Tag Archives: ocean

Boiled Lobster and Fish Bake

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Last Saturday, I got a special treat: Steamed lobster dripping with melted butter, and a night off from cooking. That’s right– my man made me a fancy dinner just because my weekend was busy. He and his friend Matt made an amazing seafood meal of baked fish and steamed lobster. You can make it, too!

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A Gem in the Prickliest of Places

My top fears? Finding a dead person in a public restroom, centipedes, and stepping on a sea urchin.

Some say it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Whether or not she coined the saying, I believe that it’s a good one to live by. I don’t think it means that we should always do dangerous or ridiculous things. I think that it means we should slowly widen our comfort zone, one baby step at a time. When we first moved to the Caribbean, I was terrified of sharks. Irrationally so, especially since there has been no shark attack in Sint Maarten for about thirty years. I was shaking during our first snorkel expeditions. Soon, I was able to go further and deeper and enjoy it more. Now, I can happily surf offshore for hours with barely a thought in the back of my mind.

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Sea urchins still plague me, though. Ben got some spines in his feet during a tropical storm, when the urchins were washed onto the beach. My friend Jay got a massive urchin sting from barely brushing up against one while floating in a tide pool. The last thing I want is to be stabbed AND stung at the same time!

 

On Ben’s first day of break from medial school, we decided to explore a few little-known cays off the coast of Le Galion beach. This place is hard to find, but it’s amazing. In the winter, you can watch wales migrate from viewing towers. Year round, you can walk or snorkel to small cays in the shallow water.

Walking through the water to the first couple cays was easy. But the path to the last cay was slightly terrifying. We began to the slow trek through the rocky water, avoiding the little spiky balls of evil that dotted the sandy ocean floor. The water was only about ankle-deep, but the waves breaking on the nearby rock barrier sometimes spilled violently over into the shallow zone, roughening the water and obscuring our view of the rocks, shells, and urchins below. Slowly, we picked our way through the obstacle course. I prayed that I wouldn’t feel a needle-sharp spike shoot through the soft soles of my flip-flops. Why didn’t I wear water shoes?

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About halfway across, I couldn’t find a good place to set my foot. I searched carefully beneath the ripples, trying to find a clear spot. All I could see, for yards around, was the minefield of sea urchins. I could hardly breathe for a moment. My whole body froze. So this is what it means to be frozen with fear, I thought, How silly. I guess I can get out of this the same way I got into it. Still, I had an awful vision of slipping on a mossy rock and landing prone on the urchin-covered rocks. Ben stopped picking his way through the water and looked back at me to make sure I was OK. I looked at him, then back at the water. The red centers of the small black urchins glared at me from between the rocks, like wicked red eyes. “I don’t think I can do this,” I said, “There’s literally nowhere to walk.” Ben waded slowly back to me, watching his steps carefully. “Get on my back,” he said, “I’ll carry you.” He turned, and I jumped, clinging to his neck for dear life. He cautiously moved through the rocks, the thick rubber soles of his shoes protecting him from the smaller spikes.

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Before long, we reached the island, and Ben deposited me on the dry rocks. We had made it! And it was so worth it. The small island offered a gorgeous view of Saint Martin. Waves beat against the rock on one side, and a brilliant blue tide pool calmly beckoned on the other. A magical, lonely, unspoiled place.

 

Often, the places most worth going have a scary path. You have to face your fears and step out into an uncertain place to get to the solid mountaintops and peaceful tide pools of life. But you don’t have to do it alone. We need each other to face our fears and support one another. Don’t live in your comfort zone! Get out and do something that scares you, and don’t be ashamed to take a friend along.

 

 

105 Boats

One hundred five. That’s how many boats I could see from the balcony this morning as contestants from the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta began their race around the island.

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The Regatta is a huge deal for us islanders. It’s the biggest event of the month! Traffic has been backed up for days, and the Cupecoy folk can hardly get to the other side of the island. Earlier this week, Stacey and I tried to get to Philipsburg for our volunteer tutor job, but after almost an hour and only three miles, we gave up and went home. It doesn’t help that the only way from the “arm” of the island to the main part of the island is across one of two bridges, both of which are up for hours a day to let regatta boats in or out of the lagoon.

