Tuesday, April 19, 2016

“Tornado Teachings”

Submitted by Jim Garner

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Spring is a great time of the year! We’ve come through the cold and long, dark nights of the winter season to enjoy the warmth and longer days of daylight savings time.  Flowers, shrubs, and lawns “spring” to life again as they bloom or turn green. People get outside more to work and play. (Mom’s are especially glad as their little kids can get out of the house to run around and scream outside all they want after being cooped up inside the house)
But to me personally, spring reminds me of something else. It brings back memories I would sometimes rather just forget. One of those took place on April 10, 1979 in the city of Wichita Falls, TX where I grew up. We were hit with one of the biggest storm systems and tornado’s recorded by the national weather service. It became known as “Terrible Tuesday”, a day I will never forget.
It was spring break and weather forecasters were already predicting this to be a challenging day with intense storms and possible tornados. Being a kid, I remember I was outside playing with friends in between the ever-changing weather patterns of the day. It was strange as we dealt with a crazy cycle of storms, clearing to blue skies, followed by another round of storms coming through. We found ourselves in constant severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. A few local towns around us had already been hit by tornados that afternoon when a large system made a line for Wichita Falls in the early evening.
Just a few minutes after 6:00pm weather spotters observed and photographers recorded three funnels coming out of the sky just southwest of town and combining to make for one large super storm with a tornado now over a mile wide and bearing down on the city. Local weatherman warned residents to take cover as this monster came across the entire southern part of the city doing damage to homes, businesses, schools, and churches devastating the lives of those it touched. The toll was 44 dead (many more injured), tens of thousands left homeless, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Indeed, it was a “terrible Tuesday”.
I remember our family crawling out of the debris to find everything, as we once knew it, now gone. Walls were rubble, family keepsakes were scattered across neighboring properties, and a stranger’s pickup truck landed in our kitchen just a few feet from where we had taken cover after being tossed through the air with the storm’s incredibly powerful winds. The only thing literally standing was the closet wall in which we were hiding in the center of the house. They weren’t much but had collapsed upon us forming an A-frame of protection.
With all the destruction I remember asking my mom as we surveyed the damage to our home and our neighborhood: “What are we going to do now?” She calmly told me: “Son, we are okay. Just thank God for his protection. The only thing that matters is that we are alive. He will provide.” 
Over the days ahead we cleaned up the property to rebuild our house. By one and a half years later we once again had a place to call home. It had been a long journey but we made it.

The journey! There are good days and there are bad days. That’s what life is about. It is in the journey, especially the days that hold challenge for us that we find out a lot about life – both in others and us. We don’t want the difficult experiences, nor would I wish them on anyone else, but we need them. Why? Because they can help us mature in our faith and build character in our lives to become the people God wants us to be and others need us to be.
“Circumstances” that we face in life are not always going to be pleasant or easy. But I believe they have an incredible purpose when we accept them with the proper understanding. Paul’s words to the believers at the church in Thessalonica are quite challenging: “give thanks in all circumstances”. (v.18) What? Give thanks? Most of us are “all in” when it comes to giving thanks when things are going well but this passage does not say that at all. It says in “all circumstances. That’s not very fun nor does it seem fair sometimes. But notice the preposition used here – “in”. It doesn’t say to give thanks “for” all circumstances. We are challenged to give thanks in the midst of circumstances – both good and bad. That isn’t easy at all, but once we learn to trust God in the middle of whatever we might be facing, life gets a whole lot easier.
Paul prefaces it with some tips for understanding: “rejoice and pray”. That’s pretty good advice for whatever circumstance in which we find ourselves. I know the evening of our tornado I learned a lot more about rejoicing, giving thanks, and praying. No, I would rather not have gone through that experience. But I’m thankful for the Lord, His protection and guidance, as well as the things I learned in the middle of it and how they have impacted my life. 

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. 
What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. 
I look in triumph on my enemies.” (Psalm 118:6-7)

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