Peace, Be Still

Trinidad, one of California’s smallest incorporated cities, rests on the spectacular rocky Pacific coast about a half-hour north of Eureka.  With it’s own harbor, it is an ideal spot to take off for a day of fishing out on the ocean.

On this particular day, it was a beautiful morning and the water was calm and smooth when my dad and his brother took off in a 10-foot boat with a small outboard motor; Dad steering from the back and my Uncle Sarge riding in the bow.  Except for the fact that they weren’t catching any fish they were having a great time bobbing around out there in the ocean; undoubtedly telling each other some pretty tall tales as they waited for a bite.  But on California’s north coast the weather can be fickle and all of a sudden the mirrored surface of the water became choppy and the waves began to swell.  It didn’t take long for them to realize they’d better head back into the harbor before things got any worse; but the waves started washing over the sides of the boat and the motor got wet.  Dad tried over and over to get it started but it sputtered and died…sputtered and died…sputtered and died.  Finally he gave up and the brothers traded places, but Sarge couldn’t do any better and soon their little boat was half full of water.  They needed to bail and they needed to paddle but only had a small coffee can and one paddle to work with—it seems the boat was a rental and since the ocean was so calm when they left it never occurred to them that they needed to be more prepared.

As my uncle tells it, “I don’t know if my brother was praying, but I sure was.  We were way out beyond the bar and didn’t have any way to signal for help, and only the harbor master and our wives, who were at home miles away, even knew we’d gone out fishing.  I told my brother we’d better take turns trying to paddle so we could try to get back to shore before we drowned, but with only one oar we just started going around in circles.  I was bailing water out furiously and trying to keep the boat from sinking, but it seemed to be a losing battle.  Then I had the idea that we needed to try to get the bow of the boat headed straight for shore so that when a wave hit we could ride the crest of the wave as far as it would take us; and then once it played out, we’d paddle the boat around to catch another wave.  This took what seemed like forever, and each minute I was getting more concerned that we weren’t going to make it back to shore alive.  As the Pacific got rougher and rougher it also started to get dark—and cold!  Oh it was cold, because even though it was mid-summer the water was only about 45 degrees.  I was praying frantically ‘Lord, please don’t let us die out here—I have two baby girls at home and a wonderful wife, and I don’t want to leave them.’  Somehow we finally started making a little progress—with every wave we’d progress about 20 feet, only to be pulled back out about half that distance.  But we kept on and with each wave we’d get a little closer to shore.  Finally, much to our relief, we limped in past the bar, totally soaked from head to foot—we couldn’t have been wetter than if we’d have had to swim for it.  How that old rowboat stayed afloat out there in that squall I have no idea, except that it was a miracle.  When we tied the boat up and checked in with the harbor master, he said, ‘Boys, I sure was getting worried about you making it back in,’ and then he told us that they had completely closed the harbor to boat traffic..  He was sure glad to get his boat back in one piece, but we were just glad to be alive and on dry ground, and not anywhere near as concerned about his boat with its single oar and rusty old coffee can.  All we could think about was that we were heading back home to our families alive.  Richard and I didn’t mention going fishing again for a while after almost drowning in that cold North Pacific Ocean—we were more than happy to stay on the shore.”

Dad and Uncle Sarge certainly had a taste that day of what Jesus’ disciples must have felt like when they went out to sea with Jesus.  On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.”  Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was.  And other little boats were also with Him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.  But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.  And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!”  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”  And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:35-41)

It is a valid question that we should still ponder today, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”  To try to define him by saying he is our Lord, our Savior, the Creator, the Son of God, Immanuel, the Word, the Lion of Judah; and then to go on and mention all of the other names by which he is known does not even come close.  And to speak of his love, his compassion, his humility, his wisdom, his humanity, and his obedience even unto death on the cross only scratches the surface of who he is.  To think that this Jesus, whose majesty and power and authority is beyond description, wants nothing more than he wants a relationship with us is astounding but true—that’s why he came; that’s why he died.  This Jesus is the One who can and will enter into the storms of our lives and say, “Peace, be still,” and once that happens we will never be the same again.

In the Land of Giants

I grew up in a wonderful land that was inhabited by giants, many of whom were hundreds of years old; a land of six rivers that flowed into the ocean along a wild and rugged coastline; a land of giant ferns and colorful azaleas and wild blackberries. How I loved it there and how I hated to leave when, the day after I finished my junior year of high school, we had to move away from the cool, lush giant redwood forests of Northern California to the hot, dry deserts of Southern California.  Even now, more than forty years later, that land still calls to me and I can think of few things I’d rather do than wander through the redwoods in the quiet stillness of a misty fog and soak up the beauty and majesty of God’s creation.

One of the trees along the famous Avenue of the Giants is the ancient Immortal Tree.  Over 950 years old and big enough to build several homes, it has survived lightning strikes, fire, a logger’s axe and a horrible flood—and all of this in just the last 100 years.  On this occasion, rather that just stopping in front, snapping a few pictures, and buying out the gift store I wandered down a path that led around to the back of the tree and stood in awe as I gazed at a living illustration of one of my favorite scriptures, Psalm 1:1-3.  Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.

Lord, may I be like that Immortal Tree.  May I be forever planted beside your river of living water; standing in faith against the trials of life, bringing forth the fruit of your Spirit in my life and enjoying the bounty of blessings that you have laid up for me.