Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us or we find it not.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Recently, I bumped into a friend coming out of the YMCA who just returned from a month dream vacation in the Holy Land. We stopped to chat as she shared her enthusiasm about how this milestone trip she had yearned for for so long “was better than ever imagined”. However, as she spoke, I noticed worry lines forming on her forehead when she mumbled, “so it was really worth the risk financially.”
Now home, she’s facing bills that piled up on her desk, along with the fact that being away a month limited their income stream since they run a small business.
It’s wonderful when our dream vacations are realized, and when we experience worry free vacations that refresh and restore us. Some even change our lives for the better: the perfect honeymoon, the trip to the ruins of Machu Picchu, or finding the love of your life in Bali, like author Elizabeth Gilbert described in Eat, Pray and Love. Yes, we can indulge on vacations without guilt, enjoying what we wouldn’t dare enjoy during our everyday lives. Like Gilbert we can chow down rich and caloric Italian pastas and desserts, gaining pounds without caring an ounce. On vacations we become like children again, exercising playful parts of ourselves, reconnecting with lost hopes and dreams, and venturing out of our safe life boxes. Yes, sometimes we do live out our dream vacations. But, when returning home, life’s waves carry us out to sea from blissful shores, memories and daydreams floating behind on life boats.
In my late twenties, years before I knew God, I needed to escape a lot from life — I was well yes, a vacation queen. Finding escapes was like a religion. A spa or a hot springs – I was there. Invite me to Rome, I’d find a way. An island get-a-way? Book me a ticket.
I remember one blistering cold night in the heart of a brutal winter as I walked down Columbus Avenue in New York City on my way to work at ABC News where I worked on a late night news show as a production assistant. It was my last night of work before leaving for a most needed vacation; I’d been working twelve hour days, six days a week, often not getting to bed until the wee hours of the morning. Eager for the long night of work ahead to end, I looked forward to the morning when I’d be on the plane.
A troubled, foreboding, charcoal colored sky blanketed New York City. Monstrous, cumulonimbus clouds, dimmed the light of the barely visible half moon. Weariness hung from my shoulders like a hundred year old lady who had just about enough of life. Assured this much needed vacation would be restorative, and would quell my looming despair and loneliness, I marched forward. Although armored in a thermal shirt and woolen sweater under my down parka, tights under my pants, warm mittens and a thick woolen scarf wrapped around my neck and pulled over my mouth and nose, the chill pierced the core of my bones. Forging against the freezing wind’s fierce push, icy snow flakes darted toward my eyeballs, blurring my vision. I thought a person was walking toward me covered by a refrigerator box.
Am I seeing things? I wondered. No, I wasn’t seeing things.
Only in New York.
Pushing onward, my voice muffled by honking taxis, city traffic and the whistling wind, I screamed out, “I hate this!”
When I first stepped barefoot onto St. Croix’s virgin white, warm sand, I thought I touched heaven’s ground. The deserted beach dotted with hammocks strung to swaying palm trees, stretched for miles. The incandescent ocean shimmered as if a thousands of diamonds, emeralds and sapphires floated on it’s glassy surface. The cadence of crashing waves, and soft melodic trill of shorebirds in the distance, melted a layer of stress off the branches of my nerves. A warm breeze felt like hundreds of tiny feathers caressing my skin. I swore I’d bring this paradisal feeling back home.
Exhaling a long needed sigh, I released the first layer of months of accumulated stress. Yet, a sharp nip pierced my gut, like the pinch of a crab’s bite, disturbing my short span of peace.
Nagging thoughts scattered through my mind like tiny sand crabs.
“Something’s missing. I’m yearning for ‘something‘”. But I’m living in the great city of New York, I landed my first job out of college at ABC News, and have my foot in the door to become a producer. What’s wrong with me, I’m in paradise!?”
An overwhelming loneliness welled up from my heart like a great whale.
There I was, in paradise, all alone.
I didn’t want illusive yearnings, and immense, intangible loneliness. Not now. Not here.
Stretching out on the sun chair under a rainbow-colored striped umbrella, I succumbed to the lure of distraction. Losing myself in Vanity Fair’s vacuous, well-crafted soap-opera dramas of the rich and famous, I buried my nagging despair. Throughout the entire week, in fact, I managed to avoid even an ounce of self-reflection or insight.
