My first trip to Little Gasparilla Island was in 2010. We went with one of my besties, Danielle Dorey, who I'd met during my Frontliners internship the summer of 2003.
Micah was a baby, and I was a happily married stay-at-home mom/part-time private piano and voice teacher. And I'd just scored a lead role in the community theater's Fall musical-comedy. Life was pretty good. And the trip? A-maz-ing. I'd fallen in love with that little slip of sandy earth and planned to return as soon as I could.
What I didn't realize then was the bit of heaven we'd enjoyed there was the calm before the storm. There was crazy theater drama for the next two months. (Not all the good kind.) A miscarriage. A major onslaught against my health in January 2011 followed by a difficult pregnancy and a semi-traumatic labor and delivery.
My health continued to deteriorate, but I never let go of the dream of returning. I felt God had given it as a promise to go with my healing. I would say to Brandon, "When I get well, we're going back, you know."
And when I was lying on what could've been my death bed, he'd say, "Don't forget. When you get well, we're going back to the island." To remind me I couldn't die yet. We had plans.
When my healing began, we mentioned a return trip, but as time came to make preparations I realized we were too short on cash to press the issue. Besides, I was going to Brazil in September.
But my Superman is one sly guy and he's earned his nickname many times over.
As we drove home from the Ozarks on my birthday, my phone rang. It was Danielle. Because it was my birthday, I expected nothing more than a wish. Which I received. Then she said, "Brandon, God and I have a surprise for you."
My thought bubble: Brandon...God...Danielle...can't be a baby...hmmm....
"How would you like to come down to the island next month?"
After a momentary lapse of cognition, I flipped.
I laughed. I cried. I bounced up and down in my seat. I couldn't believe it. And yet I could. Brandon has always been too good to me.
I sneaked a glance at him. Tears shimmered in his eyes. Softy. He knew what this meant to me.
I thanked Danielle. I thanked B. I thanked God. I was so stoked. Only a few days before I'd asked Sara, "If we could go anywhere in the world together, where would you want to go?"
"Da beach," she'd said with a grin. She'd never been and it had been so long since our last beach trip, Micah didn't remember. They were so excited when I told them.
Brandon explained we would drive to Georgia first to see our friends James and Erica Kordsmeier, then drive down to Tampa and leave from there for the island with the Doreys. We'd be gone 11 days.
The drive to Georgia was smooth and pleasant. God placed two people in my path to pray for along the way, which was fun. Our time with the Kordsmeiers was too short but very sweet.
Then came our reunion with the Doreys. It had been six years since I'd seen my friend face to face and yet--because of phone calls, texts, Facebook and the goodness of God--it was as if no time had passed. Except for the three extra kiddos, dark circles under our eyes and a few gray hairs. But whatevs.
The next day, we made our way south along Florida's west coast. I was antsy to get to the island, but also a bit fearful. Would it be as incredible as I remembered? Or had I blown a nice experience out of proportion in my mind?
I stepped out of the truck and smelled bay water. A hot breeze ruffled my unruly hair. I smiled and forgot all fear of disappointment.
Samantha, Danielle's sister gave some of us a boat ride from the marina to the island.
Weston and Sara ready to go "motor speed."
Before I knew it, we were there. And yes--the magic I remembered still hovered over the island. Not quite ripe sea grapes and coconuts graced the trees. Birds called out to one another. A dog barked in the distance. The kids played in the sand and I enjoyed the quiet rush of the breeze through the foliage while we waited for the luggage to be unloaded onto the golf cart.
Then it was a race to get to the beach.
One of the things I love about Little Gasparilla is the low population. There are no condominiums. Just beach houses. There's no fighting for chair space. You don't have to watch your stuff. You can leave it out all day if you want. No one will bother it. And your kids are easy to spot. Behold...
The kids enjoyed the beach as much as they thought they would. They enjoyed each other more than I thought they would.
Here we have a Weston...the cutest fish you'll ever meet.
FYI: You can't keep this 4-year-old out of the water.
Micah was afraid of the water, but enjoyed the beach.
I taught Sara to body board...kind of.
Instead of a vanilla latte made by Kurt Pendergrass, Kurt Pendergrass taught me to make my own. Turns out, I'm not a bad barista.
Kurt also took B fishing again...
and on our first evening, took us all out on a dolphin cruise.
The kids enjoyed the local wildlife.
One morning, I woke early to pray and enjoy the sunrise, which was pretty glorious. The sunsets were as spectacular as I remembered.
Check out that green ray!
But nothing could beat the company.
This trip to the island was a lot more work than the last. That's what happens when you add three littles to the mix. Especially when the party includes a high-adventure, adrenaline junkie, perpetually ravenous two year old.
Meet Titus. Chances are, he's "hungee."
Kudos to Danielle and Ryan who somehow keep him fed.
I didn't have a lot of alone time with Jesus while we were gone, but the constant prayer of my heart was, "Thank you...thank you...thank you...thank you..."
I was overwhelmed by generosity. Of my husband, who sacrificed vacation days usually set aside for hunting. By my friends who offered us a free place to stay and great company. Of the Pendergrasses and Danielle's sister, Samantha, who came down both Sunday and Wednesday to make coming and going fun, easy and inexpensive. Of the Lord.
I'd done nothing to deserve such a gift. Yet it was freely given. Grace, grace...marvelous grace.
Grace was the golden thread running through every detail. From the ability to even go to the hospitality of friends. Down even to the storm patterns. Each day, storms threatened to come down upon us, but danced around instead. On the day we left, all the Floridians agreed, we'd get wet on the boat ride back to shore. But no. The clouds parted. We sat on damp towels and enjoyed the cool air in our faces...
...and on the drive back to Tampa, a reminder that God always...always...keeps His promises.