The very first house that Chris and I bought was an adorable little basic ranch style house, green tin roof and all, nestled on five acres of beautiful land in Livingston, Tennessee. We loved that little house! We loved the life we were building for ourselves and our son. We were blessed and happy.
One week after moving into that house a Tornado tore through our area; completely decimating many areas of our county and an adjoining county as well. Homes, lives and communities were ripped from their moorings and torn apart. A path of destruction left gaping wounds and miles and miles of area with no discernible landmarks as to what once had been a town.
The night of the storm we were unpacking boxes…so many boxes! We had the radio playing in the background giving just a passing thought to listening to the information that was being given about the weather. We were busy. So much to do! No real time to pay attention to what was happening around us. As the night went on, the storm outside grew louder and the power began to flicker. My mother in law called us about every ten minutes with an update about what the news was saying; and none of it was good. At this point I began to grumble about not having time to deal with the power going out when I was trying to get my house unpacked. I was TOTALLY PUT OUT with the idea that we would have a storm when I had so much to do. Gee Whiz folks, the storm will just have to deal with itself because the boxes are not going to unpack themselves! We just moved in! Seriously God, you know how hard Chris and I worked to get this house; are we really going to have a Tornado?! UGH! Let’s just say I was not my best self as I tore into boxes, yanked out items and stomped around grumbling under my breath like a cranky toddler in need of a nap.
Fast forward to a few hours later, the storm has intensified and the power is completely out. To say that I was annoyed is a total understatement. Heaven help! What part of I don’t have time for this nonsense do we not understand here? I had yet to really let it sink in that we were in danger…nope…I was just irritated as a wet hen that I wasn’t getting the tasks accomplished that I had set for myself. The rain lashed and railed outside…and I lashed and railed inside.
Then it happened, a bolt of lightning tore through the sky and struck the ground rattling our little house and shaking a bit of sense into my angry brain. When had the rain become so violent? Had the wind been whipping with such a fury all along? The cacophony of sound seemed intensified suddenly, but in truth it had been this bad for a while; I just hadn’t been paying attention.
Finally, I realized that this storm was not just going to pass us by. With our power out, we had no connection to the outside world. Remember this was back in the day before cell phones, so no power meant no phone either. What had my mom in law said the last time she called? How close was the storm? Where would we go if this got worse? We don’t have a basement and the bathrooms have windows; maybe the inside hallway. Should we get in the hall? Should we get Zach out of bed? I was FINALLY clued in to the storm! Within minutes Chris and I were huddled in the hallway with our sleepy toddler nestled in my lap and a bed mattress pulled over us. The reality of our situation was taking hold and it was not pretty. We didn’t want Zach to be afraid or upset, so we began singing to him. I would love to tell you that we sang songs about Jesus and love, but the truth is we sang countless verses of the Itzy Bitzy Spider; hand motions and all! Anything to distract Zach and ourselves from the screaming wind that was tearing all around us. Over and over again we sang in that high sing -song voice that you save for small children and animals when they are hurt or afraid. Even now, knowing that the storm was bearing down hard on our little house and my little family, I still was more irritated by the inconvenience of it all than really afraid. (Yes, stubbornness is one of my many talents!)
Suddenly the wind and the noise stopped. IT-JUST-STOPPED. There was complete and utter stillness. This wasn’t however a calm stillness. Somehow this silence was heavy, deafening, and the most frightening thing I have ever experienced in my life. It was as if all of the air, all of the life, had been sucked out from around us and there was nothing left but a dense void; a heavy, crushing emptiness. Have you ever stood in the ocean and felt the tug of the tide as it rushes back out? Magnify this by a zillion and you can almost feel the pull of that debilitating silence that had enveloped us. It lasted only for a few seconds, but in those seconds there was COMPLETE CLARITY. Chris and I looked at each other and we knew…just knew with finality the condition that we were in; helpless and vulnerable. And on the very next breath the world around us exploded. The storm tore at our little house with absolute vengeance. The wind raged and the rain pounded down on our tin roof with the furry of a run away locomotive; a horrific distortion of sound that enveloped us in terror, shook our very bones, and tore prayer from our mouths. There was no more concern about boxes and unpacking. No more concern about my house. No more grumblings and protestations. Just prayers and pleading; calling out to God for mercy, for the lives of my child and my husband.
Storms. They pop into our lives at unexpected times. Often we have the warning signs that something is coming, but we are too busy to notice. Sometimes we do not. They are unpredictable and unrelenting, and often they seem destined to bring destruction and devastation to our lives. In every storm there is a moment …a singular crushing moment when you come face to face with the reality of your predicament. The truth of your complete inability to weather the storm alone is made undeniably clear. I fully believe that God uses these moments to magnify our need for him in our lives. It is here, in the clarity of the moment that we are reminded of our helplessness, but more importantly the strength and unfailing love of God are revealed to us once again! God never promised us a life free of storms. He did however promise not to forsake us. Not to leave us, but to join us in the turmoil; pouring his peace and mercy into the unrelenting torrent of confusion and hurt in our lives.
I wish I could tell you why some people face more storms, more trial, than others. I can’t. I wish I could explain why some storms don’t end with “a happy ending.” I can’t. I can however tell you that it is IN the storms of life that God draws near to his children. He is never failing in this. He is there. In the uncertainty and pain. He is there. In the lashing of the wind and rain. He is there. In the diagnosis of illness. He is there. In the death of a loved one. He is there. In the moments when all the world seems aligned for our ruin. He is there. We are not always delivered from the storm, but we are never left to face the torrent alone.
The tornado didn’t hit our house that night. In the light of morning we saw the evidence of a storm that had traveled along our fence line and then “jumped” our house, landing behind our property and laying waste to everything in its path. I do not know why we were spared. I do not know why our house was left standing when so many others weren’t. What I do know is that in this, and every other storm I have faced (And there have been some doozies!) God has always been present. The testimony of my life isn’t that God delivered me FROM the storms (even though he most certainly has time and time again), but rather that God was palpably present DURING the storms. And in the storm I am reminded once again how strong my anchor is. God is my refuge and strength. He is my strong tower. He is not taken off guard by the storm and he is not blown off course. His love is steadfast and true.
Storms will always be a part of our lives. They do not mean that God doesn’t love us or that he has turned his face away from us. For that matter, when the storm is over, in the light of day, we may just realize that the storm has driven us back to the arms of our Father. And it is there, in his loving embrace that we find peace.