It was Kodiak's Crab Festival this last weekend. We're famous for it. Rain, sun, fog, wind, clouds, freezing rain-----no matter. We shindig in anything because spring is here, the salmon are near, we love our town and crab helped to build it.
My favorite part of the 5 day fest (apart from the chocolate and almond dipped ice cream bars) is the Survival Suit Race. Survival Suits are required safety gear on all vessels over a certain size in Alaskan waters. If your boat's going down, you're not going to last but a matter of minutes in these northern waters, but with a survival suit on, you can last for hours, perhaps even days. All fishing boats conduct safety drills before they head out to sea, practicing retrieving their suits and putting them on as fast as possible. It can mean the difference between life and death.
They're not easy to put on. The "hands" are huge mitts that leave you little dexterity. They're huge, meant to go over your clothes, even your boots. It's hard to move in them, let alone swim. But these guys and women in the clip below make it look simple.
The next day, Sunday, 100 of us gathered by the harbor for the Fisherman's Memorial Service, remembering all those who died at sea, all those fishing men and women who gave their lives to feeding their families and feeding the world. Some went down with their boats. Some died in the waters. Some died on land of other causes, after giving their life's strength to the sea.
The names of those who died this last year were read one by one, a bell was struck after each, their name pinned to a wreath.
We ended with prayer, with these stunning words and promises from God:
The day after, my husband, my brother-in-law and three of my sons sailed out on a 100 mile trip across open waters to our island. As they do every year. Before they left, they practiced putting on their survival suits. Though it was storming as they left the harbor, their day long passage into night was safe.
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And when you pass through the waves, they will not sweep over."
But the ringing of the bell and the names on the plaques tell another story. People die at sea. People are swept under the waves. I know mothers who have lost their sons and daughters to the raging waters.
These words urge us toward another kind of safety, though---the very presence of God with us. "When you call upon me, I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will strengthen and help you. I will uphold you with my right hand."
He has. He does. He will. I've put my suit on twice at sea. One time I was sure our boat would sink and we would perish. I can send my children off upon the ocean because He goes with them. When we step into the presence and reality of God, plant our feet in Him, pull him around us and zip ourselves in, we will always survive. Because we're kept, we're guarded, we're safe. Even if the boat goes down, we're safe. Even if we sink, we're safe. Even if we die, we're safe. Because the true enemy is not death---it is absence from our Life, our Love, the One who made us, the One who love us beyond measure, more than drops of water in the sea, without end.
God IS this real, this near, this kind. He jumped into the storm of death to save us. He's still doing it.
You've got a suit. He gave it to you. Step into it this summer. Pull it close. Zip it up. Stop fearing the storm. Jump in. You WILL survive.