After our ship had pulled into port at Playa del Carmen, and we were allowed to disembark. The first thing I wanted to do was stroll along the pristine beaches, feeling the soft white sand swirl between my toes. I love the sea, and cruise vacations are one of my favorite ways to spend my vacation time. Ordinarily, five-day excursions are enough to appease my addiction to the endless blue waters I find so intoxicating, and of course, the lavish buffets, gourmet dining, fun and festivities I always indulge in while aboard the ship. Yes, I have dropped a few dollars in the onboard casinos too, but that’s another story.

It was only a hundred yards or so from where the ship’s moorings held the ocean liner fast to the dock that I spotted a walkway leading down to the beach. I scurried past the passengers waiting in line to have their picture taken with a small band of natives dressed in the customary attire of their Aztec ancestors (a big money maker for the cruise line), took off my sandals and walked. The waves rolling into shore were about ankle deep where I stood, warm and energizing. Slowly drifting along, my eyes caught a glimpse of a couple of sunbathers up ahead stretched out beneath an inviting Caribbean sun, two young women. What caught my attention about them most, however, wasn’t their tan, but how much of their tan I could see. It seems they had forgotten the upper half of their bathing suits.

Never having been on a public beach where topless sunbathing was permitted, I must admit I took a second look. The first look was simply by accident, the second was in disbelief, wanting to be sure I saw what I thought I did. But the third, oh well, I tried appearing not to gawk.

You might guess the weight of conviction I felt was sufficient to prompt me into doing a 180-degree turn, making a quick exit to a more family-friendly section of beach on the other side of the boardwalk. And I did leave, but that was then. Earlier chapters in my life’s story would have found things to be quite different, snapping pictures and sharing them with coworkers back home. In fact, as I stroll down the avenue of life bearing my name, I find so many wrong turns taken, poor choices made, and times when my actions were in outright rebellion to what I knew not only to be right morally, but spiritually. In spite of the Holy Spirit’s clear indictment against a particular decision I would make, or a pattern of behavior I might be following, like Frank Sinatra and Elvis, I did it My Way.

Nothing more than a modern-day copy of Jonah — not only did I think I could outrun God, I thought I could outsmart him, manipulate him and have the best of both worlds: lunch with the Lord, dinner with the devil, and sometimes, brunch with both. A juvenile delinquent Christian (spiritually speaking) who could well be the poster child for those passages of scripture dealing with spiritual immaturity such as 1 Corinthians 3:3, and Hebrews 5:12, I was a Peter Pan believer, an infantile child of God who refused to grow up. What I would find out though is this: there are things in life other than a God-made big fish that can swallow a man whole. More things than one that can bring him to his knees and force him to look up, not calling out, but crying out to God, “Save me, Lord, I’m drowning”.

At age 26, dealing with illness, out of work, out of money and soon to be afoot and homeless, God said, “Enough, Pat”. The words of Isaiah 43:1 rang out with unmistakable clarity, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine”. I picked up the telephone and called a dear pastor friend to ask for prayer. More than just pray, he and his precious wife came to my home that evening with words of hope and encouragement. Although they knew me well, they didn’t lay my sins before me, or talk about the hole I had dug myself and fell into without enough forethought to include a way out of the hole while digging it. There was no mention of my waywardness or my rebellion against God. Just talk of God’s love, his mercy, and forgiveness. That day, 38+ years ago, I bowed my head, repentant of my self-will and experienced the loving kindness of a second-chance God.

Make no mistake about it, God plays hardball (I found that out) and will go to any extreme within his righteous character to get your attention and back on the right road. If it means winding up destitute as did the prodigal son in Luke 15, don’t think it won’t happen. If it takes being struck blind as did Saul (Paul) in Acts 9, don’t think God won’t go there. Even if it means a few nights in the belly of a fish, all I can say to that is, you might want to think twice before booking a cruise.

Today I am thankful for the mercies God has abundantly poured out on me. I am happy, content with where He has placed me in life. I am blessed with a loving wife and family I don’t deserve, a good job, a comfortable home, a great church, and a group of wonderful friends I get to spend time with each week. But above all, I am blessed to be his child and have him walk alongside me each day. Oh yes, I still blow it at times. I’m far from perfect, but I have learned to repent when I mess up and not look back. Just keep my eyes on Jesus and follow where he leads, over and over again replaying the words of the Psalmist as I go.

Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
how I praise you!
I will praise you as long as I live,
lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
I will praise you with songs of joy.
I lie awake thinking of you,
meditating on you through the night.
Because you are my helper,
I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
your strong right hand holds me securely.
— Psalms 63:3–8 NLT