An Unholy Rhythm, A Holy God
About the Guest
Sometimes it takes a pivotal event to open your eyes to God's truth about your life. Former Arkansas Congressman Ed Bethune and his wife, Lana, talk about the "perfect storm" they found themselves in while sailing across the Atlantic ocean. Their boat was hammered by 25-30 foot waves and shrieking winds for 36 hours. Uncertain they would make it out alive, they radioed the U.S. Coast Guard, who rescued them several hours later.
Sometimes it takes a pivotal event to open your eyes to God’s truth about your life.
An Unholy Rhythm, A Holy God
Bob: Ed Bethune and his wife Lana were sailing in the Atlantic, off the coast of New England, when a storm blew up—a powerful storm—one that almost sank their ship.
Ed: Finally, after 36 hours, we realized the boat was beginning to show signs of real trouble. We were taking on water, the engine wasn’t working, sails were blown out, and the water was getting into the boat. For the first time, I used my single sideband radio to call the Coast Guard to just see if there was any possibility of a rescue.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 6th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear the story, today, of the storm at sea and the dramatic rescue for Ed and Lana Bethune. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There’s an old expression—people talk about foxhole religion. You know what I mean?
Dennis: I do.
Bob: The guy, who is in the foxhole, and the bullets are whizzing past him, and he thinks, “Okay, God, if You get me out of here, I’ll do anything.” We’ve got a guest today who’s been in a couple of foxholes, and got out of the foxholes, and then got into the FBI. He’s had some of that going on; but it took more than the enemies, foreign and domestic, to cause him to really reconsider what his life was all about.
Dennis: That’s right. Ed and Lana Bethune join us on FamilyLife Today. Lana, Ed, welcome back.
Ed: Thanks, Dennis.
Lana: Thank you.
Dennis: Ed, as Bob mentioned, is a former Marine. I guess once you’re a—
Bob: He’s a Marine—Semper Fi; right?
Dennis: —You are a Marine until the end.
Lana: There is no such thing as a former.
Dennis: He was a prosecuting attorney, a special agent for the FBI. In fact, you worked in the FBI for four years; and you were after the Mafia. Is that right?
Ed: Yes, I worked a lot of Mafia stuff, and bank robberies, hijackings—in the metropolitan areas of Chicago and New York.
Bob: Ever a time in the FBI when you thought, “I don’t know if I’m getting out of this one?” Did you ever have a moment like that?
Ed: There were a couple moments there. Actually, I had more tense moments in my battles against the old guard Democrats. [Laughter]
Bob: Let’s see—Mafia or the Democrats—who are more dangerous? Ed Bethune has just declared—
Dennis: Well, what he’s hinting at is that he has served three times in Congress. He and Lana have been married for 53 years—have two children, and eight granddaughters. He’s written a book called Jackhammered: A Life of Adventure.
Bob: There’s a picture on the front of this book that is—well, it looks like the boat is in trouble, basically, because the storms are high and the sailboat, that’s on the cover, doesn’t look like it’s going to make it out of those storms.
Dennis: Yes. You tell the story here of this 31-foot sailboat. You and Lana decided you guys were going to cross the Atlantic. You were going to leave Norfolk—is that right?
Dennis: —and head north because that’s the shortest route.
Ed: Yes; northeasterly.
Dennis: When you set sail, was it blue skies and all?
Ed: Oh, yes, gorgeous weather. At that time of the year, June 6th, all of the data, going back 600 years, indicates that there are fewer gales and rough weather at that particular time than any other. So, we chose that time purposely; but there are unseasonable storms that crop up from time to time. After four days out at sea, we encountered—
Dennis: Well, now wait—
Dennis: —before you get to that.
Dennis: —just a little of the logistics there. You would make about how many miles a day in a sailboat?
Ed: A good day would be 100.
Dennis: There’s a stream in the ocean.
Ed: It’s called the Gulf Stream.
Dennis: All the way up the East Coast toward New England?
Ed: Yes, it’s like a river in the sea. It’s a current, really, that comes down by South America, swoops around into the Gulf of Mexico, back up through the Florida Straits, then squeezes between Florida and the Bahamas, picks up speed, and then runs north off the coast of Hatteras, northeasterly all the way to Europe.
Dennis: So, you could pick up some speed by getting in that Gulf Stream.
