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When the way forward is uncertain…

It happens every time I talk to a call center in the U.S. At some point the weary, remote-working call center employee asks my current address.

“I have been stuck overseas since the start of the pandemic,” I say.

“I’m so sorry,” they always respond.

“No, I’m stuck on a south Caribbean island. Shed no tears for me!”

In early March 2020, my wife Dawn and I sailed our 42-foot sailboat Kairos to the tiny island of Bonaire, 75 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Oblivious to the impact COVID-19 would bring, we expected to be there a few weeks. We are still here. Having watched every available port close, we made the decision to wait out the pandemic in what honestly feels a lot like paradise.

The author’s 42-foot sailboat Kairos

We learned to dive and have done well over 100 dives on Bonaire’s world-class coral reefs. We have worked on the boat and made enduring friendships. We even gained temporary residency and have taken advantage of the free healthcare.

But as we passed our one-year anniversary here, a nagging weariness has begun to surface — uncertainty. One consequence of the pandemic, even here, is an unrelenting uncertainty.

Part of what makes Bonaire and so many Caribbean Islands safe for cruisers like us, is the predictability of the trade winds. With the winds almost always blowing from the east, an anchorage on the west side of the island is safe and comfortable.

But the eastern shore is a different matter. Waves having made the long, unhindered passage from Africa crash against the coral cliffs. On the east shore, no beaches survive the ceaseless pounding and currents. Many boats have perished there. To fall in is to be tossed again and again against the jagged rocks to find that another wave, another surge, another shift will knock you off until, in utter, bone-breaking weariness, you drown.

On that coast, the uncertainty of what will hit you next is unrelenting.

But recently something has been drawing my wife and me to that coast. Weekly we gather in the evening with friends to watch flamingoes take flight on their nightly visit to Venezuela. Other days we go alone with chairs and a cooler to sit on a remote cliff to watch the pounding waves. We walk a friend’s dog along the coral.

We are drawn, partially, to find meaning in the relentless uncertainty so visibly displayed on the rocks and so deeply felt by so many of us during this pandemic.

We expect change. It is change’s partner, relentless uncertainty, that has weighed heavy on our souls as the pandemic continues. With no pandemic road map – or worse, with the rules seeming to change every day – we lose faith we will ever know what to expect next.

We can hope schools or churches, jobs or ports will open, but every day’s shifting news robs us of the handhold on life that certainty brings. You can drown in the weariness of this unrelenting uncertainty.

Soul-sucking uncertainty has me questioning every decision and wondering if there is any possible “right” course ahead. For years, my daily prayer for my adult children has included the petition that God would help “them make good decisions.” Recently the pronoun has changed to “us.”

There are shelves of books about facing change, but what about uncertainty?

I have instead learned to lean for comfort and guidance on what does not change: the love of my family, the honesty of good friends, a loving relationship and the knowledge that I have lived a wonder-filled life. And the simple truth of the enduring gospel. For standing on Bonaire’s ageless cliffs always pulls my heart to God. A God who willed the expansive universe into being in a moment beyond time. A God whose will is love and whose gospel forms my heart.

When the way forward is uncertain, I trust these unchanging certainties.

And here in Bonaire, on a good boat with a life-giving partner, a certain faith and a loving community of family and friends, that is all I need.

That is certain.

TOM HAY served 40 years as pastor, presbytery executive and General Assembly associate stated clerk. Now retried, he and his wife Dawn live aboard Kairos, their 42-food sailboat, and are currently spending the hurricane season at the Caribbean island of Bonaire.

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