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Spiritual Spinach

Jesus hasn't forgotten how to catch

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I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack is in December.

Some of the first stories I recall writing about veterans were those who’d survived the deadly assault on Dec. 7, 1941.

One of them was Walter Barsell Sr.

Walter wasn’t even 21 years old when the attack occurred. That Sunday morning, Walter was sitting on his bunk, writing a letter to his parents.

Suddenly, he heard the sounds of airplanes and explosions.

Walter was among about 40 men in a two-story barracks. They raced to a window where they saw the low-flying enemy planes.

“You could have hit them with a baseball if you’d had one,” he said.

The planes flew so low that men in the barracks could see the red circle emblems on the aircraft and the determined looks on the pilots’ faces.

Those planes flew over the barracks and went on to drop torpedoes in the channel near Ford Island and battleship row.

Torpedoes slammed into the ships. The men heard the explosions. They saw the fires and black smoke billowing into the sky.

Soon, the men went to another window and saw Hickam Field, where American planes were lined up for inspection.

“They were sitting ducks,” Walter said.

The men saw enemy planes bomb the airfield.

From their place in the barracks, the men could see a panoramic scene of fire, destruction and explosions — on the airfield and at Ford Island where the battleships were.

Suddenly over an intercom, a voice told the men to leave the barracks, to go across the nearby highway and scatter.

“We were told to leave, because we had no guns to fight with,” Walter said. “The guns were locked in a locker and the sailor who had the keys was ashore.”

So they went into a field.

The men were stunned. They couldn’t believe what was occurring. America had the strongest naval force on earth.

But it was happening.

Eventually, they were called to the docks to clear debris. Walter remembers pulling body parts out of the oil-soaked water.

He and other men then were sent to a ship, tied to a dock. Their job was to help transport ammunition to the top deck. Because there was no electricity, the men used chain hoists to pass the ammunition topside so a few guns could be shot.

Walter remembered the sirens and the sounds of ammunition being fired.

And he recalled something else.

“The sights and sounds were all there, but hardly anybody talks about the aroma of the event,” he said. “Before all this happened, you could smell the gardenias and tropical flowers and within minutes afterward there was the stench of burning oil and gasoline. It all goes together. That smell accents the disaster.”

Recently, I was speaking to a group of women. My question for them and for me was:

What have you been smelling lately?

If you’re like me, you may be smelling the scent of:

The arthritis cream I’ve been putting on my knee.

An accident my collie had on her puppy pad.

A fresh-brewed cup of coffee.

But metaphorically speaking are we “smelling” something else?

Maybe it’s the smell of fear, worry or concern.

We wonder:

Will prices keep going up?

How will my health hold out?

What will happen to my children? Or grandchildren?

Life can be scary.

The people at Pearl Harbor knew that.

Yet so many showed great bravery during and after the attack.

And who could know if the enemy might return?

Francis Alexander, who lived just four miles from Pearl Harbor, was waiting for her husband, Milo, to return home when she heard the bombing.

She turned on her radio and heard news reports about the attack.

Francis and four other Navy wives later went to a house in the hills near Honolulu. As night fell, they huddled in the darkness. They heard erroneous radio reports of Japanese soldiers in short, red boots parachuting into the area.

The women feared Japanese soldiers would invade their home at any time.

“Sometimes coconuts fell from the trees. Every time one of them hit the tin roof, we thought someone was breaking into the house,’’ she told me for a Tribune article.

Hearing more news reports, Francis thought her husband had died. After a sleepless night, the women looked out the window and were comforted when they saw the American flag still flying.

Milo was among men who survived the attack.

I think about the women huddled in the house. They had to muster their courage.

Having courage doesn’t mean we’re not afraid. It’s doing what we must do even when we’re scared.

I think about a man, who was scared, but still stepped out in faith.

That man was the Apostle Peter.

At this point in Bible history, Jesus has his disciples, including Peter, get into a boat to go across the Sea of Galilee.

Christ goes to a mountainside to pray.

Later that night, the disciple-filled boat is a considerable distance from short when it is buffeted by waves because the wind is against it.

Shortly before dawn, Jesus walks out on the water to them.

The disciples are terrified.

“It’s a ghost!” they cry out.

Immediately, Jesus says: “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter says, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

Christ tells him to come.

Peter gets down out of the boat, walks on water and starts coming toward Jesus.

But then Peter sees the wind and waves and gets scared.

He starts to sink.

“Lord, save me!” he cries out.

Immediately, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches Peter.

Did you catch that?

Please don’t miss the fact that Jesus caught Peter.

Jesus wasn’t distracted.

We never hear him say: “John, why don’t you sit down before you fall out of that boat,” or “Andrew, why aren’t you here on the water with your brother?”

Jesus wasn’t impatient.

He never said: “Peter, would you hurry up? Now we both have a boat to catch.”

Jesus wasn’t oblivious to Peter’s need or cry.

Instead — better than any Major League baseball player — Christ made a perfect catch.

He didn’t drop the ball or Peter.

After his great catch, Jesus has a question:

“You of little faith,” Jesus says, “why did you doubt?”

Was Jesus scolding Peter?

I don’t think so. I can’t imagine Jesus saying those words in an angry, malicious or sarcastic tone.

Jesus was patient with people.

So could it be that Christ was reminding Peter that our God can do the impossible?

And that he was never alone.

Years later, whenever Peter faced a tough situation, could he almost hear Christ’s question: “Why did you doubt?”

And did Peter know that the same Jesus who caught him before could catch him again?

The Scriptures state that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

He hasn’t forgotten how to catch.

The same Savior who caught Peter can catch us, too, as we fall into fear, despair or trouble of any kind.

He’s there to catch us even as we slip into death.

It’s the ultimate perfect catch.

Walter Barsell Sr., died a couple years after I interviewed him for the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

I trust that Christ caught Walter, who’s now with his loved ones in heaven.

And as I’ve written before, I wonder if he’s been catching the smell of something very sweet.

Maybe something very much like the scent of gardenias.

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly faith-based column.

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly faith-based column.

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