Ed: Yes, that’s the good news. The bad news is that if you’re riding a current that is going one way and encounter a wind that is going the other; you will get extremely high seas. They’ll make up into incredible heights because of the opposing forces that are meeting.
Bob: When did you first realize, in your journey, that there are rough seas ahead?
Ed: On the fourth day out, the winds began to pipe up; and we realized that something was brewing. We would listen to the radio reports and understand that there was a storm brewing off the coast of Nova Scotia, that was probably going to come down in our path; but we assumed that it would be short. It was that time of year when those storms typically don’t last that long; but this one was an incredible storm, that lasted several days. So, the seas began to build up and got so bad—
Dennis: Well, now, wait a second.
Dennis: Let me interrupt you there—had the movie, The Perfect Storm, been out yet, Ed?
Ed: No, it hadn’t been out.
Dennis: So, there wasn’t any chance you had seen that—
Dennis: —before you went out there.
Lana: Thank heaven. I would not have gone. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, I have to wonder with what you’re describing—it sounds like it was those kinds of conditions—that we saw in that movie—that you were heading into.
Lana: It was worse.
Ed: Yes, the real—
Dennis: Worse?! Worse?!
Ed: Well, I don’t think it was worse, but it was bad. The waves, according to the Coast Guard, were 25 to 30 feet. In a 31-foot boat, you can just imagine that when finally you were forced to heave to—which is to arrange your sails in such a way that the boat will stay in essentially the same position—then, you just shut everything down and go below. So, that’s what we did. We closed the boat up and went down below.
Imagine going through two nights at a time when it was pitch dark. You’re down below in a 31-foot boat, and the boat would be lifted skyward on a 25- to 30-foot wave. When it got to the top, it would hang on the crest of the wave and then fall off into the trough of the wave, land on its side, shutter and shake, and make the most terrible noise—equivalent to the noise of a jackhammer, by the way. This went on for 36 hours.
Dennis: You called it, in the book, an unholy rhythm.
Dennis: I thought that was a really interesting description. It just continued to batter you. Where were you guys, Lana, in the boat? I mean, obviously, you couldn’t be outside in the—what do you call it—the cockpit?
Dennis: You couldn’t be out there because you’d be washed overboard.
Dennis: So, where were you in the boat, physically?
Lana: We were laying on the sole of the boat, which is the floor of the boat, the lowest point on a sailboat. We were actually lying foot-to-foot with our heads opposite because there’s not a lot of space there. It’s only about three and a half feet wide in the middle, in the depth there.
That’s where we were because every time I would get up or Ed would get up, we would be thrown against the side of the boat—against the cabinetry, or the seating, or whatever, or the table. So, we really could not get up. It was too dangerous. In fact, I had been thrown against the cabinets a couple of times, trying to get our passports out of a drawer where we had them—just in case we had to abandon ship.
Bob: You had to be thinking, “I don’t know that we’ll make it. This may be it for us.” I mean, 36 hours of this continual thrashing about.
Lana: Well, to be honest, we had already come to the decision that we were not going to make it. So, when we were in that position on the floor, we had inflated our life jackets. We had our Bible, and we would read to each other from the Bible. Every once in a while, we’d come to a particular point; and we’d both kind of raise up, hug each other, and then get back into position and lie back down.
Ed: —which is not easy to do if you have two inflated life jackets. [Laughter]
Lana: It was not a real close hug. It was—
Ed: In total darkness, by the way.
Dennis: But you are talking about the most intimate things of life.
Ed: Look, the most interesting thing about that moment is that we didn’t talk about sports, or business, or the TV shows, or the movies, and all of the things that people talk about when they think they’re going to live forever. We talked about our life together. We talked about our children. We talked about our hope that there would one day be grandchildren, though we might not see them; and we talked about our faith. Those are the things that matter.
That was the moment in my life when this incessant drive and strong will that I had struggled with my entire life—I came to the point where I realized that I needed to surrender. I needed to surrender my will to God’s will because, after all, my life—our lives were in His hands now. That was so clear to us. They always have been; but it was plain to us, at that moment, that it was the end of the line for us. So, we knew and I knew—Lana was not having as much trouble, of course, because she was already a surrendered Christian. I was the one that was anxious, and wringing my hands, and all kinds of fits about what was taking place within my life. She was more at peace with the thing than I was.
