As I left the Y this morning after my workout I noticed that the skies were dark with storm clouds to the west. I passed a young mother with her four-year old son in hand and I happened to overhear their conversation. The little boy was frightened of the possibility of a tornado. Tornadoes have been in the news here lately so I’m not surprised that they would be on this little fellow’s mind. His mother tried to reassure him that those didn’t look like ‘tornado clouds’, just ‘storm clouds.’ The little boy seemed unconvinced and asked his mom a very astute question for a child his age, “How do you know the difference, Mommy?”
I’ll admit that as a child I, too, was terribly afraid of tornadoes. After a major tornado devastated the nearby town of Xenia, Ohio when I was about ten, I remember being convinced that every time the skies grew dark and the wind started blowing that we would be next! More than once my mother, my sister and I ran to the basement and huddled in our storm shelter underneath the stairs because the skies were threatening. The truth was that we didn’t know the difference between storm clouds and tornado clouds and we adopted the philosophy of ‘better safe than sorry’.
Unfortunately, when the metaphorical storm clouds of life appear on the horizon we don’t always have the option of hunkering down in a shelter. We just have to face some storms and we don’t know whether they will produce a gentle rain, a thunderstorm or unleash a destructive funnel cloud on our lives. We’ve all heard tale of someone who goes to the doctor with a minor complaint or to get a mole looked at and discovers that they have a serious, even life threatening condition. Maybe we’ve even experienced something like this ourselves. The truth is that we just don’t know what the future holds and simply opting out isn’t possible.
As a parish minister for nearly 30 years I’ve cared for people who’ve had some pretty hard knocks – things they never saw coming. The sudden death of a parent, child or spouse. The unexpected departure of a husband or wife. The loss of a job or an unexpected career change. For most people these are storms that they can weather – though not without discomfort. For others, however, they become devastating tornadoes that destroy homes, dissolve families and ruin lives.
As I sit here in the Pastor’s Study at the Agape Church of the Brethren the wind is howling outside. I’m experiencing that familiar uneasy feeling I had as a child when the springtime skies would grow dark in Dayton, Ohio. What does today hold? I don’t know. What might happen tomorrow? I don’t know. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34, “‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
The weather along the California coast can be ominous. Pacific storms can come in without notice and they vary greatly in intensity. As I pedal from Los Angeles to San Francisco along the rocky central coast I fully expect to get wet a time or two, but I will have to focus on the stretch of road at hand and continue onward as I travel from civilization through the wilderness towards civilization again.
One more thing. While I wish I could tell the difference between the ‘storm clouds’ and ‘tornado clouds’ – both literal and metaphorical – in life, the truth is that none of us can. I’ll simply have to console myself in the knowledge that I have Someone to cling to no matter how much rain falls or how hard the winds blow.