Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Meeting Jesus In Unexpected Places

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published March 1, 2012

My husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to temperament.

We can literally look at the exact same situation, and I’ll go totally bonkers and scream, “We’re doomed!” while he calmly gets out his tool kit and tries to fix things.

Take the time our boat sank.

First, let me explain that it was an inflatable boat, and initially I was quite hesitant about setting foot in it—until I realized it was the kind of boat you see in videos where people are saving whales.

So I figured: “Hey, they’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, for heaven’s sake, and we’re just going to tool around in the shallow waters in Florida.”

Really, what could go wrong?

The first few trips, we anchored the boat at our favorite little spots in Cedar Key and had lunch in the presence of dolphins, pelicans and otters.

Then one day we decided to venture a bit farther to explore a cove. This meant paddling across the channel, where the water is deeper and more turbulent, but we did fine. And when we entered the cove, we saw all kinds of fancy birds flocking around in there, and it was like a little glimpse of heaven.

Then suddenly we heard a strange, almost trumpeting sound. In fact, my first thought was: “Are there elephants back here or something?”

Almost immediately, we realized it was the sound of our boat scraping against a jagged oyster bar. And seconds later, we heard a truly heart-stopping sound, which was one half of our pontoon boat deflating.

The water was quite shallow, since the tide was out, but as we climbed from the boat, I felt the beginnings of a deep anxiety seizing me. After all, no one at our rented condo knew where we were—and we were alone in the cove.

In his inimitable, calm fashion, my husband began trying to repair the rip using the handy kit that came with the boat. Meanwhile, I began silently praying while energetically blowing the whistle that is required gear for all vessels.

Before long, we heard people shouting at us from outside the cove. The good news was: Folks had heard the whistle! The bad news was: Their fishing boat was too big to fit into the cove. However, they assured us they would call for help and wouldn’t leave until it arrived.

It was then we saw the giant stingray swimming by.

“Hey, look at that big fellow,” Jef called out admiringly.

My reaction was quite different, I’ll admit. Although it posed no immediate threat to us, the fact that this creature—about six feet wide—was so close added greatly to my distress.

And as the tide—and my terror—began rising, we decided to climb back into our half-inflated boat and see if we could paddle our way out of the cove.

As we rounded the corner, we spotted something that I will cherish in my heart forever. It was the big fishing boat sitting there, with a group of people on board waving at us.

They helped us into the boat, gave us water to drink and took us back to our condo.

At the time I couldn’t see it, but now I think this is a story Jesus would appreciate. He was always going out on boats with the disciples, and I’m sure they had plenty of adventures on their trips.

Of course, there was that time when Peter stepped out of the boat during the storm and was walking toward Jesus when he suddenly started panicking.

Well, I’m very much like Peter.

I really want to fully trust Jesus, but some catastrophe will happen and suddenly I forget him and am engulfed in fear.

And whenever I lose sight of him, I sink.

Reflecting on that day in the cove, I realize Jesus actually was there at the time, encouraging us. I also know that he truly does show up in the heart of strangers in unexpected places, just like he said.

Sometimes they’re in hospitals, prisons or homeless shelters. And sometimes they’re out fishing in big boats.