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FIRST-PERSON: Surviving life’s storms

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–I was standing on my front porch one recent Saturday enjoying the sights and sounds of a beautiful morning when I heard it. I had heard the sound before, but I realized something for the first time: the faint, musical sound of wind chimes indicated a storm was coming.

Springtime in Texas means storms. One of the worst tornadoes ever to touch down in the United States tore a path through Moore, Okla., just a few hours north of here three years ago. The F-5 tornado had winds of 360 miles per hour. I had never seen such devastation. A tamer tornado hit Fort Worth two years ago, nearly destroying several skyscrapers.

A storm blew through my life last May. My father, in tremendous pain and deep sorrow, took his own life. I was devastated. I spent months questioning God’s existence, battling guilt and looking for reasons to live. Fortunately a counselor, family and friends helped me survive. While God didn’t answer my questions as I’d hoped, I learned some important lessons.

The bad news is a storm is headed your way. Maybe not this week or this month or even this year. Maybe you’re in one right now. But sooner or later, Jesus warns in John 16:33, an F-5 is going to blow through your world, and when it does, take cover.

In the worst storms you go numb. Your memory is gone. (Amid the storm I was in, I could not remember the reasons God created us I taught in my Sunday school class only weeks before.) You have little energy. You feel lost, isolated, separated from God. So how can you survive life’s storms?

My first suggestion is watch for life-giving reasons. Put a note on your refrigerator that says, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.” Sunsets remind me that the Creator loves me. 1 Kings 19 says God allowed Elijah to gripe and complain, and then he gave him a reason to live: “There are 7,000 others who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” This removed his sense of loneliness.

Perhaps God has a message for you today: I am with you. Perhaps his message for you is from the parable of the lost sheep: you have a father who will seek you when you are lost. Isaiah 42:3 says he will be gentle and merciful when we are weak, injured and not very useful.

Second, look for resources. A friend gave me a book I highly recommend: “Where Is God When It Hurts?” Numbers 11:16-17 tells us God provided helpers for Moses. 1 Kings 19:5-13 says God himself ministered to Elijah. God usually uses us to minister to people, but sometimes he supernaturally touches us.

God’s resources may be difficult to see in storms. In “The Hiding Place,” Corrie ten Boom told how she and her sister complained to God about the fleas in their barracks. Only later did she discover that the fleas kept the guards out which allowed them to pray and have Bible studies.

Don’t be a Lone Ranger. Embrace loved ones and friends. Proverbs 18:1 says, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire.” To Moses God sent 70 men to help him. To Elijah God sent Elisha to minister. To David God sent Jonathan and a band of loyal soldiers.

Leave a record of your journey to encourage others. I had to get away, so I went to the Rocky Mountains. On the trails I climbed were markers called cairns, stacks of rocks people had left to show the way. They testified that others had made it and encouraged me that I could make it too.

If you see someone else in a storm, look for your role. A well-respected psychiatrist once said the best cure for depression is to roll up your sleeves, cross the railroad tracks and help somebody. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to encourage one another day after day lest anyone be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

The Bible makes clear that God loves us perfectly, he knows what storms are ahead of us, and that, with time and tears, he will see us through. In Romans 8:35-39 God assures us that neither trials nor storms nor persecution can separate us from his love.

When the apostle wrote 1 Peter 4:12-13, he was aware that Nero was arresting Christians, covering them with pitch and using them as living torches to illuminate the imperial gardens. Even so, Peter was still able to write, “Rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.”

I confess I did not rejoice in or for my storm, and while I can write about it, I still can’t talk about it. But once I made it through, I was able to rejoice in God’s promises and in how he used the pain.

2 Corinthians 7:10 says one reason God uses storms is to draw people to himself when they otherwise would not respond to him. One of my former coworkers developed Lou Gehrig’s disease eight years ago. I went to visit this big burly man about a year later. He was confined to a wheelchair and could barely talk. Remarkably, he said how grateful he was for the disease because it led him to faith in Jesus. I pray for his widow and daughters that they too will come to know Christ.

The topic of the Dec. 23 broadcast of NBC’s “Meet the Press” was lessons learned from Sept. 11. Host Tim Russert asked First Lady Laura Bush why she changed the Scripture on the White House Christmas card to Psalm 27:8 (“… I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”)

“Because I think that’s what happened,” she replied. “I think we saw a few people commit a horrible crime, but we saw so many people showing the goodness of the Lord. … I’ve actually been very comforted by the families. … All the people that we see on television, the widows, the widowers, the ones who are decorating the Christmas tree by themselves this year for their children without their spouse.”

We have been blessed by watching their response to this deadly storm, she said. Psalm 65:8 says, “Thou dost make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.”

Have you ever thought about what it takes to have a beautiful sunset? Obviously you need the sun, but only when there are storm clouds can you have a majestic sunset. That means someone is getting rained on.

My prayer is that the Son would shine through our responses to the storms that blow through our lives, painting a beautiful picture of God’s love and faithfulness to the people around us.
Porter is director of Public Relations at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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  • David Porter