Fifteen Minutes to Live — From Paradise Here to Paradise There

Condo complex in Kap’a

Kauai, Hawaii.

Say it out-loud. The name sounds like the lyrics of a song – poetic, beautiful.

It seemed like a dream to be boarding a flight for Hawaii.

For months, Dan and I had planned, saved, and anticipated the day when we would wing our way across the Pacific Ocean to celebrate one another and 48 years of married life. We left early January 9th from a snowy Spokane, shivering our way from the motel to the airport, pulling our luggage. We had over a foot of snow and freezing temperatures.

Sunrise over the Pacific Ocean

Kauai was everything we hoped it would be.

We enjoyed the warm sunshine every day, beaches galore, snorkeling, hiking rain forest trails, a helicopter tour that was the highlight of our trip, and food to die for – fresh fish, fresh fruit and vegies, and rice. Lots of rice.

6am Saturday, Jan. 13th     

We were getting used to the rooster (wild chickens populate the island) that camped in a tree outside our room and awoke us every morning. We had a lovely breakfast on the lanae (balcony) – fresh pineapple, fried eggs, bacon, yummy muffins, and orange juice with passion fruit in it. As we chatted about what we wanted to do that day, we admired the view. It included the swimming pool, plumeria trees, luscious green lawns, bougainvillea bushes in bloom, orchids, and the ocean out there with the sun just topping the horizon.

I went down, as I did most mornings, to take pictures of the sunrise.

In Hawaii, sunrises and sunsets are EVENTS not to be missed, and since we were on the east coast, we enjoyed the sun painting the sky orange, gold, and red each morning, and the sea mirroring the colors with twinkling, lambent light. Many people came down to the beach for no other reason than to stand or sit there, watching the show God blessed us with.

A slight breeze lifted my hair while I stood on the beach, taking pictures and reveling in the goodness and faithfulness of God. I thanked Him for this chance to get away with the love of my life to this garden paradise. The sky was blue, the palm tree branches rustled above my head,

and my world was perfect. Paradise.

Every morning we packed up everything we needed for the day – snorkeling equipment, swimming suits and towels, cameras and phones, maps, water, snacks, sunglasses, sun tan lotion, and most important of all, our Guidebook to Kauai. We filled our bags and donned our sandals. We were ready to go. Dan was in the bathroom brushing his teeth when I heard something pinging. It was my phone.

This is what I saw:

My first thought: this cannot be happening. A sense of unreality swamped my brain. I showed it to Dan. He checked his own phone. Yes, he had it, too. We stared at it as if wishing it away. I glanced out the window. The usual languid scene below me where people strolled along carefully manicured paths was empty. No workers on their little carts. No Moms and Dads towing sleepy children. No older folks stretching as they greeted the day. No love-struck couples moving slowly to the beach with arms wrapped around each other.

It was suddenly and completely deserted.

An eerie silence settled over the condo complex like everything and everyone held its breath. Was it true? Was a missile actually going to blow us to kingdom-come?

“We better check this out,” Dan said. “Let’s go down to the lobby.” Surely, someone down there would know what’s going on and what to do about it.

We hurried down the stairs and across the grass to the lobby. It was filled with anxious people who wanted the same kind of information we did. The receptionist behind the desk looked harried and distressed when I asked if there was any kind of shelter.

Our condo, third floor

“No,” she said, glancing at me. “We only have tsunami shelters and they’re up on the mountain.” She gestured to the mountain that stood several miles away. “Just get in where there are no windows and get down low.”

“Thank you,” I said, looking around at the wall to wall windows and open doors. There aren’t many places in Hawaii totally away from windows or the outdoors.

Everyone in the lobby was trying to phone out.

One TSA man in uniform was trying to call, but he said all the lines were busy. The receptionist at the desk said the same thing.

We could hear panic in the voices of people around us. I noticed one young couple hanging onto each other with bent heads. I figured they were praying. Another young lady clung to her husband, shaking and weeping uncontrollably. No one knew what to do, and most responded with pure terror.

We called our kids and spoke to them briefly. It was hard to think that this would be the last  we would ever talk to them.

Yet the peace of God enveloped us – mind, soul, and body.

