By Yvette Walker
South Padre Island, TX — My husband, Tim, and I had the opportunity to take a week and go south down to the Texas coast. The fall semester at my university is fast upon us, I had just finished teaching in the summer, and he is transitioning to a new job, so we both had time to go. I’ve lived and worked in Texas for many years, but I’d never been to Padre. Not even on Spring Break — every teenager’s paradise — but that’s not my back story. The 11-and-a-half hour job didn’t even dissuade me, so we headed out early Saturday morning, at 5 a.m.
Road-tripping always reminds me of a simpler time. For Tim, it’s family summer vacations. For me, it’s my early years as a young journalist at my first new jobs: Just me and my car, knowing nobody in a new city and seeking out familiarities. I would visit churches, sometimes Catholic, sometimes Episcopalian, and find solace in the wooden pews and the sounds of the marble floors. Here, we found Chapel By the Sea, a multidenominational church that was welcoming to visitors and beautiful, in a tropical kind of way. Small but powerful, the two-person church band played keyboards and guitar, and played both hymns and Contemporary Christian standards with ease.
This was a community church, and what I most remember was the time of prayer and praise reports. The minister asked the congregation to speak them aloud, and they did. One woman’s sister needed prayer for healing; another’s daughter is going off on an internship; still another asked for prayer for a resident they had lost this week. In the end, about 10 people spoke out, and while we didn’t, I was amazed at the trust and love of this community. People think of South Padre Island as a teen vacation spot, but it’s a home, too. Neaarly 3,000 people live here — most middle-aged and older, and split about even male and female. It’s clear they care about each other.
Pinfish and Rays and Dolphins, oh my!
On Monday, we had scheduled a dolphin-watching tour, and I was excited about this. I was mainly excited because I love being on boats, and this was the most economic way to “charter” a boat on the Gulf of Mexico. The Original Dolphin Watch tour boat was a double-decker, and I thought we’d have to sit downstairs because everyone else would want the top seats. Because I’d left the Dramamine at home, I also wondered which, top or bottom, would be less welcoming to seasickness. As it happened, the bottom deck filled up and we were left to sit up top. It was glorious, and no rocky than the bottom.
The crew came around with small sea creatures they had netted (but promised to return) as we headed out to deeper waters. They showed us a little pinfish, apparently the chicken of the sea because other fish and waterfowl all wildfire snacks on these littl’uns. Next was a starfish with a damaged leg, and finally, two kinds of rays. I nearly missed the rays because at the same time the crew member brought around the first ray … DOLPHINS ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE BOAT! Nope, they did not say port or starboard. Perhaps that was because there were so many kinds of people on board: White, black, Latinos, Eastern men and women, too, the women in colorful dresses and scarves covering their arms and legs. We all turned toward the left to see dolphins popping out of the water. And there was a baby! This was when the cooing started.
Yes, there were children on the boats, but I tell you, seeing a baby dolphin with its family can turn the hardest adult into a kid again, laughing and shouting with elation, making the most gleeful sounds. I stared at the supernatural mammals, trying to capture video but not doing my best. I marveled at the glistening gray skin and the perfectly carved dolphin shapes. “This is God’s work,” I said to myself. Man did not make these amazing things. Did Noah take them on the Ark? Of course, not, I chastised myself. These amazing animals, partly of the sea, but warm-blooded, breathing air, would have survived in the floodwaters. God would have provided tons of fish, shrimp, and jellyfish for them to eat. But it’s important that dolphins, like all animals of the air, land, and sea, were made for man. In Exodus and Numbers, the skins dolphins and porpoises are used in the covering of the tabernacle in many translations.
The Father’s tropical handiwork is so awesome, and the dolphin-watching tour reminded me of this. In a week, we’ll be headed back to Oklahoma and work, but I feel so blessed to have had this short time to experience God on vacation.