It all started when Aunt Jess invited me to visit her. No big deal, except that Aunt Jess lives on an island. Hawaii, to be exact.
Did I mention that Aunt Jess loves adventure?
Sailing, surfing, bungee jumping. Nothing scares her.
So how could I tell her the ocean makes the skin on the back of my neck crawl?
All that deep, dark water with who-knows-what lurking below. If she found out, she’d think I was a wimp.
The first day of my visit wasn’t too bad. Aunt Jess and I hiked through a rain forest to see a waterfall. We got rained on the entire time. Pretty awesome, actually.
The real problem didn’t surface till the next day.
“Guess what I have planned for us, Mike,” Aunt Jess said. “We’re going snorkeling!”
I almost choked on my scrambled eggs. “You mean in the ocean?” I asked. I don’t know if you’ve been snorkeling before, but let me tell you, it’s really hard to do without water.
Aunt Jess laughed. “Of course,” she said, messing up my hair. “Hurry and put on your swimsuit. We don’t want to miss the boat.”
Missing the boat sounded like a good idea to me. But I couldn’t admit that to Aunt Jess. So I put on my swimsuit. The next thing I knew, we were getting on a boat.
“Aloha,” said the captain. “Welcome aboard.”
I hung on to the r ailing. Tightly. God, I whispered to myself, please take care of us out here on the ocean. I wished boats made me seasick. Then I’d have a reason to go back to land.
The breeze smelled like flowers.
The boat rolled over the waves like a mother rocking her baby.
“Don’t you love the ocean?”
Aunt Jess whispered. The sun made her cheeks glow. For a moment, I wished I could love the ocean like she did.
Then I noticed the sharks. Seven or eight of them, at least. They were chasing our boat.
“Look, Aunt Jess, sharks!” I yelped. No wonder I didn’t like the ocean.
One of the sharks jumped out of the water. It was the fattest shark I’d ever seen. I figured we were about to become its lunch.
“They’re dolphins, Mike,” Aunt Jess corrected. “Aren’t they incredible?”
“Dolphins?” I asked, looking at the fins on their backs. Another one jumped out of the water. I think it was smiling at me.
Just as I was starting to relax, the boat eased to a stop. I flinched at the sound of a sudden splash.
“The captain dropped the anchor,” Aunt Jess explained. “Below us is a coral reef.” She opened her giant purse. Out came four flippers, two masks, and two snorkels.
I was starting to understand. And it was not good. “You mean we’re going to snorkel here? In the middle of the ocean? Don’t we need a beach or something?”
Aunt Jess shook her head. “This coral reef is a secret gift from God. He created it as another way to show us how much He cares for us, Mike.” She handed me my gear and smiled. “You’re going to love it.”
I was pretty sure I was not going to love it. But I put on my flippers and mask. Then I shoved the snorkel into my mouth and jumped overboard.
At first all I could see were bubbles. Then I saw Aunt Jess. Her neon orange swimsuit was easy to spot.
We swam along the surface of the water. It looked like a rainbow had exploded on the ocean floor.
Bunches of coral grew everywhere.
Some were spiny, and others looked like huge cauliflowers. Fish swam near the reef—schools of them, color-coded to match the coral. And for a while I forgot I didn’t like the ocean.
Then I came nose to nose with a monster sea turtle. Its legs moved in slow motion. It’s checking me out, I thought. This is my chance to show Aunt Jess that I am not a complete wimp. I’ll hold still and let the turtle brush past me. I bet Aunt Jess will give me a thumbs-up since I’m being so brave!
Wow, was I wrong! She started splashing and kicking like crazy. I put my head above water and spit out my snorkel. “Aunt Jess!” I yelled as she swam away. But she couldn’t hear me. She was busy climbing back onto the boat by the time I caught up with her.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, trying to catch my breath.
“Nothing, really,” she said, taking off her flippers and mask. “I guess that sea turtle took me by surprise.”
“Wasn’t it cool?” I reached for a beach towel. “It was like an under – water dinosaur!”
“I was hoping it wouldn’t get so close to us,” she said, looking away.
And then it hit me. “Aunt Jess, are you afraid of sea turtles?” I asked.
She nodded. “I know it’s silly. They just sort of give me the creeps.”
I couldn’t believe it. My adventure-loving aunt was afraid of something too! Maybe I wasn’t such a wimp after all.
“Did you know sea turtles are an endangered species?” Aunt Jess asked.
I shrugged. “What does that mean?”
“Lots of sea turtles have died from getting trapped in fishing nets. Or from eating trash like plastic bags.
Or from being hunted by people,” Aunt Jess explained. “Now there are laws to help protect the sea turtles that are left.”
I hoped the friendly turtle I had met would stay safe.
“If we see them in the water or on the beach, we’re never allowed to touch or tease them,” Aunt Jess said. She shoved her gear back into her big purse. I guessed she was done snorkeling.
“So sea turtles aren’t as tough as they look?” I asked.
Aunt Jess smiled. “I suppose not.
But they still scare me. Hey, the captain is going to take us back to shore soon. Would you be disappointed if we spent the rest of the day playing volleyball on the beach?”
“Volleyball sounds fine,” I said, although part of me did feel disappointed. Playing volleyball on the beach didn’t sound nearly as exciting as swimming with sea turtles.
Thanks for a wonderful adventure, God, I thought as I stowed my gear.
I’d like to do this again soon.