Leslie Leyland Fields: Here comes Jesus. And Jesus calls him away from the nets. And the amazing thing is, of course, that Peter does it. He throws his nets down and he follows Jesus. And fishermen do not walk away from a lifetime of an occupation.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller:Leslie Leyland Fieldsis with us today on “Focus on the Family.” And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today Scripture is gonna be brought to life as we hear from a fascinating guest, a commercial fisherwoman. How about that?
John: Don’t meet many of those walking around.
Jim: She really amplifies some of the analogies that Jesus shares about fish and about water, there’s plenty of those parables and stories in the Scripture, and how these analogies apply to our lives today. So often I think in today’s modern world we see those stories, we read those stories in the Bible and we think that was a time long ago. There is modern-day application if we can simply find it and understand it, and that’s what we’re going to do today. That’s why Focus is here, to help equip you to do your marriage better, to do your parenting as best as you can. That’s not a perfect effort is it?
John: Never perfect, no.
Jim: I don’t know that I’ve caught the big fish there, but we’re going to talk about it today.
John: Well, Leslie really does a great job of relating to some of those scriptural stories that you talked about, Jim, and just for our listeners, if you need help, contact us here at Focus on the Family, 800-A-FAMILY. Or we’re online atfocusonthefamily.com/radio.
And Leslie is a writer, a speaker, a fisherwoman, as you said, Jim. She has six children and she and her family, they work in the commercial fishing industry in Alaska. One of Leslie’s books is calledCrossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas.
Jim: Leslie, welcome back to Focus.
Leslie: Thank you. I’m really excited to be here again.
Jim: You are the world traveler. You’re just coming in from Italy and you’re heading back to Alaska real soon.
Leslie: Yeah, by way of California.
Jim: Did you ride a whale all the way from Europe?
Leslie: That would have been much more fun than that big plane.
Jim: I don’t think so, actually. But yeah, it’s a long trek.
Jim: Leslie, before we get to kind of the kernels of what you want to talk about, let’s look at that big picture. A lot of people struggle with doubt. You know, is the Bible true? Is it really the true Word of God? It might be did Jesus really raise from the dead? I mean that’s quite an amazing story. Are these just fables? How does a believer work through maybe some of those doubts that might creep into their heart? How do we persevere and say, “No, we believe. This is what we believe as Christians”?
Leslie: Yeah, I think it’s really important to acknowledge all of the questions that we have. And unfortunately our churches don’t always do that. We … sometimes we shut down people with questions, and young people especially have a lot of questions. And, you know, let them ask those questions. We don’t need to be afraid of those questions.
Jim: We don’t necessarily have to have the answers.
Leslie: And we don’t always have to have the answers. And frankly, we’re not going to have answers to every question.
Jim: I’m trying to do that already with my boys, just to make sure that when they ask a tough question, if I don’t know the answer, I say “You know what? That’s something God knows, and humanity doesn’t have a firm grip on that yet. Certainly I don’t.”
Leslie: Right. And you know the Bible is so full, and it’s so inexhaustible, but at the same time, God didn’t tell us everything. So there are places where there are just going to be these gaps between what we know, what we understand, what we experience, and what God says.
Jim: You know what’s so hard with that, Type A people, we want to know everything--
Leslie: You know, we want to nail it down because--
Jim: --and God just laughs
Leslie: Yes! Well you know the reason is we want to be in control.
Jim: That’s the reason.
Leslie: And we think, you know, knowledge is power, so we want … we want to have everything just buttoned-up, you know, in our own mind, in our own system, and then we think we’ve got it. We’ve got it wired.
Jim: Well, you’ve nailed it with control. That’s the core thing. You know so much of Scripture has the analogies or is based on some kind of maritime reference. I mean it was the, you know, the ag/fishing business was the business of the day. That was our Amazon, right, back then. And when you look at that, you’re making it so relatable, and you help people better understand the stories. But speak to those of us who maybe have never been fishing up in Alaska. Maybe we’ve seen the cable show here and there, but it looks grueling. But what’s it like to be in that environment, fishing, the water, all of that metaphor? What do you see as the big-picture statement there?
Leslie: Well, first of all you have to know, see when we read the Scriptures and we read the Gospels and these stories of the fishermen out in the … the disciples out in the boat, crossing the sea, and they get in this big storm and there are two, like, big storms in the Gospels, and Jesus comes to them walking on water, and the other one Jesus calms the storm.
