In the past week, I have been very nicely surprised by having not one, but three little birthday parties.  The first with my immediate family, with all the trimmings: food, cake, streamers, balloons, cards and presents.  The second with two close couple friends for tea and some good laughs.  Then on my actual birthday, our family of five was together again, so hey, let’s have pizza, pop and a movie.  Yippee!!

But my real surprise for turning 50 happened six weeks ago.  Jill and I had finished our month-long mission work of doing the consultant checking on the book of Matthew, and we had arranged our airline tickets in such a way that we could spend a day and a half in Cairns, Australia.  We had saved some money and had talked previously about doing something special for my 50th while we were Down Under.

On the day we arrived, I immediately took a rest when we got to the hotel, which left time for Jill to stroll along the Esplanade of the Cairns downtown harbor.  I thought she was just sight-seeing.  Little did I know what she had up her sleeve.  So when she came back to the hotel, she gave me her first surprise by telling me she had booked a catamaran cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef.  We had talked about this, but the deal and the adventure she found was even better than I had hoped for.

The ride out to the Reef was an adventure itself.  It took an hour and a half just to get out there.  And when we got to the open ocean, the captain opened up the throttle and raised the bow right off the water.  Meanwhile, I had just changed into my swimming trunks at the stern, and when I tried to go uphill to get back to our seats, there was no way I could make it.  I just leaned uphill and held on to my pole.  But thanks to a willing staff member who basically put me on his back, I did get back to Jill.

Once we arrived, the catamaran docked alongside their permanent floating pontoon platform, and all kinds of aquatic activities began.  Now just as an aside, I am well known for NOT being able to swim, and in fact I am famous for sinking to the bottom of any pool or body of water.  But we both decided we would try a snorkel led tour of the reef to try to see the beauty of the marine life.

It was simply unbelievable how clear the coral looked that day.  And so many varieties and colors, it was breathtaking.  And one staff member told us, the Great Barrier Reef is over 1,000 miles long.

We were able to see many kinds and colors of fish as well, but by the time you got your camera ready, they darted back into the coral again.  So to help the “tourists”, the staff would throw food pellets into the water to bring schools of fish back.

Well, praise God, the instructor lent (at no charge) wet suits so I could glide better, and since numbers were down, we got a private tour for 30 minutes of the Coral Reef.  And to help me, the newbie of snorkeling, he gave me simple instructions: make an “O” with your lips, bite lightly but firmly on your mouthpiece, place your head down at a 45 degree angle, stretch out your arms and hold on to the life ring, and gently move your legs to swim.  I did pretty good.  I followed all the instruction, up till the last one.  I have always been afraid of water, and my legs don’t work very well anyways now, so I hung on for dear life, and the instructor towed me for the full half hour.  My outstretched arms hurt like the dickens later, but boy was it all worth it.

After a brief rest, and half a lunch plate later, they announced that the glass bottom boat was ready to go.  So we quickly boarded that vessel and saw more of the reef.  Very cool to look straight down and see the fish and the reef.  But better than that, they had finally just fixed some problem so that when we got back to the pontoon, the semi-submersible ship was ready and we hopped over and down into it for another ride to the reef.  Super cool!  It felt like we really were in a submarine.

You would think my day was done, but Jill had her greatest surprise left to give me.  There was one last adventure to have to mark my 50th birthday.  By this point, I had been on the water, in the water, and under the water.   The last thing to do was to go over the water.  And so I did.  Jill arranged for me to go up in helicopter ride to circle around the Reef at 500 feet.  Now is that pretty special or what?

I have always wanted to go up in a helicopter.  And in 1999 I almost did, as I was scheduled to go to a remote village to do some language surveying.  But a sudden trip home to see my father for the last time cancelled that flight.  So certainly for the past 11 years I have thought about going up in a helicopter.  Well, how can I tell you how amazing it was to see the Great Barrier Reef from the air.  The shapes, the shades, the colors.  They were all truly amazing as you can see.

I must say, this adventure that we had Down Under will be very hard to beat.  I think I can say that this was truly an adventure of a lifetime.  And considering all the places I have been in the world, that’s saying something.  But most of all, I must say “Thank you!” to my wife Jill, who went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure I had a wonderful 50th birthday.

Thank you Honey!