She blew through Orlando on a Saturday night. Our parents woke my sister and me and moved us to the center of the house because the wind was blowing rain up under the eaves and it was running down through the walls and seeping in at the baseboards next to our beds. While they packed towels around those baseboards, I slept through what were probably the scariest moments of my childhood—I was 6 at the time. The next morning church services were cancelled, a first in my life, and I was a little afraid we would all wind up in Hell, especially when the sun began to shine mid-morning.
After that it seemed that we always managed to live in the right place. For forty-four years the storms always went another way. Then 2004 happened. Charlie, Frances, Jeanne, and Ivan all hit Florida within a few weeks of each other. Frances and Jeanne descended upon our area of North Central Florida. Seventeen inches of rain were followed by twelve more only two weeks later. By then, the pine trees were like spoons standing in thick soup, and many fell. We were in constant prayer that they would not fall on us. We went a day and a half without power or telephone, which could have been much worse. People just a mile east of us were without power for ten days. A neighbor loaned us his generator for a few hours, and we saved the produce and meat in the freezer. Others had to list their losses on insurance reports.
This time, though, was much different than my childhood experience. As a child you really have no idea of the possibilities. As an adult you understand that a direct hit could completely destroy everything you have, and, though we all joked about getting together to blow in the same direction at the same time, huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf to push the storm the other way, there is nothing at all you can do about it.
Far from sleeping through it, I remember lying in the dark in the wee hours of the morning, listening. When the rain let up for awhile, I could hear a gust of wind coming from a long way off. “It sounds like a train,” people always say about tornadoes, and the same was true of that wind. It came closer and closer, louder and louder, finally slamming against the house, followed by complete silence, except for the sloshing of water in the water heater.
A minute later it started again. And again. And again. I lay there for an hour listening to the gusts come over and over, praying fervently every time that I would not hear a tree cracking just before it fell on us, or the screaming of the roof as it tore off the rafters, but only the water heater sloshing its load back and forth as the house was once again nudged just a bit on its pillars.
Helplessness can be paralyzing, but to a child of God, it should be empowering. For He has said to me, My grace is sufficient for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me, 2 Cor 12:9. When you finally realize that you are not in control, you can stop worrying about it. What will happen, will happen. Things may turn out all right in this life, and they may not, but whatever happens, you can deal with it. Christ has promised that His grace is sufficient to bear any burden.
In our society with all its various insurances, retirement accounts, and pension plans, we may never truly grasp our dependence upon God. We may give lip service to the notion that we depend on Him for everything, but the comprehension just isn’t there, and it shows when our “things” and our “plans” are more important than our service and our trust, when the loss of those things sends us into a tailspin we cannot pull out of. I cannot save myself; neither can you. I do not deserve to be saved; neither do you. If I really understand that—if you really understand that—it will make all the difference.
So if you have ever experienced helplessness in life, a moment when you finally realize that you cannot fix things yourself, it is both a devastating and a glorious moment. Thank God that it finally happened. It cannot help but spill over into your spiritual awareness as well—you will finally begin to understand and appreciate grace.
I will give you thanks with my whole heart…I will worship toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your name for your lovingkindness and for your truth…In the day that I called, you answered. You encouraged me with strength in my soul…Though I walk in the midst of trouble you will revive me...The Lord will fulfill His purpose in me. Your lovingkindness, O Jehovah, endures forever, selected from Psalm 138.