It was late in the morning when Mary finally got up. She had stayed up far too late last night, and was paying for it today. She knew the ship was leaving at 3:00pm, and she had less than two hours to finish packing and get to the dock. Thankfully, she thought, I did most of my packing yesterday and made lists of what I need to do before leaving. The fact that the dock is only 15 minutes away isn’t too bad, either.
As she went through the house, getting things ready for the next three weeks away, she quickly prayed a silent prayer to her Father: Lord, I have heard You so clearly telling me to go on this trip, but something inside keeps telling me that there is danger. I have always listened to that small voice, that quiet whisper of Your Spirit, that speaks to my heart when I am kneeling before You, quietly listening for Your guidance. Please tell me what You want me to do.
Almost instantly, an answer came—but not the answer that she expected. There will be loss, but you will be saved. You took the bread and wine at service yesterday, and you have committed things to me. Things will work out for salvation. Mary stopped in her tracks. That was absolutely NOT the answer she expected, and she wasn’t going to let things rest there.
“Lord”, she replied, out loud this time, “if You are telling me to go into danger, then I need a confirmation. You need to back this up with scripture, for You have made it clear that only someone who is regularly studying and meditating in Your word is safe from deception and lies. You Yourself said that if any voice or person or priest or prophet—or even a shining angel—says anything about You, but it doesn’t correspond to Your Scripture, then they are in danger of being cast into the fire of hell. I know your Word, for I read it daily, as You said we must, and as all the true Church Fathers and bishops and priests have agreed. So I am asking that this be backed up with Your Word.”
Immediately, the thought came to her: Acts 27 & 28. Oh yes, she knew that section. She had woken up in the middle of the night 2 weeks ago, and felt that she should read the book of Acts again. Now that she had a confirmation from the Holy Spirit, she knew that there was a second choice to make: should she call someone else who knows God and check it out with them? The Scripture says everything should be confirmed by 2 or 3 witnesses . . . but before she even had a chance to make a call, she remembered an incident from 2 months ago when she had gone to a Bible study at the church. The priest there, a strong advocate of intercessory prayer, had asked if anybody needed healing. Mary had raised her hand, for she had sprained her ankle just 2 days earlier, and it still hurt. Three of the members from the church, who had more experience with healing prayer than most, prayed for her and God healed her.
Right after the healing, one of the woman, named Joanna, said that she felt that the Lord was speaking to her, that Mary would be going on a trip in the near future, and that she was to go with no fear, as Daniel did before the king. That was 3 weeks before her and Martha had decided to go on this vacation, and she had completely forgotten about it. I really have to start writing down these things You tell me, Father. I had clean forgotten about that. Thank You. And with that, Mary let go of any fear and finished her packing. She needed to hurry: she still had to pick Martha up on the way.
* * * * * * * * * *
Martha, unlike Mary, was not in a great hurry. She had finished everything the day before and could completely relax before the trip. Having the time, she decided to pick up the paper and peruse the horoscopes to see how the day would turn out. “Today is a great day for taking a trip, with things going smoothly.” Whew. That was good news. She would have been worried if it said not to travel. Just to be sure, though, she put on her angel pin, which her best friend Mary had given her. She was also wearing the bead necklace a friend in WICA had blessed, for safety and health. In her pocketbook was a small clay pyramid, which she purchased after reading a book about the power of pyramids in everyday life, and a brass coin, which had been given to her by a fortune teller at the local fair. Can’t be too careful . . .
* * * * * * * * * *
One hour later, both Mary and Martha were parking at the local dock. The parking was $4 a day, but it was secure, so they didn’t mind splitting the cost. A taxi would have cost more, anyways.
“I am so excited about this, Mary. I have never been on a cruise before. I am glad we aren’t going through the Bermuda Triangle. That would NOT be safe.”
“Oh, Martha, you have got to stop being so superstitious. God is stronger than any of that spooky stuff. You just have to put your faith in Him.”
