Sunday, August 15, 2010

Still the Storm

We cannot predict exactly what a day will bring – whether it’s weather, or other things we face. But God told Noah that the cycles and seasons of the natural world will continue. These patterns allow us even after that overwhelming flood to begin to comprehend some things.
Water has a cycle. From the clouds comes rain – or sleet, hail or snow – with varying impact. The earth is transformed, receiving and storing it for its needs, and then the water returns where it came.
And so even water has a testimony, tracing a path that parallels God’s interaction with us: He sent Jesus as living water from the heavens. Believers were transformed, receiving Him and learning His message to teach others. With the Holy Spirit on reservoir within us, Jesus returned to heaven, from where He came.
Before He left, he gave us more than a prediction, explaining that in this life we will have trouble. He was advising us as His believers to remember that storms are to be expected.
In rebuking the storm that He and His disciples were sailing through (Mark 4:39), Jesus had already demonstrated that disaster, though not part of God’s design, presents an opportunity for us to see God’s redemptive power. And he continued to demonstrate that in every miraculous act, including His own crucifixion and resurrection.
God makes from every circumstance an opportunity to communicate with us. To introduce us to Him, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God of Abraham
After Abraham came to know God, his countless descendants were introduced to God through the recited history of Abraham’s faith and relationship with God. The events that lead us individually to God need to be shared. Others need to hear the experiences that have informed our faith.
The history of my hometown includes the 1900 Storm, which was recorded as the worst disaster in U.S. history because of the level of destruction and the many lives lost. For my family, it is a story of survival. My 12-year-old grandmother and all her relatives were spared. Learning the details of that crisis, recorded in a great-great-aunt’s voice as she gave a firsthand account, drives home the wonder of God’s mercy.
My mother shared the story of another storm, when she also was 12. In the high wind, their home swayed on its foundation. The ceiling wallpaper swelled in spots as rain seeped through, eventually bursting, and they hurried to move the furniture away from the leaks. Her father, a building contractor, drilled holes in the floor to drain the water and limit the damage, and my mother mopped the water to help it drain. All the while, her elderly grandfather sat quietly in his rocking chair, even as the winds and rains raged. “Papa, aren’t you scared?” she asked.
Her grandfather responded, “Well… I lived through the 1900 Storm… I lived through the 1915 Storm… and if God so wills, I’ll live through this one.” His was the image of a faith shaped by blessings that were not only received but reviewed and recounted; a faith matured by a lifelong, personal experience with God. It was an example that served my mother well in her own elderly years, when she had to face the damage left behind by Hurricane Ike, which flooded the evacuated city in 2008. Family members and crisis volunteers cleared the debris, and months later a contractor helped her find a way to reconstruct the home she'd lived in for over 45 years.

God of Isaac

Local history records many storms, including Hurricane Alicia in 1983. I was a teenager, and I knew God then in the way that Isaac did. Son of Abraham, Isaac was heir to his family’s abundant blessings and to the legacy of their faith. And just as Isaac was surrounded by riches and celebrated in his family, I had a comfortable home and was doted on as the youngest – nine to 18 years younger than my siblings and cousins. As Hurricane Alicia approached, my brother stationed himself in my room, staying alert and ready to reassure me. But he’d have to wake me up first. “I can’t believe you’re sleeping through all of this!” he said, laughing, during the few times that I did wake up. I told him that I knew God would take care of us. My mother called it the faith of a child.

