Times and Turtles

Written by Glyn Norman

There is an old Yiddish proverb that reads "Man plans, but God laughs."

I was thinking of this recently when we were on vacation in Hawaii. Both Cathleen and I are, by nature, planners so we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do, and when we wanted to do it. It's not that we had every day planned out, just a general idea. On Sunday, (after watching the service online, of course) we headed north and then east to view some pretty waterfalls and visit a botanical garden. As we were on our way, we got peckish and felt like we needed a snack, so we made an unscheduled stop in Waimea and looked for a coffee shop. I pulled into a parking lot, and stopped. Cathleen said, "Why are we stopping here?" I said, "Java!" But I had misread the sign. It said Lava, not Java, and it was a Realtors office.

We drove on a little further and found a real coffee shop. As we were in line for ordering, who should walk in but a family from the church here at Central. What a lovely surprise. I was totally taken aback though. It was one of those "of all the bars, in all the world," moments (random Casablanca reference). Seriously, what are the odds? It was a great, serendipitous encounter. We hadn't planned to stop along the way, but it led to this unexpected moment of connection.

The plan for the following day, Monday, was that we would head to the Volcanoes National Park, view the volcano and spewing lava etc., but Sunday was a lot more driving than I expected, so on Monday morning, we ditched our plan and decided to have an easier day with almost no driving. I felt like we should just saunter downtown towards the harbor. As we did, I dropped Cathleen and Cicely off while Landon and I found a parking spot. As I was parking the car, Cathleen texted me that they were looking at a turtle. This was a HUGE deal. My son Landon is a major fan of tortoises and turtles, and up to this point, all we had seen was one small one swimming on our first day there. This was not a small one!

We sat and watched this beautiful creature for probably around 30 minutes.

The next day, the plan was to visit the Volcano, and drive home later that evening. Well, we drove to the volcano, saw the caldera, visited some lava tunnels etc., but then found out that where the lava was most visible was where it was entering the ocean, and that was another 1 hour drive, and 45 minute bike ride. We decided to go for it, since we wanted the dramatic view, and to see the lava at night, and that whole experience in itself was an adventure. However, the cycle back from the lava point took forever, and by the time we were back at our car, it was around 9:15 pm, and the drive home would have been around 3 hours. I'm not a late night person, and was sure that around 10 pm or so, I would be feeling sleepy - and the mountainous roads are not a smart plan for a sleepy driver. So, we made the spontaneous decision to instead find a hotel in Hilo for the night. Cathleen called around and found a good one for us, so we drove to a store, bought some basic toiletries and headed to the hotel. We dropped into bed exhausted, but had a good night's sleep and headed back the next morning.

One of the "fortunate" elements of this deviation is that now we had time to stop at the famous black sand beach, which we hadn't had time for the day before, and thought we would have to skip. Now we did have time and, yes, you guessed it, another turtle encounter - this time with a very big one who had pulled himself up on the sand to sunbathe. Cathleen had her good camera with her, and got some great close-up shots, but here's one of us with the turtle in the background.

On our last night, before we headed to the airport, we planned to have a nice dinner at the Kona Brewery Restaurant. As we arrived there, I was getting nervous about how long it would take, since packing had taken longer than expected, and I wanted to arrive at the airport in sufficient time for the security lines etc. When we checked in at the front desk, they told us that it would be at least a 30 minute wait. I told Cathleen, to her disappointment, that we couldn't do it. It would be cutting it too fine to get to the airport on time. So, we got back in the car and I quickly scanned Yelp for other well-reviewed restaurants close by. I found one, and we got there in about 6 minutes, only to be told that there was no seating available, and a 20 minute wait there too! This was turning into a hurried, disappointing, frustrating evening, and definitely not the way we wanted to end our vacation. Then the waitress said, "Well, you can order it to go." In desperation we agreed and about 10-15 minutes later, we had our food. The restaurant was right opposite the harbor, so we decided to go and sit on the harbor wall and eat our dinner. As we did, guess who came swimming along, right beneath our feet. This guy: 

It seemed that every time our plan failed, or got diverted, or we had to make other arrangements, we had an amazing turtle encounter. We were exposed to the beauty of God's creation again and again. And the slight inklings, "I feel we should just walk around the harbor today" may have been promptings by the Holy Spirit who had these surprises ready and waiting for us. 

The lesson I learned here is that when my plans get frustrated, I should relax and go with the flow, for God is able to create a Plan B that far surpasses my Plan A. This is not just true of this vacation, but of my life generally. There are so many times that my life has gone in a direction differently than I had planned, but this other road has had some wonderful, unexpected blessings to it. I'll close with this Scripture from James, which was originally written as a warning, which reminds me that it is the Lord's will I want to direct my steps more than my own plans.

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. James 4:13-16

So, the next time your plans are thwarted or frustrated, don't stress. Take time to look around. God may have a surprise for you (which may or may not take the shape of a turtle).