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Despite the traffic, it’s pretty exciting. Many people from Ben’s school are planning to charter a boat and go watch tomorrow’s big race on the water. I’ll be watching from the cliffs, or maybe even paddle out on my surf board for a bit.

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I caught sight of the race-ready boats this morning while taking the pups to the beach. By the time I got home, the sailboats were full speed ahead, and I had a chance to watch for a while from the balcony. If I didn’t have a lot to get done today, I would have stayed out all morning!

 

 

This boat, Phaedo 3, won this morning’s race by circumnavigating the island in a record-breaking 1 hour, 19 minutes and 59 seconds. When I saw it, I was sure it had a motor. It was flying along! I love this photo–the sun’s reflection makes the boat look like a starship of the future.

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Tomorrow will be another day of wind and water! I can’t wait to spend the afternoon with Ben and friends at the water’s edge.

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“Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away and find tranquility…
Sailing, takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be…
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free…”
~ Christopher Cross

Buccaneers!

 

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In Sint Maarten, there a lot of airy little restaurants on the water. Today’s destination for the American University of the Caribbean spouse’s crew was Buccaneer Beach Bar. Despite its name, this is actually a great place to take kids. It’s right on the beach, and the water is shallow. It’s also a calm area, even on days when other areas of the island have big waves.

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They also have a delicious assortment of non-alcoholic drinks in addition to their bar menu, and classic beachy food.

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If you make it to SXM, make sure you visit one of our on-the-beach restaurants! Who doesn’t want to lounge on a beach chair with a plate of fries and a glass of something cool and sweet?

 

 

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We saw this tiny stingray lazily drift around the bay

Indigo

One thing that I love about the ocean is the line of indigo at the horizon. This is my favorite part of painting ocean scenes. I love the way that turquoise becomes aquamarine becomes indigo. On sunny days in Dutch Sint Maarten, the indigo line stands out sharply against the clear blue sky, creating the perfect picture of paradise. Indigo Bay is aptly named for its lovely view of this deep blue phenomenon.

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If you look at a map of Sint Maarten, you won’t find Indigo Bay on it. If you drive the entire circumference, you’ll never catch sight of it. Indigo Bay is actually the name of a luxury housing development located on Cay Bay. To find this area and the beach that belongs to it, you have to find the billboard advertising Indigo, turn right, and follow a terrifying road down to the water. The road is actually not as terrifying as it looks, once you start driving. In fact, as you go, you’ll be amazed at the gorgeous landscaping and layout that is invisible from the road above.

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This morning, some of the other med school spouses, kids, and I visited Indigo for the first time. It’s a great place for both kids and puppies. The waves are soft here, even when the rest of the island is dragging out their surfboards to ride big breakers. Here, it is calm and peaceful. Little boys splashed in the gentle surf while little girls ran through the sand to fill little buckets with perfect little shells. My puppy, Kito, contented herself with digging deep holes in the sand and biting any ankles who entered the circumference of her anchored leash.

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I usually am the first to grab a board or snorkel mask and jump into the sea. Today, though, it was a morning for relaxing and chatting. There will be many more days of beachgoing for us in the next 15 months, and more than enough time to dive into the sparkling waters.  Twelve beaches down, 25 to go!

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Christmas in the Caribbean

We had a white Christmas this year… A white sand beach Christmas, that is.


While most of our med school compadres went back to the States or Canada for Christmas, Ben and I opted to stay on the island. My parents and my sister flew in to spend a week on the island with us, and we had a blast! Going home to see family is awesome, but it was even better to have them come see us this time.


Being in a new place calls for new traditions, but it also shows you how important the old ones are. Sometimes you just need the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls for it to really feel like Christmas.

We ditched some of the traditional Christmassy things– no lights outside, a small paper tree rather than a real evergreen, no Christmas cookies.


We kept some of our traditions– my great grandma’s Christmas cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning, reading Luke 2 from the Bible before opening presents, observing advent, Christmas carols on Christmas Eve, putting our gifts in hilariously ridiculous prank gift boxes.


We did some things we’ve never done before– “wine” (sparkling cider) and cheese for lunch, a trip to the beach.


On Christmas morning, we woke up to the sound of a restless puppy wanting to go outside. Ben took her on a short walk, and I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast. My parents and sister, Kaylee, came over after their morning run and we read the Christmas story in the Bible and opened gifts. When the cinnamon rolls were ready, we had breakfast.

