when the hurricane hits

Last week we watched Irma, that swirling monster of a storm, with twisted stomachs and sick hearts. Friends we love live in Florida. We wanted them to be safe, their homes to stay dry, their schools and workplaces untouched. We read their anxious updates, prayed for protection, watched the weather forecast. It looked like the worst was coming.

And then the storm turned.

Everyone we know is ok.

I am deeply grateful for this fact. And I am secretly jealous.

Because this is the path I thought our story would take. It looks bad, it’s looking worse, dear God it looks absolutely horri – oh wait! Everything is fine.

He came through surgery. Her chemo shrunk the tumor. They were able to have a baby. He didn’t end up on that plane. No one was home when the tree fell. The doctor was wrong. She beat the odds. Rehab worked. His job was safe. The driver swerved.

Their twins survived.

Instead, our hurricane gained strength. It swirled and churned and everyone prayed and prayed and was so sure it would turn, it wouldn’t hit, the girls would live, God answers prayers, everything will be fine, you’ll see.

But here we are, a year and a half later. All the news cameras are gone, capturing other stories now. All the disaster aid has dried up, attention turned to other storms.

We’re still here, sifting through the wreckage. Stopping every so often to stand and scratch our heads, bewildered by shock, trying to accept the scene before us, the pieces of our hope blown apart and scattered across the lawn. You’ve seen that photo before. That’s our life.

The hurricane hit us head on. We got the worst odds, the category 5, the direct path, the full impact.

No one expected that. No one does. We hold out hope until the end. And thank God our minds are built to do so. It saves us, so many times.

Except when it doesn’t.

. . .

I honestly don’t know what I believe about intercessory prayer anymore. I believe in it and I don’t.

I catch myself rolling eyes when people ask for petty petitions, the equivalent of a parking space in a crowded lot. And then I remember the God who loves sparrows and counts the hairs on our heads.

I don’t know. Maybe.

I grow angry when people say things like “he’s got too much work left to do!” and “I knew she’d beat it, she’s such a fighter!” Did my girls not have a reason to stay? Were they—was I—not strong enough?

Nonsense. But then I wonder what miracles mean.

I bite my cheek when people write to me about how “God answered my prayer!” and “this saint saved my child!” Did God ignore my pleading? Did we pick the wrong saints?

Of course not. This is not how the divine works.

Except I don’t know how the divine works.

The hurricane demolished those thin walls of certainty, too.

. . .

Human resilience is one new proof of God, for me.

I didn’t see it before: the strength of the Creator to give us strength, to make us able to withstand trauma and tragedy.

But the faces, the survivors, the stories I have seen since my daughters died—good God, they are the bricks that help me rebuild.

I stack each one up, how the wounded keep getting out of bed each morning, how they don’t give up on the very life that destroyed what they loved. I step back sometimes and look at the small but stronger wall I’m building.

Faith’s rebar, maybe. The reminder that steel can twist but still stand.

. . .

The hurricane didn’t veer. None of our sandbags did anything.

But a year and a half later, when everyone expects you’ve moved on, left that mess behind you, we’re still here. Sorting through the wreckage, trying to salvage what’s left.

Does God send the storm or does God stop the storm? I don’t know. Maybe neither. Maybe both.

I can’t think it through with the same theological, theoretical delight that I used to. It’s not a theorem to prove or a story problem to solve. It’s my existence. I have to live within its edges and contours.

How much time can I give to grief when I have a baby to raise? How can I still look at loss when my life holds so much gift?

I don’t know. I just keep going. The strength of human resilience.

Brick by brick, some new structure is emerging. I still don’t know what it will hold, what it can withstand. Or if another terrifying storm will flatten it once and for all. It could. Or it won’t.

Maybe God is the mortar. Maybe God is the fact that there are bricks at all.

What I’m left with is this: there is God.

Even after the hurricane hits.

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  1. Lauren on 25 September 2017 at 11:06 am

    Yes. All of this.

    As our family sifts through the wreckage of another suicide, I feel precisely what you say here. We are not wearing this one on our sleeves the way we did the last one. My grandmother is, but she’s buried three of her boys, and her sleeves are stained with the tears and everything else that comes with a broken heart. The rest of us, I think, are in such denial. And yet…and yet. The dreams that wake us from a fitful slumber. The random moments of thinking “My God. Ryan? Ryan!” The inability to throw out that empty tube of foundation because it was full before, and I can’t quite move into the after to acknowledge that it really is empty.

