Beauty in the Storms

Sky in Missouri Monday night Photo credit:  Clarissa Weter
Sky in Missouri Monday night
Photo credit: Clarissa Weter

It’s almost embarrassing to admit this, but lately I’ve been in a little bit of a pity-party kind of mood.  That habitual escape of self-loathing has never helped me, and if anything, it tends to create guilt for ever doing it in the first place.  I hurt my leg a few weeks ago and have not been able to run or ride my bike.  My house is always in chaos with three young children.  The necessity for me to show up at work each day with a smile on my face is hard to do.  Finances are tight due to adding another child.  I even feel a slight envy in my heart over the vacation pictures of numerous friends on Facebook.

I went to bed Monday night prepared to be woken up from the stormy night that was expected.  We had our blanket, flashlights, diaper bag, extra shoes, and bike helmets lined up by the nook of a hiding place under our stair well just in case of a tornado. Thankfully, the storms died down before they entered the area that we live.  I woke up in the morning feeling worn down with my leg hurting and thinking about all I needed to accomplish at work that day.

I picked the baby up and shuffled into the living room.  Barely awake, I made a pot of coffee and secured the baby in his high chair for his morning snack.  I could smell the coffee percolating while I sat there and stared at the laundry pile on the chair next to me.  Pretty soon I picked my tired body up and filled my cup of coffee.  It is rare when I get a chance to watch the news in the morning, so I took advantage of the moment.  I flipped to one of the major news networks to watch the coverage of the tornado that struck our neighboring state.  Pretty soon I could taste the salt of my tears that were meandering their way down my face.

During this time, my daughter got up and sat next to me on the couch.  In that moment of quietness with just the faint sound of the news in the background and the taste of my tears, I thought to myself, “What are you doing? What are you thinking even beginning to feel that you are owed something, or that you don’t have enough?”  I felt shame for the pity-party I had been toying around with for the past few days.  I felt guilt for not trusting the Lord with the areas of my life that are causing stress.  I felt disgusted and sickened for taking what I do have for granted, and for desiring more.

The images of the destruction, neighbors and family members searching with desperation for their loved ones, crumpled houses, a flattened school, and the numbers of the victims and injured scrolling at the bottom of the television all stuck to me like glue.  They punched me in the gut.  They shook me up.  They took my breath away.  Truthfully, they should do this.  It is easy to get caught in the trap of gluttony and greed.  It is even easier to allow the blessings of life to turn into things that cause stress.

The heaviness I felt in my heart was soon replaced by the thought of this simple truth:

The love of Christ and redemption found in Him can never be destroyed by the wrath of storms.  The promise of the Lord is the only thing that will never go away.  Our homes may be destroyed, our children may pass away, our jobs may be dissolved, and our health may deteriorate, but the Cross will always stand.  He will always stand.  

After these thoughts bombarded me, I finished my coffee, leaned over and kissed my little girl, and went about getting ready for the rest of my day.  I know I will always need reminders of the promise of salvation.  I also know that I will walk the tightrope of trappings of an Earthly life.  I know there will be days where I just want to pull the covers over my head.  There will be storms that rage in my heart, my mind, and my life.

The pictures in this post are of the sky over Missouri following the tornado in Oklahoma.  It was beautiful to look at.  The sky following the Joplin tornado was eerily beautiful as well.  It makes sense though.photo (63)

 It is in the storms of life that the true beauty of faith in Christ is revealed.  

Road to Joplin

Day 2 with Joplin flag

This weekend I had the privilege of riding in a cycling event called the MS 150.  Every  year hundreds, if not a thousand or so cyclists make their way to a small town in southwest Missouri to complete a 150 mile bike ride.  This is done to bring attention and raise funds for Multiple Sclerosis.

This was my third year riding in this event.  I always seem to walk away from it with a great sense of accomplishment.  It is also quite humbling to be cheered on at the start line by people who live daily with MS.  This year, a woman with MS said to us, “When you get towards the last few miles and your legs are burning, just remember me saying Thank You.  Just remember that you are riding for many of us who cannot.”  Then, at the finish line, the same man every year, bound to his wheelchair, holds his hand out with a medal dangling from it.  As one reaches for his or her medal, the man gently says “thank you”.  It is quite humbling and I hope to ride in future 150’s.

This year though had even more of an impact on me, but for a different reason.  This is the first year that the ride took us back to Joplin, MO after the deadly tornado which claimed the lives of so many in May 2011.  Last year, the ride had to be rerouted and completely taken out of the Joplin area due to the devastation of the storm.  I had been there about a week or so after the tornado struck, and was silenced by what I had seen.  Cars with windshields blown out laying on top of each other, buildings that looked like they exploded by the force of a bomb, houses upon houses crumbled up like sticks, and trees stripped completely down to the bark.  It was shocking.  Just shocking.  The city I live in is close to Joplin and we are so lucky that the storm did not rumble its way towards us.

Although my work has taken me back to Joplin a few times, I usually do not drive through the area where the destruction took place.  This year, the MS committee planned the route specifically to take us through some of the path of the tornado.  Before I entered this area, my legs were screaming, my mind was off in some other place, there was pain tucked right in between my shoulders, and I was ready to be done.  I had been in the saddle for about seven hours, and my own “saddle” was telling me it was time to get off.

However, this changed when I entered the area where that beast of a storm stole normalcy from the lives of so many.  The few trees that survived were mangled.  Their bare branches looked like hands reaching towards the heavens in desperation.  Others bent over, all leaning to one side; yet, fresh green leaves bushed out from whatever spot they could find.

As I got closer to the eerily flattened area where houses once stood, I thought about the families and children who once lived there.  I imagined kickball being played in the streets, children swinging from swing sets, families walking their pet dogs or washing their cars.  All of this wiped clean.  Sure, there were new houses being built and definitely the vision of new growth could be seen, but I just kept thinking about how much destruction took place on those grounds.  The names of streets had been painted on the roads.  The ground was completely stripped of grass. There were partially crumbled buildings still being torn down.  It just went on and on.

As I drew nearer to the “end” of the destruction zone, I became overwhelmed with emotion.  I thought about the mothers who lost their babies, the babies who lost their daddies and mommies, and all the others who never woke again on this Earth to see the sun rise.  All I could think was “so much destruction, so much despair.”

But there in that moment on my bike with nothing but my own thoughts, I realized, or at least was reminded, that the Lord is not a god of destruction.  He is not a god of devastation.  He is not a god of despair.  He is the God of regrowth, rebirth, restoration, and life.  He lifts up our heads.  He carries us through the storms.  He gives us life.

The next morning as 800 or cyclists gathered around to start day two of the cycling event, small Joplin flags were handed out to each of us.  We placed them in our helmets, on our bikes, or held them in our hands as we rode through part of what was named “Memorial Miles”.  With just the sound of wind, the breathing of fellow riders, and the hissing-like noises from spinning our wheels, we rode in silence in honor of those killed by the Joplin tornado and in honor of the courage it has taken for the city to rebuild.

This year the road to Joplin became more than just a cycling event that I love to participate in.  Yes, it was done in an effort to support those struggling with Multiple Sclerosis.  However, I left the event with Joplin on my mind.  This weekend turned into a reminder of the blessing of health, of love, of family, of home, and of our incredible Heavenly Father who restores, renews, and leads us to Life.