Stephen and Kerry Neander have weathered hurricane-force storms in their lives, but the tempests haven’t submerged them. Their trials have transformed and challenged them. Living beyond the limits has become their mission in life.
So far, they’ve sailed more than 1,000 nautical miles from Croatia to Montenegro, Albania, Greece and now Turkey. They’re learning the “sheets and lines” as they prepare to fulfill their ultimate ambition: circumnavigating the globe in an ocean-going blue-water boat.
This 50-something couple ditched their lives in Australia, said goodbye to friends and family, and are now realizing their dream aboard a sailboat named “Thankfulness.”
I’m in awe.
Not because I want to sail around the world, but because they’re living beyond the limits (neither knew how to sail initially). They identified a clear vision and mission for their marriage (the second for each) and vowed to bring hope, encouragement, and the love of God to those they meet on their journey.
“It starts with simple things, like being kind….When we started, we said that if we can positively impact just one person and be a catalyst for positive change then it’s worth it,” Kerry said. “A year into this and we’ve reached thousands of people and had hundreds of one-on-one conversations with people to give them encouragement and hope.”
Through social media, these Aussies reached out to me and touched me with their story.
The First Test
In many ways, their adventure on Thankfulness reflects the past storms in their lives.
Though Stephen had taken sailing lessons with the Royal Yachting Association and completed a six-day ocean passage from Papua New Guinea to Australia, Kerry was a newbie at sailing when they left Sydney, flew to Croatia, and bought a boat.
During a relatively short sail from the Island of Šolta to their marina in Vrboska, the novice sailors encountered winds that jumped from 18 knots to 35 knots in under three minutes. Without warning, a rogue wave hit their boat side-on and the boat staggered, now at the mercy of the storm.
They averted the disaster and eventually sailed to safety, but the experience rattled them. What were they thinking when they packed up their previous life? Did they have what it took to live on a boat and sail around the world? Would they give up and allow fear to hobble their aim of living beyond the limits?
Kerry and Stephen decided to continue sailing.
They wanted to live a life that pushed them beyond normal limits, especially after enduring heartbreaking divorces, financial insecurity, lost careers…and hope, a state of mind they held in abundance before.
Stephen, a former entrepreneur, worked long hours to support his family while his wife of 27 years homeschooled their five children. As a result, the children had a stronger relationship with their mother, he said. When she decided to leave him, she took the affection and loyalty of his kids as well.
“They were in the unfortunate position of having to choose between us. My children are still distant, and I struggle with the unreturned phone calls and general lack of response to messages. It is improving very slowly, but after five years, it’s challenging to rise above the hurt.”
Kerry, also the “mum” of five grown children, faced a similar storm. Her ex-husband announced on their 30thanniversary that he wanted to end their marriage. Simultaneously, her 30-year career in education ended, as did her association with her church community.
“It wasn’t the divorce that had the greatest impact,” Kerry said. “It was the combined loss of everything dear to me—loss of my career, loss of my work and church community, loss of my 30-year marriage.”
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she didn’t leave her home. She withdrew from everyone, including her grown kids, so afraid of letting others see what she’d become. Despite three years of medical interventions, her psychologists and psychiatrists labeled her “permanently and totally disabled and treatment resistant.”
This former optimist, now afflicted with an anxiety-induced stutter, had no will to live.
Another Plan for Their Lives
But God had a different plan for their lives. He brought them together on an online dating website. In each other, they rediscovered their optimism and desire to experience new possibilities and experiences, distinguished by less striving and more believing. They married in 2018.
Before starting their new life together, though, they identified a clear vision and mission for their marriage. They endeavored to:
- Seek first the Kingdom of God (purpose).
- Go into all the world (focus).
- Do good as Jesus did (action).
This three-fold vision informs all decisions. If a choice lines up, they move forward. If it doesn’t, they change direction.
Living beyond the limits means different things to different people. For the Neanders, circumnavigating the world remains the brass ring in their restored lives together. But they’re in no hurry. They may sail across the Atlantic at the end of this year or next, but their plans aren’t set.
“It all depends on the weather, Covid, and now war restrictions, our sailing ability, the boat condition and if things need fixing. Step-by-step. We are in no hurry,” Kerry said. “It may take years to complete the circumnavigation and that’s okay.”
What isn’t okay is failing to inspire, encourage and to bring hope as well as sharing the love of God with those they meet. A passage from a book they are currently writing speaks to their philosophy best:
“Cast off the bowline. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Here’s the challenge: Don’t simply ride out the storm. Use the storms to transform your life. We did, and invite you to join us, living beyond the limits.”
Are you living beyond the limits? I’ve asked that question myself.