I arrived at Kennedy airport a 11pm on a Saturday night, waving a taxi down to take me home. By the time I arrived home, it was midnight. Unlocking the door to my small, dark studio apartment that I rented from a friend, my huge, skittery, ferrel-like Tom cat, cared for by my neighbor while I was away, greeted me at the door. At least I wasn’t all alone.
My apartment, just a block past a popular gay bar overflowing with tipsy men in leather silver studded jackets, leather biker hats, and chaps over tight blue jeans, was in the heart of the gay district on Christopher Street. Tucked in the back side corner of my building, this small studio, already sparsely furnished when I moved, had a plain, masculine, dark brown corduroy couch, a modern black leather side chair with a chrome frame, and a small, wooden two-seater fold out table and chair set. The uneventful view from my window looked out into a dimly lit, small cement courtyard and to an adjacent brick apartment building. Tonight it felt like prison cell.
A far cry from the silky sand beaches of St. Croix.
Plopping on the couch while petting my cat’s large, soft body, my suitcase unopened on the floor by my feet, a numbing depression crept upon me like the cockaroach I noticed crawling from the crack in the wall. Normally, I would get a brown paper bag from the kitchen so the creepy creature could crawl into it, and then wash it down the kitchen drain, but I was too weary and apathetic. I let the little beast have free reign. Getting up, I pulled my flannels from my drawer, undressed, and crawled into bed falling fast asleep.
Since my career and my friends were all I had, I was happy to be back to work on Monday morning. Rolling out of bed, I jumped into a warm shower, then quickly dressed in black slacks, a white blouse, a thick wool sweater, warm socks, snow boots, a wool coat, and scarf and gloves. Running down the freezing street to the corner cafe, I grabbed a cup of coffee to-go, descending into the subway on Christopher Street and Broadway. Squeezing into the subway car like a sardine in a can, I held tightly to the dimming memories of paradise as the subway car shimmied it’s way past West 14th, Time Square, stopping at Lincoln Center where I got off.
When I got into work all tan and phony, I bragged to my co-workers about swimming in the warm tropical ocean, the endless hours of bliss pondering the wide, turquoise blue cloudless sky, and hours lounging on a hammocks under a dancing palm trees sipping pina coladas.
Other trips–oh, some were amazing: Dallying in romance in Rome, sailing distant seas through double rainbows, drinking Mai Tais by salt water pools.
But they offered only temporary satisfaction. Within weeks of returning home, each vacation high deflated like balloons taped on walls after a big bash.
I thirsted for island adventures in paradise, and in the middle of another horrific winter the next year, I hopped on a plane to Maui, one of my many spontaneous travel jaunts, to join a friend for another escape. Maui seduces the senses: cascading waterfalls, male waiters on roller skates wearing bright floral colored shorts with a sparkle in their eyes, the peaceful vistas of the glistening Pacific, salty air, the hearty scent of Kona coffee and sweetness of fresh baked cinnamon rolls baking at Longhi’s restaurant in Lahina, the sun rising hot and bright.
After hiking nine miles into the middle of the vast, foreign landscape of the Haleakala Crater, as I lay in my sleeping bag watching thousands of shooting stars randomly bursting from across the velvet black sky, I thought, I could easily find happiness here.
I swore I’d take Maui’s spirit home, determined my ecstatic vacation adventures, and the deep rest nestled in my soul, would last.
The Latin word for vacation, vacare, means to be empty.
It took years to discover that the only way I would be truly emptied — the heart of a true vacation — was to find soul rest in God alone.
“For those who put their hope in God will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow
weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:28- 3
I often pray myself into Jesus’ words:
“Come to me, Kathy, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.”
Return to your rest, my soul.
It is here, God gives me strength when I’m weary and increases my power even in my weaknesses.
And so when I remember, on vacation, at home or work, alone or with friends, in weakness and in strength, lonely or content:
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
God makes me lie down in green pastures,
leads me beside quiet waters,
and restores my soul. -Psalm 23
It is here I am emptied, where I experience a dream vacation that lasts.
What about you? What was your dream vacation? Do you need soul rest?
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