“Oh no, there you go again with the God stuff. I was baptized, and I go to church 3 times a year like any other Christian. I just don’t believe God really speaks and does things in the lives of us normal, everyday people. That’s for priests, nuns, and popes. Like the Bible says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”
“Martha, you know very well that there is no such thing written anywhere in the bible. I believe you say those things just to get me going.”
“Well, I have to do something for fun. Speaking of which, do you think there will be many single men my age?”
Mary laughed. “Is that all you think about, Martha? Goodness, I am sure there will be. But I, for one, am not here to find a mate. I just need to relax and see a bit more of the world.”
“Well, so do I,” said Martha, “but nothing says you can’t see it with a rich, eligible, tall, dark and handsome single man!”
“Well, I can’t totally disagree, but let’s go get something to eat first. I am famished.”
“Me too. But we have to wash our hands. You know what cleanliness is next to . . .”
* * * * * * * * * *
When they both got their room numbers, they agreed to meet in an hour for the “bon voyage” cheer. Their rooms were across from each other on the second deck down. They were good enough friends to have shared a room, but their lifestyles were far too different. Mary watched almost no television, went to bed by 10:30 p.m. every night, and got up at 5:00 a.m. every morning to read the Bible, sing worship songs, and pray. Martha, on the other hand, watched TV until 1:00 a.m. and slept until 7:00 a.m. every morning. Neither one of them could live with the other’s habits for 3 weeks.
That first afternoon was a relatively relaxing one for both of them. They met the crew, saw the outline of the cruise, and started to explore the ship. It was the largest ship either of them had been on, and the size was astonishing. So large was it that it felt like they were on a small island instead of a boat. There was no movement of the deck that they could notice.
That evening the dinner on board was extravagant. There was lobster and shrimp and steak and chicken and fowl and 4 kinds of pasta and 3 kinds of rice, and everything was free. The entertainment was a musical production of The South Pacific, and it was terrific. Both Mary and Martha had more to eat than they should have, and stayed up late and went to bed exhausted.
The next three days, between the sites on the different ports where they stopped, the food and entertainment onboard ship, and the loads of new friendly faces they met, it seemed like there was very little relaxing being done. But on the fourth night, just before dinner, Mary went for a walk on the top deck. The air was fresh and clean, and the sunset was full of vibrant colors. As she looked at it, and was again amazed at the beauty of His creation, she felt a small pang in her heart.
Father, I have been so busy with having “fun” that I have almost completely forgot about You. You are the beginning and end of everything, and nothing is really fun unless You are in it. Forgive me for not spending more time with You and Your Spirit. Renew me, Lord. And, as she said that, she felt the familiar warmth filling her, from head to foot. She knew that He would never leave her, as He promised, and that even when she had forgotten about Him, He had not forgotten about her.
As she looked again at the sunset, with its golds and purples and yellows, reflecting off the beautiful blue-and-green ocean, the spirit that He placed within her rose up to rejoice before Him. Quietly lifting one hand, she thanked Him for His goodness and mercy. Only He could create such beauty, and only He was worthy of all praise. Then, as her heart saw the majesty of the skies, she heard again that still, small voice: Tomorrow you need to talk to Martha again, about her soul. I will prepare her. Be ready. She would be ready. And, making that her prayer, she went to meet Martha for another night of fun.
* * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, after getting up early and renewing her commitment to spend time with her Father, Mary went to Martha’s room to get her for breakfast. She knocked on the door and expected Martha to come bounding out, as she had every morning. But when Martha opened the door, Mary could tell that something was wrong.
“Martha, what is wrong? You don’t look well.”
“Oh, Mary, I had an awful dream. I will tell you about it during breakfast.”
Mary remembered how He had said, I will prepare her, and wondered.
So they got breakfast and sat down at one of the outside tables, as Martha related to Mary her dream:
“In the dream, I was in a hotel. There were hundreds of other people there, for a convention. There was a fire, and everybody was running and screaming, trying to find a way out. We all had maps, which the crew was handing out, which told us where the exits were, but there were hundreds of exits. So I just picked one, and as I got to it, it was collapsed from the fire.