And here’s what happens, I think, when we read those stories, you know, we feel like we know them. We’ve been-- if we’ve been in church for, you know, grew up in church, we’ve heard these stories over and over, and we tend to just kind of reduce these stories to a neat little package with a nice little spiritual message at the end, you know. But I’m here to tell you that the water that Jesus sailed on, the Sea of Galilee, that water is very wet.
Jim: Like most water.
Leslie: And the mud and the dirt that He walked on from village to village around the Sea of Galilee is very dirty.And as a commercial fisherwoman who lives in Alaska and works out on the water with my hands on fish and slime and gunk, it’s real; it’s physical. What I’m trying to say is that we spiritualize the Gospels. We spiritualize those stories, and we forget--these were real men. Jesus was a real human being. These disciples were real fishermen and tax collectors, and they walked on dirty ground. And they struggled and they had doubts and they … but it was a real world of flesh and blood and mud and waterand that’s whatCrossing the Watersis about. I want to make it-- I want to help us take it out of this sort of fairytale spiritual world and make it real and physical and bring it close.
Jim: Well, and for you being in the industry, that’s got to be, you make those connections, you feel it because you’ve been there, that tactile connection that you’ve made, holding a slimy fish and being in that environment.
Leslie: Absolutely. It’s like it’s not just my heart that knows it or my mind that knows it; my body knows it. And so that’s whatCrossing the WatersI hope to do is take people out on the water, let them get wet, let them experience the Gospels the way the disciples did.
Jim: Talk about Duncan, your husband, how you guys got into this business of Alaskan fishing, how your six kids grew up in that environment, and some of the lessons that you saw them learn. What was that like?
Leslie: Yeah, so my husband and I met in college in Ohio, and we married while we were in college, and he is from Kodiak, born and raised, and his parents began fishing in 1961, so he grew up in the boat, in the skiff, grew up fishing, and when I married him, I knew that this was a package deal, that I was marrying not only Duncan; I was marrying Alaska; I was marrying commercial fishing; and he truly was this huge package deal. At the time, I was 20, I really didn’t get it, you know, what I was sort of getting myself into.
Jim: Where did you grow up?
Leslie: I grew up in New Hampshire.
Jim: I was going to … well, they’ve got some fishing there.
Leslie: Uh, not that I ever, never held a fish in my life until I got .. until I got to Kodiak. So but you know I was really up for it. I was up for an adventure, and I really felt the Lord sort of calling me, if you will, into this marriage and into this new life. And my husband was very forthright. He didn’t … he flew me out before we were married.
Jim: That was nice. Just take a look.
Leslie: Yes. All the way out to fish camp. I was there for a week. And you know what we did every day from sun up to sun down, which the sun hardly goes down?
Jim: Let me guess; you fished.
John: You fished, right?
Leslie: Exactly. We worked like--
Jim: That sounds so romantic.
Leslie: We worked like slaves, and it was perfect, because like that was our life. That was my life. Commercial fishing for salmon (we’re salmon fishermen) is really grueling. It’s hard, hard work, and this year will be my 40th season out there, so I’ve done it for a long time. I’ve raised my kids out there. They, just like their father, have grown up in the skiff. From the time they were four or five, they start going out. They don’t get paid, though, until they’re six, and then they’re on a pay scale, you know, all the way through.
Jim: Well, that’s nice of you.
Jim: I can’t wait till I’m seven so I get paid! Now you vowed to Duncan that probably this whole package deal you’re talking about, I know what I’m getting into, but you always said yourself you were never going to fish together. NowA, why would that be the case? What did you see that was going to be the problem? AndB, did you ever fish together, and what happened?
Leslie: No, actually we had planned to fish together. That was the master plan. We did this for the first three years, but let me just give you a little snapshot of how that went.
Leslie: So when we step in the skiff there’s usually two or three people that work together in the boat.
John: A skiff, by the way, is?
Leslie: Is a boat.
John: How big?
Leslie: It’s about 28 feet.
John: So not a rowboat. It’s bigger than that.
Leslie: It’s not a rowboat. It’s bigger than that. It has an outboard on it, a 60-horse outboard on it, but it’s an open boat. So the guy running the engine is the skipper, and the person in the bow is the crewman. So husband and wife, we stroll together down to the skiff, we’ve got our rain gear on, the minute we step in that skiff, we are no longer husband and wife; we are skipper and crewman.
Jim: How did that work?
Leslie: Not well.
John: Took you three years to figure that out?
