When the storms of life are raging, stand by me… 1
It might have been the perfect storm.
The June day started out sunny with the bluest of skies and the friendliest of fluffy clouds. Norway’s Hardanger Fjord was calm and inviting, and our rented vacation house came equipped with a motorboat. Of course, we would venture out into uncharted waters! My husband, Trent, was the skipper, and our teenage son and I the excited passengers. Trent thought to stow the extra can of gasoline in the boat; we donned our life jackets, and out we went.
I had done some washing that morning, and a row of white sport socks on a line under the house’s deck looked like so many cod, Norway’s national fish, hung up to dry.
As we pulled away from the dock, I gazed at those socks. Remember this sight, I told myself.
Out loud to my crew, I said, “Look back at the landmarks! Remember how everything looks—the curve of the shore and the hills and houses! We’ll need them to guide ourselves back!”
The curve of the shore, the hills and houses receded steadily as our skipper maneuvered our little craft farther and farther out into the fjord. Nobody else was out on this lovely day. We were alone in a great, watery expanse.
That should have been our first clue.
But we were clueless.
For a while, it was pure enjoyment. Then, pure enjoyment turned to a niggle of concern at the sight of a darker cloud on the distant horizon. Never mind, it was still distant.
Then the distance began rapidly to diminish, and out of the dark cloud, streaks of lightning forked. Then we heard thunder.
The boat’s motor died. We had run out of gas.
Never mind, we had the gasoline cannister.
If you’ve never been nervous in a need for haste, you may not have much sympathy with the skipper. He fiddled and fidgeted, trying to get the cap off and the gasoline into the motor. The storm was coming closer, the waters grew ruffled and choppy. At last, the motor coughed and chugged. We were off again!
Those trusty landmarks way back there on the distant shoreline—how alike they all looked! That curve of shore, those hills—which direction had we actually taken out of the bay?
We differed in our opinions.
As we got closer to land, Trent opted for turning right. I, without total conviction, maintained we needed to go left. I have never been noted for my ability to discern directions. I will never know why he listened to me.
He headed the boat left, rounded a jut of land—and there were the hills and houses!
There were the socks!
As he deftly (and hurriedly) traversed the distance and pulled the boat alongside our dock, we jumped out—and the storm broke, lashing its fury in a fit of thunder and rain. We got an instant soaking, but we were back and safe.
We had done what we could to be prepared—except, maybe, to check the weather forecast. Who knew the weather on a fjord could be so changeable? On that bright and balmy day and not speaking Norwegian, it surely did not occur to us to check the weather.
Often, when a storm in life hits us unawares, there is that little “except.” We did everything we could, except—
Except—check the weather. Except—heed the warnings. Except—read the instruction book. Except—seek out wise counsel.
In the actual, historical account of the “perfect storm” that converged on the Andrea Gail fishing boat in October of 1991, records from the Coast Guard and another fishing vessel indicate that the boat’s captain was sufficiently warned about the impending storm. But the fishing was not going well, and the ice machine aboard the boat for preserving the catch was malfunctioning. So—they decided to head for home despite the warnings.
They never made it. The entire crew of six as well as the boat were lost and never recovered. Three different storms clashed together, causing turbulent winds and mighty waves that lasted three days. The fishing boat was equipped with an emergency system that should have actuated on contact with sea water to send out a distress signal indicating their position. However, when the piece of equipment later washed up on shore, it could not be verified that it was even turned on.
How do we prepare for life’s perfect storms?
When those “niggles of concern” show up on the distant horizon—and they will come in just about every marriage or family or relationship: harboring a grudge, drifting apart, lack of openness, too busy to maintain closeness—we ignore them to our peril. They should be warnings to check for flaws in the system. Is there a malfunction somewhere? Where is an instruction book for this situation? 2 Whom might we seek out for wise counsel? 3
Send out a distress signal. Let someone know where you are, even if it’s embarrassing or painful. It is better to make a course correction than to founder.
Don’t be clueless. Check the weather.
1 From a 1905 gospel song by the Rev. Charles Albert Tindley. Check out the lyrics.
2 One of the best instruction books I know of is the Book of Proverbs, found in the Bible.
3 Find a life-seasoned sailor!