Consider this Post Secret for weird people. This is a tale of Jonah in the whale, except I was Jonah and a tornado was the whale.
A few months ago a huge storm was coming. It was so big that the National Weather Service had sent out alerts a day beforehand. Now, I live in Tennessee, so severe thunderstorms that can produce tornadoes are normal. They are a fact of life, and just part of the tradeoff for living here. So for the local NWS to issue a strong alert about this the day before was concerning.
When I came home from work the day before it was late. The moon had risen, and a gentle darkness had covered my town. I felt a strong need to pray, right then, in my driveway. I didn’t feel like it could wait until I got inside. Also, I’m a little private about my prayers. Even though my husband has some inkling of my prayer life, he hasn’t seen it in action.
Now, you’d think that praying outside would be more public, but it isn’t. This is the South. It is hot. It is humid. We generally stay inside in air conditioned splendor. I’m honestly not sure how people survived before central air. Perhaps we have gotten soft with our modern machines, but I digress.
I was standing outside on my driveway, in the dark, praying to God. I prayed harder than I have prayed in a long time. I prayed for the safety of everyone in the path of the storm. I prayed that nobody lose their life. I felt after each request that it would be granted. I decided to push harder, and pray that there be no property damage, but I got a push back on that one and felt that was answered “no”. I prayed for about 20 minutes, fervently, earnestly, tearfully. This was a big storm. I was afraid.
The next day came and the storm was predicted for around 4 or 5. This gave me plenty of time to do errands. This too is normal in the South. We can’t let the fear of tornados stop us from living our lives. If we did, we’d never leave our houses in the Spring or Fall, when tornados are most likely to develop.
I had the day off the day of the storm. I met up with a friend and went to an art supply store. On the way I saw a guy who essentially lives at the library. He is homeless, and spends his days there. But on Fridays, we are closed. I saw him near the library and advised him about the big storm and asked if he had a place to go. He did. I went looking for another homeless person who lives near the post office but didn’t see him.
I finished my errands and went home. I prepared. I brought a camp chair into the area we use for tornados. There is a section in the basement that realtors refer to as “unfinished.” It is glorified crawl space. You can stand up in an area that is about 2 feet by 3 feet, and the rest is rock and dirt and conduit and pipes and wiring. There is an interior door and no windows. It is the best place to be in a bad storm – low, no windows. It is also really boring and a little smelly. I brought a flashlight. I brought my cell phone, with the Weather Channel application on.
Now, about now in this story you might be thinking where is my faith? I prayed to God. Yet I’m preparing for a tornado. Yes. There is no contradiction. There is an Arabic saying – “Trust God, but tie your camel”. I’m pretty sure that has a deeper meaning, but to me it means that you can’t be stupid. God will do what God will do, and it is up to us to do the rest. I also remember the story of the guy and the two boats and the helicopter. It is an old story that is told as a cautionary tale about not waiting for divine intervention to appear in miraculous ways. Often God works through simple everyday means. Perhaps I’ll transcribe it for another post, just in case you haven’t heard it.
I put on my long coat. I put on my bicycle helmet. I did both of these things to protect myself from potential flying debris. Sometimes it isn’t the tornado that kills you, but the stuff that gets flung around by the tornado. I looked outside and told my next-door neighbor who was just then noticing the storm coming that he should get inside and close his garage door. I suspect my wearing a coat and a bicycle helmet drove the message home that I was serious. I called my neighbor across the street to let him know about the storm as well.
I’m an Advanced Certified Storm Spotter. I’m certified by the National Weather Service. I’ve taken two classes for this, totaling 7 hours. I’ve got a certificate. I’ve got a non-public 1-800 number stored in my speed dial to call in reports. I know what bad weather looks like.
This looked bad.
The storm was huge, at least 6 miles wide. The center of it on the radar was purple. Red is bad enough. When it gets to purple you are in real trouble. The purple area was at least 2 miles wide. And it was headed straight for my neighborhood. There were reports of hail. Hail is an indicator of tornadic activity. We were under a tornado warning, not a watch. Warnings are worse. Warnings mean that it looks on the radar like a tornado could be forming, but the NWS has no way of knowing one has actually touched down unless it is called in by a spotter. So there could be a tornado happening and the NWS wouldn’t know. Best to prepare as if there is one.
I sat inside my safe place and waited. I could hear the storm howling around the house. I could hear what sounded like hail. I was alone, because my husband was stuck at work waiting out the storm there. I prayed. I prayed hard. I prayed like Jonah. I prayed in a different way than I’d prayed the night before. I was stuck in the middle of a bad thing, and instead of praying to get out of it I prayed prayers of thanks. I praised God. I gave thanks to God, praising Him for his mercy and kindness. I thought of everything that I had and everything that I am and I gave thanks to God for it. Instead of asking for more, I gave thanks for what was right now.
Meanwhile that huge blob of purple was headed straight for my house. There was no way it was going to miss me. If it didn’t have a tornado in it, it had wind strong enough to knock down the trees in my yard and flatten my house. You don’t need a tornado to destroy your home. A strong enough wind will do the job.
And I prayed.
And God listened. God always listens. God always answers prayers, but not always the way you want them to go. This is an important point. It is important to be OK with “No” being an answer. It is important to know that God isn’t your waiter.
The storm eased. It grew quiet outside. Was this the eye of the storm? I looked at the weather radar and it looked clear. The blob had moved on faster than I expected. It is as if this huge freight train of a storm had just hopped over my neighborhood.
I went upstairs to look out the front door. I braced myself for the sight. I expected to see several trees down, or power lines across the road. I steeled myself against the inevitable results of storms in the South, and especially one so ferocious sounding.
I opened the door and was greeted by bright sunshine and the songs of birds. The only thing that had come down in my neighborhood were leaves. No limbs. No trees. No power lines. It looked like a standard spring rain had happened. As I took all of this in, I heard very clearly in my head this voice – “And now you know that I am your God.”
I laughed. I laughed with relief and amazement. I had tears coming down my face as I laughed. I said in reply “And I am your girl.”
I checked the news reports the next day, and found that “miraculously”, no one was killed in this storm.
I’m telling you this story to tell you that God is real.
I’m telling you this story to tell you that God listens to prayers.
I’m telling you this story to tell you that it is OK to pray big.
I’m telling you that our God is an awesome God.
I’m telling you that even if you don’t believe in God, God believes in you.
This is the God of Abraham, and of Isaac and of Israel. This is the God who is the father of Jesus. This is the God who created the world and everything in it. This is the God who created you and me.
I’m telling you that it is comforting to pray to God. It is comforting to know that there is a power greater than you who is in charge and who cares about you. It is comforting to know that you aren’t alone. It is comforting to know that this power, this force, wants to connect with you.
I wish you peace on your journey.