirteen other people. Afterward, we played the shipboard game of detective work seeking an animated framed painting that came to life with your special card giving you the needed clues. When we succeeded in “rescuing the Dalmatian puppies” in the game, we decided to head to lunch. Something felt odd as we walked down the hallway, and stepping out on deck we realized the ship was turning a wide circle. We made our way to the upper deck where people were gathering at the rail on the port side. Everyone was sharing news that some people were waving from a boat needing help.
     The Captain’s voice came over the loud speaker stating that they had indeed spotted someone in distress and were turning back to help.
     This particular cruise ship is almost four football fields in length, so seeing it turn a circle is quite something. We were all watching, searching the calm sea for sign of this boat. Everyone had their cameras on zoom scanning the vast horizon for this boat. Speculation of the situation rolled through the crowd of voices.
     Just a speck was spotted forward from the boat at about eleven o’clock. My husband Ron zoomed in as far as our camera would allow seeing people sitting on something. All those around us, wanted to see what his camera picked up.
     The ship drew nearer moving at a snail’s pace. The excitement of this rescue at sea built stronger among the crowd gathered at the rail.
     Our cabins were on the port side of the ship and we shared a balcony. Since it was difficult to see over so many heads, well…except for Ron who stands six-four, we went below to watch the rescue. We now had some great “seats” to watch this unfold.
     From our balcony, we saw through our telephoto lens, four men positioned on a crude raft made from inner tubes likely tied together and covered with an old brown canvas. Towed behind, was another uncovered tube that held a make-shift sail and homemade paddles, all lying down; the sail being unnecessary since there were only light, soft ripples from a slight breeze on the sea around them.
     The men didn’t look overly distressed, but the whole scene appeared to us – on our luxurious ship – to be one of desperation. There was no more room on that raft than holding those four men and a smattering of supplies. There would be no stretching their legs on that craft.
     They had three hats on board, the kind that is woven out of wide blade grass. One of the men wore a long sleeve white shirt, the others had short sleeves. All wore shorts. I imagined myself with my beyond white Scandinavian skin color being stranded out to sea like that under a hot Caribbean sun, and how it wouldn’t take long to turn the color of an overly ripe tomato until I was sick from the heat. I could not imagine how these men felt before spotting our ship.
     The ship was now at full stop. The water no longer stirred next to the stern where the engines added air to the water turning it a pale blue. We looked down when voices were heard and saw some crew members two decks lower as they readied the speed boat to go investigate the raft. 
     It was almost an eerie feeling being on this huge ship at a total standstill, nothing around us but the deep blue sea. So surreal it was looking at the situation of these men obviously desperate to flee a country that oppressed them so deeply that they could choose this current situation in the hope that they might find something better wherever the sea and the wind would allow them to go. And with the present state of the weather, only the water would steer their raft.
     I tend to research things like this when it is a direct experience. I have a need to know more. In my attempt at understanding, I came upon an article that talked a lot about why so many thousands of people attempt this type of change in their lives. I learned that many die trying to cross the Florida Straits or they are killed by Cuban gunboats as they attempt to leave the island. The Cuban government touts their criminal records, not mentioning that many of the “crimes” are those practicing Christianity, or refusing to serve in a military of an oppressive regime, or if they had been deemed political dissidents, their “crime” was getting food from the black market in order for their family to survive.
     And here we were on a luxury ship sailing away from our cares.
     It was sobering.
     Of course, this as with most things can become and has become a very political topic. I guess I gained a new perspective. It boils down to the fact that these are human beings out there subject to the ocean’s whims and ways. They are searching for something better. Something safer, even if it is at great risk to their lives.
     Our crew went out on the speed boat and circled the raft checking out what they had on board and their demeanor, I imagine. They were close enough to communicate with them. When they determined there was no threat, they brought two of the men on board their boat. We watched the other two load up a large black bag with their meager belongings. When their turn came to be rescued off this crude raft, the bag had to be left behind. The cruise line cannot risk illness, parasites, or danger to the paid passengers. The raft floated away and the coast guard was notified of its last location. They probably sink it. 
     We found out that the refuges would be taken to Grand Cayman, our first port of call. Disney takes very good care of them, getting medical help and then taken to a destination other than Cuba where they would most likely lose their lives.
     I’ve learned this is a more common experience than one might imagine. With millions of refuges over the years trying to escape to a better life, cruise ships in the Florida Straits have picked up a fair share of them. But so many have lost their lives. Men, women and even children.