“I ran to the next, and that one was also blocked. In the dream, we were running from one to the other, and they were all blocked. Then the owner of the hotel showed up. He said that all the exits were blocked, except the exit to the roof. He said that the only way out was to go up to the roof and be air-lifted to safety.
“A few of the people followed him, but most of the people decided to trust the maps, and kept running. In the dream, I started to follow him, but I kept trying to find the way on the map. He told me that I would go too slowly if I did that, and that I had to drop the map and follow him, or trust the map and go another way. As I stood there, trying to decide, the fire was on the floor, and the map started to burn. Then I woke up.”
Mary marveled at the accuracy of the dream, and also at the love that the Father had, that he would show Martha the state of her own soul. Now that He had done the hard part, Mary knew what to do.
“Martha, it is good that you were shaken up by that dream. That dream was far more accurate than you would know. That dream was the state of your soul. In the dream, there was a fire, and that fire was a danger to the lives of you and everyone else. In the same way, this world is full of dangers, and, in eternity, our souls are in danger of fire, because there is not a single person who can live perfect enough to be untouched by evil.
“The crew represents good people, people whom you could normally trust, giving you information on how to be saved. They showed you and explained the many ways that people try to get to safety, to Heaven, and how many paths there are to get there. They had good intentions, in showing you how to get out of the fire. But, when you got there, the ways were blocked. It is the same in real life. Many people, with fully good intentions, tell you how to get to God and to Heaven. But good intentions mean nothing in eternal things, for those ways do not work when there is sin involved, and there is nobody, except One, who did not sin. He is represented by the Captain of the ship.”
“You mean Jesus, I am sure.”
“Yes, Jesus. He knew that all those other ways, though they made sense, and though they were described by sincere people with good intentions, were not going to get anybody to safety. He knew the only way out was looking up.”
“Why did the map burn up?”
“The map represented those other ways. Trying to hold onto any of them, instead of totally trusting him, would prevent you from getting there. Those who try to follow God but also take along things that represent those other ways will not make it. This includes horoscopes, trinkets, magic, things of Buddha, superstitions, trying to get to heaven by doing good deeds, or even getting prayers from others. The only way is to follow Him completely.”
“What about my church? I am a member of my church, and I was baptized there. That must count for something.”
“Oh, absolutely! The Bible says God doesn’t let one thing we do for Him fall by the wayside. But those are still things, and no amount of good things can get you there. He made that very clear in His word. Though you do a million good things, they are still not going to get you out of the burning building.”
Martha sat for a few minutes, thinking about what Mary said. “I don’t know, Mary. What you are saying goes against what I always heard. It’s a lot to take in.”
“It is a lot. Think about it, though. Think about those other things you heard, and how they would work if you were in that hotel, and it was burning. Where would you go?”
* * * * * * * * * *
The next week was full of activity, but also of rest. Both Mary and Martha knew they needed to take things a bit slower, or they would never be able to see everything they wanted to see. Martha stayed up not quite as late at night as she could, and Mary made sure to spend an extra 15 minutes with the Lord each morning, so she would be able to do everything she wanted to during the day. She knew that she would run out of time, otherwise.
It was the next morning, after 1½ weeks onboard, that Mary was woken up in the middle of the night. It was 2:30 a.m., and she knew, though everything was quiet, that something was wrong. The Spirit that God had put in her, when she was saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit, told her to get up and go out on deck. Quickly putting on some sweats and a pair of sneakers, she walked up to the top deck, so she could look out at the ocean.
As she got there, she noticed a strong wind coming from the East. At least, she thought it was from the East. But the next minute she realized it was from the West. No, it was from the East . . . Then, it hit her. It was a hurricane! That was why the winds were changing. They must have sailed into an area where a tropical storm was forming!