 After this, we drove across the island to Wilderness for a hike. Before long, we could see a storm rising from the sea near St. Barth’s, so we ran back down the hill and jumped in the car just in time! We drove home and had sparkling cider, cheese, and crackers for lunch  (we’re practically on a French diet).

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My mom and I finished making the rest of the cinnamon rolls and we all headed down to Mullet Bay Beach. I grew up in Arizona and Ben grew up in subsaharan Africa, so neither of us have had many white Christmases. The lack of snow here on our tropical island was nothing new for us, but going to the beach was. It’s a welcome change!

  
At the end of the day, tired but happy, we had dinner of smoked chicken, mashed potatoes and rolls. We took a stroll to the casino to see the Christmas village in the parking lot. Then we set up the laptop and enjoyed our family favorite Christmas movie– Christmas Do-Over– while our worn-out little puppy snoozed at our feet.

The best Christmas traditions, to me, are not the ones that have to do with red and green garland, music, or food. The best tradition to have at Christmas is simply to be with family. Whether the family around you is your parents and siblings, spouse and children or your closest friends, let’s be thankful for the loved ones that God has given us.

Foodie Tuesdays: Parrotfish Fajitas

Before you can begin to cook these deliciously fishy fajitas, you must obtain a fish. You could buy one at the grocery store, or you could catch one with your own rod and reel.

We spent today adventuring around our island home: first to the French side for fishing and snorkeling, and then to the Dutch side to see Fort Amsterdam. My parents gave me a waterproof phone case for Christmas, so while Ben caught fish for dinner, I caught fish on camera.

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Parrotfish

Ben caught a parrotfish, two glasseye snappers, and two doctor fish. Since ciguatera toxin is prevalent in our area, we checked online to make sure the fish are safe to eat. We threw out the snappers because they are high-risk ciguatera carriers. The doctor fish were tiny and rarely carry the toxin anyway, so we kept them. We were a little concerned about the parrotfish since it was over six inches, but it’s low-risk so we decided to try it. I guess we’ll find out in the morning if we’re OK; Ciguatera poisoning hits within twelve hours.

I think we’ll be alright.

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Once the fish were home and cleaned, it was time to start cooking.

To make the fajitas, gather your ingredients:

  • four
  • water
  • salt
  • oil
  • fish
  • bell peppers
  • onions
  • shallots
  • lemon
  • Spices: salt, pepper, cumin, garlic salt

My favorite tortilla recipe is from Taste of Home. I never buy tortillas from the store anymore! Mix 2 cups of flour, a little salt, 3/4 cups of water and 3 Tablespoons of oil. Let rest, roll out, and fry.

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Season fish with salt, pepper, and lemon.

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Slice onions, bell peppers, and shallots into thin slices.

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Put a quarter cup of oil in a flying pan and heat it to medium heat. Mix in seasonings to your preference. Fry veggies for a few minutes and then add whole fish.

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Yum, yum! Smelling good, now. Make some rice while you cook the fish and veggies. The onions should be caramelized.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Break out the salsa.

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Remove the skin from the fish, flake off the meat, and pile it all on the tortillas.

Enjoy your fajitas!

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Tropical Thanksgiving

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Happy Thanksgiving weekend from the Johnsons! This was my first Thanksgiving outside the United States. Here’s how we celebrated it, expat-style.

Since Thanksgiving is strictly a U.S. holiday, nobody on Sint Maarten got the day off work or school. We weren’t too bothered by this; two of Ben’s classes have ended, so he only had to be at school for three hours. We spent the extra two hours in the morning catching some waves at the beach.

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Waves at Mullet Bay

 

Usually, we run in a Turkey Trot (Thanksgiving 5K) on Thanksgiving morning. I have to admit that I felt a little guilty for not running on our family’s annual race day! Between my  bad knees, the humidity, and the lack of Thanksgiving festivities, though, I was definitely happy to “settle” for boogie boarding to earn my extra Thanksgiving dinner calories.

Another tradition that I missed was the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Instead of that, I watched Phineas and Ferb in Spanish while Ben was in lab. Maybe I’ll be able to catch some parade clips on YouTube later.

