Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Even the Wind and the Waves

A few weeks ago our family piled into our van and made the drive to Sunday morning church. The process of getting all three kids, a diaper bag for Annia, backpack with diapers for Liam, my purse, and Nathan's iPad into church, through the kids' check-in kiosk and to their respective classrooms can be hectic to say the least.

This particular morning came after a hard week for Liam. The best I could piece together Liam was wrestling with anxiety and anger he didn't know how to deal with. He has always wrestled with meltdowns (that is, episodes of crying which may be triggered by an unmet desire but which progress far beyond a standard tantrum and into a place of fear and distress) but in that past week the meltdowns had increased in frequency and seemed angrier. That morning was not an exception to our tumultuous week and he had a difficult time entering into his classroom.

It grieves me to leave him when he is in such distress and our communication is still so frustrated that explaining to him how we are leaving him for just over an hour and will be back afterward is almost pointless. My heart was heavy as we took our seats in the sanctuary.

For a long time I have struggled to know how to pray for Liam. The thought of praying for a "cure" rubs me so wrong. I love him fiercely and autism is so much a part of who he is that praying for the autism to be gone doesn't sit well in me. My nose wrinkles and my stomach turns to imagine scrolling through my Facebook feed to see a viral HuffPost article that ends with me feeling like autism is demonic and it would be gone if I only had enough faith. But I do long for our communication to be better, I wish that I could explain more to him about our days and why I do things. That morning I felt the Lord inviting me to pray for Liam, to pray that he would speak "Peace!" over Liam's mind and heart just like he spoke peace over the storm in Mark 4. I spent much of the service praying for Liam and at the end I asked Nathan to go get Liam and bring him into the sanctuary so that we could pray for him.

During the next week, I was reading The Bible Study Handbook by Lindsey Olesberg (great book, highly recommend!), and at the end of each chapter was a chance to practice the skills of inductive Bible study on our own. I was surprised and intrigued when I realized that the passage she used to teach the audience how to implement the skills was none other than Mark 4:35-41, where Jesus calms the storm. I took it as an invitation from the Lord to sit deep in the passage and really study it.

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

I've always really sympathized with the disciples here. I imagine that they waited as long as they could before waking Jesus up and by the time they did they were seriously worried. What if they hadn't woken him up? At a certain point they probably would've gone overboard, right? I really can't blame them for being a little panicked. But Jesus does seem to rebuke them; why would that be?

In the chapters leading up to this passage Jesus has been moving around Galilee, teaching, healing, and casting out demons. He has been touching leapers, healing on the Sabbath, and basically turning every preconception of Jewish religiosity on its head. The people are asking each other, "Who is this man?" and, "What authority does he have?" Their preconceptions are being challenged but he has authority, a power that can only come from God.

After Jesus and the disciples make it across the Sea of Galilee Jesus meets a man who is possessed by a legion of demons. He casts the legion out into a herd of pigs. In Jewish culture pigs were considered unclean so if the people in the area were Jewish they weren't devout.

One of the important things to consider when you're studying the New Testament is whether the original audience would have been reminded of any Old Testament stories when they heard about what Jesus did. So I pulled out my Bible Background Commentary and it mentioned that Jewish audiences may have thought about Jonah.

  • A prophet was asleep in a boat.
  • God had called him to a people who were either not Jewish or not devout.
  • People in the boat woke up prophet in a panic.

So in Jonah's story they call on God to calm the storm and it doesn't happen. In fact, the very thing the disciples feared most happened to Jonah, he was thrown into the sea! But not all hope is lost. God, the creator of the land and the sea, provided a fish. He provided a fish. This fish swallows Jonah and carries him to dry land where Jonah is vomitted onto the shore. Not glamorous at all. Blech. But it did get the job done. At the very moment when all hope seemed lost and the worst thing they could imagine actually happened, God was there and still in control.

I spent a lot of time mulling these things over. I prayed about what the Lord wanted to teach me through this passage.

When I am rocked by the storms of life and it feels like Jesus is not doing anything as long as I'm still talking to him I have two choices: WhereareyouJesusdon'tyoucarethatIamdrowning? or I know this man, he is Lord over earth and sea and wealth and want and HE. IS. GOOD.

And so I've been placing Liam in the Lord's hands. Praying for where we should adjust our schedules, how to communicate with him, and how much to say to his teachers and caregivers. But my crying out to the Lord for peace in Liam's heart is no longer tainted with worry and anxiety, at least not as frequently. Because now I know that even if things go sideways... Even if the worst things I could possibly imagine actually come true... I know who is in control.

And he can provide a fish.

My job ended a few weeks ago. There were so many reasons it ended; the most important reason and the most urgent was that my body can no longer handle the physical demands of baking. My shoulder and back are causing me a good amount of pain and I'm under the care of multiple doctors to address them. In some ways I think the ending was part of the Lord's answer to our prayers for Liam because I am home so much more and his days are more predictable. But the ending was abrupt. We didn't, don't have a plan and due to my shoulder and back issues I cannot work in a restaurant or childcare setting which are my primary places of work experience.

We are waiting. We are crossing the Sea of Galilee in a small boat and waves of worry are breaking over it. Day by day, sometimes moment by moment, we waffle back and forth between calling out to Jesus, "Don't you care that we are drowning?!" and saying to him, "We know who you are and that you are in control. We trust you, show us where to row this boat."

And day by day, sometimes moment by moment, he is showing us where to go and how to row. I wish I could say that we are handling this perfectly and never experience anxiety. But that would be a lie. What I love, though, is that the Lord led me to this truth before I needed it, and now, when I most need it, it's there like a life preserver in the midst of a storm at sea.

I know this man. He is the the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. All things are within his control; even the wind and the waves obey him. He does care and he is good.

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