Quickly, Mary ran back to her cabin. Closing the door, she turned on her light and grabbed her Bible. She knew enough to know that the only way to get through rough circumstances was on her knees. She thanked God for preparing her for this and knelt at her bed to pray. She knew that this was a serious situation, and that no memorized prayers would work; when talking to the Real God about Real Issues, you have to speak Real Words out of your Real Heart. She turned to the book of Psalms and started to read some of David’s prayers when he was in a desperate situation. She knew that this would help her get her focus.
After a few minutes, she started to feel the gift of intercession rise up within her. She gave the Spirit free reign to work through her, and she prayed so quickly that she barely knew what she was saying. Sometimes she was praying in English, and sometimes not. But she prayed. And she prayed.
It felt like hours later—though actually only about 30 minutes—that the crew started to come around and wake people up, advising them that there was a weather concern. Martha came to Mary’s room, too scared to be alone.
“Oh, Mary! What are we to do? What if the ship goes down?”
“Martha, you are worrying about too many things. There is only one thing to be concerned about. Remember the dream?”
Martha thought for a second, then said, “Oh, the dream about the hotel?”
“Yes,” said Mary. “That is the one. If you turn and follow Him, you will be safe. Even if the ship was to sink, you would make it to eternal safety.”
“But what about now? I don’t want to die.”
“That is the question. Come with me. I have a word for the captain of the ship.”
Martha knew, from Mary’s tone, that she was set to talk to the captain, and that nothing would prevent her. She also knew that, whatever it was, it had to do with the Lord. She had seen her this way a few other times, and rarely was Mary wrong when she heard from God. Together, they went up to the deck in order to get to the control room. The wind was much worse, and it had started raining. The rain came almost horizontally, the wind being so strong. The deck was also tilted about 15°, which was a lot for a ship that size.
Climbing to the control deck, Mary asked to see the captain.
“I am sorry, Miss,” said the steward, “but the captain is not available right now. The best thing would be to go back to your cabin and wait.”
Mary, however, was not to be so easily dissuaded. “Young man, I appreciate your concern for your captain, but if you value your life, and the life of everyone on this ship, you will let me speak to him. NOW!”
The steward, slightly taken aback by her candor, but seeing the finality with which she said it, did the only reasonable thing he could do: He called the captain.
The captain, an elderly man with white hair, came out to the deck.
“Yes, Miss? I’m sorry I don’t have a lot of time, for I’m very busy, as you can tell. How may I help you?”
“Captain, I am no crazy person, but I am a servant of the Lord God, Who created the oceans and the winds. The storm winds are building up to 80 mph as we speak. It is a freak storm, for it has 2 eyes, instead of one. He has shown me that the storm we are entering is actually 2 separate storms. I am here to give you a message. He has said that if you steer the ship directly between the 2 eyes of the storms, that this ship will get through safely, and no life will be lost. Otherwise, we will go down.”
The captain, being a sensible man, just stood there. He could not believe what this woman had just told him. On the one hand, it sounded totally foolish, and he would normally have sent her away, thinking she was a crackpot. On the other hand, everything she said was accurate. There were two eyes on the radar screen—something that she could not have known—and the winds were showing already at 80 mph.
“Helmsman!” yelled the captain.
“What is our heading in relation to the storm?”
“Sir, we are heading away from the storm at approximately a 40° angle, at just over 40 knots.”
“And what are the chances of us surviving the storm?”
The helmsman and the steward paused, looking at the two women standing beside the captain.
“Don’t worry. Just tell me.”
“It doesn’t look very good, captain,” the Helmsman said. “The crew are wondering if the life boats would be a good idea or not. They want to send an SOS.”
“Both of you, what I am about to tell you, I want you to do, without question. Do you hear me?”
They both agreed.
“I want you to get everybody, except for people absolutely needed, into their cabins. Tell them that things are under control. Then I want us to steer the ship, at full speed, directly between the 2 eyes of the storm.”
“But captain . . .”
“That is my orders. Do it!”
Then, turning to Mary, the captain said, “I am doing my part. Now, I fully expect God to do His. Go pray.”