Leslie: No, no. I figured that out the first … I figured that out the first week, but my husband wasn’t quite ready to go there.So imagine, we’re out on the open ocean. We live in a very stormy area. We have big seas, big storms, and the person in the bow, the crewman, does a lot of the heavy lifting, the heavy work. So we get out in storms, and I’m not six feet tall and 250 pounds like all the other crewmen. I’m my size.
Jim: I qualify! I could go do this!
Leslie: You could do this!
John: I see it in your future, Jim.
Jim: Wow! I am excited.
John: Crewman, not skipper. Crewman.
Leslie: And so when things were going badly, let’s just say there were, there was a little bit of yelling going on. There’s a little bit of screaming going on. And at the end of the day, we’d climb out of the skiff in our rain gear, trudging up the hill, you know, exhausted, and Duncan would put an arm around me—he’s my husband now—and he would say, “So how ya doing, Leslie? how’s everything going?” And I’d say, “Don’t even touch me.” I can’t … I can’t compartmentalize like that. He can. I cannot. I am ... I am still your wife in that skiff, and you--
Jim: Your wife brain matter is connecting all the dots. You can’t treat me that way in the skiff and this way on the way home.
Leslie: You can’t yell at me.
Jim: Well now we’re getting into marriage metaphors. I mean how many of us are skipper and crewman or crewwoman?
Leslie: Oh, absolutely. It just doesn’t work. On shore we work everything out, we’re partners. In the boat, there’s this hierarchy, and that’s why we don’t fish together anymore.
Jim: How did you, right, how did you translate that into other areas of your relationship? How did you and Duncan talk about that, this is just something we’re not going to do because it creates too much tension between us? What would you counsel other couples who struggle in certain areas (maybe not fishing together) but name, name the activity?
Leslie: Oh, just even a family business, right? Working together in a family business. And there are times, I think it just depends a lot on the-- the personalities involved. If it’s hierarchical, that can be difficult. But sometimes very clearly one person has this expertise; the other person has that expertise; and you can join the two together and work very harmoniously. But not everybody can do that. We couldn’t do that in fishing in that, in the boat. In other areas we do it very well. So I think you just have to be honest. What is this doing to our marriage? Is it strengthening our marriage, or is it kind of eroding our marriage?
Jim: So talk it through.
Jim: That’s a great … that’s a great learning out of this whole thing, so it’s important.
Leslie: Yeah, yeah, it was. It was.
Jim: Leslie, your kids are growing up in this environment. You had some great stories in the book about that as well, and one that caught my attention—I think it was your son. I don’t know how old he is. Fill in the gaps here. But he went out for a fishing expedition, was getting sick, and you and Duncan had a difference of opinion on how to parent at this point as skipper and crewman. What happened?
Leslie: Exactly. Exactly.
Jim: What happened?
Leslie: So this is my youngest son. He was nine, and my other son was there as well, he’s 11, and Micah tends to get seasick out in storms, so we were … it was pretty stormy, and he was sick, and my mother’s heart sees him sick and, you know, I think we should take him ashore. I want to take care of him. And my husband’s cure is for him to keep working. So--
Jim: Good old Dad.
John: Keep it going.
Jim: If it’s not bleeding, just keep on working.
Leslie: If he’s not dying, you know, he can still work.
Jim: That sounds like an Alaskan fisherman.
Leslie: That is. That is. That’s pretty much, pretty much the; how it is. So we have this conflict. I’m, “Micah, lie down, take it easy,” and Duncan’s like, you know, “Keep going, keep working.” And Duncan finally just kind of yells at me to shut up, you know, “Sit down and shut up,” and this is, this happens often, this kind of tension that I feel between being a mother, you know, a nurturing, loving mother, but also being a fisherman and also knowing that there are fish out in those nets. We’ve got to get the fish out. Our family livelihood depends on this.
Jim: And that’s an interesting point. I mean the tension, a lot of people are gasping, saying, “How could the two of you speak to each other like this?” because in our modern world down here in the Lower 48, you know it’s going off to work at 8 o’clock and we’re not having to clear the nets within a few minutes in order for the fish to be sellable and all of that context. Talk about that kind of tension in the moment and the way you roll with it. Duncan’s trying to drive everybody for the family business to make sure that you’ve got food on the table, you’re making the mortgage payment. I mean that’s all running through his head as he sees fish in the net. Describe that battle.
