Man Overboard on Oasis of the Seas – we were there

It was right around 1 a.m. when I woke up to an announcement on the outside speakers. Muffled through our balcony door, all I could hear was “….. port side ….. port side.”

I was curious, but half asleep. I almost ignored it, but since we were on the port side I decided to have a look. I first checked our peephole to the cruise hallway. Nothing. Then to our balcony door. First thing I noticed was the cruise ship had stopped moving. Next I could see a spotlight pointed toward a bobbing light in the ocean. My neighbors were out on their balcony.

“Man overboard,” she said. “That’s the rescue boat out looking for him.”


I called to Brian, “Man overboard…”

We stood on our balcony watching the rescue boat. We could hear the rescuers calling for the man in the rough seas. Desperate cries in the dead of night.

I texted my family, curious if any of the others were awake. My mom replied first. She could feel the boat shifting and turning, and could smell the smoke from the engines as it strove to turn our massive ship. She was scared. I told her the situation and promised to keep her updated as I heard anything. Sam texted next. “What’s up?”

I filled her in and immediately she asked to meet me in the hallway. Her cabin was just across the hall from ours. She came to me in tears. “What happened to him?”

Since I didn’t know, I had little share. Her heart was heavy and she wanted to find out. She decided to go up to the upper decks and ask around. I asked her to keep us updated.

Within 30 minutes, she had found out and was heartbroken. A YouTube video had already been uploaded and showed the man clinging to the metal bracing for the lifeboat. People were screaming. He was trying to pull himself up when he slipped and fell into the ocean.

Sam asked me to come and be with her. I met her again in the hallway and her tears were flowing. I wrapped my arms around her.

“They didn’t even care, Mom!” As Sam had gone investigating, she’d come up on a group at a bar. Swirling a glass of whiskey, one man said, “Yeah, I heard it. People say he jumped from the top, but he didn’t. Happened down below. Fight, from what I heard. Guy’s a goner.”

Sam sobbed, “How can he be drinking his whiskey and laughing while this man is fighting for his life in the ocean? What if that was his family member out there?”

She was undone. See, we’ve had a family member out there. We loved a soul who was lost to the waves.

We had to help.

Two women on board of a ship of 6,000 people, what were we going to do?

We walked down to where he’d fallen. It was roped off, but we could still walk around the rest of the deck. Crew members were stationed there at regular intervals, looking. We searched with them as Sam continued to cry. “Mom, how lonely he must feel out there. He can see the lights of the cruise ship but he can’t get to us. He must be so scared, mom. He must be sooo scared.”

We kept looking. And praying. We ran into another couple. The woman was emotional, but the man was callous. “Guy must have been drunk.” He waved his hand, dismissive. “No way he made it.” I pulled Sam to walk away. Worried she might deck him.

We kept looking.

3 am, 4 am, 5 am.

We watched them drop another rescue boat.


Dawn began to break as we kept searching, grateful for the lightening skies.


The altercation that led to this man’s passing happened four cabins down from my mother’s room. We went to see her, hugged her and gathered together on her balcony. We could see the blood on the metal frame from her balcony. This was not a distant tragedy. This was right on our doorstep.

The ship circled for seven hours as the rescue boats continued to search the seas. Finally, a coast guard plane in the distance.

With help now there, our ship turned towards it’s original course and began to move. Our man overboard was not rescued on our watch… and late Saturday afternoon the entire search was suspended.

He was lost to the sea.

I heard all kinds of reactions on the boat that day – not many of them kind. An elevator full of people joking about sharks. Others worried we might be late getting to our destination. And when there was speculation that he jumped, words were harsh, callous. Even my own initial reaction – like a curious spectator coming up on the scene of a car accident, was less than truly engaged.

And then my girl.

People wondered if she knew him, so heartfelt were her tears. No, she didn’t know him. But he was a fellow human being out in the sea. Scared. Hurt. Lonely. Lost. And that moved her to pray with everything that she had, cry with abandon and ache for his pain.

The depth of her heart touched and convicted mine. Such love! Such passion! Such beauty!

