The Storm Within

The waves lapping against his thighs and playfully smacking his small fishing boat made it difficult for Shemaiah to swing the bow around. He stood almost waist deep in the shallows of the Sea of Galilee. The muscles rippled along his naked arms and shoulders as his boat bobbed obstinately against the waves. Normally Shemaiah would have enjoyed the sharp chill of the water and the creak of the rigging as the boat rocked. But right now he was in a hurry.

He had spent the afternoon listening to a Man tell stories, a Man whose name he didn't even know. After the night of fishing, the warm sun eased the fatigue from his body, and the Man's stories eased Shemaiah's heart. He had to admit that his heart needed easing these last few months. Unconsciously weaving blades of wild grass together, he listened to the simple stories while sitting on the hillside.

This Man, surrounded by fisher folk and the hill people, was not satisfied just to teach the people in stories. To Shemaiah's amazement, the Stranger reached out work-scarred hands to the sick who lay scattered among the crowd. And He healed them! Shemaiah could not restrain his open-mouthed awe of the Man or his desire to move closer and to listen harder to the nameless Healer.

As the sun crept down the sky to the distant hills, the Man and His companions boarded a nearby fishing boat and put off from shore. The gathering was over. But Shemaiah hurried back to where his own boat floated and prepared to follow. He had a vague idea of talking face to face with the Stronger, finding out more about Him. Shemaiah didn't understand the drawing power this Teacher seemed to possess, but he surrendered to it willingly.

"Fisherman!" a woman's voice called out to him from the shore. "Please, fisherman, can you hear me?"

Shemaiah groaned. Delay! He already lagged far behind the Man's fishing boat. Its sail billowed in the evening breeze, and it began to cut through the small waves like a sharp knife. Shemaiah twisted around to find a woman clutching a young girl to her side. "Please fisherman, I know your boat is small, but can you take us with you? I must speak with Jesus."

So that was the Man's name, Shemaiah thought.

For scant seconds he weighed the request in his mind. More weight, less speed. More delay, less chance of catching up to the Man called Jesus. But something in the woman's voice prevented him from ignoring her cry for help. "I can't promise we'll catch Him, woman," he called back, exasperation edging into his voice.

"But I must try. Please help me!"

Impatience written clearly on his face, Shemaiah dragged the stone anchor out of the boat and dropped it into the water. Then he waded laboriously back to shore, to stand before the woman and her daughter. Puddles dripped about his feet.

"Come on then," he spoke gruffly.

He swept the little girl up into his arms. She clutched at him frantically, her deep black eyes darting back and forth, not focusing on anything. The girl's blank stare shook Shemaiah to his core. He snapped his eyes up to the woman and mouthed a question: "Blind?"

Shame filled him when the woman, in some agitation, nodded. Shemaiah tried to cover his embarrassment by bluster. "Come. I'll carry the girl, but you're too big to be carried. You'll have to wade for it."

The woman's smile surprised him, and she hurried into the water, her clothing swirling about her. Shemaiah seated the girl near the mast, then helped the woman over the side and retrieved the anchor. He hauled himself out of the water and expertly hoisted the sail. He felt a surge of elation as the little boat shuddered in the wind, then slipped silently forward.

Shemaiah had little hope of catching the boat Jesus had boarded. And the number of other small boats on the water didn't surprise him. He knew whom they were following. He had felt the same call himself. His little boat could not match the speed of the larger fishing vessels, but it was sturdy and sailed well. He pulled a much-used cloak about his shoulders, settled himself comfortably in the stern, and addressed the woman. "You have a name?"

"Yes," the woman replied. "Dinah."

"How was your daughter blinded, Dinah?"

"A fever. Took her eyesight and my husband."

A widow then, as well, Shemaiah thought. "You've come on hard times."

"Yes, but Jesus will heal her, and things will be better for us."

"You speak of this Jesus with certainty."

"I've seen His miracles. I'm certain about Him. He's my last hope," she said simply, wringing the water from her garments. The little girl sat quietly, but Shemaiah could tell she was listening. He grew silent, watching her cock her head at the sounds of the water and the slapping sail.