The one traditional thing that I definitely did for Thanksgiving was cook! It was a little lonely to be in the kitchen by myself– usually, my mom, dad, sister, and I all work together to make Thanksgiving dinner. This year, we went to a Thanksgiving potluck with our church group, AUC’s Christian Medical and Dental Association. I made bread rolls and pumpkin pie. I didn’t have a pie pan, so Ben put a sign next to my casserole-dish pie that said ” πr2 .” I don’t know if anyone got it, but we thought it was funny.

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Pumpkin Spice Latte Pie

 

Since there were three other people also making pumpkin pie (Thanksgiving calls for a LOT of pie, people!), I decided to make pumpkin spiced latte pie with chocolate swirls. You’re welcome, Starbucks lovers!

Check back Tuesday for the chocolate pumpkin spiced latte pie recipe on my new weekly segment, Foodie Tuesdays!

I actually got to enjoy three Thanksgiving dinners! It would have been four, but I missed the one put on my the AUC spouses organization because we rented a car that day and needed to get all our shopping done.

The first Thanksgiving dinner I had was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. My friend Stacy invited us to share in their holiday celebrations with their visiting family. She and her future mother-in-law made a delicious, home-cooked, Southern-style feast!

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Thanksgiving Lunch at AUC

 

The second Thanksgiving meal I had was at lunch on Thanksgiving Day. American University of the Caribbean doesn’t give students the day off school, but they do give a free lunch with turkey, potatoes and all the traditional fixings!

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Thanksgiving Potluck with CMDA

 

The last Thanksgiving feast we had was the potluck with CMDA. There were about 30 people there– friends, neighbors, classmates, and people we’ve never seen before. There was a row of tables filled with aromatic dishes, and more dessert than anyone could handle. Yum! CMDA president Blake carved the turkey, Ben carved the ham, we said a prayer of thanks, and then we all sat down to enjoy the meal and the beautiful ocean view from the porch.

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I was thrilled to see these little guys at the potluck.

 

When we got home later, we Skyped my parents. Even though we missed them, my sister,who was in Wyoming for the holiday, and Ben’s family who are in various parts of the world, it was good to be able to talk to family and share a part of day with them, even if we could not share a meal.

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Ben carving up the ham

 

What an amazing sunset. What a great day. We have so much to be thankful for: food, friends, family, video chat and email, the kids and coaches on the baseball team, our island paradise, school, church, and so much more… most of all, the saving grace of God. He is so good to us, and has blessed us more than we could ever imagine.

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I Went to the British Isle

I went to the British Isle. No, not the one in Europe– the one next-door to Saint Martin. Anguilla may be Saint Martin’s closest neighbor, but it is nothing like it! Join my friends and I as we add a stamp to our passports and explore a new place.

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Sint Maarten only allows foreigners to stay on the island for three months at a time. I’ve heard that Americans can stay for up to six months, but with security on the island tightening every day, I decide it would be wise to take an international excursion before my three months are up.

Sandy, Emily and I drive together to Marigot, the port on the French side of the island. It’s a busy day– the cruise ships came in the morning, so the pier is buzzing with tourists. We finally find a parking space and make our way to the ferry.

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The ferry is a little bit confusing, because there are three lines to wait in before entering the ferry, and none of them are in any particular order! The employees and border officials are kind and helpful, though, so we quickly figure out what to do. Soon we are sitting on the ferry with stamped passports. The ferry costs $20 per person, in addition to a $5 port fee.

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The boat ride takes us about twenty minutes. I enjoy the rhythm of the ocean and the sea spray. Some of the passengers are worried about feeling seasick, but fortunately the ride is short and they are OK. Anguilla’s coastline becomes more and more visible, and soon we can see beach houses and boats.

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Soon, we arrive at the island! We eagerly pile out of the ferry and head through the customs line. Two more stamps for our passports. We walk out of the building and into the courtyard, where we are suddenly overwhelmed with people trying to rent us cars or offer us taxis! I am convinced that we’ll be able to use public buses once we walk out onto the main road, so the three of us refuse their offers and begin walking. All we see are a few houses and some goats.

