It was the perfect day for a sail. Sunny, breezy, and beautiful. There were six of us; my best friend, her husband & son, my oldest daughter, my son, and me. We were going on a chartered sail on Monterey Bay, on board a 65-foot catamaran. Not just any catamaran. This was the boat I had helped to build…40 years ago. My blood, sweat, and tears were invested here, in her bones. Yet four years after joining the man who was building it, our relationship ended badly; and the dream of finishing this boat and sailing around the world was never realized.
The memories of the years I spent on this boat were shadowed by shame over many of the choices I had made. Shame for staying with a man who decided he didn’t want to marry me. Shame for settling for whatever he was willing to give me. Shame over the willingness to go through with an abortion, because he didn’t want marriage or a child. Shame over eventually being dumped for someone else…and being asked to take my stuff and move out. I was 22 years old. Shame. A huge, heavy blanket over my heart where all these memories were stored. Add to that a hefty dose of self-contempt for feeling like the fool in it all.
Our stories. It would seem that the parts that we try to avoid…those are the parts that beckon. It’s as though the person we were in the past has been left there, in a labyrinth of pain and shame; left alone, dark in their understanding – until we are brave enough to walk back toward them. It is best to take a Light with us, when we do.
Earlier this year, I began to re-visit these memories. I looked at pictures that had been stowed away for decades. Letting my eyes scan that young woman who was, at one time, hopeful and in love. I could see it in her eyes. I let myself remember what was excruciating. It required being willing to stand in the midst of scenes that were painful, and recall the details. Where I was, what I saw, felt, thought, and what I did. The landscape. Details that held such importance, because I knew Jesus was inviting me into the reality of my story on the boat. The bad and the ugly were easiest to see. The good was much more difficult. I struggled to name what was good from those years.
In the wise words of my counselor, “The memories cannot be changed, but they can be redeemed.”
A few months ago, I found myself wondering what had happened to that boat. How hard could it be to find a 65 foot catamaran? As it turns out, not hard at all! I found it, and as I took a virtual tour of the boat online, I recognized this place that was my home at one time. Unbelievable! And she was available to the public for day cruises. That settled it. I booked 6 of us for an afternoon in mid July.
This day on the bay was to be a day of redemption. I no longer wanted to hold the memories in the dark where my heart felt captive to all that had been painful and sorrowful. I wanted redemption – and I wanted to include some friends & family in the day. We arrived in Santa Cruz, and from a distance, I took in the size of the boat. She was beautiful. I delighted in just the sight of her. When it was time to board, I walked the deck—bow to stern, taking it all in. I went down the steps into the cabin and was shocked to see all the original work. After 40 years—the same counters, cabinets, berths – work familiar to me. Evidence of my story, and the history I shared with this vessel. I looked at pictures from the past that I had brought, and my daughter took pictures of the present. The past and present meeting together.
As we got underway, I stood at the bow with my friends and marveled that we were actually doing this. During the sail, I shared my history with the crew, and heard their stories about the man who bought her, Jack O’Neill. He started a program called the “Sea Odyssey” that has taken on board 100,000 school children to teach them about marine habitat. The mast has a hinge that allows it to be lowered forward, so he could launch his hot air balloon off the top of the cabin. This boat was used for his pleasure and was an incredible gift to the community. Amazing.
The captain invited me to take the helm…and so I did… and my heart felt grateful, enlarged. One of the crew asked me if being on the boat was like “closure.” No, this felt like something very different. This was like walking through a doorway into a vibrancy that was expansive and full of life.
When the light shines in the darkness, we can see what was hidden to us. My counselor asked me, “What would have been missing in my life had I NOT lived those 4 years on the boat?” I began to be able to name some of the good impact of those years. They were not lived in complete darkness, as evil had me believe for decades, resulting in a smaller life lived. Being willing to see and being able to name what was good was, for me, a holy confession. Redemptive because it acknowledged that in the midst of all the heartache, God was ever present. The evidence indisputable in the details.
Before God and a boatful of people, I opened my heart to embrace my whole story on the boat. Dan Allender, in The Healing Path, says “Healing in this life is not the resolution of our past; it is the use of our past to draw us into deeper relationship with God and his purposes for our lives.”
The mysterious and redemptive work of God—playful, exhilarating, and holy. All present on that fabulous day on the boat.
Gina lives with her husband of 26 years in Colorado. She has 2 gorgeous girls, a handsome son, and shares her home with a beloved collie and 2 cats. She is inviting her heart to risk more, and “kindness” and “rest” are taking on new meaning in her life. Gina enjoys making jewelry, gardening, and taking her mustang convertible out for a spin.