Night Snorkeling with Manta Rays; A Hawaii Adventure

Monstrous waves crashed the boat up and down as though our purchase had been tickets for an unsteady carnival ride.

I peered out over the back of the boat, just a net draped across the rear. It was the middle of the Pacific at sunset and the ocean was anxious. I glanced at the passengers on the boat that were clearly green, imagining how they must be dreading the rest of the ride and feeling grateful that my stomach had not joined theirs. It was 25 minutes to reach our destination. Instructions and wet suits were distributed. The sun set before us and the ocean and air blended into a nearly unified black. The time had come to get in.

Night snorkeling with Manta Rays

The lights from our boat and the others that had come for this same adventure lit the night and feigned safety. A board with flashlights and a handle lay 20 feet from the stern and our instructions were to swim to it. At night. In the dark. In the middle of the Pacific. There is something so counter intuitive about sliding into the black of the ocean in the dark quiet. Something shouts not to go. Yet, it is, after all, what I came to do. So, slide and swim I did. And, at last I grabbed the board.

Several more adventurers swam in the minutes to come and when we all were grasping the board, we kicked and swam that board out farther into the sea. We had to get to the show. When we arrived at our destination, we waited. We were waiting on manta rays.

In this particular area of Hawaii the manta rays swim in a circular motion to eat the plankton. It began years ago when one injured manta ray found that she could feed easier near a light that shown in the ocean from a hotel. Plankton flock to light. She had to roll because of a broken cephalic fin. When the other manta rays saw how easily she was getting food, they mimicked this behavior. That was a few decades ago, but the manta rays still feed in this circular motion. The hotel has long been closed and lights turned off, but the manta rays eat under lights now shown nightly by people. Our quirky, spirited guide informed us that it is the only place in the world that they behave in this manner. It is quite amazing.

We floated, holding onto that board in the dark of the night, for several minutes. We were told of a high sea warning while we waited and that we would probably need to head back in a half hour. I lay with my face in the water looking into the flashlight lit ocean, waiting and wondering. How did I get here? I was an Ohio suburban housewife just one year ago. Now I lay in a wet suit, in a dark ocean with staunch waves awaiting our journey home, hoping to swim with manta rays that span 20 plus feet wide. I live in this place. This place of adventures and experiences. This place that stands as the most isolated place on earth. This is my home.

Seventeen years ago, I sat with a woman who told me the stories of her life. Stories of traveling to far off countries and living in many different places. She shared experiences. I heard her stories and my heart leapt for them. I wanted to backpack across Europe, to live in a flat in the center of a pulsing city, to vacation on a whim to exotic places. To leap tall buildings in a single bound. I wanted to see the world and conquer it.

Then, life happened. Hard times. Wonderful times. Life. I got married and we settled down. My backpack never saw Europe. I occasionally thought about those plans that had been shelved, but life was so good. So comfortable. Those desires were for the young me and had no place in the stable residence I had created for myself. As the years passed and we were blessed with children, those thoughts faded into the background of my life. My heart grew new desires, and I felt so blessed. God had truly made my dreams come true. I had the family that I dreamt of in my little girl dreams and that was more than enough for me. I didn’t need crazy, exotic places or experiences to be fulfilled.

As the chill of the water strangely warmed my body and my arms grew a bit tired, I wondered why God had suddenly decided to bring us here. To this place. A place with so many experiences. So many adventures.

Selling everything and moving a family of 8 to Hawaii could quite possibly rival those backpacking dreams I once envisioned. This was everything all at once, done so much differently than I imagined. And at times it was hard. At times it was counter intuitive just like slipping into the dark ocean at night.

The show began. A manta ray interrupted my thoughts and swam inches from my chest. For a few moments she was all alone and I watched her swim around wondering if she felt separated, or if the ocean was so comfortable for her, even in its majesty, that she felt at peace being off on her own. Silly thoughts maybe. But, I guess I was wondering those same things about myself. Am I comfortable here or aware of how far from home I’ve gone?

 

My thoughts couldn’t stay there for very long because several other manta rays joined her and I was in awe of their beauty. Of their sheer proximity to me. Of how we were out there together in the deep dark sea. I can’t completely describe the wonder of it. They were huge and brushing against our underbelly. Comfortable with our spending the evening with them. I could have rested in that majestic moment for hours.

Too soon, it was time to let go of the board and make the swim back to the boat. We left our manta ray friends and perhaps some old fears in the ocean that night, and boarded a vessel that would meet the 15 foot swells of the restless black ocean.

The sea air blew against me as I held firm to my seat. We sped in faster than we had journeyed out, my thoughts racing. Hours earlier I had considered not going. I was comfortable at home, and honestly a little frightened of this adventure. But, since it was only fear that gave me reasons not to go, I pushed through, determined to allow myself and my kids to see that trusting God led to amazing moments. And, it had. Moving here was proof. But, being still in the sea, in the vastness of His creation, watching His creatures just be, spoke an overwhelming reassurance of His plans over mine. My heart desires fulfilled by His grace.

As my feet met still, dry ground I rejoiced in the way that the Lord nudged me out of complacency. If given the choice between an adventurous life and the joy and stability of my family, I would have, without hesitation, chosen the precious presence of my people and the ordinary that so often is extraordinary to my heart. But, God is so much bigger than the either-or decision my mind had concocted. His hand is as mighty as the towering waves and as steady as dry ground. He can move our heart to want His desires before we ever know His plans.

So, today, I don’t know what His future for me will bring. I don’t know everything about my role in His kingdom. But, I am certain that my life is taking on a beautiful presence in spite of my short comings or my rocky past. My life may look different from what was imagined. He urged me to jump when I might have been willing to stand still in the same place forever. He gently pushed me to conquer my fears and slide into the darkness in order to see His light. Like that injured manta ray, He has blended the unexpected broken pieces, the desires of my heart, and my once ordinary life into an extraordinary display of His beautiful plan.

 

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.              2 Timothy 1:7

 

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