Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm?!

     It was only a week ago that we in the Northeast were preparing for the unknown of a hurricane aimed right at New York City.  Even before Hurricane Irene made landfall forecasters emphasized that the impact of this storm would not be limited to coastal areas due to its large size and that even those far inland should prepare for the possibility of flooding and power outages. Now that the storm has passed,  many in unexpected places like Vermont and upstate New York are dealing with the devastation caused by Irene. Even one of our family members in central New York experienced a flooded basement and damaged memories from the tropical downpour. As we all prepared in our different ways I heard the phrase "the calm before the storm" spoken by many and I began to think about the irony of it. Was there really calm in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast before Irene began to affect us all?
     Often there really is a period of calm weather before a big storm. The day before Irene's outer edges began to creep into our area was absolutely gorgeous! Yet, we have come to use the phrase to describe a quiet time before a period of tremendous activity. That application of the phrase would not describe the time before Irene's arrival at all. It was not in the least calm in our area.
     I had gone out when talk first began of the storm possibly heading in our direction to get water bottles and batteries "just in case". I needed them anyway. As Irene's direction became more fixed and some of our other plans began to be shifted because of her expected arrival, I realized that I wouldn't have enough food in the house since our travel plans had been delayed. So, I went back to the store on that beautiful, "calm before the storm" day. I have never seen so many people in the grocery store and the roads were a bustle of activity! People were out stocking up on supplies or getting in their last shot at some outdoor activities or taking the day off and heading to the Dutchess County Fair before it closed two days earlier than planned. As I observed how many people were very active in this "calm before the storm" I began to wonder how many of them might be very nervous because of the unpredictable nature of the predicted weather. I would expect that many of them were nervous, even though most of us tried to laugh off our concerns, after all we are hundreds of miles inland, but were we really calm?
     Maybe you are like me. I like knowing what to expect as much as I can. That's why I like to do my research before I go to a new place. I understand that my research can only tell me so much, but as far as I can, I like to be prepared. So, I listened to the possible scenarios regarding the storm and I did what I could to be prepared. Was I calm? Well, I don't think I was really afraid, but on the other hand not knowing what to expect kept me from feeling absolutely comfortable and kept me active in making sure I had prepared as much as possible. The whole idea of being prepared is to be ready when the unexpected occurs, right?
     For those in our immediate circle the preparations were just that. Our family experienced a few travel inconveniences, but no damage and not even a power outage. For many living very near us and many living hundreds of miles away from us, in areas thought to be out of reach of a hurricane or tropical storm, life will never be the same and all future events will in some way connect back to what they experienced when Irene came to town. Do I feel my preparations were a waste of time and energy? Absolutely not! I would do the same again, because life cannot be predicted.
     In times past a storm like Irene would have come upon us without warning. Before satellites and computer models gathered information to be dispersed through mass media, people had to take time to be prepared in times of calm because they really had no way of knowing when that bad storm was going to hit. They learned to recognize signs that severe weather might be on the way, but they really didn't know what to expect. How different are our lives now? Although weather forecasters can tell us to expect a storm, they still can't really tell us how that storm will impact our individual lives. I prepared, but was spared any loss while people only a few miles away from me experienced a drastic loss of property and severe impact on their lives.
     All our lives have times of calm and times of storms, the literal and figurative kind.  Life can't be predicted, but storms will come without question, so the wise can prepare even before they notice the hint of a storm on the horizon. The calm times in life are the times to prepare, to fortify ourselves on the inside so that when the storms come we can meet them knowing that we have done all we can to be ready and face the trial with a measure of confidence. Life can't be predicted, but we can prepare ourselves by developing a foundation of faith and an anchor of Truth that will not change regardless of our circumstances.
     This psalm came up in my daily reading this week and I thought it very appropriate to recent events. What I saw in it is that the city of God cannot be destroyed by earthquakes or floods or turmoil in the world and that when the world is in chaos I can find my calm in the storm by being still and remembering that HE is God!

Psalm 46
 (from the New Living Translation)

1 God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
2 So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3 Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
4 A river brings joy to the city of our God,
the sacred home of the Most High.
5 God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
From the very break of day, God will protect it.
6 The nations are in chaos,
and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
and the earth melts!
7 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress
8 Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
9 He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”
11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.