We’ve all had them.
Shaping seasons. Times in our lives chronicled by life-changing situations that force the issue of faith. Perhaps you’re living in one today. If so, you walk it without the benefit of hindsight. You walk it forward, hoping for an eventual backward glance, but today’s focus is paramount. Tomorrow’s look back will have to wait. I know. I’ve walked this road before. Dozens of times.
But today, I have the privilege of a backward glance to one of those seasoned times that occurred nine years ago. It’s not been one I relish most days, for that season was hard fought. Hard lived and barely endured. I don’t imagine I will ever again walk the vast spectrum of emotions that I felt during that time. My heart might not survive the process. Just this morning, as I perused the vast storehouse of my written thoughts during 1999, tears welled and the sting of a thorn’s reminder pricked around and within my soul.
Even still, there is worth in the remembering. There is eternal value wrought forth through the suffering. Sacred shaping from a sacred Father who intended its sacred merit long before my life would walk its sacred shores. A sacred season named Hurricane Floyd.
Unless you’ve personally walked through the valley of a hurricane’s devastation, you cannot fully appreciate the depth of its embrace. You can witness it via the television screen or in still photographs via the internet or newspaper, but unless you’re living it in real color, your knowledge is skewed.
Not that I would wish your literal participation. Some storms are better viewed from a distance. Some lessons are better learned second hand. But there are some storms allowed their fury within our lives because storms, perhaps more than any other mode of divine forging, hold the immediate and forceful capacity…
to shake our complacency.
to shatter our comfort.
to shift our concerns.
to shape our character.
Storms are a slap in the face. A wake up call to take notice and to get busy. This would be my portion in 1999, and years down the road, the recall of those moments is vivid and poignant and worthy of some words this day.
There are so many things I could tell you. Things like…
*A boat’s rescue from our front lawn.
*Boating through the streets of our little town.
*Watching the waters creep their way into homes and churches and graveyards and groceries.
*Setting up a makeshift relief center in the stripped down fellowship hall of our church.
*Hundreds of volunteers who flooded through our doors to help with the rebuilding efforts.
*The command post and clipboards that delegated the responsibility for those rebuilding efforts.
*The endless hours of phone calls and emails and meetings that exacted a timely toll early on.
*The pressure of not enough time and not enough emotional energy to meet the needs of so many.
*The pressure of keeping a congregation happy who didn’t always share our vision for outreach.
*The pressure of keeping a family focus and a marriage focus, a miserable failing on both counts.
*The desire for closure, but seeing no end in sight.
So many things I could recall. So many lessons learned because of this storm called Floyd. But for all the stresses and strains and fears and failings that undoubtedly forged a teaching within my soul, there is one lesson…one thread of purpose that weaves lasting and true within.
Victims and volunteers alike. During that time, I partook of the purest portion of human expression. Love was our measure. Love poured forth and poured into the hearts of individuals who needed its embrace more than food or clothing or a home to call their own. Love walked as it was meant to breathe. Love that lasts, even nine years down the road.
We moved from that town a year later. I won’t lie. It was a welcome relief and the necessary move in order to save a marriage and a ministry. But we didn’t leave without some love in our hearts. And it is that sacred thread of love that goes with my husband this day as he travels back to the place of our storm’s fury to bury one of God’s saints.
A precious woman who gave us her love when others wouldn’t. A woman who saw past the color of our skin and into the pulse of our hearts. A woman who laughed and lived, despite the carnage going on around her. A woman who kept the fires of her hearth burning, even when the wet desired to extinguish its flames. A woman who taught me the sacred value of a storm. Not so much through her words, but through her actions that spoke a teaching far greater than man’s chronicling of the event.
She gave me her friendship, and in doing so, allowed me some sacred purpose in a season that rarely made sense. She, and others like her, painted the beauty in my backward glance. And while I don’t frequent Floyd’s memories in my mind very often, when I do, I do so with some joy and some thankfulness. Not for the menacing devastation of flood waters, but for the relationships that were birthed through their cleansing.
Maybe Gustav has been your portion this week. Maybe the remnants of Katrina are still fresh in your hearts and minds. Maybe an unnamed storm lurks in and around your present this day. Like me, it has slapped you in the face with a wake up call that forces your notice and asks you to get busy. Just exactly how that “busy” will breathe, I’m not sure. But of this I am sure.
When storms slap, storms require. When storms subside, memories remain. And therein lies the connection. What “remains” threads back to what is “required.” Memories can paint lovely if the steps taken to paint them walk confidently and with the trust that God is after a masterpiece in the end. Otherwise, they simply paint bitter.
I couldn’t see God’s masterpiece in September 1999. But today, in September 2008, my remnants vision, for the most part, as a lovely good. Especially the memory of a woman who walked that season better than me and who lived her life, better than most.
She is the beauty of my backward glance this day. Her friendship to me and my family weaves a portion of purpose into that very difficult season of sacred requirement. I pray that you, too, have the benefit of a beautiful look back on your difficult. It not now, then soon. Shaping and beauty walk their own time-table, and when visioned through the lenses of a Father’s best intentions, they walk thankful for the privilege of participation.
Even in a hurricane. And so I pray,
Father, paint our lives with purpose this day. May the beauty of heaven’s purpose be allowed our vision, if only for a moment. Where we lack strength, Father, bolster our hearts and our frames for the walk. Where we lack wisdom, give us insight into the depths of your understanding. Where we lack patience, give us feet for the long haul. And where we lack love, pour the truth of Calvary’s love into us through the power of your Spirit, so that we may portion it accordingly. I thank you for the hurricane that rudely and appropriately interrupted my life and forced me to my knees. Weave its beauty into my masterpiece for always. Amen.
Copyright © August 2008 – Elaine Olsen. All rights reserved.
PS: This post has been exhausting, but when I recover and return, I plan on beginning a mini-study based on Luke 24:13-35, “Setting the Table for Communion.” I hope you’ll come along for the journey. In the meantime, God’s peace and blessing be with you, especially those of you who are feeling the wrath and rage of a storm’s fury even now. Shalom.