Bob: Well, and you’ve already shared with us this week that you had come to a point where the Christian message made sense to you. You had said, “Yes, that makes sense, and I agree with that. I affirm that;” but what’s going on in the belly of this boat is different than that intellectual processing of, “Does all of this make sense?”
Ed: Oh, absolutely, yes. You know, I had gone through all the stages of trying to read about all the religions of the world, to read about the apologetics, and all the great theological studies that have been made, and trying to use my lawyer logic and all of that to figure this thing out and to prove it. That’s what I was trying to do; and as I said, I believe it was just an excuse that I was using, so that I wouldn’t have to give up my will.
Dennis: Do you remember what you prayed? What you said to God? I don’t recall if you wrote it in the book or not.
Ed: I don’t think there were any particular words that I said, Dennis. We were in constant prayer, as you might imagine. It was just a moment of, “God, forgive me for all I’ve done and for the many times that I have passed up the opportunity to do what I’m doing now”—that sort of communication. Of course, I realized, too, that once you reach that point—I think it is a critical, and important, and necessary point to reach, where you actually give up your will.
Now, does that mean that we’re going to be sanctified and perfect from that moment on? My belief is that we all, unfortunately, are going to backslide because we are sinners. So, the process, after surrender, of sanctification is a process. It’s an ongoing process.
Bob: There is more surrender that happens—isn’t there?—
Bob: —along the way.
Ed: Yes, you’ve got to get back to that moment where you say, “Okay, I know what I’m doing. I’m back substituting my will for Yours.” We all do that, and that’s what gets us in trouble. The nice thing about having surrendered is that it clarifies. You know how to get out of the trap when you start that downward spiral again. You know that what you need to do is to let go of your will, substitute God’s will, everything, then, clears up.
Bob: Lana, as you were laying in the belly of that boat, listening to your husband verbalize some of these things that you’d never heard him verbalize before, and wondering if these were your last hours together—
Lana: Well, a lot of people have asked me if I’ve had bad dreams or thought about that time. It’s really interesting because, at that point in my life, I think there is a point beyond fear. I experienced that. I was not afraid at that time. Consequently, I have not had nightmares or bad dreams. I had relinquished myself, and I really knew that I was going to die. Then, of course, Ed was doing the same thing. To have that experience together is something truly special. I would not have missed it for the world—believe it or not! [Laughter]
Ed: God works in mysterious ways. Now, the important point is that God put us in that place. He saved a wretch like me through many, many incidents, long before that particular time.
Bob: Through many dangers, toils, and snares.
Ed: Yes, very much so.
Lana: Love that song.
Ed: I have to conclude that, “That’s His plan for me.” He loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life. The hard part is knowing what it is; and I have to believe, looking back now, as I’m in my senior years, that I went through all of this—and Lana and I together went through all of this—to get to this point.
Perhaps, that’s why I didn’t intend to write a memoir—I only intended to write about the sailing story—but wound up going back and writing about my childhood and this struggle between the hardheads and the soft-hearts, which is just a nice way of saying, “A struggle between putting yourself in the center and putting God in the center of your life.”
Bob: Ed, I have to ask you about the point in time when the waves started crashing a little less regularly, when you started looking at each other and going, “We may be okay here.”
Ed: Well, that didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, they just kept getting worse and worse. Finally, after 36 hours, we realized the boat was beginning to show signs of real trouble. We were taking on water, the engine wasn’t working, sails were blown out.
Dennis: There were stress fractures in the boat.
Ed: Yes, stress fractures down below. That’s where the water was getting into the boat. We knew that we were in serious trouble. For the first time, I used my single sideband radio to call the Coast Guard to just see if there’s any possibility of a rescue.
We were at the outer margin of a rescue for Coast Guard helicopters because, as I said, we were 210 miles from the nearest point of land; but I called. My first question wasn’t about rescue. My first question was about the weather, “What’s the prediction?” They came back to me about a half hour later and said, “The prediction is that it’s going to last three more days, and it’s going to get worse.” That’s when I said, “Well, we need to talk, if we can, about some way to get us off of this boat, if there is a way.”
