Like a wounded white whale washed up on the beach, the Costa Concordia lies on her side. The pictures shock and frighten us. What’s worse- an incompetent captain running aground, or the realization that cruise ships really can sink? As a dedicated cruiser I never thought twice about putting my life in the captain’s hands. I took it for granted he knew what he was doing.
We’ve always departed from US ports, where the first order of business is the safety drill. The horn blasts, we cast off, and before the coast is out of sight we dutifully file into our assigned common areas. We grumble and groan as the crew straps us into our life jackets, until the crowd resembles a sea of heads afloat on an orange tide. “Remember your muster station,” the head strapper warns. “Come here in case of emergency.” I’ve sometimes wondered what it would really look like: passengers running in every direction, trying to remember where to go. In my wildest dreams I never envisioned the ship turning over, the lights going out, and the crew swimming ashore without me.
But now we’ve seen the pictures. The passengers must have been terrified: crawling uphill, blind in the dark, fighting the pull of gravity as the water rose around them. Photos show tiny figures rappelling across the belly of the beast, desperate to reach the lifeboats in the sea far below. Even in the movies it’s horrifying. I can’t imagine how they had the courage to try. But I have experienced the adrenaline-fueled panic of my own surreal disaster.
Last week we observed the anniversary of our daughter’s death, the result of a snowmobile accident. Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw in the Emergency Room. Blessedly, her spirit had gone on to Heaven before we saw her body. In my wildest nightmares I never imagined the worst could actually happen, but it did: our ship went down in a matter of minutes. In its place spun a vortex: a cold, silent tide, sucking the warmth from my hands and the blood from my heart. I breathed in the dirt from the ER carpet, lying on my side like the Costa Concordia.
“Expect the unexpected.” Insurance companies thrive on helping us prepare for emergencies. For peace of mind we gather under the umbrella of impending doom with like-minded others, sharing the cost to cover the poor slob with the rotten luck to die early. We are ready- just in case. As we set sail into the future we ignore the rocks under the surface as best we can.
“In this life, you will have trouble,”1 Jesus said to his disciples. Like the life jacket drill as we pull out of port, we are warned. On this night, the last night before his murder, he told his dearest friends what he really wanted them to remember. Likewise, he gives us a heads-up: once in a while we’re going to hit the rocks. This is not good news, but it’s no surprise to anyone who’s been around a while. What can be surprising is what he says next:
“But take heart! I have overcome the world.”2
What does that mean?
I will leave the literal interpretation to learned theologians, but I can tell you what it looked like to be a friend of Jesus the day our ship went down. On that day, and for weeks to come, we were surrounded (and fed, nurtured, and cared for) by our church family. We hurled our furious questions at God every day in the same place we always met him- in the Bible. God’s Word assured us we will see Catherine again; the same girl she was, only made perfect. We survived and eventually thrived because we knew what to do in an emergency. It wasn’t a matter of expecting the unexpected; it was a matter of accepting the invitation long before we hit the rocks.
Finding our way when the ship turned over was as simple as going to our muster station. Jesus drew the map on our hearts. The captain knows what He’s doing.
©2012 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com
1. John 16:33b NIV