Monday, December 02, 2013

Fourteen Days

Fourteen days ago, I sat in my normal seat at church, surrounded by friends and family. Earlier that day, I had casually shrugged off the "severe weather" forecast for our area, so I gave little thought to the rumbles of thunder that began. But there was an eerie difference in the thunder we heard as pastor stepped to the pulpit, around 10:45, ready to begin the morning service. The peals of thunder continued as if it were one long rumble. And soon that sound was accompanied by a faint continuous siren. I looked over to Nat and said under my breath, "I think that's the tornado warning." Within seconds, emergency alert messages were heard throughout the auditorium as people's cell phones began to go off. And as our church family began to evacuate the auditorium to the safety of the bathrooms in the lower level, I looked down to see the terror in Andrew's eyes. I quickly pulled him to myself and assured him as we walked by the glass doors of the foyer, "See, it is just a storm. Everything is okay." For the next forty-five minutes, our church family huddled together. Sirens from our town (and distant sirens of nearby towns) continued to go off and on, and although it was windy, I thought we were experiencing a typical storm. Soon church members began to report facebook posts of tornadoes that had touched down in Roanoke, about 11 miles from us. Still, the weather around us seemed relatively calm. As soon as I got my family (which now included my five nieces and sister-in-law) home and calm, I turned on the local news. Confirmed reports of tornadoes began pouring in, some within miles of our home. Seeing the terror on the faces of the children in my living room, I gathered them around. I reminded them of Psalm 56:3. "What time I am afraid I will trust in thee, in God whose word I praise." We prayed together, thanking God for the many, many promises of His Word that we can cling to when we are afraid. And in my heart, I began to pray for the many, many friends I have in the areas that were hit by the storms. Throughout the afternoon I heard from several friends from Washington, Illinois, all of whose homes were spared. Yet each had the same report: whole subdivisions had been destroyed. That night, my niece, her husband, and baby girl came over to our house to eat, shower, and charge their phones. During the evening service at church, we learned of one in our church family who had lost everything except the clothes he wore and the car he drove to church that morning. The next morning I awoke to a message announcing that school was canceled due to teachers who were without power and whose homes were damaged or destroyed. That day, my oldest son's birthday, I cuddled with my boys and my sweet great niece, all the while checking facebook for new updates to the news in Washington. Over the next few days, I learned that Jack's former second grade teacher and family had lost both of their clothes, their cars, and their home. Images revealed only the concrete slab of their first floor, and the stairs that led to their unfinished basement where the family huddled during the storm. All the events seemed surreal until I drove by the devastation. Until I saw first hand the remains of homes. Until I understood the memories and sentimental belongings that were lost that day. Until I saw the haggard, exhausted faces of ones who were searching through rubble to find something--anything--worth saving. And while I am so very grateful that my family is safe and that I have a home, my heart aches for so many. This morning, as I once again drove through streets that were once lined with beautiful homes and manicured lawns, I was humbled to know that my God is good. He is all knowing, He is faithful. He is the Sustainer. He is the author of hope. He is the Victor. And He alone can comfort these hurting people. As for me, I realize how misguided my thoughts and my intentions have been. I have allowed my gaze to shift from the eternal to the temporal, placing meaningless value on trivial things in life. So for the next few days (weeks?!?!?!), I plan to refocus and reevaluate. I have deactivated facebook, and I will only periodically be checking email. My prayer is that God will use these days to show me areas in my heart where His hand needs to firmly carve away my selfish desires and plans. I need to reshift my focus and my priorities, and I need to truly learn to appreciate all He has given me. If you happen to read this, please pray. Not for me, but for those around me. It will be a long, long time for their lives to return to "normal." And as the news crews leave and the volunteers fade, I fear that discouragement and bitterness may take their places. May we believers band together and be quick to share the hope and peace that those who are hurting will find in Christ Jesus. And may I always, always remember to trust and praise the promises of my faithful Father.