God of Jacob

In March 2000, my husband heard the weather news and called from work to tell me about a tornado watch. The sky was sunny and blue as I picked my son up from preschool, but turned gray by the time we passed downtown.
When I looked to the left, the tornado was headed for us. It followed high winds that slowed the van in a sudden sheet of dirt and leaves across the street. And there was nowhere to go. Outrunning it was as unlikely as in every tornado tragedy story I had ever read, knowing its speed and that we’d have to cross a bridge to do it.
My son sat strapped in behind me. His seat belt seemed to be the best way I could protect him. Being thrown or flipped was what I thought of, as we sat vulnerable without shelter. I put the car in park, turned the motor off, and reached back to put my hand on his leg. And in it came. “We’re going to be OK,” I yelled over the wind.
As debris crashed against the van, I looked back at him, and saw the back windshield peeling away from a hole in its center. I told him to keep his head down and not to move it, as he sat strapped upright, the headrest behind him. I bent down at the waist, away from the windows and over the baby inside me. I was almost 6 months pregnant. And I called out to God as the wind roared: “Dear God, please help us! Lord, I know you are with us! It’s OK,” I told my son, “it’s OK! God is here!
“God, please save us!”
Rock and pieces of roofing were flung through the car, the glass pieces whipping in. In the wind, I continued to yell to my child that we were OK. I continued to pray. “Please spread yourself over us, Lord. I know that you will and are. Please do! Help us, please. Please spare us. I know that you will!”
I squeezed his knee as he held his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut. I can’t say how long it took the tornado to pass. From the reported time it touched down until I arrived home (about a five-minute drive from that point) was about 30 minutes. I only know it was long enough for prayer without ceasing. I only know it was swift enough to leave us without shelter, but still not powerful enough to remove the refuge of our faith.
When the winds first began to slow, I began to cry and to say thank you, still bent over. “Why are you crying?” my son asked. I tried to form an answer.
“Because God saved us,” I said, “and I’m glad.”
I straightened up, and checked him out. A car drove up behind us and blared its horn. I started the car and drove forward a block, slowly reasoning how to drive around a wire stretched across the road, navigating our way home.
In our driveway, feeling worn, I unstrapped him and eased him past the glass. I scooped up my old Bible from the wet seat next to him. As we got out, my husband came to the front porch, unaware of what we’d been through until he saw the van. He’d left work early so we wouldn’t have to drive our child to and from his evening baby sitter, just in case. But as he realized what we’d come through, his face crumpled. And our child, seeing him, began to cry too.
I handed my son to him, as we walked into the house. My husband reached for me, and it was then all three of us sobbing. Until our son heard us over his tears, and told us what I’d told him in the van. “It’s OK,” he said, patting my arm. “It’s OK. It’s OK.” When I could, I told him he was right.
Hours later, after we’d combed the glass and debris from our hair, I looked out at the van to confirm what I knew. The only windows that remained were the front windshield and the window only inches from my son’s head. Both were intact.
Days later, the man who replaced the other windows and cleaned out the debris pointed to a gouge left in the van’s ceiling by embedded pieces of roofing that he’d removed. There was a foot-long gash directly behind where my son’s head had been.
In the days that followed I went over my decision that my son’s safety belt would offer more protection than my arms. But in God’s plan, my role was narrow, limited. It was one thing only: to trust. It was the same part he had for me afterward as I questioned what I had done, finally realizing that quite frankly my actions were irrelevant to this plan, because God’s power, glory and faithfulness had to be fully on display.
My mother told me that my sister had said she could imagine an angel in the van, its arms spread to brace the two windows. A co-worker told my husband he also imagined an angel, its wings spread over the window so close to my son’s head.
I didn’t see God’s methods.
I did recognize his faithfulness. Power greater than the force of a tornado. I also recognized the maturity of faith that God calls us all to. As a child, I trusted in how he always placed me far from danger. As an adult, I acknowleged the myriad times he had led me from trouble. That day, I had to accept that I and my child would not be led away, that we would be in its midst. But that God would be with us.
I came to know something that Jacob came to know. Jacob needed to wrestle a bit, needed to exercise his faith by calling on God to bless him. God’s response, renaming Jacob, led him to see himself in a new way, shaped by God’s purpose. God also literally touched him deeply, and gave him a new way to walk.
Shaped by God’s purpose, I shared my testimony. I passed out written copies of our story to my newspaper coworkers, about a week after the tornado, overruling my shyness.
Touched deeply by God’s grace, I was also amazed by His favor. A coworker shared the story with her pastor, who asked to read it to his congregation as part of his sermon one Sunday. Another coworker asked if she could run it in the newspaper, on the Saturday religion page. And several readers emailed their responses, sharing how the testimony had touched them personally.
I had trusted God in the van, and in hard times before that. And in the years after the tornado, I began to see more things to surrender to Him. Like shyness when a chance comes to minister, or be ministered to. Like trying to lean harder on my own efforts, when I need to be getting closer to Him.
Like evaluating myself or letting others judge me. Not only does only God have that right, I prefer for God to do it. He’s so much more loving and effective than anyone else. My time is also better spent praising Him, and rejoicing at how God encourages and rebukes me.
Like clutching my to-do list. I prefer when the Holy Spirit supervises my time. God teaches me how to steward every blessing, and I receive His power and His grace.
I also prefer life with a view, taking time to see God everywhere. I marvel at his omnipresence, glimpsed in the people and situations around me.

Your Storms of Trouble

If you’ve already looked over your circumstances, checking them like a weather report, you may have forgotten that God actually knows them better than you. With the view dim or fogged, you might not see change on the horizon. You might spot broken branches, but not see the pruning and regrowth to come. If you ask Him, you might be amazed at what God shows you, and what He can bring out of your circumstances.
If you are chilled to the bone, and your face is stinging, standing with you in the storm is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is a refuge you can turn to, someone who can teach you to say as He does:

Peace, be still.

For prayers and praise: Verses to treasure

Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family that you have brought me this far?
2 Samuel 7:18b NIV

I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.
Psalm 77:11 KJV

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Romans 11:33a KJV

If the Lord had not been on our side – let Israel say – if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away.
Psalm 124:1-5 NIV

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.
Mark 4: 39 NKJV

Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"
Matthew 8:24-27 NIV