Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Grace in the Storm

I'm no stranger to storms. Growing up in tornado alley, some of my earliest school memories include tornado drills. When I was in first grade, I remember my teacher reviewing those drills as the sky turned a sickly green, wind slashing rain against our classroom windows and bowing the trees low. When I was a junior in high school, my hometown was hit by a deadly F4 tornado that tore a half mile wide swatch of destruction across the small town where I grew up, destroying downtown and killing six people. 

After spending the first twenty-seven years of my life in Arkansas, my husband, two small boys, and I moved to the coast of Texas, where we were quickly introduced to a whole new kind of storm - hurricanes. Just five months after moving, a small system blew up into a hurricane shortly before landfall, and we rode out the Category 1 storm as the wind screamed and sheets of rain fell for hours. The next year we evacuated for two storms, and our home flooded in the second one: Hurricane Ike. Last year, much of our area flooded when Harvey dumped 60 inches of rain on the Texas coast. We walked with friends and church members who sustained massive damage, some losing everything they owned.

Physical storms can be terrifying. But life's storms can be just as scary, just as damaging, and even harder to protect ourselves from. These storms take many forms: job loss, marriage problems, close friendships that end, people we trust who hurt us, life changing medical diagnoses.

I want to handle life's storms the way I handle physical storms. I want to make myself small and cover my head like I did in those elementary school tornado drills. Or I want to pack up what matters most and get in my car and drive far away like we do in a hurricane evacuation. This isn't a new feeling. David wanted to do the same thing in Psalm 55:6-8: I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Behold, I would wander far away, I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah. I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest." But hiding and running won't protect from life's storms.

When storms hit, I do tend to make myself small and run away emotionally. I withdraw. I listen to a lot of music, even creating playlists that fit what I'm dealing with at the time. I read a lot, sometimes fiction, because it's an escape from a dark reality; sometimes Shauna Niequist or Emily P. Freeman, because their words and their openness always seem to meet me exactly where I am. I get quiet, because I know if I put my feelings into words, I'll shatter and I won't be able to contain the emotions. I hate losing control in front of anyone, so I hide my deepest feelings until I'm alone and safe.

When you're in the middle of a storm, it's all you can see. It takes over your awareness, filling every sense. When the sky turns green and eerie silence screams in your ears, all you can do is take cover and pray. When wind screams and debris flies, all you can think about is staying safe from the carnage. When your life turns upside down, all you can focus on is the pain and the fear.

Then the storm passes, and you're left to clean up the destruction that's left behind. You find yourself looking for a new job, grieving a loss, finding a new normal while wishing life could go back to what it was like before the storm, but realizing it will never be the same. Life will be marked differently now: before the storm, and after the storm. 

Jesus knew what it meant to face storms. He knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing what He was about to face, begging the Father for another way. But there was no other way. The only way we could be saved was for Him to face the storm head on. He knew how the story ended, and He knew the storm was worth the price. 

We don't know how our story will end - but God does. He wrote the ending long before the storm started. He walked this earth and faced the same kind of storms we face. He knows our pain and fear, and He doesn't leave us to face the storm alone. He holds our hand and walks beside us. He comes to us when we need Him and never leaves our side. When we call out to Him, He gives us grace to face the storms and find new life on the other side.