Leslie: Right. Yeah. It is a battle, and it’s not that it’s immediately solved, you know, at any point. We just deal with it as it comes. And it’s been 29 years now that we’ve been raising children out there, so it doesn’t go away, but there are times when I have to let go of my mothering, nurturing self, and just let Duncan take the lead and let Duncan do that.
Jim: Okay, let me ask this question, then. You know for many of us as parents it is an issue of safety, bicycle helmets, all that kind of thing. You must see the rest of the world and go, “What is going on?” Talk about overprotection. Where is that balance for you guys? I mean you’re in rough seas—your kids’ lives are actually on the line sometimes, I’m sure. How do you wrestle through all that? Where is that line of safety and precaution for you guys?
Leslie: Yeah, yeah, this is something I’ve, that’s been a part, this issue has been a part of my life now for 29 years, for as long as I’ve had children. And I know more of the story now than I did 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, because I see my kids at the other end. I see them, what these years of intense labor and even times of danger and incredible responsibility--
Jim: What are those attributes that they learned?
Leslie: They are very hard working; they don’t bat an eye at work. They are fearless. They are courageous. My daughter, at age 22, just graduated from college, went down on her own to live in El Salvador and teach theater out in rural villages by herself.
Jim: Hm. That’s courage.
Leslie: There’s probably not many 22-year-olds who are able to do that. So my kids have, they have just, they have faced death, they have faced storms, they have faced unending work and exhaustion, and they persevered.And I see that perseverance in them as one of their central character traits. AndI look around me at parenting, you know, at what’s going on in parenting now, and I see parents who really so protect and coddle their children and shelter them from disappointment, from pain, from hard work, and I think,You’re making a mistake. You’re making a mistake.
Jim: You’re actually setting them up for failure.
Leslie: You’re setting them up for failure. If you want them to be strong and to be deeply rooted, you’re gonna, there’s going to have to be some tough winds. There’s gonna have to be some winds that strengthen them.
John:Leslie Leyland Fields is our guest today on “Focus on the Family,” and you can find her book,Crossing the Waters, at our website,focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call us and we can tell you more about it, and a CD or download of our program today. Our number is 800-232-6459. 800 the letterAand the word FAMILY.
Leslie, as you’re talking about the … I’m still stuck on the captain, or the skipper, rather, and the crew. Jesus had a bunch of fisherman. So who was the skipper of the boat when they were out on the waters?
Leslie:I imagine they probably fought over that.
John: Well, that’s what I was kind of picturing as you were describing your time in the boat with Duncan, that somebody’s got to be a clear leader, maybe not always--
Jim: Well Jesus was asleep at one point.
Leslie: He was. He was, and--
Jim: Probably Peter strikes me as the guy who wanted to be the skipper.
John: Well, he’s the natural.
Leslie: Yeah, but you know there are four brothers, there are two sets of two brothers, and they would have all grown up in fishing the way my kids did, and they would have learned it from their father. Their father is older now, so he’s not in the boat anymore. What’s the arrangement? Who’s the—probably the eldest, probably whoever is the eldest brother. That’s what I would imagine is the skipper.
Jim: And that would have fit with that culture as well as the current culture of fishing up in Alaska.
John: Still, I can just hear Jesus trying to mitigate all of that. “No, I want to be the … no, I want to be the skipper.”
Jim: Yeah, I think He just said, “I’m goinna take a nap.”
Leslie: Yeah, and you know He called them away from the nets. He called them away from that kind of hierarchy, and that kind of authority structure. And you know one of the reasons I think Jesus chose fishermen is because they already knew how to work together, they were communal. They worked in a fishing business with they were not only two families, and they were also hired men, just like ours, and they all worked together. So there is this very communal aspect to fishing that they were, they already knew how to do that.
Jim: I would think—in fact, in your book you talk about wanting to make that quest to Israel to find the real gospel, which I think is very interesting. And in sharing that vocation as a fisherman and your family doing that, you had to make some incredible connections there like you’re mentioning right now. What other illuminations did you have comparing your Alaskan fishing enterprise with the disciples and Jesus as a, many times, as a fishing community.
Leslie: Yeah, there are just so many connections. I can’t say them all, but I want to … let me paint a picture for you, just this moment of insight that gives us a little more understanding of a story we think we already know. So let’s get out on the Sea of Galilee, which by the way I hope I’m not gonna destroy people’s images, but it’s actually a lake. It’s not a real sea; it’s a lake.
Jim: But they can have a big chop, a big storm.
