Jeff and I will be celebrating 25 years of marriage this August. We have no money for a big trip, but we have had the special privilege of ministering in Brazil...at the beach, no less! And, because we were ministering at a marriage retreat, the whole weekend was romantic and marriage focused. I told Jeff I was very happy that this trip took place in our 25th year of marriage; I couldn't have asked for a better celebration.
There is nothing like waking up in the morning to the sun streaming down in all its summer, subtropical glory. I could hardly contain my anticipation as I jumped out of bed and dug out my running clothes from my suitcase. Within minutes I was at the beach, trudging through the hot, loose sand to the cooler, damp, hard-packed sand by the water. I gasped in delight...literally, right out loud! The view before me was like right out of a movie---blue ocean, white sand, a red and white striped umbrella, surfers, rock formations, quirky beach houses, coastal grasses blooming with purple flowers, and the bright sun and balmy breeze caressing my bare shoulders. I started running towards the rock formation. I didn't care about distance or time, I just wanted to run and breathe in that marvelous air. I explored the rock formation, climbing up to admire the view of a bay and a city on the other side. I slipped off my flip-flops and waded into the frothy waves that lapped around my legs, deliciously cool and pleasantly warm all at the same time. I could feel my skin soaking up the sun and knew I was going to go home with a tan! Finally, I felt that time was up so I headed back to the hotel as families began setting up their spots on the beach with coolers, towels, umbrellas and lawnchairs. I showered away the salt of the sea and dressed in a sundress and went to breakfast with Jeff. The hotel's restaurant was outdoors in a very large gazebo with open sides to let the sea breeze flow through. We filled our plates with fresh fruit, eggs, Brazilian cheese bread and coffee and sat down with our friends to plan our day. Oh, yes...what great plans: All morning at the pool, a late lunch at a seafood restaurant with an ocean view, a nap in the hotel room during the heat of the day, and then dinner followed by the first session of the marriage retreat.
I went back to my room and changed into my bathing suit. I haven't worn a two-piece in public in a very long time. My 46-year-old body just doesn't rock a bikini (and never has, actually!). So I also wore a wrap and a little cover-up. My friend and I set up our lounge chairs pool side angled towards the sun and spread out our towels and started slathering on the sunscreen...50 SPF for my face now that I've developed hyperpigmentation on my cheeks, forehead and around my eyes. Then I tentatively removed my cover-up, still keeping on my wrap-around skirt bottom. But as I secretly watched the women around me through my sunglasses, I noticed that here in Brazil, all the bathing suits are thongs. Suddenly I realized I was very modestly attired. Off came my wrap and I stretched out full length on my lawn chair and tanned in my two-piece for the first time in years! Oh, yeah! What a babe!
We spent a couple hours suntanning and dipping in the pool, visiting with the other ladies in a friendly mixture of Portuguese, English and sign language. It was wonderfully relaxing. When my nose began to feel the effects of too much sun, we all agreed we'd had enough and headed back to our rooms to get ready for lunch. Shower #2 to rinse off the chlorine. The best thing about the hot and humid weather is what it does to my hair...turns it into a curly mop that requires nothing of me in the way of styling. In fact, to style it would only make it a mess as the moisture would win and I would be left to deal with the fall-out. So, I rubbed in an anti-frizz mousse and then scrunched my hair and walked out into the sunshine where the heat and air finished it off quickly and effortlessly.
Lunch was fun. By now we had gathered quite a few more couples who were attending the retreat. We ate at a restaurant that was open to the sea below. We dined on fish and sipped a delicious drink of fresh pineapple juice blended with mint and whipped until a creamy foam formed on top of the juice. So refreshing! Then there were always those little cups of espresso to finish off the meal.
After lunch everyone headed back to the hotel for an afternoon rest in the cool, air-conditioned darkness of their rooms. Not me. I begged Jeff to go for a walk on the beach. The Brazilians thought I was odd...go to the beach in the heat of the day? But Jeff was a good sport, so we walked to the beach together...and discovered it almost empty, very warm, and with sand so hot we had to quickly run across it to the wet and cool sand by the water. All the colorful umbrellas were gone...packed up by the families who wanted to get their children out of the intense sun. Jeff and I decided we'd only walk to the rocks and back. We understood now why our Brazilian friends thought we were strange for wanting to go to the beach at this time of day. It was hot! The only people in the water were surfers. We watched them for a bit, took a lot of pictures, and then plunged our hot, sweaty bodies into the salty sea. So refreshing! It was easy to go deeper and deeper when the water was so warm. Our icy Pacific ocean makes even dipping just feet in the water almost too much to bear, but this was wonderful. It was so much fun to wait for a big wave and then lift your feet up and let it carry you back to the beach. We played for awhile and then decided we'd probably be wise to get out of the sun, as it was only our first day. So we joined the rest of the smart Brazilians in their cool, dark hotel rooms and discovered that it is just as relaxing to rest in the dark as it is to lay out in the sun. Shower #3 to wash off the sand and salt and then get ready for dinner.