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We walk about a quarter mile with no success, when a taxi pulls up beside us and offers us a discounted ride. “There aren’t any public buses here,” he explains, “Anguilla doesn’t have enough people to support public transportation.” We take his word for it and hop aboard. Each person costs $18 each way, but the third person in our group only costs and additional $5. We only have to pay $11 each– more than a bus would have been, but less than a car rental.

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We drive from Blowing Point to the capitol, The Valley, which is in the center of the island. It is so different from Philipsburg or Marigot, the capitols on Saint Martin! There are relatively few buildings– mostly government offices, schools, and restaurants. No tourist shops and no large hotels to be seen. We opt to take the bus all the way to Shoal Bay, which is the island’s best beach.

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Once we get there, we’re glad we did! Shoal Bay Beach is perhaps the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to– and that’s saying a lot, considering that I live a short walk from Mullet Bay Beach.

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We are instantly greeted by beach attendants and restaurant employees. I am afraid that they will smother us while trying to sell their services, but they do not. They are friendly to us and seem to be more interested in our enjoyment than in pressuring us to rent an umbrella or buy an expensive meal.

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We chose the more casual of the two restaurants, Uncle Ernie’s. The conch looks delicious, but we all decide on the $5 grilled cheese and fries. The food is good, and the meal is big enough to keep us content for the remainder of our trip. The ocean is calling us, so we leave a tip for the staff and head for the sand.

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I immediately wish that I had brought my snorkel gear– the reef looks amazing! One of the beach staff tells us that we can see parrotfish and sea turtles a little way out. I make a mental note to at least bring my goggles next time I come.

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We sun for a while, and then wade in the clear blue ocean water. Sandy and I decide to catch some waves before heading back to our towels.

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The beach is about 2 miles long, so we decide to go exploring. Every time we think we’ve found the most beautiful spot, we turn a corner and find something even more amazing. We finally come the eastern end of the beach. We strain our eyes to see the tip of Anguilla in the distance.

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Four-thirty comes to soon. One of the beach staff comes to tell us that our taxi is waiting, so we pack up and head to the taxi. He takes us a different way back to the ferry so that we can see more of the island. We have gorgeous view of Saint Martin almost all the way back.

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While we wait for the ferry, we wander around the beach near the port. I am amazed to see how close Saint Martin looks! Anguilla looks very far away from Saint Martin because it is such a flat island. Saint Martin’s hills give us a better perspective of the distance.

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We get our exit stamps, pay the $20 ticket and $8 port fee, and climb onto the boat. We’re tired now, and happy to clamber down into the cabin of the ferry, watch the sun set, and enjoy the movie being played on a small screen at the front of the cabin.

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We enter Marigot port and get our last passport stamp of the day.

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Anguilla looks so small from the harbor! It’s hard to believe we were standing on the other side not half an hour ago. We turn our backs on the lights of the bay and head home. Behind us, the flag of Anguilla waves farewell.

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Catch a Wave and You’re Sitting on Top of the World

Normally, getting my face slammed into gritty sand and then dragged for a few feet isn’t my idea of fun. But sometimes, the pain is worth the ride.

I think that’s how life is.

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You see a big wall of water coming at you, and you feel your heart leap into your mouth. You can choose to duck your head and swim under the wave….

…or you can put yourself right in front of the wave for the chance to be lifted high and ride, exhilarated to the shore.

And then you’re so pumped you go do it again.

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Isn’t that why we do the hard things we do? We do them because they give us a sense of purpose, they make us stronger, they diminish our fears, and they make life a ride worth living. What would life be if every time we found an opportunity, we just ducked our heads and swam under it? We’d never make a difference in the world. We’d never follow God’s purpose for our lives. Sure, if we avoided the wave, we’d never have them drag us under and smash us into the ground, but then we’d never learn how to get back up and keep going. And we’d never find what it’s like to (as the Beach Boys put it) catch a wave and sit on top of the world!

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That’s why Neil Armstrong went to the moon. That’s why Martin Luther took a stand for Biblical truth. That’s why Irena Sendler smuggled 2,500 Jewish babies out of harm’s way. That’s why Harriet Tubman risked everything to work the underground railroad. That’s why we’re going to medical school and living on this tiny little island in the middle of the ocean.

We have to take those opportunities, we have to follow our calling. We have to ride those waves to get where we need to be. Otherwise, we’re just floating in the ocean.

What’s your wave?

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