Thursday, May 30, 2019

Peace in the Midst of Storms

Seeing all the news reports of severe storms in the Midwest and Facebook stories from friends about hiding in their storm cellars for hours these past few weeks has brought to mind my experiences with floods, thunderstorms, and tornadoes.

As a young child living in Juneau, Alaska, in the late forties and early fifties, where it could rain for weeks on end, thunderstorms just didn't develop there. I didn't experience thunder and lightning until our family's first trip to Philadelphia when I was in kindergarten. 

One night, as I lay in bed listening to my grandfather's loud snores, flashes of light outside suddenly lit up the room and loud cracks of thunder drowned out all other sounds. I'd loved fireworks on the Fourth of July, but it was October in a big city, so I was sure it must be something else. 

Were we under attack? It was only five years since the end of World War II, and in Alaska, the only American soil invaded by the Japanese, and with nuclear war on the horizon, we still practiced air raid drills in school. Of course, my fertile imagination could conjure up the worst scenario.

My whimpers must have awakened my grandfather sleeping in the twin bed across from me. I heard his deep voice reassure me in the midst of the storm. "Don't worry! It's just thunder. The storm will pass soon." 

How many times since then have I heard the voice of Jesus whisper, "Peace, be still!" in the midst of my life's storms?

Two months after our wedding in 1967, Bob and I went through the worst flood of the Chena River in the history of Fairbanks, Alaska. I have previously written about that miserable but unforgettable experience. Click here to read it.

During the mid seventies, Bob and I moved to Springfield, Missouri, so he could prepare for the ministry at Central Bible College and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Part of Tornado Alley, Springfield sported spectacular thunderstorms as well as tornadoes.

Our first night there, we were staying with friends until we could move into our rental house. Bob had gone to bed and fallen asleep immediately while I was still getting ready for bed. Just as I was about to crawl under the covers, out of nowhere, a huge flash of light just outside our window and a deafening boom awakened Bob. Only back from Vietnam for two years, he leaped up and grabbed me, shouting, "Incoming! Incoming! Hit the floor! Take cover!"  

A few months later, in our rental, one morning as I dressed for work, I heard distant rumbles of thunder. Bob had already left to drop off our son at nursery school on his way to his morning class. As I combed my hair, I felt the sudden urge to pray for the safety of the house and all its contents.

No sooner had I uttered the words when with a great flash of light, the house shook violently. It felt like everything had exploded around me. Still trembling, I checked around and found no damage. Later, I learned that the house next door, just a few feet from ours, had suffered a direct strike that fried all of the electrical appliances inside.

I also recall the many tornado warnings. One night, while Bob was still at his night job, the radio warned of tornadoes. Our son and I could hear the telltale freight train roar as a tornado barreled down a nearby street. We had no storm cellar. Our son's bedroom closet was the only inner space with no windows, so I frantically tossed everything out so we could squeeze in and shut the door until the danger was past. 

During another memorable storm, I stood at a fourth floor window of the Assemblies of God Headquarters building where I worked, looking out at a storm surging over the city. My legs were resting against the air conditioning/heating radiators just under the windows. Suddenly, I felt the walls pushing against my legs from the force of the winds. I backed away quickly. 

That day, several tornadoes touched down on the south side of town. The house of one of the employees was hit. Her young son was home with his babysitter. The tornado sucked him up and carried  him away. When the storm passed, they found the baby caught in a nearby tree, crying with fright but unharmed. Later, as they searched through the rubble, his mother found something to laugh about. The tornado had taken one shoe and left the other of every pair of shoes she owned.

We now live in the Mid Hudson Valley of New York, where thunder rolls and echoes up and down the river. Washington Irving, in his classic story, Rip Van Winkle, compared the thunder rolling up and down the valley to men in the Catskill Mountains playing nine pins (bowling).

When I was teaching a class of second graders in a Christian school near us, we returned to our classroom from lunch one day in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm. One side of the classroom was a wall of windows that afforded a front row view of the storm's ferocity. Someone mentioned tornadoes, and the children panicked.

I opened the Bible to Psalm 29, which vividly describes a thunderstorm--its approach as it grows in intensity, its full impact as lightning hits nearby trees and splits them, its frightening effects that strike fear to even the animals, causing some to give birth. And then the storm passes into the distance, and still the Lord sits enthroned as King and blesses His people with peace. As I read the psalm aloud, the children's fear subsided, and soon the storm was over.

How comforting to know that in all our storms, weather-wise, emotional, or spiritual, God gives us peace--peace in the midst of the storm as well as when the storm has passed by!

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