Friday, August 9, 2013

An Ocean of Stories: Captain Dan

On Monday morning we woke somewhat rested after our fourteen hour car trip. It was earlier than we intended—the room we were sleeping in had a skylight right above our bed. The sun shows courtesy to no one. So, we rose with it—reluctantly climbing out of the luxuriously soft bed.

I have to be honest here. I was grumpy. My whole frame of mind was not yet right from the trip the day and night before, and I just wanted to be still for a little while. You know? During the whole time I’m getting ready I'm having this inner dialogue. The grumpy Tamera was having a justification and rationalization meeting with me.

I tried to redirect my inner dialogue. The stream of prayer that had sent us to sleep only a few hours earlier slowly started to return. We got into the car and started to drive (again).

I remember telling the Lord that I didn’t want to be grumpy. I didn’t want my attitude to be off-kilter. I was hoping He would be patient with me, plain and simple. But I knew the day would be worth very little if I didn’t see Him. Yes, that was it. That’s what I wanted. Somewhere in the midst of this day I wanted God to show up, and I wanted to recognize him when he did.

This inner dialogue continued as we wound around behind St. Cloud. We followed our GPS guide until we found Wild Willy’s. It wasn’t what I expected. It was a small building with Wild Willy’s painted on its side. Homemade signs advertising burgers and dogs and live gators hung on its weathered wooden sides. We didn’t know quite what to do. People were milling around outside.

Inside another a gray haired and gray bearded man stood with a group of excited tourists.  He was helping them hold a little alligator. I couldn’t resist. I reached out to touch this little gator. Steve was waiting for me; he knew I wouldn’t be able to resist touching the gator. He was right. We gave our tickets to the lady at the counter, and she directed us to wait outside on the deck.

The deck was filled with tables and umbrellas and a hanging swing sat off to the side in the yard. We, of course, sat on the hanging swing. A group walked past us and the alligator man told us that our captain would be with us shortly.

Our captain?

A few minutes later down the bank he came. Barrel-chested. Bearded. Round face. Baked to a perfected dark brown. He wore a hat, flip-flops, sunglasses, a large gold ring and a uniform that resembled one of Steve Irwin’s.

He stuck out his hand and made his introductions, “Hey, I’m Captain Dan. I’ll be showing you around today.”

Then he stopped and looked at Steve. Everything went very quiet for just a split second. It was one of those moments that you are just sure is going to go awkward if someone doesn’t say or do anything quickly.

Captain Dan broke the silence. He looked at Steve and asked, “Don’t I know you? Haven’t we met before?”

Steve just shook his head, “No, I don’t think so.”  

Captain Dan studied him a little bit longer, “I saw you walk into the building, and I was just sure I knew you. I even started to say your name, but I couldn’t remember it.”

Abby looked at me bewildered. I realized I was no longer grumpy.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I stepped onto the airboat knowing that this wasn’t just going to be a tour to see alligators. Suddenly they didn’t seem to be the main attraction any more.

During the hour long trip, when the boat was stopped, Captain Dan told us not only a little of Florida’s story, but a little of his own story. It was interspersed with having conversations with a mama alligator that was guarding her nest and showing us water proof lily pads.

He explained why he thought he knew Steve. He recently returned from a ministry conference with a group of men and he just thought sure Steve was one of them. He said this had happened to him before.  

Several years ago during a trip to Tennessee he met another man he thought he knew. They were just convinced they knew each other from someplace before. They kept trading stories trying to decide where, when and if their paths had crossed.  There were many, many places that their paths could have connected, could have intersected.

“Long story short?  Captain Dad explained, “I had never met the man before. Ever. But by the end of our conversation that day I decided that Jesus and faith in him was the route I wanted to travel.”

Captain Dan made a confession of faith with this man he thought he knew. When he left that conversation he was on his way to Damascus, Tennessee.

He’s been loving Jesus ever since.

Funny how God likes to rearrange people’s worlds when they are traveling to Damascus!

When the tour was finished we stood on the bank and talked for a long time. About the Body of Christ and how good God is. But it was Captain Dan who revisited the theme of the day: seeing Steve and the immediate recognition he had felt.

Captain Dan decided that no matter where we go we will recognize the people who belong to the Body of Christ. Maybe not immediately, and it may take a little while to put our finger on it. He explained that there is something in them that draws and pulls a fellow—something that causes us to pause and comment, “Haven’t I seen you before?”

We finished our tour and went back to the main building. Captain Dan wanted to introduce us to Cricket and Sergio, the young alligators. We looked around, bought t-shirts and souvenirs. But there was this niggling feeling in my chest. I know that feeling. I knew we needed to pray with Captain Dan before we left.

We asked him if we could and he responded, “Let’s go. Let’s go right out here.”

He led us outside to the sidewalk at the front of the building and the four of us circled and held hands and we prayed. We had never met Captain Dan before. He had never met us, but we sure prayed as if we had known each other for a long, long time. We prayed for Captain Dan and his ministry there on the water and grasses of Lake Tohopekaliga. We prayed for many more path s to cross and intersect. And I thanked God for letting me see Him. For answering a grumpy woman’s prayers.  There was a deep sense of gratitude and sweetness in the moment.

There in the front yard of Wild Willy’s the Spirit whispered ever so softly, “You get what you ask for.”

You get what you ask for. I had wanted an adventure. But as usual, as always, God went above and beyond. A real adventure changes us. It makes a mark on our inner terrain. It is not just a thrill or a high, but it is an experience that can be revisited. Learned from. And shared.

What an amazingly crazy experience. Why I was surprised I am not sure. Why I wasn’t in expectation mode after my morning prayer I’m baffled.

I’d come for a tour to see the native wildlife and scenery of Florida. When I planned this little excursion I thought it just sounded like a fun adventure for our vacation. It seemed like a ridiculously out of the ordinary jaunt—like Horatio in CSI: Miami. I really wanted my daughter to have something incredible to remember.

Little did I know.

God must have been chuckling at me. The whole, holy Trinity must have just been delighted knowing that the narrowness of my thought and vision were scheduled to be expanded. Only They can orchestrate an intersection of lives in this manner. I had asked to see God. I had asked for him to show up, and I had asked to be able to recognize him.

God shows up in the most unexpected places.

Plain and simple.

Next time you’re in Florida, schedule a tour with Wild Willy’s.

Ask for Captain Dan, if you do.

There’s a chance he’ll recognize you. 

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