The Beauty of a Backward Glance

The Beauty of a Backward Glance

For Dewey and your precious family. My heart is with you today as I remember and reflect…

“Be still, and know that I am God;…” (Psalm 46:10a).

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.

*Living with friends and their generator for several days.
*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.

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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.

27 Responses to The Beauty of a Backward Glance

  1. Thank you for sharing those hard memories. Most importantly, thank you for keeping your God-eyes open to see His grace even within a devastating storm. And thank you for the reflection and reminding us of seasons that we each endure.

  2. Elaine,

    I have never walked the streets (or rowed) after a hurricane, but have walked the aftermath of a tornado. Thank you for sharing this time in your life w/ us! In all things God works for the good… God is there in the storms. My WFW post today had 2 very different pictures. One was in June when our area was hit with 11 inches of rain. So many families south of us lost everything, but Hope remained!

    The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
    ~ Matthew 7:25

  3. What a moving post. Oh, what a difference a testimony makes, and yours is absolutely right for such a time as this.

  4. Life is full of storms, Elaine, some literal and some not. I’ve lived through storms…who my age hasn’t? But in the midst of any storm there is a calm place if only you can find it. Sometimes it takes a dear, sweet Christian friend to help you find your way there – praise God for those friends who have the courage to step out and take your hand. blessings, marlene

  5. He lovingly shows us how our valleys can become mountaintops and part of the tapestry of our lives he is weaving…ugly and knotty on the back in the unseen, yet radiant and specific on the front, forever to show his grace and glory when we acknowlege Him and share our stories with those around us and those we love.

    My husband has been a First Responder Teacher and Disaster Recovery specialist in a volunteer role with Red Cross…My fears have to be covered in prayer for him when he responds and goes into the fray of big events, knowing he will come home exhausted and with many heart-breaking and heart uplifting stories of people who don’t have our God and people who step up with God’s love.

    The smell, sights and sounds are truly unforgettable…thank you for sharing your loving words

  6. Elaine, thank you for pouring yourself out in this post. I’m originally from SC and lived through Hugo, so I have a little taste of what you shared. (Lived in S. Florida for 5 years, too, but that was after Hurricane Andrews came, and we had no major storms during our time there!)

    I look forward to “Setting the Table for Communion”.

    Wednesday blessings …

  7. I don’t know that I have really come to be able to look back on the times of Katrina and Rita and really know what God was teaching me.
    I know we moved out of those times with deeper relationships with some while others came to an end.
    It was a time that left my heart and my head twisted and somewhat broken like the many trees in our area. There is beauty in brokenness..but also points that die and do not return. Things taken and broken that can never be recaptured. I would say that I have not come yet to understand what God allowed to happen in our church family after the storm.
    I think there is something still to be gained by that time….I think He will reveal it when the time is right.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.It was a strange time…..a time that I know He has and had a purpose for all that happened.
    I did not realize what a tender spot this is in my memory..even today.

  8. I’m a HUGE fan of backward glances. They are such a rich resource when considering just how we are, indeed, more than conquerers! Great story.

    The closest I’ve come to nature’s serious threats was the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s in 1980. We lived quite a bit north of the peak, but had it blown north instead of east, we could have been impacted more severely. All I know is that I very quickly developed a profound respect for nature’s power like I’d never had before.


  9. Tornadoes and an earthquake is what I've been a part of. Our son & family live in Cape Coral, Florida, and with that transition have become so much more aware of Hurricanes.

    Elaine, I just can't say it enough….Girl you sure can put your thoughts to paper in such a profound way.


  10. What a wonderful story. Tragedy is sure to do one of two things, bring out the best or worst in a person. Clearly it brought out the best in you and those around you.

    One day you will see your friend in heaven where people from every nation tribe and tongue will gather. What a beautiful sight this will be!

  11. Beautiful post. Thankfully I haven’t had to live through a major natural disaster, but I’ve had plenty of other kinds of storms. I especially liked you statement: “walk confidently and with the trust that God is after a masterpiece in the end.”

    Thank you.

  12. Taking a backward glance right now at some storms I have weathered – not due to natural disasters, but winds of change. Unexpected clouds roll over the horizon and call for a response. Will I evacuate or ride it out? Some I’m meant to abandon, others I’m meant to endure. Some batter my soul, others…sadly…I initiate. Some envelop me in the eye of the storm, and in others…I am the eye of the storm…the “I” of the storm. My temperature rises leaving a wake of devastation behind me.

