I was awakened very suddenly by my cell phone ringing. Confused and disoriented, I reached over to the bedside table and picked it up. "Hello? Hello, this is Bill."
"Good morning Bill, this is Mrs. Sherman. I'm the woman you moved the car down to Bonita Springs for."
I rubbed my hand over my face. "Yes, Mrs. Sherman, I remember you."
"Bill, I was just watching a movie and eating my morning oatmeal, and I thought about you. It's a sweet movie about a little boy who travels in time in a flying car."
"Sounds like BACK TO THE FUTURE 2."
"I saw the car in the movie and thought I better call and ask if you can drive my car back up north when I'm ready to go."
"That's no problem, Mrs. Sherman. But I have to get up and get going, if you'll excuse me."
"Goodbye, Bill." She hung up, and I wondered how many times she had called in the last month about this same topic. I looked around the room and wondered where I was for a moment. Must be the medication I was taking, it sometimes made me a little confused. There was a rapid knock on my bedroom door, and my old friend Pastor Rex Porter stuck his head in.
"Morning Bill. Do you still want to go out on my boat with me today?"
"Uh, yeah, sure. But I need to get a shower first."
"Go ahead, take your time. I'll make us some breakfast while you get ready. Any special requests?"
"Oatmeal." Rex left, and I began to get motivated. I was in Clearwater, Florida at the home of my old high school buddy Rex. My recent stay in a hospital had necessitated some down time afterwards for recovery, and Rex insisted that I stay at his home for a while. We had talked about going out on his 52' Clipper ketch when I felt strong enough, and I thought the sea air might do me good.
We arrived at the marina just over an hour later. I was surprised when Rex told me that he was taking a charter, with a young couple from Kentucky. He also explained that a man named Joey from Iowa had been bugging him for a week to go out on the boat, but said he could not afford the rates. So Rex had made an arrangement to let him ride for free if he would work as first mate and help with chores on the trip. Joey was on board when we arrived at the boat. "All aboard, Cap'n Rex," shouted Joey.
"At ease, Joey, this is a pleasure cruise."
"Who is this with you, Skipper?"
I held my hand out to shake. "Bill Thomas, nice to meet you."
"What's that?" he asked.
"I'm asking your name," Joey said with some irritation in his voice.
"Tell you what, I'll just call you Dave."
After motoring out of the harbor, we set sail out into the Gulf of Mexico, heading for unknown adventures ahead. I sat next to Rex at the wheel as he steered us masterfully on the salty waters. I turned to him and asked, "So you are a church Pastor on Sunday, and a boat Captain during the week?"
"I am both, a Pastor and a Pirate. But you know, I'm not just a Pastor on Sunday, my boss expects me to respect my work as a full time job."
Rex pointed to the sky. "God. The big man. Now, where is Joey. I need him to do some things, and he seems to have disappeared. Come on down to the galley, I'll buy you a bad cup of coffee and maybe we'll bump into Joey." Rex led me down into the galley and poured us both a big steaming mug of java. I asked for sugar and cream, and Rex was stumped. "That's odd," he said. "I keep a big container full of sugar packets and sugar-free sweeteners. The containers are here, but they are empty."
"No coffee for me then. Got to have it sweet or not at all."
"Well, my customers are up on deck getting some sun, and the boat is on auto pilot, so we can relax. I've been wanting to tell you that Doris and I love having you in our home. You wash dishes and load and unload the dishwasher, and we so appreciate it."
"Hey pal, I appreciate you opening your home to me when I needed some R&R."
"Well you know, I believe that God brought us together."
"I thought you found me on Facebook?"
"Yes I did, but it had been many years since I'd seen you or we had been in contact. God provided me a way through Facebook to bring us into each other's lives again."
"You think there was a reason?" I asked.
"Bill, with God there is always a reason. Don't you realize that He's been watching over you as you've driven all these years? He loves you." The boat suddenly lurched, and Rex hurried up the stairs to the deck. I followed close behind. One of the masts had gotten tangled up in the ropes, and the couple from Kentucky seemed concerned. "Don't worry folks, all is well." Then Rex turned to me. "Doggone it, where is that Joey? He's supposed to help me take care of these things."