     Later in the week, the ship turned again. We watched from our balcony as another raft was circled. This one empty. Were they saved? Did they perish?
     The sea was calm this day of rescue. But what of the days when the storms rage, when nothing about their escape seems to go right, when a leak occurs on the raft, when the waves are steep and slam into their poorly made raft, bouncing them into the air, desperately trying to hang on, food and water run out, when the sharks circle…
     Then I thought of my own life. The lives of my friends and loved ones. What do we hang onto when the storms rage? How do we hang on?
     We’ve faced some raging storms over the last year. Certainly not hanging onto a raft for dear life out in the middle of the ocean, but it did tend to feel like that at times. Sometimes life just slams into us. The fact is, disease and aging problems sooner or later affect us all, either personally or in our loved ones. Trials of every kind, financial, emotional, Spiritual come and go often. When I look back over the previous eighteen months and list the inventory of what we went through, I get overwhelmed. Then I realize I got through it. The currents carried me. I made it to shore. I survived. Again.
     But how?
     The only way I know how. I leaned on the Captain of my life. The only One that can get me through these challenging times. The One that can steer me to the answers and provide the comfort and peace that I so desperately need. When at my lowest, I know that I can reach out to my Lord and tell Him that I can’t hold on any longer, that my grip isn’t strong enough to keep me from sinking into the abyss. Then I hear Him say in that still small voice, “I’ve got you. Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to let go!”

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Casting Call

   I love to fish. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to find the time. But in April? At 9,000 feet elevation it could be rain, cold, mud season or even a snow storm. The secret to Colorado and adventures like this is to dress in layers. Donning seven layers, we headed for a mountain lake with six of our friends early one Tuesday morning.
   Arriving at Tarryall Reservoir, the sun was shining, the skies were a crystalline blue, and there wasn’t a bit of wind to cause even a ripple on the surface of the water.
   Everyone grabbed a camp chair and their fishing gear to find their position along the shoreline in the hopes of landing the largest trout on record. Okay, so just land a trout or two for dinner.
   There isn’t a better way to spend a day than with great friends and a fishing pole.
   I watched down the bank as Bill pulled in fish after fish. This is not unusual for him. I firmly believe that fish know when Bill has arrived at a lake and they clamor to jump onto his line. Odds are if he walked out into that water with a net, they’d just jump right in for the privilege to go home with him. Their demise being totally worth it if Bill is involved.
   A few others were pulling in a trout now and then. I sat there, holding my new fishing pole, waiting. And waiting. Turns out I waited a lot that day.
   I really didn’t mind. I was quite warm and comfortable waiting. Sitting in a chair. Watching. Observing. Sea Gulls flew overhead, geese took off from the water honking an incredible noise as they went as if that would help them gain altitude, wisps of clouds occasionally floated overhead. Waiting was good.
   The past year and a half or so has really thrown us for a loop. Lots of surgeries, from shoulders to back procedures and a couple other physical ailments. Then our home was robbed to top it all off. Frustration built, a horrible feeling of being overwhelmed ruled the days, worries piled up, even a good dose of fear reigned.
   I sat there staring out over the lake as another goose honked its departure from the water. A sea gull screeched overhead hoping someone would clean their fish. A couple of ducks swam across the way. The reflection of the mountains on the far side of the lake shimmered on the surface. Calmness. Peace. Nature. Beauty.
   I reeled in to check my bait. None left. So the fish were snacking not attacking.     Harumph. Pull the line back with my finger, lay the pick up over, cast the line back out as far as I could, sit down and wait.
   Cast all your anxieties…
   I couldn’t resist. I had to reel it in again. Pull line, reach back with the pole, fling it forward while releasing that line. Cast. Release. As that line swooshed through the air, I imagined or maybe I really heard, “Cast all your anxieties on Me, for I care for you.” My husband’s favorite life verse has now become mine.
   I looked up. Blue sky, sparse clouds. Cast.
   All the issues we’ve been facing seemed to fly away from me on that line. At least for the moment. When you have a year like this, every moment of peace counts far more than you’d think. I couldn't help but imagine each care strung onto that line flying farther and farther away. 
   I never did catch a fish that day. But that’s okay. I had caught some peace. I had reeled in some misplaced joy. I hooked a release. I hurled a bunch of problems into the depths where I could no longer see them. For such a time…
   I’m pretty sure I had the best catch of the day.
   Oh, and Bill got another one on the line!