After dinner we transitioned from laid-back mode to ministry mode. We pulled out our notes and read over them, gathered up our supplies, and then headed to the meeting room. The little courtyard in the hotel was filled with excited, laughing couples taking pictures in front of the gorgeous flowers with the lovely pastel sunset filling the evening with soft color and warmth. There was an atmosphere of anticipation that made everyone feel happy. We gathered together in the meeting room and had a blast playing a marriage game and watching some funny pictures of ourselves with our friends when we were young and skinny. Jeff spoke first and built a good rapport right away. After the meeting there were cookies and cake and more coffee. The only thing we complained about when we crawled into bed that night was the sand in the sheets! It had been an amazing day.
Next morning, I hit the beach running again...and then quickly showered and went to breakfast because we had a full day of meetings. We had great sessions and more great food. I got to experience drinking "mate" (pronounced "mah-tay") in a traditional gourd with a fancy sipping straw...communal style! For those of you who know me, you know I never drink after anyone, let alone everyone! But, hey, I wanted to experience the culture of Brazil as authentically as I could, so I shared the mate and was accepted into the social circle (with pictures to prove it!).
After the meetings, we spent the afternoon by the pool...even Jeff joined me this time. We sat on the little bar stools in the water and ate ice cream bars...such interesting flavors! Mine was made from frozen sweetened condensed milk, smooth and creamy and sweet. Jeff's was lemon, which was refreshing. After we'd been in the water and the sun long enough, we headed back to the room to dress in our Caribbean costumes. When we opened the door, there was a surprise waiting for us. Our bed had been neatly made up with rose petals scattered over the sheets, candles, chocolates, massage oil, and love letters to each other that we had written earlier. What fun! As we were admiring the goodies, we could hear a lot of laughter outside our room in the courtyard. We peeked out the window and saw everyone dressed up in bright and vivid colors! We quickly put on our own costumes and joined the others. We actually held our sessions all dressed up like that! My message, titled, "The Vow," ended with a renewal of our wedding vows. It was actually quite fun, exciting, and meaningful to be all dressed up, repeating our vows. I told them they had just had a "destination wedding" in the Caribbean. How cool is that? After the session, we took hundreds of pictures, and then everyone headed to the dinner party. Two couples had transformed the hotel restaurant into an intimate, brightly colored "tent" with vibrant fabric drapes and balloon-sculpture palm trees. There were door prizes and much laughter all around as everyone celebrated together, and then from there we caravaned down to the beach where a bonfire had been lit and tiki torches and palm branches made a circle for us to sit in. Under the light of the moon in the warm, summer night, couples took turns standing in front of the fire telling the story of how they met. More laughter. A couple girls and I waded into the silvery-black water, holding our Caribbean skirts up high as we ran away from the big waves. Finally, the fire began to die and we all walked back to the hotel talking in whispers so as not to disturb the other guests. What a wonderful evening!
Last morning to run on the beach. I felt a little wistful about that...I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye. Our last morning session was a lot of fun. The topic was sex. Uh-huh. Everybody's favorite! The guys went to a room next door and the girls stayed put. What fun we had hootin' and hollerin' back and forth between the walls! Then we gathered back together for the wrap-up time...more prophetic ministry, more pictures, thank-you's, gifts, laughter, and even tears as couple after couple declared their love for each other.
|Speaking on "sex" with Debbie translating! Lots of laughter!|
Encouraged and blessed, we shared one last lunch together before packing up. Those who had to leave left after lunch, but a few of us got to enjoy one more afternoon at the pool before hitting the road. How refreshing and relaxing it was to soak and sun one more time after a busy time of ministry. I couldn't help daydreaming about what it would be like to stay a whole week. But all good things come to an end...that better things might take place! So we loaded the car and drove away---to the next experience!