A little over 2 weeks ago all eyes were locked on televisions and devices, watching intently as a monster of a storm named Florence brewed in the Atlantic Ocean.
Many projections showed the storm slamming into our beloved Charleston at a Category 5, rolling like a freight train through Columbia and then eventually slowing down over Greenville to bring about “catastrophic flooding.”
It was early still, in the life of a hurricane, and this was an unusually slow-moving storm. So, we watched and waited. We made minor preparations. We implored our loved ones on the coast to pack their essentials and shelter with us. We bought snacks. Lots of snacks. We discussed whether or not schools might be closed, and what we would do with the food in the freezer if the power went out. We made sure our outdoor furniture was secured. We watched more news reports while eating the snacks.
The storm crept along, taking its sweet time, as if we all weren’t just sitting here, waiting impatiently for its arrival. Meteorologists predicted that the “monster” was shifting its trajectory further north, and maybe we wouldn’t be quite as affected. But we were warned not let our guard down just yet; there would likely still be strong winds, heavy rains, and more talk of all that catastrophic flooding.
We went out for more snacks. We replenished the wine.
The weekend arrived, and the storm sidled up to the Carolina coast; definitely formidable, but mostly a shadow of the former “monster” it once was. By this time, most of us had stopped watching the projections; we were weary of all the chatter, the slowness of the storm’s approach, and the media’s embellishment of events. I went for a walk, and the day was as lovely as they come. The most beautiful blue skies were above, dotted with the prettiest white puffy clouds. The wind was blowing, but at a level that was just slightly above “breezy.” If it hadn’t been for the constant news coverage, I would have never believed that there was a storm of any kind within the distance of an afternoon’s drive.
It seemed as though even the storm had grown weary of the anticipation of its own arrival. All the time it spent idling away from land, slowly determining its target actually drained it of most of its strength, rather than feeding it. Like a child who has stayed up well past her bedtime, the storm crashed clumsily into our coastline, quite a different scenario from the barreling locomotive landfall maneuver that so many had predicted. Certainly, the storm was devastating and catastrophic for many areas. The effects are still being felt now and will continue to be felt for several months. But the first predictions were wildly different from the final reality. Most of the preparations made in response to those first predictions ended up being completely unnecessary. And even though the people hardest hit by the storm had as much advance notice of their fate as possible, I’d be willing to bet that they were still caught unaware by the harsh reality of weathering a hurricane.
But, life goes on and for those of us who were spared damage from the storm, as soon as the snacks ran out, so did our worries over what would happen.
About a week after Hurricane Florence’s landfall, with several days in normalcy on the books, there was an early evening gathering of dark clouds. I didn’t think much of it, as it only makes sense that the drawn-out Indian Summer we’ve been experiencing would easily stir up a thunderstorm. The next time I looked up, half the sky was covered in thick, dark clouds, and I could see a wall of rainwater several miles in the distance. A few minutes later, I felt heavy raindrops plop, plop, plopping on my head as I walked briskly into the grocery store. A half hour later I left the store and had to run through the parking lot with my sandals in my hand. Maybe not the best idea, but they were too delicate and slippery bottomed to wade through what I estimated to be a good 2 inches of water on the pavement. Rain pelted me from all sides of the tiny, inadequate umbrella I’d thrown in my purse at the last minute.
As I drove away, the dark clouds that had been so far off in the distance had closed in all around me, blocking the last of the early evening light. In some places, the roads were covered in rushing water. Traffic lights were out, and I saw a few minor accidents. The thunder boomed so loudly in my ears that I knew it had to be in a cloud directly over my head. Lightning streaked across the sky, adding palpable electricity to the air. Power was knocked out in places, and the wind blew down branches and tossed debris.
No warning. No preparations. No watching other than what we did with our own eyes, estimating the distance of the clouds. No waiting other than sitting in the place where we were upon the storm’s arrival, lingering there until it passed and we felt safe to be outside again.
Two storms. Very different in their origins, their size, and their strength. But they ended much the same, causing minor inconvenience to many, and major devastation to a few. A storm causes everyday life to take a pause so that we can sit and wait for it to pass. And, pass, it always does. Whether it moves on to a new location or dissipates and falls apart, it can’t sustain enough strength to stay in one place, churning with intensity for very long.
And so it is with the trials in our lives. Rarely do the storms we prepare for end up being the ones we have to ride out. It’s the ones that materialize from nowhere that know the wind out of us.
We batten down our emotional hatches to protect our hearts, only to turn a corner and run right into the one person that broke us. We stock up on healthy habits to ward off disease, then find out that our genetics had the deck stacked against us from the start. We work long hours and say the right things to the right people to create job security and build empires, just to see it all decimated by conditions that are completely outside our control. We plan, and we prep, and we worry, all in an attempt to stay a step ahead of the things that we predict will bring us down. But in the end, the worst of times we have to weather ride in like a summer storm: loud and blustery, obscuring our vision and scaring the hell out of us. All with little to no warning.
As a child, I was terribly afraid of storms. My childlike mind placed my fears in the tangible effects of the storm. The rumbling and shaking that accompanied thunder made me think the walls would fall down around us. Flashes of lightning always felt too close, and I was sure someone would be struck down.
My parents tried many things to calm my fears, but the thing that worked best was to have me count slowly between the thunder and the lightning. Each number represented a mile’s distance between me and the storm.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi… I peered out the window, searching for the lightning, closing my eyes tight when it flashed.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four… Until the spaces between the numbers grew further still, and all that was left of the storm was a rumble in the distance, and steam rising from the hot ground.
I still count the seconds and miles during storms, but now it is to calm the fears my daughter has. I know now that the bulk of the fear doesn’t come from the actual thunder and lightning, but rather the unpredictability of nature and the feelings that come from a lack of control.
As an adult, storms don’t scare me as much as they used to. My childhood fear has been replaced with a buzzy kind of nervousness, along with awe and respect for what God can do.
Many of us see storms as a sign of God’s strength and might. I see them more as a sign of His promise. Less of Him saying to us, “Stand back and see what I can do,” and more of Him showing us, “Look here, see what you can do with Me by your side. The preparations have already been made for you. I’ve given you all you need. This storm will leave you, and I will still be here.”
Preparation is good, but worry is fruitless. No one can truly predict a storm’s outcome, except to say that it will eventually burn itself out. But God’s provision is constant, and He will never leave us unprepared.
Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.