    I pray that after each storm the forecast will be brighter. May I be teachable in the storm and may I be more like Jesus when the sky clears.

    Watching for the Son,

  13. Oh my goodness. What a memory. And you are smiling in every one of those pictures. What a blessing you must have been to those people. I have never experienced anything like what I see in your pictures, or on TV. I cannot imagine the devastation. But you are right, there is always beauty there in the midst. Disaster often brings out the best in people, I’ve found.
    Thanks for sharing your heart. Rest up, dear friend. Can’t wait to dig into Luke with you.

  14. Elaine, thank you for sharing. Some memories are hard to relive…but I so appreciate you doing it and sharing because I learn so much from you. Thank you for that.

  15. Elaine,
    I did have a look back today after reading a chapter of Anonymous. As I sat with Jesus He opened my eyes to see… It was a blessed time with Him this morning.

    I am SO loving this book. I feel another post for my blog stirring from my time today but didn’t have time.
    Maybe tomorrow if the stirring is still there.

    I wait for the stirrings of God to come to me and when they do I start writing. It’s was there today, maybe it will be there tomorrow.

    Thanks for sharing your heart here. It was a beautiful story.


  16. Absolutely Incredible. This is the second time I’ve had very similar thoughts as you have on your blog. I just wrote a very small itty-bitty snippits about Hurricanes. Really, it’s very small. Yet, a powerful realization the Lord has shown me.

    My family lives in New Orleans and they evacuated from Gustav. I actually relocated to Dallas from New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. I’ll post my testimony someday. God’s grace is amazing!

    Thanks for posting this. You and your family have such beautiful hearts for Jesus!

    Blessings to you,

  17. Elaine,

    You are going to lead a bible study with over 50 women and another blog study too! WOW! You had better rest up and me too. I will have to partake of both. HA! Enjoyed the post. I remember well that hurricane. I have never had such destruction from a hurricane personally, but know of others who have. I am still trying to weather storms and not the weather ones either.

  18. I always love a backward glance….My vision is so much clearer then…I can see God’s Hands on me in my rear view mirror, when I could not always see His involvement while driving into the storm.

    Thank you for sharing how God blessed you through that storm.

    God Bless,

  19. This speaks so heartily about that boundary line of our past, that I was talking about. Truly there is beauty from the ashes, isn’t there? Or, perhaps in this case, it’s beauty from the murky depths.

    I’ll email soon with those further thoughts you requested.

    Love to you this day!

  20. Elaine,
    It seems everwhere in the blogosphere I go, there you are. I decided to stop by and say “Hi.”

    This was a very moving and thought provoking post. I have never lived through a hurricane or flood, but your words painted such a wrenching, but lovely picture. Even in the midst of our greatest tragedies, Jesus is there with us.


  21. I’ve not journeyed those flood waters, tornados or the like. I have lived through numerous southern California earthquakes and the absolute devistation that they bring.
    I appreciate how you weave hope and truth in your posts through relationship. Isn’t that just what God does with us? Brings hope and truth through our relationship with himself.
    Blessings, Cindy

  22. I love what you wrote on Beth’s blog today, about Autumns’ embrace…

    I need embraced (single mommy, 3 kids) and autumn is my favorite season.

    I love thinking God sends it to give us an embrace of His love.

    Thank you

  23. Dear Elaine… I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Your dear friend… what a gift of God! How blessed you were… your cup overflowed… literally!

    Thank you for your vulnerability in this post. It is a unique classroom the devastation of a flood. And to say that afterwards… you were grateful for the flood… I have been there on the other side with my friend, Sheila. (See Friendships of Women #9)

    May others learn from your past and your pain… that they would come to know God’s heart… for all people because He uses us… even as broken vessels.

  24. Hey Elaine,

    Thanks so much for stopping by to check on us during Gustav. You are a faithful friend.

    What an awesome testimony of God’s faithfulness in your lives as you shared this powerful testimony.

    I’ve missed you and your posts. I’ll look forward to catching up and starting your new study now.

    Blessings to you my friend♥

  25. wifeforthejourney:

    from – 1/13/2009

    I just thought I would go back to this post today. Been thinking about Verna. The flood has seemed so far away; but today has been a day of reflection.

    Love you,

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