That, then, triggered an absolutely marvelous response by the Coast Guard, which I write about in the book—about how they put together a rescue plan, which was very marginal because we were right at the outer limit of what they could do with the helicopter. They put the plan together. As it turned out, we were rescued from the boat. We had to get off the boat into the water. Both of us had to abandon our boat and get into our little life raft because they couldn’t get near a sailboat in seas like that because the mast might get into the helicopter and cause it to crash.
Anyway, by and by, it worked out. The helicopter came to the scene. I always tell people—when we tell this story, orally—that most of us, certainly wretches like me, have had an angel on our shoulder all through our life to protect us; but you never get to see that angel. Well, we got a glimpse of our angel. Guess what?
Bob: He has rotors instead of wings.
Ed: Our angel is orange and white; and it goes, “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh,” like that.
Dennis: I thought it was interesting that the young man—who came out of that helicopter, and who dove into the water to help rescue you, and fought the currents and the waves—when he got into the helicopter with you and they finally finished the rescue, you said he was lying on the floor of the helicopter for 30 minutes, almost without moving—sheer exhaustion!
Ed: Totally exhausted—Rod Parker—the young man. Our son, Sam, was in the Navy—or is in the Navy still—and he was a rescue swimmer in the Navy. When this young man finally got Lana up into the helicopter, he came back for me. He had a terrible time getting to me because the waves were working against him, and God intervened again. This young man kind of surfed down this wave, and there he was right by me. If it had not been for that, I don’t think he could have gotten to me. He would have had to leave me out there. When he got to me, the first thing I said to him was—I said, “Look, my son is a rescue swimmer in the U.S. Navy, and I love both of you!” [Laughter]
Dennis: It wasn’t until you got back on land that they realized that you worked in Congress and that they’d saved a member of Congress at that point. I thought that was a great testimony to the U.S. Coast Guard that they were not a respecter of persons at that point. They came to rescue you—not knowing who you were, what you did, what you were about.
When I told Bob about your book—and I told Bob—I said, “You know, Ed and Lana really take us to the core issue in all of our hearts—the issue of our wills, and who will we surrender to—what will we surrender to.” I’m just reminded of Jesus’ words. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Dennis: Now, that’s either the truth; or it’s a lie. If He be who He is, He demands the ultimate allegiance.
Ed: It changes everything, and the—I guess, if my book stands for a proposition, it would be that it is one thing to accept that intellectually with your head, but you have to accept it with your heart. That’s faith. That’s when real surrender comes, not before.
Dennis: The question for our listeners today, “Where are you?” Ed said he came from a family of hardheads and soft-hearts. Which camp are you in? Have you come to that point of surrender to Jesus Christ? My challenge to you, if you haven’t—let Ed Bethune’s story and testimony of his conclusion of what he’s going to do with Jesus Christ be an example of what you need to do before this day is over.
Bob: On our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, there is a link that says, “Two Ways to Live”. If you click on that link, it will lay out for you the choice that’s in front of every one of us, “Which way are we going to choose to live? Are we going to choose to live for self? Are we going to choose to live for something more significant than that? That’s really the dilemma that all of us are facing. If it’s not for self, what should it be for? What should we be living for?”
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com, click that link, “Two Ways to Live”; or if you’d like more information on what it means to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, there’s a book we’d be happy to send you called Pursuing God: A Seeker’s Guide. We’ll send it out at no cost. All you have to do is call and request it. 1-800-FL-TODAY is the toll-free number, 1-800-358-6329; 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. Ask for a copy of the book, Pursuing God, when you get in touch with us.
You might also want information about Ed Bethune’s book, Jackhammered. You’ve heard part of Ed and Lana’s story today; but the book tells a lot more, not only about their time at sea, but Ed’s time in Congress, his time in the Marines, and in the FBI. It’s a powerful story; and we’ve got copies of the book, Jackhammered, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask for the book, Jackhammered.
We want to say a special word of thanks today to those of you who have made today’s program possible. Like most of the programs you hear on this station, FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. It’s folks like you who listen to the program regularly and have found it to be spiritually profitable in your life. You folks make this program possible when you make an online donation at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation. We could not keep doing what we do without your support, and we do appreciate you. Again, our website to make a donation is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Well, we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend; and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to meet a couple who got to a point in their marriage where they decided, “This just isn’t going to work.” Marriage was over for them; and then, we’ll hear the story of the remarkable transformation that took place in their lives. We’ll meet Scott and Sherry Jennings next week. Hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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