Following Jesus Through the Storms

Leslie Leyland Fields is a writer, editor, and national speaker who lives on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in the winter and Harvester Island in the summer, where she has fished with her family in a commercial salmon fishing operation for 40 years. She and her husband have six children, ages 14-28.

Q: You explore the disciples leaving their nets from the viewpoint of a fisherman. Jesus doesn’t ask all of us to leave our vocations—how do we know what we need to leave and what we take up as disciples?

Jesus called those first disciples from the nets, but He called me to the nets. The essential thing for all of us is to answer the call to “follow me.” That phrase in the original language means literally “to walk the same road.” And what did following Jesus mean? What road did Jesus walk? A road of healing the ill, feeding the starving, teaching, forgiving.

When the fishermen threw down their nets, they actually hung around their same neighborhood, for the most part. Rather than escaping the world of mud, water, fish, and storms, it immersed them all the deeper in the muck of this world. So He didn’t call them to a different place; He called them to a different life following him. That’s available to all of us, no matter where we live!

Q: You took a trip to the Sea of Galilee and went out with fishermen. Were you surprised that the fishermen let you go out onto their boats?

I was entirely surprised by one invitation—to go out on the last remaining seine (a type of net) boat on the Sea of Galilee. But for the other boat, I worked for three days to get onboard! What finally swung the deal was the videos on my phone. I had two videos, one of my family fishing out in a big storm, and the other of fin whales breaching right beside our boat. The fishermen were amazed—and they knew I was the real thing. Then I got to go out with them!

Q: What have you learned about fear and faith while following Jesus through the storms (often literal)?

I met Jesus one day in a bush plane. I was kneeling on the floor beside my 13-year-old son who had been in an ATV accident. His face was smashed and bleeding. He was barely conscious. Beside me was my infant son in a carrier. We were flying in fog so thick even the Coast Guard would not come to evacuate him. But one pilot risked his life to fly the 90 minutes to get us.

Ten minutes into the flight, the plane suddenly went vertical. We were about to crash—to hit a mountain. I put a protective arm around each son. Just before we hit, I should have been panicked, but I wasn’t. My heart was profoundly calm. I knew more than I had ever known before—Jesus was with us. That even if we crashed and died, we were safe. People have died out here in planes, and in our waters. But I’m not afraid of dying anymore. I’m more afraid of myself, my own sin, the ways I can separate myself from Jesus. That is true death.

Q: You compare mending nets to repairing holes in your heart. How do we follow Jesus in our family relationships, mending and forgiving as we love?

No one is harder to forgive than the ones we live with! I am honest about this in the book, the struggles my husband and I have out there fishing. We struggle a lot! This is how I know the Gospel is real—we’re still together after 40 years. Love can be resurrected again and again. If the Good News of the Gospel cannot melt our hearts, help us give up our “rights,” and bring healing and peace in our own marriages and homes first, what kind of good news do we have to share?

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