Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lost at Sea

By age twenty-four Debbie Kiley was already a seasoned sailor with one circumnavigation of the globe under her belt. In the fall of 1982 she and three others boarded her 58-foot sailing yacht Trashman with hopes of traveling south from Maine to Florida, where she planned on spending the winter. 

After a stopover in Annapolis, Maryland, the weather quickly worsened—60-knot winds whipping up 40-foot waves. That’s when disaster struck. Off the coast of North Carolina, they encountered gale winds and mountainous seas that sank their boat. The shipwrecked crew had to endure four grueling days at sea without food or fresh water, as they clung to a rubber dinghy in shark-infested waters. 

Debbie recounted the horrific scene to a National Geographic reporter, “For 18 hours we treaded water and held on to the Zodiac. Every so often a big wave or a big gust of wind would blow the raft over. I looked under the water only to see sharks everywhere. Once we got into the Zodiac, sharks surfaced around us. Why they didn't attack before, I don't know. From that moment on they stayed with us. We saw a couple of ships pass, but they couldn't see us. By the third day things were bad, and the crew was starting to fall apart. Meg was dying of blood poisoning; Mark was belligerent. Delusions were setting in because of dehydration and hypothermia. On the night of the third day, Mark and John drank saltwater, so by the fourth day they were raging nuts.”

In his delirious stupefaction, Mark began shouting curses at God for their dilemma. Despite her fatigue, Debbie silently recited The Lord’s Prayer and asked God to teach her through this crisis. What happened next still haunts Debbie to this day. She explained, “Delirious and railing against God, Mark thought he saw land. We were more than 100 miles offshore. Then, Mark jumped into the water and swam out a few yards. We heard a loud scream and he disappeared. We felt a thud against the Zodiac, and then there was a frenzy under the boat—it was Mark being eaten by the sharks.”[1]

After what seemed to be an endless nightmare lost at sea, Debbie and another survivor were rescued by a Russian freighter. When I first heard of this story I was reminded how each of us responds in different ways to a crisis. Using Debbie’s experience we can see how she clung to her threadbare faith, while another cursed God.

Centuries ago, Job was hit by one wave of bad news after another. He was the epitome of misery. Job didn’t know it but he was a pawn in a cosmic wager between Satan and God. Satan was allowed to take everything from Job, except his life. In a matter of days, Job lost his fitness, flocks, family and fortune, but not his faith. At one point Mrs. Job told him to curse God and die. Job’s response was profound: “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).

Every time we suffer we are presented with a choice—bless God or curse God. Job’s perspective was based on his theology. Job realized that for most of his life he had been the recipient of many underserved blessing and therefore had no room to rail against God. In short, he knew that God owed him nothing. What Job teaches us is that suffering leaves us with a choice to get bitter or better. We can either allow adversity to break our back or bend our knee in humility.    

[1] Kate Cheney and Deborah Kiley, “Lost at Sea” Adventure Magazine (November/December 2001)

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