Jesus, Savior, pilot me,
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
(Edward Hopper, 1871)
One of the things my mother inherited from her parents was a metal, three-dimensional plaque of Jesus walking on storm-tossed waves. It is about the size of an 8×10 picture, and painted in shades of blue with mauve highlights on the waves and on Jesus’ robe. In my memory, I see the water-walking Jesus with one foot poised on top of a wave, the other hidden in the trough of a wave, with his hair and robe billowing backward by the strong winds, his eyes half-closed against the storm. For much of my childhood, it hung at the end of a hallway from which each of the bedroom doorways and the bathroom doorway entered.
I’d been taught that Jesus had walked on the storm-tossed waves because he didn’t want his disciples to be alone and afraid in the storm. He’d wanted to be near them and to show them his power by rebuking the wind and the waves and calming the storm. I wanted him to do that for my family.
However normal our family may have appeared to outsiders, especially on Sunday mornings as our family filled a pew, it was far from normal.
Even on the rare occasions when my siblings and I found ourselves in the eye of a storm, we’d cautiously watch and wait, listening for the winds to stir as we’d learned that there would be no end to the storms. We’d learned that it was just a matter of time before the next one would ramp up and blow through.
Some of the bigger storms I remember began with my parents arguing and my father loudly threatening that he was going to “burn the whole damn thing down.” Ironically, my father’s childhood home had burned down when he was a young child. That childhood memory must have seared into his mind as one of worst things he could think of to threaten his family with — burning down our home. Or killing himself. More than once, we’d watched him drive off with a loaded shotgun angrily tossed into the trunk of his car, as we listened to his threatening words reverberating back to us as he drove away. We never knew if he was coming back or not. He always came back.
My mother’s storms were quieter than my father’s, and yet the silence of her storms was deafening as she would drift away from us and sink into severe depression that would last for days and sometimes weeks, or end in a mental hospital. She’d shut herself in her bedroom and retreat into sleep and starvation. I remember carefully turning the doorknob and tip-toeing over to her bed to see if she was still alive. She was always still alive.
My father used to remind us how lucky we all were that he wasn’t a drunk who beat his children like so many other fathers did. He reminded us that we were blessed that we had plenty of food to eat, shoes on our feet, and a warm, dry house to live in. He reminded us that we should be thankful for what we had.
Now that I’m older, I look back and I can see that Jesus was there in the midst of those raging storms. He was the one who had comforted me as I lay trembling in my bed in the early morning hours, or the late night hours as the storms raged. It was Jesus who’d made our father drive away with the gun and kept him from using it on himself, or on us. It was Him who’d kept the threat of fire from becoming a reality for my family. He’d also kept our mother lying safely in her bed for days, protecting her children from what could have transpired.
The eyes of my heart are opening. My faith has grown as I reach out to this wind-blown, storm-calming Jesus. As he settles the storms inside of me, I’ve touched his soft, sweet-smelling robe. It is cloth, not metal. I’ve felt his warm, scarred skin. I’ve seen his salty tears that fall from his open eyes. He chose to sink with us into the dark, churning abyss of our childhood as each storm-tossed wave threatened to pound the breath and life out of me and my siblings. Jesus pushed us upward proclaiming, “I came that you might have life —now live!” “Breathe!”
I live. I breathe. I am a survivor of great storms.