After Penny was diagnosed with Down syndrome, there were days when I felt as if I was drowning. I could almost feel my lungs filling up with water. I could almost see my murky surroundings, the distorted objects and the light filtering through. I thought I would never come to the surface.
Back then, my head was filled with questions and my heart was filled with dread. I was scared of the life we would live as a family. I was scared that Down syndrome would take our daughter away from us. I was scared that I just wasn’t up to the task of having a child with special needs.
In that time, I found great comfort in a passage from Mark 4. Here, Jesus and his disciples set out across a lake. Jesus falls asleep. And then a storm comes up. It’s a tremendous storm, and the disciples work furiously to keep the boat afloat. Finally, one of them shakes Jesus awake and yells, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
I love it. They are so scared, so exhausted, so certain that their situation is a desperate one, that they cut right to what they are thinking. No false piety here.
What’s even better is Jesus’ response. Many years later, as I read this story that I learned in Sunday School and saw in paintings and heard about in church, I already know, and expect, what comes next. I expect Jesus to stand up and tell the water and the wind to calm down. But the disciples didn’t know what was coming. In fact, they are so frightened by Jesus’ response we can assume they had no idea what was coming. I used to think they woke him up with the knowledge that all he had to do was calm the storm. Now, I think they woke him up simply because they wanted another set of hands to help bail out the boat.
They wanted Jesus to pitch in, to do his part in solving the crisis. But Jesus had other things in mind altogether. He doesn’t pick up a bucket or start sloshing around in the nearly-swamped boat. Instead, he changes the landscape entirely: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” A few lines later, we read that the disciples “were terrified.”
Looking back on those early days of Penny’s life, I can relate to the disciples. Like them, I was in a storm, and I was desperate for help. Like them, when I couldn’t stand bailing myself out anymore, I snapped at Jesus, “Don’t you care?” And he responded to me, but not at all in the way I expected. He didn’t just step in with a few pointers on how to keep my boat afloat. He changed the way I saw him altogether. And he changed the way I see the world.
Now, I look back on that storm with a bit of wonder. Yes, I had to endure the fear and shame and guilt and sorrow. But I also had the privilege of watching God at work, of seeing the wind and the waves dissipate. I had the chance, like the disciples, to catch a glimpse of Jesus at work, not just helping me out, but changing me so that I understand more of who he is and what he wants. The fear that gripped my heart back then has turned to joy.
All of us will endure storms in this life. And many of us will have the thought toward God–”Don’t you care?” This story reminds us that God cares deeply, and that God responds to our cries for help. But he does so in ways we can’t expect. And he does so in ways that can change us forever.