Thursday, April 15, 2010

God’s Most Magnificent Creature

My opinion only. But it’s an opinion I embrace and believe in. Mankind excluded (because we humans are made in His image, and are not creatures) I believe the Orcinus orcas are the most glorious, magnificent creatures God created.

And I’m so grateful He did.

There aren’t many of us who don’t love animals. Most of us have a favorite, and a whale is a mammal, not a fish, so that makes them animals.

I began my love of the orca whale (technically not a whale, but rather the largest member of the dolphin family) when I was a kid. At what age, I’m not sure. I just remember my dad took me to Sea World in California. If it was before we went to Japan, I was five, but if it was after that, then I was ten. Funny I can remember going there, but I can’t remember how small I was. But when we went to Sea World, I saw Shamu.

I. Fell. In. Love.

Beautiful, gorgeous, amazing, Shamu tied my heart in knots and then promptly stole it.

I wouldn’t see another whale until I was twenty-one and visited an aquarium in Victoria, British Columbia. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so that might sound strange. Especially since some of the orcas who are held captive in aquariums around the U.S., were supposedly captured in Penn Cove, where I lived for many years. I spent hours on the beach of Penn Cove, and I can honestly say I never once saw an orca swimming those waters. Nor have I ever seen one while I’ve ridden the many Washington State ferries.

Years later, when my son was in first grade, his class visited an aquarium in Vancouver, British Columbia. My son got caught up in the anticipation of the trip, and began reading books about orca whales. Soon he was drawing pictures of them, pictures this sentimental mom still has tucked up in the closet. When we finally arrived at the aquarium, it was magical. Kirk’s school had recently adopted an orca logo, which appeared on the name tags the children wore around their neck.

Standing at the bottom of the huge glass (or maybe Plexiglas?) aquarium, looking up through the water, we could see a giant whale on the other side of the aquarium. Kirk took his little name tag with the orca picture and held it up against the glass. Within seconds, the whale swam around the entire aquarium and stopped right where Kirk was standing, and then put his eye up against the picture. He stayed like that for a long time, staring at the picture. My son and all the nearby children were in awe of this magnificent whale. I was in awe of the fact that giant creature was intrigued by, and maybe even recognized, the tiny picture of the whale.

We learned some things, though, during that trip, about whales in captivity that kind of broke our hearts. So as lucky as we felt to have that experience, we were a little sad, too. Thus began my son’s desire to see the whales in their natural habitat. The ocean. As I mentioned before, though I lived near the water, I’d never seen a whale out there. But I’d heard many stories of people who had. Was I just unlucky?

A few years later, my mom bought me tickets for a whale watching tour. I took my son, hopeful we’d see whales, and yet prepared in case we didn’t see any.

This turned out to be a magical, inspiring day—a day where God truly blessed me and Kirk. I forgot my camera, and looking back, I’m kind of glad I did. I think I would have spent more time focusing on getting the right shot instead of enjoying the blessing of the show.

And yes, it was an unforgettable show.

The captain let us sit on the bow of the boat. My son and I had our gazes glued to the water, breathlessly watching, waiting. We didn’t care that it was cold and windy. We didn’t care that it rained. All we cared about was that from out of nowhere, the whales appeared. And they performed. They swam around the boat, leaping out of the water right in front of us. The captain said it was the closest the whales had ever come to his boat. Let me say, he did not chase the whales (which would have been cruel). They came to us. And they didn’t want to leave. The captain said it was best show he’d ever seen.

I like to think God whispered in their ear and told them to give us something special to remember.

I’ve never seen an orca since then, and I wish I could go back to that day and experience the wonder anew. But I don’t think that was the last time I will ever see one. Whenever I’m on the ferry or at the beach, I keep my eyes peeled, hoping, waiting…

And in case I never seen an orca on earth again, I like to think that someday, when I’m in heaven, God will let me swim with His most magnificent creature.

images courtesy of

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Week Away From Home

Do you ever look forward to being by yourself? I mean totally alone, not talking to anyone and just losing yourself in the book you’re either reading or writing?

That’s the way I was feeling last week after finally finishing an extremely difficult Pathophysiology and Pharmacology class. And since I was headed for Reno on the train, to attend a week of training for cancer registrars, I was looking forward to the evenings after class when I could sit back and relax with my book. The one I’m writing, not the one I’m reading.

