I remember standing on the Mound Park bridge in Viola ten years ago, one block from the house where my wife, Jo, grew up, and watching as the swollen Kickapoo raged through the park below. The flood waters nearly covered the picnic shelter. It was a fearsome sight. I remember three years before that, when the news came that a tornado had devastated Viola. Our hearts were in our throats as we waited to hear if Jo’s mother and her two aunts had survived, not to mention a host of friends and neighbors. When we drove past the rubble of damaged homes, mangled trees, and stumps, we felt deep fear and wonder.
All of us have been shaken again by the recent storms and floods all over Southern Wisconsin. The catastrophic effects will be felt for years to come. One thing we can be certain of in Wisconsin, there will be storms; summer storms and winter storms, and periodically they will be devastating and deadly. No community and no person is immune. It is the same with all the storms of life.
Storms can come quite unexpectedly. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, there is a telephone call. Could you please come to the hospital? You are met there by a doctor with a serious expression who says to you, “We have done all that we can. We just weren’t able to save him.” You may receive a call from the doctor’s office. You need to come in for a consultation. The doctor comes in and says, “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but the test indicates that there is a malignancy.” Storms come. They leave us devastated and confused. There are many kinds of storms.
In the Gospels we read that Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee one day. His disciples had to wake him when they were overcome with fear. Jesus was irritated at their lack of faith and they were even more afraid when he stood up and calmed the storm, saying “Peace, be still!”
Like the disciples we are afraid, because in our panic we forget — we lose touch with the power which is available to each of us. Jesus didn’t do anything on that boat that any of the disciples couldn’t have done. That’s why he was irritated with them for waking him. “Have you no faith?” He told them, “You will do greater things than I have done.” Everything that Jesus had power to do, he gave his followers the power to do, too — faith to move mountains! And they did do all the things Jesus had done as they learned to have “FAITH”.
A person of faith can calm storms. Friends help us get through the worst storms in our lives. We often don’t know how much we love one another until the storm comes. Then we grab our family and friends and hold on for dear life. Storms force us to look within ourselves, to reach down into the depths of our beings and touch the eternal that is within us. For some of us a devastating storm has been a blessing, because, for the first time in our lives, we are required to look beneath the surface of things; to think about our relationship with the Creator.
In his wonderful book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” Philip Yancey tells of a woman named Rebecca who was married to a well-known pastor who dabbled in pornography and solicited prostitutes. Eventually the pastor divorced Rebecca and married Julianne. It was painful for this pastor’s wife to suffer this great humiliation. People treated her as if it were her fault. She agonized over this deep betrayal and withdrew from others, reluctant to trust anyone. As she prayed about her situation she began to have a sense that unless she forgave him, “…a hard lump of revenge would be passed on to their children.”
Yancey writes: “One night Rebecca called her ex-husband and said, in a shaky voice, ‘I want you to know that I forgive you for what you have done to me. And I forgive Julianne, too.’ He laughed off her apology, unwilling to admit he had done anything wrong. Despite his rebuff, that conversation helped Rebecca get past her bitter feelings. A few years later, Rebecca got a hysterical phone call from Julianne...Her husband had been picked up for soliciting a prostitute...Julianne was sobbing. ‘I never believed you,’ she said. ‘I kept telling myself that even if what you said was true, he had changed.... I feel so ashamed, and hurt, and guilty. I have no one on earth who can understand. Then I remembered the night when you said you forgave us. I thought maybe you could understand what I am going through. It’s a terrible thing to ask, I know, but could I come talk to you?’ Somehow Rebecca found the courage to invite Julianne over that same evening. They sat in her living room, cried together, shared stories of betrayal, and in the end prayed together. Julianne now points to that night as the time when she became a Christian.”
Storms will come. But we need not fear their coming, or despair in the wake of their devastation, as long as there are some among us who will stand up, filled with the spirit of God, and say, “Peace. Be still.”