A jolting and creeking of the house wake me from a dream about … can’t remember what now. It wasn’t unpleasant. The wind is slapping branches on the roof and the sides of the house. As I listen I become a little alarmed. We’ve had a lot of wind this year so far, with gusts of 40 or 50 miles per hour. There hasn’t been much damage, but it does make it hard to sleep when it’s at night. I continue to listen and it seems that the shingles are barely hanging on for their lives. The groaning of the house gives the impression of an old mansion, even though it’s a brand new little three-bedroom.
The cell phone glows upon prompting. 4:11am. “I should try to get more sleep,” my inner voice declares, but the noise and my accompanying fear make it difficult to relax. I listen for distant tornado sirens and review my mental contingency plan for gathering the kids in the bathroom.
Once, many months ago, we awoke to a boom and the ceiling fan swayed above us. My husband was on his feet within a half second and was in the hallway before I could even unwrap myself from the covers. He was yelling, “oh my gosh, oh my gosh,” and I can’t remember if he said the words, “there’s a fire,” but I knew there was and my oft-rehearsed contingency plan filed under “fire” spilled into my thoughts.
I only have two arms, so I bolted into my youngest child’s room and shouted for the older two to wake up. When they tell the story, they say I was screaming. My older son apparently had a contingency plan filed away in his mind too, because he was out on the front lawn before I could even get my daughter out of her room. My younger son wandered confusedly into the hallway, wanting to see what was happening.
With slow-motion desperation, I watched him walk entranced toward the very blazes that threatened his life. I had not even braved a glance in their direction, but because the entire atmosphere of our home was transformed, I knew they were intense. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a wall of brilliant orange and felt terribly helpless as I held my two-year-old and could not control with my hands the safety of my four-year-old.
I stated with all the calm authority I could resource, “Judah, walk out the door. The front door.” After what seemed like forever, he turned and went through the door I was holding open. My two-year-old was biting my shoulder and shaking all over.
As I stomped outside, I unwittingly called out, “Lord, help us!” That’s one of the sincerest prayers that ever crossed my lips.
This scene passes through my mind in a matter of seconds like a well-worn cartoon flip book. I’ve studied fixedly each split-second page to grasp what was happening. How much danger were we really in? Was I over-reacting? Why did I not even worry about my husband, who apparently was trying to put out the fire with our tiny extinguisher? Meanwhile multiple fire trucks were unloading their giant hoses, because someone had already called for help on our behalf.
That morning, at about 4:30am, our lives were whisked up in a whirl of change. Two weeks in a hotel room, months and months in a rental house. Tens of thousands of dollars spent – most of it given by generous friends – and hundreds of thousands of decisions made.
When the power of the wind stirs up those still-potent memories, it’s not the upturning of our living situation that I fear. It’s the feeling that a muscular natural force could harm my children, in a moment of unplannable danger. At times, I try to reason with my fear, that in spite of the danger we were in, it all turned out fine. Possibly, life turned out better than it would have been if the fire hadn’t happened.
My instincts disagree. I never want to submit to the threat of another natural power, barging into my home without regard for my precious and fragile children. The wind seems to taunt this judgment. What does it matter if I rage with my little voice against the agents of change in the natural world?
The gusting of the wind hasn’t abated at all in what was probably forty-five seconds of thought. A gentle idea enters my mind, seemingly from outside myself. “Why not go out? Right now. Experience this powerful wind.”
In moments, I exit through the patio door – the one that replaced the melted version several months prior. My husband had installed that previous door himself (upside down.)
My hair is instantly in my eyes and the wind tugs at my blanket like it wants to share. I secure it around me and settle into a deck chair. The blanket smells like my older son.
Strangely, there’s not that much happening out here. No cats are flying through the air. The deck chairs are all lounging in their familiar spots. The apple tree is hardly even trembling. Granted, it has no leaves and its limbs are very stubby from pruning.
The way it sounded inside, I was sure it would be dangerous to sit outside, and I had felt like a hero, braving my enemy, to step into the great wilderness at a time like this. But out here, things are fine.
It is beautiful. The clouds glow dusky orange, not with sunrise, but with the city’s lights. They are swimming along a swift current, shaping mesmerizing forms, a little like a lava lamp but with fuzzier edges.
Best of all are the tallest trees. After a gust, a lull will ensue and everything stands. Then a shhhh starts up in the distance and grows louder as it approaches. The highest branches bend around wildly. Delightfully, even the central branches bow, and I admire the strength of such a force that could move that mighty skyscraper of a tree. I begin to long for the stronger gusts, to see that bending and bowing again.
How boring are the houses, which inside make an audible show of being moved by the wind, but stand there in unfriendly stagnation. The trees far better understand the thing. To be moved and yet rooted is a beautiful stance. To respond to the power of the forces around, and yet to stand one’s ground is true strength.
The roots unseen are stronger than these frightening gusts of wind. How expansive must be the foundation of these towers! They can rock off center with gentle grace, showcasing the power of an unknown force, and yet remain perfectly in place.
This month, there is a changing power at work in our lives again. It is our own choice (sort of) and is planned and predicted, to move from our city to another, from ministry to “regular” work for a time. We’ve been preparing for many months, and we can look each other in the eye and know we’ve labored with excellence and diligence to both leave behind a strong work and also to prepare for life ahead. I am full of gratitude for this confidence, this lack of regret.
But the fears of change gust against my heart anyway. Leaving this brand new house for the blankness of a yet-to-be-identified temporary home makes my planner’s mind quiver with discomfort. We’re leaving behind a joyous community that we helped to establish for a group of new faces who seem nonchalant about our coming. A thick layer of concern coats the bottom of my heart. Does it matter to anyone that we’ve poured ourselves out with fervor and sacrifice? The strongest fears are probably those of being unimportant.
This morning, the trees teach me with their graceful bowing about this verse by David:
Through the steadfast love of the Lord, I shall not be moved.
I shall not be moved from my foundation. I shall not be broken and destroyed. But perhaps the bending and swaying of my heart can be a graceful response to the power of change in my life. After all, I am a created being, not a fixed, right-angled building. I can withstand more beautifully the blowing about of my world when I respond like the branches of these tallest of trees.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. from Ephesians 3