Once Rex got everything back under control, we sat at the wheel again. "I see a lot of roads in my daily travels, but I don't get to see all this water. What a beautiful sight."
Rex nodded. "God made it all for us. Bill, are you a Christian?"
"I believe in God and his Son."
"Have you been saved?"
"I feel like I was saved by you when you let me stay in your home to recover."
"I think you know what I mean."
"OK, well, I haven't been going to church for a lot of years, but I pray every single day. I ask God to keep me safe as I drive, and I thank Him for giving me life, and I thank Him for the gorgeous world he created that I get to see each day. I pray for the sick and the poor, and I pray for the end of all wars and that men everywhere could live in peace like brothers."
"That's very good. But don't forget about faith."
"Rex, faith is pretty much all I have to lean on. If it helps you understand me any better, my favorite verse is John 3:16. That is the foundation of my faith."
Joey came up onto the deck, and Rex wanted to know where he had been. "I was in the bathroom down below."
"The bathroom? For an hour?"
"I fell asleep in there. Hey, this is a pretty cool boat. Hey, is that an island?" Joey pointed to a small island out in the Gulf.
Rex sighed. "Yes Joey, that is an island."
"I gotta get a picture of that." Joey fumbled in the pockets of his jacket for a camera, and out fell dozens of packets of sugar and sweetener.
"What's all this?" Rex asked.
"Oh, I thought they were souvenirs, free samples."
"And what gave you that idea?"
"I need to get a shot of that island." Joey ran to the front of the boat, camera in hand.
Rex laughed and reached into a small ice chest that he had next to his chair. "Want a pickle?"
Rex pulled out a large whole pickle and started to munch on it. "I love a good pickle, nothing like it."
"What are you going to do about Joey?"
"He's harmless. I can see I'm not going to get any work out of him, so I guess he gets a free trip, which is what he wanted all along. I get a whole lot of strange people on my boat."
"Yes, I know the feeling. I run across them all the time on the road, and I like to call them 'Bill's people.'"
Rex snorted with laughter. "'Bill's people,' huh? Good one. Does Joey fit the category?"
"Yes he does, with flying colors. Listen Rex, I want to thank you for caring about me and my soul. Not many people do."
"You are a special person, and I believe a lot of people care about you more than you know. One thing I am certain of: God is not through with you, not by a long shot. He has big plans for you."
"Really? Like what?" I was interrupted as Joey joined us again, staring hungrily at Rex's pickle.
"Where did you get that?" Joey asked.
"What?" asked Rex, playing dumb.
"I brought it with me."
"Do you have another one?"
"No." A little white lie, I suppose, but it seemed justified under the circumstances.
"But I want a pickle. I love pickles."
"Sorry," offered Rex.
"Can I have a bite of your pickle?"
"Absolutely not. I gave you a list of chores when you got here, now are you planning on doing any of them?"
"I have to run to the bathroom." Joey scurried down below, and Rex just chuckled.
Joey vanished and remained out of sight until we got back to the marina. Rex smiled at me and asked, "How did you like spending the day with a sailing fool?"
"Fun," I told him.
About this time, Joey reappeared, and as he started off the boat, Rex grabbed him by the arm. "Joey, I'm missing a brass fixture from down below. It's sort of an ornament, and I wondered if you might have seen it?"
"I, well I, uh..." Joey stammered.
"Joey, please don't embarrass yourself."
Joey dug into his pockets, and his hand came out holding the missing object. "Here you go. I'm really sorry, but I thought it was a souvenir for me to take home."
"You seem to think anything that isn't nailed down is a souvenir."
Suddenly, Joey's temperament changed entirely. He got very defensive and very loud, and began barking at Rex. "How dare you. How dare you, sir! I come here in good faith to go on a pleasure cruise with you, and you accuse me of-- you make wild unsubstantiated claims that I-- Listen, I hate to say it, but I think I'm going to have to demand a refund."
Rex stepped toward Joey purposefully. "Time to get off my boat, right now." Joey got very pale and turned and hurried off.
It was a memorable boat ride, and it somehow made me realize that the road was calling my name once again. Time to ride.