Updated: May 5, 2022
When the sea's rough and the wind is whipping and the threat of sinking seems really real, boaters are grateful for any refuge. Any port will do. We don’t care if it has good restaurants, well-appointed moorings, or even fuel or freshwater. We just want a safe place to get out of danger in a jiffy. But beyond the immediate threat, are all ports equal and equally safe?
They're calling for thunderstorms here in sunny Florida. My cellphone pinged weather alerts all night long. It's pretty quiet now, but the wind is whipping up and dark clouds are gathering ominously. When it storms in Florida, it really storms.
It's not hurricane season, but they're warning of severe thunderstorms, tornados, 41-degree wind-chills (it's 78 degrees this minute), and possible waterspouts (a fantastic sight to behold).
Even if it's just thunderstorms, we're the U.S. lightning capital and you've never seen rain like it rains here. Picture the tropical downpours that doused Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in Papillon, one of my favs. Floridians usually eat hurricanes for breakfast, but there are certainly storms that give us pause and send us running for shelter.
I live in a townhouse made of cinderblock and stucco, sandwiched between four other units, and above the flood zone. I feel very safe. When Irma rolled through back in 2017, we stayed put, albeit with life vests I Sharpied with our names and phone number just in case they had to identify our lifeless bodies bobbing down the main drag after the storm. Thankfully, that didn't happen.
My last house was a stick-built rancher up on a grassy ridge. The rare tornadoes that touched down were threatening, but we were spared. However, elevation didn't help protect us against some storm flooding, since our land was full of springs. At least twice we had several inches of water in the basement. Still, no big deal.
My first home in Ellicott City, Maryland was a 100-year-old row house inches above the Patapsco River flood plain. The duplex lower on the hill than mine flooded during the famous 1972 Hurricane Andrew, long before I moved in. I lived there for ten years with a dirt basement that stayed good and dry the entire time. Since then, the village has had two completely devastating floods. Heartbreaking. I don't know if my former home was affected, but I was pained by the news image of the funky Main Street store where I shopped festooned with patriotic banners and completely underwater.
All my homes have weathered storms, as have I. I've weathered a very difficult childhood, the thorny lives and premature deaths of my older brother and two parents, a trying marriage and divorce, the ascent and failure of a business, other assorted unusual injuries, and many more ordinary difficulties.
In fact, more than endured! Just like The Book predicts in James 1, I have prospered through these trials. I am stronger, more resourceful, more faithful, braver, more resilient, and have a greater capacity for joy and peace as a direct result of these challenges.
There are other perks that are difficult to quantify, but I'm keenly aware. I absolutely, positively believe there's a direct correlation between the outcome and the source of my security.
It wasn't always that way.
From my earliest memory, I’ve had a conspicuous interest in spirituality. I’ve always sought to connect with God. I like that one of the meanings of my name is "consecrated to God." That and "beautiful." I like them both.
I was raised nominally Catholic. Nominally because my Italian Catholic mom didn't embrace America’s version of the sweeping changes by 1965's Vatican II. I didn't get the indoctrination that seems to have injured some, but Mamma was able to instill a sense of a God who cared, though He was distant and imponderable.
Mamma also taught me the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary, and Requiem in Latin. Lovely, but their rote repetition rarely gave me much solace, so I talked to God instead. When our homelife got stormy, my father absent, and my mentally ill mother ill-equipped to cope, my talking to God got more urgent.
With a doctorate in philosophy, Mamma had a well-reasoned and abiding faith, but lacked the sort of accessible, grassroots spirituality one needs when the poop hits the fan. Nor did she have a sense of how to create community in a foreign land. As family life got stormier and stormier, this remote, esoteric, and elusive God didn't seem very helpful, but I kept praying.
When my brother died of a drug overdose at 25 and our family imploded, this God appeared altogether absent. Those years were such a train wreck, it was hard to see God. I didn't find him a safe place to rest my head. I turned away, taking a prolonged vacay from this God who solved very painful problems in such very painful ways. I wasn’t angry, really. I was just wary and leveled with grief.
I sought some kind of anchor. At first, less lofty gods seemed best: Jobs, ambition, acquisition, money, friends, and fellas. Eventually, I sought shelter with one fella in particular, who served well as a higher power for a while. Problem was, he was merely human and had a few flaws. Imagine! Turns out, the poor guy was a rather poor substitute for God, absent a lot and most often it seemed, when I needed him most. Not unlike my own father, or that original god I'd abandoned years before.