Gary and I and JJ’s honorary aunt, Judy Starr, were priviledged to join our son, JJ, on his ship, The USS Enterprise, for a 3 day cruise from Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia.  What an experience!  The Enterprise (CVN 65) is the largest aircraft carrier in the world.  The flight deck is 4.5 acres.  It is 20 stories from the top of the conning tower to the bowels of the ship.  There are more than 5,000 sailors on the ship for a regular deployment.  img_0253.jpg  The ship is a floating city.  Indeed, OUR city, Cokato, has less than 3,000 residents. 

 After three days of living on the ship I decided that ship life is an amazing analogy of the body of Christ.   Sure, an orchestra needs all the different instruments playing, and the body needs all the parts working, but sometimes a NEW analogy makes things SO clear!  All the different people in all the different departments on the ship need to be working well in order for the whole ship to function.  JJ, our son, is in IT.  He fixes computers.  Computers are vital nowadays – nothing runs without them.  However, JJ cannot do HIS job if the electricians don’t do THEIR job and provide electricity. The electricians cannot do their job if the service crews don’t bring the equipment on board.  The maintenance workers have to keep “on board” in good condition.  The cooks have to prepare and feed these thousands of sailors with LIMITED storage space, and limited groceries.  (All the sailors were delighted to be getting salad, ice cream, and vegetables after weeks of chicken nugguts, canned stew, and pancakes.)  Everyone on the ship is important.  There are different ranks on the ship, yet they are all working together to achieve something great.  I honestly don’t know how they do it. 

Living conditions are a challenge.  My bed (berth) was in one of the women’s berthing sections. img_1197.jpg  There are three beds in a stack, called “racks.”  I was on the bottom.  I had to roll into it from the floor!   I could not sit up and could hardly turn over to change positions.  The bed in the photo is open – “the coffin” is the storage space under the bed, one of two spaces to put stuff.  The other was a small locker.  I packed for 3 days and could hardly fit all I thought necessary into these two spaces.  How DO these gals fit in 6 months worth of clothing and stuff??  The bathroom in my unit had 4 toilets, 4 showers, and 3 sinks.  There were maybe 100 women in this unit. 

The food was also a challenge.  The lines were LONG.  The cooks do a good job but the food is calories/fuel, not something to be enjoyed.  The tables are like those in elementary school, with skinny benches.  OUCH!  You have to eat and get out so others can eat.  No long lunches here!img_1154.jpg  This is a photo of me and Judy eating in the First Class Mess.  

Judy’s presence on the Tiger Cruise was special.  Judy and her husband, Stottler, serve with Campus Crusade for Christ.  Stottler has been with them for 35 years, Judy for 20.  Judy is Gary’s sister Cindy’s husband’s sister.  (Whew!)  She is writing a series of children’s books and was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview a number of people on the ship for background to one of the books.  JJ introduced her to SEALS, Search and Rescue guys, officers, and others who were always so willing to talk about what a young girl rescued in a foreign country would experience aboard the Enterprise.  When the book is out, I’ll let you know!

THE PEOPLE ARE EVERYWHERE.  There is little or no privacy on board ship.  No cushy chairs or comfy couches.  No quiet cubicles in which to read.  Being from a small town I had to look each person I passed in the eye and give a greeting.  TIRING!!! However, each sailor I greeted always responded cheerfully.  Even when I asked directions, which I did every time I tried to find someplace.  (I asked JJ if he knew how many ladder stairs were on the ship – he didn’t know – I would guess thousands…) The sailors invariably would stop and show me how to get somewhere – maybe they liked doing something different but it certainly was impressive to have such helpful people everywhere! 

img_1149.jpg  It was a delight to meet JJ’s fan club.  So many stopped him to be introduced to us.  We heard over and over again how helpful, cheerful, and intelligent he was.  Makes a parent blush!  We are SO proud of him.  He recently was promoted to First Class Petty Officer, an unusual feat for someone in the Navy less than 5 years.  Officers and enlisted alike love that boy!  Even the ADMIRAL stopped to chat with him and be introduced to us.  Whooeeee! 

All the sailors were so excited to be going home.  Many of them (like JJ) had been home only 6 months after the last deployment before they went out again for another 6 months.  Though they were tired, they were still working hard these last few days.  The feeling in the hanger deck was electric as we watched the shore slip past on the way to the pier where we would be docking in Norfolk.  img_1214.jpgThe Navy works really hard to welcome ships home – the new dads get off first in order to see their children that were born during this deployment.  They get a tent of their own for a homecoming – the rest of the sailors have to find their loved ones in the mass of thousands that are pier side to greet the returning heroes.  Bands, balloons, signs, food, helicopters – WHAT an amazing time homecoming is!  We’ve seen it from both sides now – we’ve been pierside at two homecomings and now we’ve been shipside.  I think the sailors win for being the MOST excited – even tho’ their families and loved ones act mighty excited too!

JJ was able to see his 4 year old son, Blaizen, already – Blaizen’s step-aunt brought him to the homecoming.   JJ’s pastor, Angus, is also in the photo – he and a few church members also came to the homecoming.img_1218.jpg  There just isn’t anything to compare to the joy of a homecoming. 

Which, of course, brings me to another analogy – HEAVEN!  If a homecoming of 6 months’ absence can be THIS thrilling, what WILL our homecoming in heaven be like?  WOW!!!  Just like we had to be the sponsor of a sailor to be on the Tiger Cruise, we need to have Jesus as our sponsor as we journey to heaven.  Simplistic ? yes!  Easy? no!   We had to do quite a few things in order to be on the ship – clearance, both security and medical, money (our tax dollars do NOT cover Tiger Cruises!), and time.  I had to be at the right place at the right time to board the ship.  I had to obey the rules OF the ship.  I had to be ready to disembark.  Again, ALL of life tells us so much about truth! 

We’re spending Christmas with JJ in Norfolk.  He doesn’t have leave so we’re hanging out here.  We are the grateful recipients of the gracious hospitality of JJ’s pastor and church members who were SO supportive and loving to JJ during his time in Norfolk before this last deployment.  We are constantly being challenged by the life lessons God puts before us: the importance of loving the stranger and orphan becomes real when you give your child to the military or the ministry and trust that God will bring people into his life to encourage and pray for him.