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7 Storm Lessons

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

In the wake of Ian last week, I went for an early morning recon run around my neighborhood to assess the damage. All told, there wasn't any. The dire predictions that Tampa was the bullseye proved to be wrong. My aptly named town of Safety Harbor, a location God helpfully picked without my cooperation or strategizing, was virtually untouched. All the foreboding warnings of Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday didn't materialize at all. On the other hand, our neighbors elsewhere were unexpectedly milled through the cruelty of indifferent nature, a trail of destruction. Filtered through the lens of faith, any storm--meteorological or otherwise--can be an instructive growth experience.

1. Storms reveal our fears...and attachments.

Even as my phone pinged frantic weather alerts last week, we were all pretty fear-free. Partly, because my little townhouse is a cinder-block and stucco fortress. Partly, because I have loads of gumption. Partly, because my boys' father is a competent prepper and he had our backs. Mostly, however, because of the fearlessness we can have through God. It also helps greatly to not fear death.

In the interest of rigorous honesty, let me briefly qualify. I didn't have any fear of the storm. I did have fleeting fear when Isaac developed a croupy cough and 101-degree fever at 9pm, moments after we were warned to take shelter by midnight. Isaac is more vulnerable to complications from upper respiratory stuff and I've ridden an ambulance to an ER with him before, when a simple cold turned into pneumonia. I wasn't too keen on a repeat performance. Not to mention the fact that we'd be unlikely to get an ambulance (or boat) ride in 140 mph winds in the lightless dark. Not that they would come. Yikes.

My mind momentarily zoomed to the worst-case scenario.

Honestly, I think the enemy, sensing my serenity, went for the jugular, because nothing will prey on our fears more than kid-related challenges. But I'm ever-reminded that Isaac is God's and God says, "no fear," so I'm compelled to comply. God also says, "Don't worry--pray." He commands it. Thus, I prayed and handed Isaac over to God in the spiritual sense. I told the fears to stand down. The fear promptly dissipated even as the lights went out and the wind whipped up, and by morning, Isaac was fine.

That's just a fact.

Ironically and instructively, as I oft repeat, Isaac represents a major milestone in my deliverance from fear. When I learned he had Down syndrome, my terror initially went into overdrive and it seemed legitimate. Apart from the fact that I prize intellect, this was one challenge I could not dominate with sheer force of will or wile.

For instance, Isaac had two tiny holes in his heart that required constant monitoring (but not surgery, thankfully) for years. His heart is now totally healed. For another, kids with Down syndrome's level of functionality and independence varies widely, so there was no way to predict if he'd ever walk, talk, or be autonomous. He's now doing great on all fronts. Finally, there was no absolutely predicting Isaac's condition's impact on our family or on him. His impact has been beyond positive in every respect. Who woulda thunk it?

But at the time, it all initially seemed so disastrous. After those first few agonizing months, seeking God for comfort and wisdom, I was compelled to simply surrender Isaac and our family to Him. Not only have none of my early fears materialized, but Isaac has proven to be a blessing of abundance in countless ways. And the added challenges of having him have also proven to be blessings themselves. I return to this lesson over and over when I face the unexpected, however ominous it seems in the moment.

What we fear often reveals what we hold most dear. The more we value something, the more afraid we'll be to lose it or the more desperate we'll be to get it. While our human attachments might seem good and even holy, holding the things of this world loosely frees us from fear. Conversely, God will sometimes wrest those things we idolize from our hands. Like God demanding biblical Abraham's Isaac as an offering, and as Abraham obediently complied, God providing an alternative gift instead.

Revering God above everything and everyone else can free us of fear. Jesus said,

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10:28 (ESV)

2. Storms help us get ready.

Ian was especially destructive further south because those regions weren't expecting to be the target so the folks just weren't ready. Few people had evacuated, secured their property, or otherwise prepared. On the other hand, up here in the Tampa area, citizens in danger zones were evacuated early and the rest of us had time to brace ourselves.

I'm grateful that by both nature and nurture, I'm a very resourceful woman, with many skills, and oodles of energy and courage. Tested by trials and time, I have the ability to make lemonade out of lemons, a tasty meal out of canned goods, and can scramble to find solutions to thorny problems on a dime.

Likewise, I am very grateful that I have an amicable, mutually supportive relationship with my boys' dad. He is a very well-prepared prepper and skilled marksman (should that ever become necessary...gulp).

In practical terms, we're pretty much ready for anything and thus, were ready for Ian. Or as ready as one can be with forces of nature. We had plenty of food, batteries, candles, water, TP, first aid and flotation gear, etc. The coming storm did enable us to fine-tune our prepping for the next crisis.

More important than anything, is we were all emotionally and spiritually ready, including ready for devastation and death.

Are you? Aside from practical prepping, are you right with God? Are you sure? If you haven't trusted Christ for your security, you're not really ready for any storm. And if you're a believer and aren't in a posture of repentant dependence, you're not ready either. Jesus said,

"Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Matthew 24:44 (ESV)

He said it, not me. Take heed.

3. Storms clear away dead stuff.

Thursday morning, the sun rose with a stiff wind, but Ian had passed us by. The storm was crawling toward Orlando, wreckage in his wake. A blessed, if random, reprieve for us. I went for my usual morning run and found only lots of wind-blown detritus scattered here and there. Ian pruned piles of dead palm fronds, dry and dying tree limbs, and withering leaves from the trees, sparing arborists everywhere a lot of work trimming unhealthy vegetation.

