There’s nothing quite like sitting in the basement watching the Doppler colors of an approaching thunderstorm bear down on your home. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, nerve-wracking, wondrous, hearing the distant rumbles of thunder slowly growing until they shake the windows, until the lightning outside turns the darkness to daylight with its jagged frequency.
That was me last Saturday night. The waiting goes on forever.
You wonder how bad it’s going to be. You wonder how strong the winds are. Will they tear off the roof ? Will they destroy my already-battered outbuildings? You wonder how much rain there will be. Will the window wells fill up and flood the basement? Will the water sitting against the foundation leak inside the house? You wonder how big the hail will be. Ping-pong ball? Golf ball? Baseball? How many windows will I lose? How many sides of the house will be demolished?
Will the storm just be a storm or will it be something bigger? Will it bring a gust front with winds up to 80 or 90 mph? Or will it spawn a funnel cloud—a tornado? F3? F4? F5?
Will my hiding place under the stairwell hold? Are my shoes sturdy enough? Will I be able to get out the storm window once it’s over? Will my first aid kit be enough if I get hurt and the ambulances can’t get here? Do I have enough water and food to survive until help arrives? Am I content enough to lose everything and still be okay?
So many questions go through your mind when you’re waiting for a storm to hit. If you’ve never lived in the Midwest or at least in an area frequented by tornadoes or similar severe weather, maybe none of this sounds familiar. But if you’ve grown up in Kansas like I have, this thought process becomes a part of life from April to August on a yearly basis. If it doesn’t and you live in the Midwest, it should.
It’s a precarious balance, being aware but not being afraid. Spend any time in Kansas and you’ll discover something rather strange: Weather doesn’t faze us. No matter what kind of weather it is, we keep on living, we keep on doing, we keep on going. Come rain or shine, hail or ice, flood or drought, snow or sleet, wind or more wind, we get out in it. We go to work, often commuting long distances (another Wichita peculiarity). We go to school. We go to church. The weather doesn’t dictate our lives, but we don’t mess around with it either.
True, I think some of us are flippant about it, but the rest of us are cautiously curious. I mean, if I’m at home with someone else and a storm is coming, you’d better believe I’ll be outside taking pictures and watching for funnel clouds. I may be a transplanted Texan, but I’m a Kansan at heart. But I live alone in the middle of 640 acres of wheat, 20 miles from a major city. I get warnings from my storm chaser friends. I don’t get tornado sirens, neighbors shouting, cars honking, or anything else that might tip a Wichita resident off. If I’m not watching the weather on television or listening to the radio, the only time I have to get to shelter is how long it takes a funnel to form.
So if no one is out there with me, I won’t be screwing around in the lightning and the hail. I’ll be inside, in the basement, making sure that my important documents, my treasured keepsakes, and myself are as safe as I can make them.
This past Sunday, May 19, a storm similar to the one that wiped Moore, OK, off the map passed through Wichita, but the conditions were varied just enough that the funnel didn’t make it into the metro area. It withdrew (though you wouldn’t know that from the KSN weather guys diving into their storm shelter; out of all the things to cover on the national news, that’s what makes it?). It still did damage—loads of damage. But the conditions were just enough so that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The hail, the wind, the rain—it all worked in our favor with the updrafts so that the tornado weakened by the time it reached the populated areas.
That didn’t happen in Moore. Just like it didn’t happen in Greensburg, KS a few years ago. Or in Andover, KS years before that.
In those moments, people want to point fingers. People who are hurting and grieving, who have experienced terrible loss, will want explanations. People want to know why God would allow something so horrible as Moore to happen. Surely a good God wouldn’t do this, so that means either God isn’t so good or He doesn’t exist at all.
Unscrew the halos, folks. Having thoughts like that is human, believe it or not. I have thoughts like that. You have thoughts like that. Questioning who God is and how He works isn’t wrong, but choosing to believe a lie because it makes you feel better is.
I think we look at tragedy from the wrong perspective sometimes. Something in us expects the world to be fair. Something in us expects that our lives should generally go well, the way we want them to, the way it seems to go for the people around us. Right?
The simple truth is that our world is broken. Things don’t work the way they were designed to work. Our first parents broke the world when they chose to turn against the God who created them, and God has been doing the best He can with a world that we turned over to the enemy. So when things go right in our lives, that’s just an example of God’s grace. When things go wrong, when tragedies happen, when violence rocks our world, we shouldn’t be surprised. We should be prepared.
The only explanation for the Moore tornado is that bad things happen in a broken world, but when the dark seems too black for light to shine through, we still have a reason to hope. Why? Because God is bigger than any circumstance. He’s bigger than any F5, and He’s greater than any challenge. He’s big enough to take a horrifying tragedy like Moore and turn it into something beautiful. How is that possible? I don’t know. He’s God. That’s what He’s promised to do. And if there’s anything I know about God, I know this: He’s always on time, He never makes mistakes, and He always always keeps His promises.
Storms come. They’re a part of life. But if you don’t have storms, you don’t get to see the rainbow after they’re over. This world where we’re living now isn’t all there is. Through Christ, we have a life waiting for us on the other side of this dusty, dim, beautifully broken existence we’re enduring right now, where storms won’t come, where our family in Christ is ever-present, and the worries of the past are less than shadowed memories of passing thoughts.
That’s our hope. Hope that God can do something with the broken pieces of this life. Hope that in the life to come those pieces will never break again.
Our lives are a precarious balance of hope and brokenness, light and darkness, courage and fear. You can’t truly have one without the other. Just like you can’t see a rainbow until you experience a storm, true hope can flourish and blossom and grow in the face of the worst tragedies in our lives because with God on our side, hope is never lost.
The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”