Mary and Martha went back to their rooms. Martha was scared to be in her room alone, but she was sure Mary wanted to pray more, so she went.
Over the next hour the weather seemed to get worse and worse. The ship rocked and the wind could be heard outside. But shortly after dawn everything quieted down. Martha was scared to go outside, but soon the crew was advising people that it was safe to come out. She met Mary and they went outside. The wind was gone, and the sky was clear. The ship, though looking a bit ragged, had come through safely, and nobody was hurt.
The captain came up to Mary.
“Miss, I cannot explain what happened, except to say it was God. Almost immediately after heading into it, the eyes separated and the two storms split. It was a safe corridor between them. Any other direction, and either of the storms, moving as fast as they did, would have hit us full force. If we had continued the way we were going, we would have sunk for sure. Thank you.”
As the captain walked away, Martha turned to Mary.
“Mary, I have never really listened to what you have said about God. I always thought I knew enough. I always trusted other people to tell me the truth. But today, I saw that you know God in a way I never have. I have never known Him personally, like you do. You know Him almost like He was a friend you meet with for lunch. And He listens to you, and even talks to you. I didn’t know anybody could really know Him like that. I want to. Do you think it is too late? Is it possible for me?”
“It is absolutely possible, Martha. He wants it more than you do.”
“But I don’t know how. It is too mysterious. Can you explain it to me in a way I will understand?”
“Martha, it is not hard. It is simple really. Do you understand that no amount of good things, no matter what we do, can ever get anyone to Heaven? That is very clear in the Bible. You will have to give up all arguments about it and just accept that God knows what He is talking about when He said it. Will you do that?”
“Yes. I see that. If things we did got us to Heaven, then it wouldn’t really be fair, would it? That would be like bribing God, or buying our way in, right?”
“Yes! Very good analogy. So, if nobody can buy themselves into Heaven, then you can’t buy your way there, so can anyone else buy you in?”
“No, I guess not . . .”
“So, really, there is only one person who can tell you what you need to know. Just like your dream, there is only one person who knows the way.”
“Jesus! He is the captain of heaven!”
“Yes. He is the One totally in charge. Nobody else. Nobody else has any say in who gets in. Not Buddha, not Mohammed, no angels, no pastor, nobody. And what did He say to do?”
“To follow him. To completely trust him.”
“Exactly. Can you do that?”
“It isn’t easy. How do I start?”
“The beginning is always to pray. You need Real Prayers from your Real Heart. If you don’t know what else, just start by saying, ‘Jesus, I want to know You. Let me know You.’ Say that over and over, until you start to know Him.”
“Is it really that easy?”
“Yes, Martha. It is THAT easy.”
And with that, Mary went back to bed. Martha stayed outside a little while, talking to God. She wanted to know Him now. She realized that she had known a lot ABOUT Him, but now she wanted to know Him. She had spent too much time listening to other people talk about Him. Now she wanted to have this personal relationship, with Him as a Friend and Brother and Father. Oh God, please let me know You. Let me know You, Jesus. I have always thought I had all of You that there was, and that there wasn’t anything I was missing. I argued and did my own thing. But there is a whole lot about You I don’t know, and I want to know You. Please, Lord . . . be my Friend. Be my Husband. Save me.
And, as Martha went to her room and laid down to sleep, something wondrous happened. Jesus, the Lord of the universe, stepped down from His throne, and stepped into Martha’s room. There, as she slept, He took out the cold heart, the heart that had been lonely for so many years, that had gotten involved in so many attempts to make things better, that had played with so many magical things. And, in its place, He put a new heart, a heart that was 6full of life, that was strong and pure, that could again know laughter and joy, and that would know Him, so that she would not be alone. He took out the mind that had argued for so long, and He put a new mind inside, which loved His word and His ways. And then, the most miraculous of all, He put a new spirit inside Martha.
And when Martha woke up, she knew . . . now, she really was safe.
A New Beginning . . .
*This story was written for and is dedicated to Bernadette, who is sitting at Jesus’ feet