Meanwhile, many neighbors to the south were picking through the splinters of their former lives. One day, you're enjoying your waterfront view planning your boat trip. The next, your block has been through nature's Cuisinart and your boat is in someone's back year a mile inland. In an instant, everything can change. Life is like that. Sometimes, it makes no sense at all. We can be blindsided with unexpected storms that seem to lay waste to our lives. Yet, those very storms can clear away those things that distract us from what really matters.

Jesus said.

"Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." John 15:2 (ESV)

While pruning can seem terribly severe in the moment, it ultimately makes us healthier and more fruitful, enabling us to focus on what really matters.

4. Storms help us focus on what matters.

Even material losses that are devastating in the moment can yield unexpected benefits by eliminating the extraneous and reminding us to focus on what really matters. The storms of life have a way of stripping us down to the studs, causing us to examine our priorities, eliminating lifeless attitudes, behaviors, and even relationships. Jesus said,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)

Disasters--of the natural or human variety--also have a way of reminding us that this world is fragile and fleeting, and we have far less security and power than we imagine. When the waves are crashing and the forecast is grim, Jesus can be a fixed point, no matter what the ultimate outcome.

Rembrandt, "Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee," 1633

5. Storms reminds us our powerlessness.

Images from Fort Meyers and Sanibel Island are shocking. Entire communities reduced to unrecognizable rubble. I've been to Sanibel, a sweet and charming island paradise, now partly reclaimed by nature. The Gulf is sweeping through sections of the broken causeway, all that manmade cement, asphalt, and rock powerless over the mighty wind and water. Such are acts of sovereignty that remind us of our powerlessness.

Apart from evacuating, safeguarding belongings, or battening down the hatches, there's little any human can do in the face of natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods or the more personal crises like diagnoses or relational storms. Sometimes we can glimpse the vastness that reminds of us how powerless and puny we really are.

A friend recommended a storm-watcher app called to help track Ian's approach. The most striking aspect of the app was seeing Ian's component winds feeding him from vast distances. The storm was immense, drawing from all quarters.

As a recovering control freak, I have marshalled every smidgen of intellect and energy to influence outcomes and failed miserably--thank God. My resident object lesson, Isaac, was a milestone in shattering my delusions of potency. I wasn't going to be able to fix him. Turns out, he didn't need fixing, I didn't need to fix him, and he is actually fixing me. Effortlessly.

As a person who has fought mightily to hold tight to the reins, I have sometimes found this incredibly unsettling. In the past, that discomfort would fuel an ever-tighter grip, more urgent, more intent. Used to be this gave me some comfort, as though I could muscle my desired goal. God's economy doesn't function that way.

In a tug of war with God, guess who wins?

I am still learning to discern when that angst-driven feeling is not God, but rather is a prompt to pause and consult Him for next steps, if any. Assuming a posture of restful dependence and trust. Going with God's flow is better.

I have far too many examples of my vigorous effort at managing my life failing, and ample examples of God's gracious and loving action on my behalf to believe it's random. God is acting in my life. Sometimes, with my humble cooperation. Other times, in spite of my resistance. Regardless of my delusions, Jesus said...

"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

The storms of life remind us of our powerlessness and hopefully, point us to the One Who Has All Power.

The best time to get this insight is before a storm, not during or after, when it may well be too late!

6. Storms point to God.

Some readers posted on my Facebook page where I'd asked for prayer, that God has answered and protected us. Others said faith has shielded us from disaster. Scripture does indeed repeatedly promise that God will protect His people from all manner of danger, including storms. The fact is, I'm sure there were plenty of faithful folks praying in Fort Meyers, or Port Charlotte, or Naples. We dodged a bullet. They did not. I cannot explain or understand it all, but am simply grateful for the fact of it. Who is to say the next time a hurricane hits, we won't be underwater? Regardless, I'm confident of God as my strength and my refuge from the storm or in the storm.

I have weathered many storms. From an early age, things have happened in my life that have battered me. Later, I added to my hurt by my own hand. Yet, it's in this very brokenness that I found God. That I continue to find God in a world sometimes seemingly bent on destruction. We can let the storms lead us to God or lead us away.

In fact, we're smart to ask if the storms are intended to get our attention.

Storms invite us to go deeper, come closer, reach further for God. Stripped to the studs, we can cry out to God for help and a hope that doesn't let us down. Not merely a hope that doesn't let us down, but a hope that can restore life where there was once darkness and death. Jesus said,

...“All authority (all power of absolute rule) in heaven and on earth has been given to Me." Matthew 28:18 (AMP)

Jesus' power is not only available to us here and now, but into eternity. When we face big storms of any kind, that's really good news because rather than destroying us...

7. Storms can herald new life.

More than 100 people died as a result of Ian. Though that's tragic, the reality is that the human mortality rate is 100 percent. We're all going to die of something, someday. Yet in Christ, we are promised to dodge the ultimate bullet. Jesus said,

...“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 (ESV)

What's your answer? Your life depends on it.

Love, joy, grace, peace, and life in Christ,

Prayer: Lord, I give my failures and my life to you. I believe you are the resurrection and the life. Please sweep away my sin with the mighty wind of your Holy Spirit and give me new life, so I might never die.

Action: Are you in a storm? Walk through the seven lessons and reflect on how they apply to your storm.

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