Early in the morning, while we were still searching, Sam said to me: “Mom, I’ve never prayed for anyone as hard as I have for him.”

In the distance, a rainbow began to appear. The rescue boat was framed in front of it. Later, when we knew that there was little likelihood he would be found, I turned Sam’s face toward mine as the tears came. “Sam, you have no idea what your prayers have done for that man. Because your heart is tender, because you called out, you have no idea what God might have done on his behalf. That rainbow could have been an answer to your prayer in his final moments, showing him he was not alone, comforting him in his fear.”


It’s Monday. I can’t get this story out of my mind. I can’t get Sam’s emotion over his suffering out of my heart. We’ve all become so callous to the pain of others. I know, I get it – we can’t feel everything. Not every situation should break us. But some situations should.

I should let the suffering of those in my world capture my heart and break my heart – and then pray with abandon. And then maybe, like what happened that morning, God will provide a rainbow in someone’s life to say, “I’m here. I am with you. You are not alone.”

This week, my daughter taught me. And so I pray. God, don’t let me be callous to the pain of others. Show me which situations I should pour my heart into, which heartbreak I should let break mine. Don’t let me be the one swirling whiskey in my glass as someone is dying. May I stand in the gap for those that are suffering, drowning in pain, addiction, loss. May my prayers do what Sam’s did – bring a glimpse of your goodness to a hurting life. A rainbow to remind someone of your love, comfort and presence. Let me be moved as you are moved. In Jesus name, amen.


Love is a risk

I don’t want to love them too much.

I don’t want to hold on too tight.

I mean, it was amazing when I was in Haiti – when two little boys with big smiles fell into my lap, when one fell asleep on my shoulder and I didn’t dare move so I could enjoy the sleepy weight of him, when I coaxed out deep belly laughter that rang like music in my ears. In those moments, my heart expanded with love so deep and rich and big, that I could hardly contain it.

But then I got home and they’re far away.

And we got word that the mom of one of our boys didn’t sign the paperwork that needs to be signed, and we can’t take a single step forward until she does.

So a voice in my head says, Guard your heart! Hold on Loosely! Don’t love so much because this will hurt way too much if it doesn’t go through.

Love is a risk.

But here’s the truth: Love is always a risk.

It’s a risk to love my husband. We never know what tomorrow will bring. A dear friend recently lost her husband in a matter of months. Her heart is utterly broken, her family devastated.

It’s a risk to love our friends. Life is transient and unfair and harsh sometimes. Friends move or fall away.

It’s a risk to love, period.

So the more I try to figure out how to guard my heart and still fight for our boys… I realize it can’t be done. It just wont work to hold on loosely when our boys need us to pray, hold tight, love deep.

When Brian and I were in Haiti, I snapped this picture of Brian with Laurentz.

Brian and Laurentz
A father’s love

The hand of a protective father holding his baby boy, Brian’s strong hand is planted right over his heart.

I look at that picture and my heart melts.

I realize that’s how we will love our boys, in spite of the risk. I realize that’s how we can allow the expanding of our hearts as we hold them, pray for them, fight for them.

Ultimately, even if our hearts break, the one who fixes broken hearts is right there with us, his strong hand upon us. He is big and kind and good. And He risks more than any of us. He loves each and every one of us deeply and passionately. He longs for us to be his children. And yet so many of us never realize it, or we say no, turn aside or walk away. I can’t imagine how his heart breaks!

If we can trust our hearts into anyone’s hands, it’s his.

And so we pray:

Please, Lord, if you would be so kind—bring our boys home. Hold that mother close and help her to know how much we will love her son. Pave the way through government red tape and financial need. Expand our hearts and our world. Fill us with battle-fighting, prayer-warrior, mom and dad kind of love. And then open every door to bring these boys home, that this risk will have it’s precious reward: a family united.

And if by some painful twist of events, things don’t turn out as we expect, hold us close, wipe our tears and teach us to cling to you.