There isn’t much you can do when you are on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, and a missile is coming your way. It’s not like a fire, flood, hurricane, or winter storm. You just have to hunker down and wait until it’s over.

We returned to our room on the third floor (feeling a little exposed as there was a large window, and the bathroom didn’t seem safe, either). Dan turned on the TV to see if there was any news or updates on the announcement. We felt that any moment we would be blasted off the face of the earth. In reality, we discovered later that we had anywhere between twelve to twenty minutes if a missile was launched to Hawaii from Korea, and the missile base on Kauai did not take it out.

A TV evangelist was on the first station Dan got. I remember seeing with surprise (how appropriate!) his topic: Revelation! He said, “Jesus Christ could return at any moment, and the whole world will be destroyed!” Something like that. Death and destruction. The end of the world.

I stared at the man. “Well, I hope He comes right now!”

Twenty-eight minutes. That’s how long it took them to send out the message we all wanted to hear. An official-looking man appeared on the TV screen. He said in no uncertain terms: it was a mistake. Someone hit the wrong button during a test. There is NO MISSILE INBOUND FOR HAWAII. Have a good life.

Maybe he didn’t say the last part.

Dan said, “If we had died, we would have gone from paradise here to Paradise there!”

25-foot waves on the North Coast, Ke’e Beach which was all under-water.

“I’d rather be in Paradise there,” I said, dropping to the bed, my knees weak.

I looked out the window. People moved about again as if nothing had happened. They laughed. Set out to enjoy their day. Called someone. Took pictures. Ate.

It was another day in paradise, Kauai style.

We picked up our bags and headed out to enjoy the sunshine, the beaches, the green-green mountains, the 25-foot waves on the north shore, and lots of good food, including our favorite treat: shave ice. (Is there going to be shave ice in heaven? I certainly hope so!)

Enjoying our daily dose of shave ice! Hope they have this in heaven!

I was a little disappointed.

I know I have a home in heaven and that someday I will go there. I thought for a few moments in Kauai that day that I had entered the fast track to my home above. But God said, “No, I’m afraid not, dear heart. Hang on. You will get here one day.”

What did we learn from our experience of thinking that life as we knew it was going to end in fifteen minutes? Well, here are a few thoughts. Think about them and pass them on. They are free.

  • Focus on the right things even when you’re in Kauai, one of the closest places to paradise on earth.

  • Col. 3:2 says, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth.” God wants us to enjoy our lives here, but we should not make the things of this earth our whole world. The Apostle Paul said in Phil. 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” As we are forced from time to time to think about the frailty of our bodies and the limited scope of living we have on this earth, we should commit ourselves 100% to serving Christ and putting Him first in our lives.
  • If you live right, you will die right.

  • Why could we be so peaceful despite the fact that we knew our lives might be snuffed out in a very short time? Because we were right with God, we did not fear death, and our hearts were guarded (garrisoned) by the peace of God (Phil. 4:7). There are things you have to do to have that kind of peace BEFORE death comes knocking on your door or blasting a hole in your life through a missile. You must receive God’s free gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. You must commit your life to Him. You must program the Word of God into your thinking and take it as the literal truth. You must have faith that He means what He says.
  • God will give us the strength, wisdom, peace, and power to go through anything He sets in our paths.

  • Even the tough stuff can be used by God to help us grow, to reach others through our testimony, and to bring glory to His name. When it’s all said and done and I stand before His throne in glory, I want to hear two words from my Savior’s lips. Well done. That will be all the reward I need.

Sunset near the airport

Until then, I will journey on in this life and wait for that call from my Savior to come home.

No sickness, accidents, missile attacks, or disasters of this life can take my life before it is time for me to go. I can rest in that fact and build my life on it. Nothing can separate me from the love of God – wars, earthquakes, disasters, or evil powers. I am His, and I am bound for glory!

From paradise here to Paradise there,

every step in between is filled with His joy, peace, love, and purpose. It doesn’t get any better than that, folks, whether you are in Kauai, Hawaii, or in Chewelah, Washington.

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NaPali Coast from the air

The pier at Hanalea on the north coast

God bless. Aloha!

Here are some pictures of the Garden Island! Enjoy!

Virginia Ann Work