Ever since I was a kid I wanted to sail across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. Every other year, there’s a race from Los Angeles to Hawaii – it’s called the Transpac Race. For safety reasons, the rules require that competing boats be forty-five feet or longer with a full crew. But on this particular year, they changed the rules to allow smaller boats to go, so a couple buddies and I signed up to enter the race in a thirty-five-foot sailboat.
Now, thirty-five feet doesn’t sound that small at first, until you figure out that it’s about twice the length of a Toyota Camry and a little narrower. After you subtract the pointy end, it’s about the size of a 1960s VW bus filled with twenty-five huge bags of sails, a life raft, six cases of Stagg chili, six hundred bottles of water, five guys, and a porta-potty. Come to think of it, that’s what a lot of 1960s VW buses still look like inside.
The plan was simple. We’d sail twenty-six-hundred miles across the ocean in our VW bus at seven miles an hour while God threw three garbage cans full of ice-cold water in the windows every couple of minutes; and while all this happened, we’d just eat chili and tell manly stories about ourselves. It took a while to get there, but we made it a couple weeks later.
There’s a tradition in the Transpac Race no matter when you finish the race, even if it’s two in the morning. When you pull into the Ala Moana Marina in Oahu, there’s a guy who announces the name of the boat and every crew member who made the trip. There’s a huge loudspeaker and his booming voice bursts through the trade winds and welcomes each person home. It’s the same guy, and he’s been announcing each boat’s arrival at the end of every Transpac Race for decades.
I’ll spare you most of the details of the trip. Just know it involved a lot of water, some stinky dudes, overblown stories of manhood, and lots of canned meats and chili. Just when we came to the end of our supplies, we sailed across the finish line just off Diamond Head and into the marina. It was a few hours before dawn. It had been sixteen days since we set out from Los Angeles in our little boat knowing very little about navigation. Suddenly, the silence was broken by a booming voice over a loudspeaker announcing the name of our tiny boat. Somehow the way he said it, we sounded like we were the size of an aircraft carrier. Then he started announcing the names of our ragtag crew like he was introducing heads of state. One by one he announced all of our names with obvious pride in his voice, and it became a really emotional moment for each of us onboard.
When he came to my name, he didn’t talk about how few navigation skills I had or the zigzag course I’d led us in to get there. He didn’t tell everyone I didn’t even know which way north was or about all my other mess-ups. Instead, he just welcomed me in from the adventure like a proud father would. When he was done, there was a pause and then in a sincere voice his last words to the entire crew were these: “Friends, it’s been a long trip. Welcome home.” Because of the way he said it, we all welled up and fought back tears. I wiped my eyes as I reflected in that moment about all the uncertainty that had come with the journey, all the sloppy sailing and how little I knew. But none of that mattered now because we had completed the race.
I’ve always kind of thought that heaven might be kind of a similar experience. I read somewhere in the Bible that there is a book of life. I don’t think that this book of life is full of equations, and I don’t think that it’s just a list of names either. I think that this book of life is more like a book of lives, a book of stories. I bet it’s about people traveling in the direction of Jesus, trying to follow Him. People like me who made lots of mistakes and midcourse corrections. It’s about people who stayed within the large circle of His love and grace, staying the course on a long line pointing toward Him. And their names weren’t in the book because of what they did or didn’t do. They were in there because of who God is and what He has done to draw a circle around them.
After we each cross the finish line in our lives, I imagine it like floating into the Hawaiian marina when our names were announced, one by one. And at the end, perhaps simple words spoken by a loving and proud God will be, “Friends, it’s been a long trip. Welcome home.”