    I’ve heard both my mom and my aunt say that one of the hardest things about grieving is that you emerge into the world, and everyone thinks it’s okay now. You’re fine! You’re back! You’re the way you were before! Except, that’s not how it is at all. There is no longer a way to go back. The forest has closed around the path; the wardrobe door is shut and bolted and we are in a terrifying Narnia.

    A few weeks ago I was speaking to a friend whose dad died this summer. It had been two months since his death. The exhaustion was still weighing. “I get why people wore black for a year,” she said. “An outward sign of grief seems so necessary, a way of explaining that I’m just not there yet.” Indeed. And maybe a year isn’t long enough. Maybe we need those garments of grief to be at the ready whenever we need them.

    We are not who we were; we are becoming something new.

  2. Anonymous on 18 September 2017 at 11:44 pm

    Thank you for this. I am pregnant again after 3 miscarriages (we also have 3 healthy children and so much beauty in our lives) and while I am deeply grateful when people assure me of their prayers, I also have to bite my tongue. My unfiltered, gut reaction is “why bother?” People prayed and told me to trust God when I was spotting and cramping last time, but I knew another loss was inevitable. I cannot muster the will to pray for the miracle of a healthy delivery. It just seems impossible. The only type of intercessory prayer which makes any kind of sense to me is that described in Romans 8:26…”groans too deep for words.”

  3. Jenni Ho-Huan on 18 September 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Goodness. This is timely. Hugs Laura. With our honest words, we add strength to each other. You certainly do.

  4. Laura on 18 September 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Yes! I have so much trouble with intercessory prayer. In the end, I do it because God told us to. But it’s like trying to explain the trinity – all our pat explanations fall short and turn into the kind of inaccurate and even offensive platitudes you listed in your post. I do it but I don’t understand it. I believe in it but I can’t explain why. I don’t know what effect, if any, it’s having on my world or me, but I pray anyway, because Christ asked us to.

  5. Deacon Vern Schmitz on 18 September 2017 at 11:38 am

    Powerful as always. Your reflection on what part of life does God control or steer gets to the core of the belief or unbelief that we encounter and wish to better understand. I appreciate your efforts to encourage this effort. Thanks for your continued efforts to think more deeply!!

  6. Leslie on 18 September 2017 at 11:18 am

    Our own personal hurricane pales in comparison to yours–our house burned down six years ago–but still much of what you say resonates with me. I still look through the wreckage both metaphorically and through memories. I often worry that others will think I should have “moved on” by now, since we have a new house and new things to fill it up with. But there’s something about undergoing a life-altering tragedy that ALTERS you. No matter what good things come after or even through it. Thanks for your eloquent words. Especially about the resilience of human beings, which I was also thinking about yesterday after watching a video of hurricane victims singing “One Day More” from atop a barricade made from the wreckage of their homes.

  7. Patty on 18 September 2017 at 10:59 am

    This is really beautiful Laura. I can relate to what you said about thoughts on intercessory prayer changing some…and I totally agree the resilience of the human spirit is another way I see the power of God in the world, especially in my own life over last few years.

  8. Deanne on 18 September 2017 at 8:20 am

    Laura – my heart aches in pain for your sufferings and also marvels at your ability to put so eloquently into words what so many of us are not able to, taking us into a deeper journey of faith theough your personal witness. Bishop Robert Barron’s daily Gospel message today spoke of faith. While the reality of some of his words can feel harsh or difficult to digest, there is an ultimate sweetness to this gift of faith.. Here are his words. I hope they bring you comfort and peace: “Faith is an attitude of trust in the presence of God. Faith is openness to what God will reveal, do, and invite. It should be obvious that in dealing with the infinite, all-powerful person who is God, we are never in control. One of the most fundamental statements of faith is this: your life is not about you. You’re not in control. This is not your project. Rather, you are part of God’s great design. To believe this in your bones and act accordingly is to have faith. When we operate out of this transformed vision, amazing things can happen, for we have surrendered to “a power already at work in us that can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” Even a tiny bit of faith makes an extraordinary difference.”

  9. Kaitlyn Mason on 18 September 2017 at 8:06 am

    Without the breakdown there can be no Resurrection. That’s all I know.

    Peace be with you,

  10. Jessica Marks on 18 September 2017 at 7:33 am

    Thank you, Laura. Thank you for giving a voice to the complexities of faith and grief and new joy that comes from loss and new life. We lost two babies shortly before your twins died, and then had a rainbow baby this past February. It has been a sorrow and a privilege to walk with you. ❤️

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