Leslie: They can have a big chop. In fact, toward the end of the three weeks I was there, it had been completely calm, and I just started praying for a storm. Like I was having doubts--
Jim: You wanted to see it.
Leslie: --like I cannot believe … I see a lake here. I cannot believe that there’s going to be fishermen, right, who are out on that body of water who think they’re going to die. What? So I said, “Lord, you’ve got to show me a storm here.” And so finally--
John: You asked Him for that.
Leslie: I did. I did. I was praying for days, “Lord, show me a storm.”
Jim: There’s some poor Galilean fisherman going, “Why was that lady praying?”
John: You ruined his day.
Leslie: And so it came. The last two or three days I was there, here came this storm. And just like it says (imagine that) just like it says in the Gospels, it came up very quickly and suddenly it went from flat calm to big waves, surprisingly big waves given the size of the sea. And the minute those waves come and the winds come, all the boats get off the water. And I imagined people out there, okay, they don’t have an outboard; all they have is oars; it’s human powered. There’s no Coast Guard to call them and rescue them. There are no life jackets. So you get out there in the middle of the storm, and you’re in trouble. And these guys were in trouble now. The boat is—all the disciples are there. The Gospel of Mark says that the waves are sweeping over the boat. And you know what that means? That means if you don’t want your boat to sink, you’ve got to keep the bow into the waves. The waves and the wind are so strong, they cannot keep the bow into the waves. So they are now sideways, and that’s why the waves are sweeping over the boat. The boat is filling with water.
Jim: The most dangerous position.
Leslie: The most dangerous, the most vulnerable position possible. So the guys are there on the oars, and they are gonna sink, and they know it. They’re gonna die. And there’s Jesus sleeping in the stern. Okay, there’s one more piece to this. The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus was sleeping on a cushion. That’s weird. That’s a weird detail. But it’s very likely that that cushion was a buoy, and that buoy was a buoy for the sea anchor; and that’s what you throw out in a storm to give you some stability in the waves. So not only is Jesus asleep while their boat is filling up with water, but He’s sleeping on the only thing that might possibly help them.
Jim: Right. A little dilemma for the disciples. Do we wake Him up? Do we get the anchor? Yeah.
Leslie: If they had known who Jesus was (they didn’t know who He was at that point), they would have awakened Him much sooner, much sooner. If they had known that He was Lord and master over those waves and over that wind, they would have awakened Him the moment they felt fear, instead of waiting until they were about to die. I honestly think that when they finally woke Him up, “Jesus, don’t you care that we’re dying?” I think they woke Him up to take a turn at the oars.
Jim: Huh. Really?
Leslie: I think that’s probably what they were, because they don’t know. How could they know? How could they know that Jesus could calm the seas and stop the wind?
Jim: Right. It hadn’t happened yet.
Leslie: It had nev--, it hadn’t happened. They hadn’t seen anything like that before. I think they woke Him up because, “Hey, it’s your turn on the oars. Give us a … give us a break here.”
Jim: And He said, “I’m not going to do that, but what I’ll do is just calm it all down.” I mean fascinating. Leslie, this has been so good. There is so much more we want to get to. You even talk about how the disciples dropped their nets. I want to start the program next time with that analogy, being a fisherman up in Alaska, how fishermen never walk away from their nets, yet the disciples did. Let’s save that for next time--
Jim: -- if you can come back.
Leslie: All right.
Jim: Let’s pick it up there and talk about those things that you learned applying your background in fishing to the disciples’ experience. Let’s do it.
Leslie: All right.
John: And once again the book isCrossing the Waters. The author is Leslie Leyland Fields. The subtitle is great, “Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas.” And we’ve got copies and a CD or download of our conversation atfocusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Let me turn to the listener as well to say thank you. Thank you for being a regular listener here to “Focus on the Family” and investing your prayers and your resources to help us reach countless people with the truth of the gospel and with help for their families. If you haven’t done so recently, could I ask you to consider making a donation today? With your donation of any amount, I want to send you a copy ofCrossing the Watersas our way of saying thanks for your partnership and helping calm the storms in other people’s lives. I so appreciate it and want to say thanks ahead of time.
John: So donate and get a copy of the book when you call 800 the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. And it occurs to me as Leslie was speaking about the storms, you might be feeling overwhelmed, and we have counselors on staff, we have caring Christians who can listen to you. They’ll take your number and give you a call back, and they are just a phone call away. Again, that number 800 A FAMILY or online,focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Well, thanks for listening, and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time as we once more hear from Leslie and help you and your family thrive in Christ.