Teach us to risk as you risked for us,

Elsa and Brian


Some secrets are meant to be kept (Flashback Friday)

From January 21st, 2005

Sami and me about the time I wrote this story

Sami and I have a secret, sacred mother-daughter code. Anytime that we share
something with each other that we don’t want anyone else to know, we put up
our pinky fingers, lock them, do a little circular handshake and intone
“Mother-daughter sphere—promise?” This is to keep Sami from spilling out my
most embarrassing moments (which I spill out perfectly well on my own), and
it keeps Sami’s adventures from winding up in a magazine, book or blog (at least without her permission).

Sometimes, on rare occasions, I forget to use the code, thinking that some
things will just be assumed as private, personal information.

Not very smart.

So we went to Austin this last weekend. Brian, the man I’ve fallen in love
with, came along to sit under the spotlight and be interrogated by some more
family members. He did well. He played basketball with the boys, talked with
my niece and pulled out all the paperwork on his financial, medical and criminal history for my brother and his wife to peruse.

And still, I thought, he loves me.

The dating days 🙂

So back to the sphere. One evening we went bowling with the family. I took my turn, bowled the perfect strike and turned to see Sami talking to Brian. He was grinning. I was suddenly nervous.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Sami took her turn and Brian was still smiling.

“Talk to me, Brian.”

“Sami just informed me that I need to marry you in two months.”

I gulped. “She did?”

“She just wanted me to know that you would say yes if I asked you.”

I remembered the conversation. “Mom, would you say yes if Brian asked you to
marry him?”


That was it. No pinkies in circular motion. No mother-daughter secret,
sacred code. What was I thinking? I tried to redeem the moment by putting on
my most mysterious and alluring look. I tried to bat my lashes. I went for the
I-will-say-yes-but-I-want-to-maintain-the-element-of-surprise attitude that
I once had going for me. I fluttered my lashes again.

Brian peered at me closely and asked if there was something in my eye.

I shook my head and smiled in my full-on embarrassed dimpled goofiness.

And still, I thought to myself, he loves me.

One Mom’s Fight Against Tuckuses and Ticks (Flashback Friday)

From March, 2006 (Sam was 14 – at 19, she now makes much better musical decisions!) :

Sam loves music. If she could, her headphones would be surgically implanted for her constant listening pleasure.

Unfortunately some of the music Sam enjoys falls way short of my this-is-so-not-good-for-you parental antennae. We’ll be in the car, flipping through stations and a popular song will come on. Sam will sing away as someone discusses someone else’s tuckus and his or her appreciation thereof. I’ll quickly turn the station to something I used to consider harmless, like country, only to discover lyrics about a naughty country boy checking his country girl for ticks. And it seems no matter where I turn, Sam knows the words.

She’s hearing it somewhere.

So I worry. And I find myself wanting to protect Sam from all the stuff that’s out there. When I really think about it (TV, music, movies, Internet), I’m tempted to lock her in her room, tutor her myself and only let her listen to K-Love and the Sound of Music soundtrack over and over and over (Although that Julie Andrews was a bit of a wild woman herself).

But then Sam went on a mission trip over Spring Break. She went to Gulfport, Mississippi and helped out some folks who didn’t have anything. She actually tore down a home . . . and loved every minute of it. She came back in tears, saying she hadn’t wanted to leave. Her heart was tender towards those she served and her heart was tender towards God. She lay in her bed that evening and asked God to help her stand firm spiritually. She wanted to be a light for him.

It brought tears to my eyes when she told me about it.

The next day, she didn’t even ask to flip through other stations when Brian drove her to school. She wanted to do life differently.

Of course, by the end of the week, I caught her singing about those darn ticks again . . . but those few days taught me something.

We can have rules and guidelines and boundaries in our home (and we do), but the thing that changes Sam’s heart, the thing that changes mine . . . is encountering God in real life situations. It’s all about falling in love with him and wanting to do life differently because of the love we’ve experienced. If life is all about the things we can’t do, it’s overwhelming. Because there’s SO MUCH we should avoid. But if life is about our time with
God – and the adventure, joy, life and hope we find as we love him and reach out to others… well, then, those silly songs, lousy movies and tempting distractions will lose their appeal.

Because He is so much more beautiful.