Little did I know….

The class was intense, and we had a lot of homework each evening. This meant a day that started at 8:00 in the morning usually ended at about 10:30 at night. By then I was much too tired to write. I can’t complain about it, however, because I learned so much and I know I’ll be able to apply it to my job. I learned about new resources and new ways to do the absolute best job I can.

Not only that, but our class was small—twelve students. I’m fairly shy, and it’s hard for me to feel comfortable in a group, but this group…it was different. I’m not sure why, but we all bonded immediately, and even though you would never find me saying so much as “boo” in a group that large (okay, I know I just said it was small, but a group of twelve is about nine people too many for me to feel comfortable saying anything) I found myself asking questions and even cracking an occasional joke. And my jokes must not have been too bad, because people laughed.

So what were the benefits of a week of exhaustion with barely any sleep, and no time for writing? The obvious one was the educational benefit for my job. But perhaps even bigger, was the benefit of knowing I could speak out loud in a group of strangers. I could talk and laugh and (gasp!), be myself and no horrible fate would befall me. That was actually quite an eye opening experience.

But as I bid Reno goodbye this morning, I looked forward to two train rides. Both would be about four hours each, with three hours in-between transfers. Lots of time for writing. Right?

Dream on.

My plan at the station was to stick my ear-buds in and listen to Christian music while I typed away at the keyboard. The ear-buds are actually an effective tool in ensuring you’re left alone when you’re in public. However, God had other plans for me.

I settled myself down to wait for the first train, and before I even had the ear-buds out of my bag, a woman sat down next to me. She looked to be about my mother’s age, and seemed a little lost. I don’t mean physically lost, just…lost. They had just announced the train would be at least an hour late, which meant we’d miss breakfast on the train. I offered the lady a granola bar, and she accepted. At that point, I didn’t feel I could very well turn on my music and ignore her. Besides, I felt this nagging in my heart, a feeling she needed someone to talk to. And at the same time, another voice whispered frantically in my ear, “But I need to write!”

Still, something about the woman tugged at me. I remembered that catch phrase from a few years back, “What would Jesus do?” He certainly wouldn’t ignore someone who appeared to need someone to talk to. Besides, I could always write on the train. We had a pleasant chat while we waited for the train, but Jane never said anything significant to confirm my feeling she needed to talk to someone. When the train finally came, we said goodbye and I went to my assigned car.

I must have misread things. Maybe Jane didn't need to talk after all.

Then, just as I settled in, Jane appeared behind me. And when the train began to fill up, she came to sit beside me. I hadn’t pulled out either my computer or ear-buds yet, and I wasn’t about to in front of her. She needed someone. I felt it again, more strongly than before. God was nudging me toward her.

As we traveled along, Jane started talking again. She was on her way to visit her son. This was her first trip in over ten years. When she said that, her eyes filled with tears. Her husband grew ill ten years ago, she explained. He was diagnosed with emphysema, followed by diabetes, followed by heart problems, and then finally followed by lung cancer.

The tears spilled freely when Jane said, in a choked up voice, “I lost him in March.”

Had I heard her right? March? But wait. This is April 3rd. There hasn’t been enough time for her to even get used to the fact that her husband is gone. My instincts were right. She needed to talk.

My eyes filled with tears along with hers, and I reached out and patted her hand. She clung to me, a stranger. When she let go, I gave her a tissue and thanked the Lord I listened to the still, small voice in my heart and spent time talking with her. Later on the trip, she told me her daughter died of lung cancer in December. First she lost her daughter, and then her husband. How does someone deal with two such terrible losses in a row?

Jane shared a lot of things with me on that four hour trip and by the time we said goodbye, I had a new friend.

As for my missed writing time? I more than made up for it on the next train as we sat on the tracks just outside of Sacramento while they repaired a broken rail up ahead.

All I can say is I’m glad they found the broken track before we traveled over it.

God truly ministered to me on this trip. Though I wanted to do nothing but learn while I was in class and write when I wasn’t, God had other plans for me. I did learn. And I made so many new friends. I learned how to speak up and feel comfortable in a group.

And though I knew it before, I was reminded again that when I take the time to listen to that still small voice inside me, the voice I know as the Holy Spirit, I will be blessed. Today I was. I hope my new friend, Jane, was blessed as well.