The following scriptures are found in the book of Acts, chapter 27, which describes the first part of the apostle Paul's journey to Rome as a prisoner. As soon as I read this chapter this morning, I knew I had to write this study.
"13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island."--Acts 27:13-14
That night, that cold January night, caught us unawares. Life was drifting along as normal as could be, the winds seemed gentle. We had long established a routine where my mother comes to our home on Saturday nights and we have dinner. Sometimes she cooks, sometimes we do, but this is pretty much what we do every Saturday night. January 15th was a Saturday night, and my mother was here for her weekly visit. Mom usually stays late, she and Janice stay up talking while I fall asleep on the couch. January 15th was no different. They were sitting up talking and I was sound asleep on the couch when the call came in, when that very long, hurricane force wind swept down upon us. All of a sudden, we found ourselves enveloped in this storm.
"15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along."--Acts 27:15
Fully caught up in this new storm of life, we desperately hoped it was all a bad dream. I didn't eat or sleep for the first three days as I tried to figure out how to deal with life in the wake of our tragedy. Now I can hardly remember anything about those first three days. Looking back, it seems I was staggering in a thick fog. Unable to fix what was broken, unable straighten things out, unable to bring Amanda back, I gave way to the storm and began to drift with it, to let it carry me along.
"16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure,"--Acts 27:16
Few, if any, would have ever identified me as a religious man before Amanda's murder. I believed in Jesus Christ and considered myself a Christian. I went to church and Sunday school pretty regularly too. But I didn't really work to build a relationship with God. I didn't regularly read the Bible. I did nothing to fulfill my obligation as a Christian to share the Gospel with others. But I did believe.
Now I see that I treated Jesus like a lifeboat. I always knew He was there if I needed Him, but I hardly considered Him as long as the sailing was smooth. Suddenly, I needed that lifeboat desperately. However, for so long I had ignored Him, had failed to nurture my relationship with Jesus, that immediately following Amanda's death I found it difficult to take comfort in His presence.
"17 so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along."--Acts 27:17
Though His presence didn't seem enough to comfort me in the early days of this terrible storm, nothing else provided any sense of security either. I recognized that, just like a lifeboat, He was the only means available to survive the storm. So I hauled Him aboard. I began reading the Bible, and developed a plan to read it regularly and systematically. And for the first time in my life, God's word began to make sense to me. I began to understand the parables and see parallels between the verses I read and life here on Earth.
Reading the Bible, studying the Word of God, became a part of my daily routine. Specific verses like Romans 8:28, John 16:33, and Philippians 4:13 quickly became the ropes that I wrapped myself in to hold myself together. The storm didn't slacken, the downpour didn't stop and the winds didn't cease, but I began binding myself in the word of God and building my relationship with Jesus. For the first time in my life, I began to turn my life over to Him, to recognize that I wasn't really in control, and that my only hope to survive was to trust Him. I had finally lowered my sea anchor, the anchor that would not keep me from being buffeted by tempests, but that would keep the storms from smashing me against the rocks.
"18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands."--Acts 27:18-19
The storm continued to rage, in fact it still continues to pound away at us, even nearly 11 months later. Amanda is still gone. Every day I am haunted by visions of what her last moments must have been like. Every day I'm reminded of her in ways I didn't expect. Just this morning I saw a South Dakota license plate on the way to work. It brought back memories of our trip out west, through the Black Hills and to Mount Rushmore. Every day I see the closed door to her room and I'm reminded that room is empty when it should be occupied. The winds are still battering, the rain continues to fall. For us, it's a storm that will never end.
But even amidst the torrent, as I dove into the Word of God, as I worked harder than ever before to build my relationship with Jesus Christ, my faith grew to a level I'd never previously known. Things that I had previously placed great value on--money, possessions, the approval of men--became unimportant. I found myself throwing my cargo, my baggage, overboard. I even began to understand, after 40 years of living, that I didn't have the ability to successfully navigate life's journey. It finally dawned on me that only God's grace and mercy keep us afloat and keep us from running aground. Always before, I depended on my abilities to fix problems that arose, but Amanda's death was a catastrophe I couldn't fix. I finally realized my abilities weren't enough. I had cast off the ship's tackle and finally clung only to my faith in Jesus Christ to save me from this storm.
"When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. "--Acts 27:20
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks to months, the "storm continued raging." Life will never be the same for us since Amanda was killed. Every day is a continuation of the nightmare of knowing we'll never hold her, never kiss her, never even talk with her again as long as we walk this Earth. I had to come to the realization that it's a storm I'll never escape. I have no hope of being rescued from it...as long as I'm sailing this ship. This earthly life will be one, long continuous journey through this storm.
"But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed."--Acts 27:22
But just because life will be one big storm, I need not give up hope. A better life awaits, a life where I'll be reunited with Amanda in a place that knows no suffering, no pain, and no death. My faith in Jesus Christ, trusting in His promise that when this earthly life is over, when my physical body is destroyed, I will not be lost. "Only the ship will be destroyed." I'll leave this body and be transformed to a spiritual being that cannot be destroyed, one that will spend eternity with our Lord and Savior, and with Amanda.
That's what gives me the courage to keep going through this storm. Once you have that faith in the promise of eternal life, it brings the hope that one day suffering in this life will be replaced with an eternal existence that knows no pain. Jesus Christ--the Way, the Truth, the Light--died on the cross so that we can have all of that. He is the light that will guide me through this lifelong storm. Without Him, the wind and the waves would toss me against the rocks and all would be lost. There would be no hope.
So even though the tempest continues to rage, I will have courage. I will draw strength in the knowledge that "not one will be lost." Not Amanda, not me, not one who believes in Jesus, who trusts in Him will be lost. No, not one.
I will survive this storm, and you can survive whatever tempest blows into your life. Not because of our own abilities, but because of our faith in Jesus Christ. If you have that faith, work to grow your relationship with Him. If you don't have that faith, get it. You won't regret it, and you'll be able to weather any storm.
If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.