She paved the way

Here I sit, in Okinawa, Japan, and the truth is I should hate being here. Years ago my mom was imprisoned by the Japanese. From 6 to 10 years old, she was held captive on the island of Indonesia. She suffered deeply through those horrific years and then into adulthood as she relived the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares.

PTSD. Depression. Pain.

My mom could have gone bitter. I could have easily grown up in a home where the Japanese were demeaned and dishonored. I could have been hardened as my mom fought through difficult days and sleepless nights. So much so that the mere thought of going to Japan would only bring harsh feelings and deep resentment.

But it didn’t happen like that.

As a young mom, my mother fought for her healing. She pursued her God. She sought out counsel. She did the hard work of forgiving… and she didn’t give up when she faced a setback or two.

As a result I am here in Okinawa with great joy in my heart. I’ve had the chance to serve at the military base, but also to go out into the community and visit shops and restaurants. The Japanese are polite, gracious and honoring. I ache for their deep losses in the recent tragedies and this weekend joined others to petition God for their needs. I am drawn to these lovely people and only wish I could do more in this painful season.

I wouldn’t feel any of these things if my mom hadn’t paved the way to the cross – refusing to give in to her past wounds and the potential bitterness that lived there.

I’m so proud of her.

Me and Mom. She’s lovely, isn’t she?

Way to go, Mom. In your darkest moments, you probably didn’t realize the long-range impact of your choice to heal through forgiveness and grace – thanks for holding tight to our God and never, ever giving up.

I love you.

Camouflage Mama and True Beauty (flasback Friday)

October 15, 2006

Camouflage Mama

It happens every afternoon around 4:37 p.m. I don my camouflage pants and head out the door. Sam’s bus arrives at the bottom of the hill at 4:39. She’s in high school now. Cool. Happening. She wears lip-gloss and just a touch of foundation to take off the shine.

She even has an I-pod she received on her birthday after three years of
complaining about the bulkiness of her old-fashioned CD player. “I mean
really, Mom. All the kids make fun of me. It’s so bulky and HUGE!”

Yeah. OK. I couldn’t even LIFT the record player I listened to in the 6th

So I start walking – slowly. It’s all in the timing. If I get too close and
the kids on the bus see me, all will be lost. I hear the familiar sound.
There it is. I spot the yellow through the leaves, and see a window on the
bus. A set of teenage eyes meets mine. They widen. I’ve been spotted! Drat!
I quickly duck and pretend to pet a caterpillar.

I asked Sam once, “So what if your friends see me? They won’t know I’m
coming to meet you, they’ll just think I’m some lady out walking her dogs.”

“Every day Mom? At the same time? And a woman who looks EXACTLY like me?
Mom.” Slight eye roll. “They’ll know it’s you.”

Right. And that’s . . . horribly, mortifyingly not good, right?


The bus starts moving away. I see a bobbing brunette head coming up my way. I
wave. She waves. We grin. On this day she loops her arm in mine as she draws
close. She doesn’t even realize she’s doing it. She right away starts in on her day.

I smile a little grin of victory. Undercover. Top secret. Camouflage love.

Mission accomplished.

October 16, 2006


She was tiny, frail, beautiful. I met Swan at a woman’s conference. Wrinkles lined her lovely face. She dressed stylish with a touch of sassy. Swan spoke in a quiet voice, and her hands trembled slightly as they rested on her lap. She was the picture of gentle beauty.

Then Swan prayed.

With a voice full of passion and strength, she prayed over the conference.
With power she prayed for each woman present. She seemed to grow in stature
with each word spoken to our God.

I have a picture of what Swan will look like in heaven. I’m sure it’s a pale
vision of what will truly be, but even with my limited imagination, my
picture takes my breath away. She is adorned in vibrant colors. She is
brilliant and strong with energy spilling from every pore. Her Lord takes her
dancing and without a single ache or pain, she graces the heavens with her
lovely form. Her eyes are full of light and her smile is warm and
captivating. She is all that she is now – only with a touch of heaven thrown

I want to be like Swan. As my body weakens, I pray my spirit strengthens. As
my heart grows weaker, I pray my love grows stronger. With each passing day,
may I be more like Jesus, until my final breath takes me home to him.