Friday, August 16, 2013

An Ocean of Stories: The Storm

Standing in the ocean with the froth and the foam I watched the sky.

That first day on the beach was strange. The clouds were heavy and dark, billowing and rolling toward the ocean. We watched them come. The sky was an odd color, no longer just another hue of the ocean’s palette. We were thigh deep in the salty water and the waves were becoming choppier, pushing against us with more force.

Lightning sparked in the sky and then thunder cracked and rolled—echoing out over the breadth of the water—it was startling and unexpected. To see the lightning break that vast sky was a little unnerving. But even then the leisure of the beach atmosphere did not lend to people jumping out of the water quickly. Everyone took their time gathering and packing up for the day. Everyone was reluctant to be too quick to leave. There was a thin thread of the vacation kind of hope: perhaps it would blow over, move out over the ocean and not affect this space, this expanse of water and sky.  

Certainly we didn’t want to leave. Had we not waited for this forever? To put our feet in the sand and plunge our hands and heads beneath the surface? Hadn’t we driven for far too long and anticipated far too much for it to be ruined by a storm?

We stood in the water and watched the lightning. The lines were jagged and slashed the sky for just split seconds with more and more frequency.

We waded out of the water, pulling our heavy legs along with us. Experiencing the weightlessness of the water through the buoyancy of the salt had lightened the load we daily carry.  And we hated to leave that ease.

We packed all our strewn belongings and began to walk back to our little resort. Our flip flops made lots of strange noises and sand ground between our toes.

Inside we dropped all the beach paraphernalia by the front door, dried off and changed clothes. And that’s all the time it took. The storm hit. Actually it blasted. The rain pounded against the glass in sheets of slate gray. The wind whipped the giant palms outside our door, bending not only the fronds but the trunks first one way and then another. We looked out the windows and only the faint outlines of buildings and structures could be traced. It was early evening, but it was dark. And the dark was looming and tight against us, not the soft falling darkness after sunset on the beach.

The storm grew—building in its ferocity.

For a brief moment I was a little unnerved. It had been a long time since I had seen this kind of intensity in a summer storm, but I walked to our sun room windows and watched it from behind the glass. Instead of increasing my anxiety I found a quiet place of peace—an utterly still place. This is a place that can’t be drummed up or coerced.

We were in the middle of the storm, but we were sheltered, protected from the onslaught.

I left the window and we settled in with books, TV, ice cream and popcorn. We curled up in tight balls, all our limbs pulled in tightly to our bodies (except Steve). Later we went to bed and while we were sleeping the storm raged over and across the ocean, dying slowly down.

We woke the next morning wondering if our one full day at the beach would be marred by rain and more storms. But the storm was gone. It had left evidence of its presence. Water stood on the street almost ankle deep in places. On the sidewalks the water puddled  and debris littered the parking lot. Chairs were strewn wildly about within the pool enclosure. Broken palm fronds lay on our walkways.  Later we learned that during the storm a waterspout was spotted not far from us. But this morning the sun shone, glittering in the puddles and warming the standing water. The air smelled clean. The sky was brilliant blue and cloudless with little evidence of the battle of the night before.

Storms come. They happen. Regardless. =

We can predict them. Sometimes. We can watch for favorable conditions and patterns and currents, but all of these are only educated guesses based on often arbitrary percentages.  Some are only showers and sprinklings, but others are like our fierce and violent ocean variety.

We want God to stop the storms or pull us OUT of them. We want him to make them go around us or to blow right over. We don’t want storms in our lives. They frighten us. They unnerve us. They scare us. They inconvenience us. They trap us.

In our angst we ask for there to be no storms. We tend to equate the absence of storms as the approval or the affirmation of God’s presence.

This is not truth. Ask Joseph. Ask Jochebed. Ask Esther. Ask Daniel. Ask Peter. Ask Mary Magdalene. Ask Bonhoeffer. Ask Corrie ten Boom. Ask Mac Goddard. 

The affirmation of God’s presence comes in the still place, the quiet place, in the midst of the storm.  That peace comes when we look at the storm and realize we are sheltered from the onslaught. We know this. We’ve heard this truth touted too many times to count. And yet the clich├ęd use of this metaphor does not negate its truth.

We’re so afraid life is going to be ruined because of the storms. This belief causes ulcers and anxiety and fear. We worry we won’t be prepared to weather the storm. We agonize we won’t be able to endure the severity or the length of it. Because of these thoughts we often ignore the warning signs: the lightning, the thunder and the wind.

But our God will shelter us. He will cover us. He will put us in a safe place even while the storm rages right around us. We can go to sleep in the midst of the fiercest of storms if we know and are convinced that He is good and that He can be trusted.

And when we wake the next morning there will be little evidence of the battle during the night except that we have learned to trust Him a little more. 

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