"Do you have children?" Dinah asked innocently.

The dull, throbbing pain returned. Shemaiah closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. It hadn't really been so long ago.

"Did I say something wrong?"

"No, you couldn't have known." Shemaiah tugged at his beard thoughtfully. "My wife and children are gone. I left them just a few months ago, and I haven't seen them since. It's not a good memory."

"I'm sorry. I understand your feelings. Why did you leave?"

Shemaiah shrugged. "I guess the water was more of a home to me. A fisherman's life isn't very pleasant, and she was used to a better life. She told me once that she could stand the stink of fish only so long. So--finally I left."

The sun had set while they talked, firing the clouds above them with fierce, hot streamers of color The woman turned, seeking the craft that sailed far ahead of them.

Shemaiah noticed immediately when the wind changed and grew stronger. Normally the nights were calmer. He didn't like this omen. Dinah hadn't noticed the shift of the wind. It didn't mean anything to her, thought Shemaiah, but it meant storm to him--and no harbor close by.

Sailing on in silence that seemed to grow more and more tense, Shemaiah felt his little boat shudder when a stiff wind slammed across the sail. Before he could even react, a jagged bolt of lightning split the sky. Thunder pounded down on them. Dinah's daughter cried for her mother, who came to her, eyes wide with surprise and fear.

Brief moments later Shemaiah knew that the storm could finish them all. Gale winds whipped the waves around them into a froth, and they washed over the sides of his boat in cold sheets. The sail, wet with spray, tore away from its lashings before Shemaiah could furl it. Under the unexpected pressure the mast groaned.

Dinah tried to shield her daughter from the storm as they huddled near the mast. Waves smacked the bow and sprayed over all three, drenching them. Shemaiah broke out the oars and tried to steady his boat, but the wind came from all directions. Though he strained at the oars, he could not keep the bow pointed into the waves.

Some of the other boats were beginning to founder under the churning waves. The freak winds blew the little boats into a milling huddle. The thunder, the raging winds, and the cries of frightened people spun in Shemaiah's mind, confusing him even more.

Soaked, water streaming from his face and beard, Shemaiah was unprepared when a wave rudely shoved another vessel into the side of his boat. With a resounding crack, the oar on that side sheared off and vanished. The little craft began to take on water as the waves broached it broadside.

Dropping to his knees in the sloshing water and cupping his hands, he cried out in a voice that mirrored his fear, "Dinah! Bail, or we'll founder!"

Together they scooped water out of the boat until they could not feel their fingers. The wind cut deep, and Shemaiah realized that they would die there. Where was this Jesus? Even He could not control the storm. He wouldn't be any help now.

To Shemaiah's surprise, lightning revealed Jesus' boat close by, and the fearful actions of those on board confirmed his disbelief. Then he heard a single voice aboard that boat pleading hysterically. "Master! Do something, or we'll all die here!"

Through all the confusion of sound and half-light, the water spray, and the icy wind, came a voice that Shemaiah could not mistake. "Why are you afraid? Believe!"

The next flash of lightning revealed a startling tableau: Shemaiah and Dinah continued on their knees in the surging water, the little girl clung desperately to the mast, her blind eyes searching her own darkness for the voice she'd heard; and the solitary Figure standing erect in the pitching fishing boat. Jesus' voice rang out like the thunder. Authority swept from Him into the winds. "Wind, waves, and sky's fire!" He called out to the storm. "Peace! Be quiet!"

A shaft of calmest moonlight spattered over the tangled huddle of boats afloat on the quiet lake. The ugly blackness rolled back to let in the light. Just a hint of breeze played with the rigging on Shemaiah's boat. "What kind of Man is this?" he gasped hoarsely at the woman.

"He is Jesus, the Son of God. He can do anything!"

"I believe," Shemaiah answered. And with that statement a fearful storm within him died to silence, and Orion's light filled his eyes and heart.

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Him - The Storm Within
Copyright 1990, written by Kenneth Fields