Storms.

Posted: April 24, 2018 in Uncategorized

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25 years ago today, I almost died.
April 24, 1993 was a Saturday.
At first, it seemed like a normal Saturday destined to come and go and be forgotten like so many other Saturdays. But, this would prove to be a Saturday that I can’t ever forget…
Diana and I were youth pastors at a church in Tulsa. We lived in a little bitty house on the church grounds. The house was roughly the exact same size and shape as a cardboard shoe box. It was between two identical shoe box houses that were occupied by our friend, Marilyn, and the senior pastors, Howard and Catherine Mabery. The houses aren’t there anymore, they were all demolished years ago to make room for a QuikTrip parking lot.
I had worked all day at Mardel (a bookstore AND office supply place). Diana, who we had just found out was PREGNANT, was away at a women’s conference in Buffalo Gap, Texas. I got home from work about 6:30 pm. I was all alone, and I had some BIG ambitious manly plans. I was going to eat some hearty, manly grub—a delicious and nutritious Hungry Man salisbury steak TV dinner—and I was going to watch professional wrestling and probably make rude, manly noises.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
When I got home I noticed the sky looked really weird. It was almost a surreal shade of gray. I turned on the TV, and the high-strung local weatherman was nervously talking about storm fronts and funnel clouds and possible tornadic activity. If you live in Oklahoma for any amount of time, you get used to the threat of tornadoes. Storms are just a natural part of life in the Sooner state, you do learn not to sleep naked during tornado season.
I wasn’t too worried…
I put my Hungry Man meal in the microwave and set the timer. I put on some old basketball shorts and was about to assume my rightful position in the recliner with a remote control in my hand when the silence was broken by some loud sirens going off right outside.
I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I called my neighbors who had survived many more tulsa springtimes than me…
Howard and Catherine Mabery were great people who had been pastors for about 50 years. They loved Jesus, people, and all-you-can-eat seafood buffets. When the sirens starting blaring, I called them, and Catherine answered.
I said, “What is that?”
She replied, “Well, it’s a tornado.”
I said, “Oh, what do I do?”
She answered, “Get somewhere!”
Then she hung up—evidently so she could get somewhere herself.
The wind was really picking up outside, so I decided I really ought to get somewhere, although I didn’t know where to get. I remembered hearing somewhere that the bathroom was the safest room in the house, which is reassuring because I spend a lot of time there. I ran in and knelt down by the tub.
The weather was actually getting pretty scary at this point. It was getting noisier, and the wind was getting stronger. I started praying hard and fast. I was pleading with God for protection. I just wanted to see my wife. I wanted to be around to meet my unborn child. I could hear and feel things banging up against the side of our little house. It literally sounded like a freight train was going right through our living room. I was facedown on our bathroom floor, shaking and shivering and crying out for help. I reached out and clung to the nearest possible anchor…the toilet.
It’s during times like this…
when all pretense and pride is stripped away, that you realize what’s really important in life.
It’s just you and God and a storm, and you realize what matters most.
It wasn’t what I was wearing or driving. It didn’t matter where we lived or that we only had $2.37 in our checking account.
It was pretty simple: What mattered was my faith and my family and friends.
And that was it.
Then just as quickly as the storm started, it ended, and there was a tangible weird stillness all around.
I lay there shaking on the bathroom floor hugging the toilet for a while. When I was able to finally get up, I realized our little house was intact.
I walked outside, and it looked almost like a war zone. Howard and Catherine were fine, although the tornado had demolished Catherine’s little storage building. She had kept 40 years worth of sewing and craft supplies in it, so there were strands of fabric everywhere. Broken glass and wood were everywhere. Large chunks of other people’s houses were in our front yards. The storm had knocked out the windows in our cars and knocked the steeple off the church. The wooden playground and jungle gym were totally gone.
My parents somehow got through several roadblocks to check on me.
We walked around, trying to take it all in.
There was so much to take in.
It was a F4 tornado that left a 6 mile path of destruction. Our little houses were right in the path.
The tornado hit a large truck stop right across the highway from us. It killed 7 people there. They were people who were just trying to get home. These people were parents, grandparents, children, brothers, and sisters. They had plans and dreams.
But their plans and dreams came to an ugly end on a spring day in Tulsa.
The truck stop was totally wiped out. Twisted steel and destruction were everywhere. Yet right where the truck stop kitchen had been minutes before, there was a Styrofoam container of eggs just sitting there, and not one of the eggs was even cracked.
Storms are wild and weird.
That night, I sat in my living room in the dark watching the fire trucks, ambulances, and helicopters come and go.
It felt like a war zone.
Sometimes life leaves us breathless for all the wrong reasons.
Situations and settings feel like a long, hard, unrelenting sucker punch to the gut.
I sat there alone on the couch trying to catch my breath, thinking about how life can change in an instant. We make our plans, but in the blink of an eye, storms come and everything can be turned upside down.
The wisest investments are made in the things that matter most. What are our anchors in the storm?
When we’re shaken to our foundations, suddenly fashion, popularity, fame, and mutual funds don’t really matter at all.
We’re left holding onto our faith, our family, and our friends—and that’s about it.
If that’s what matters when the storm hits, why can’t we live for those things when everything is smooth sailing?
Why do we allow ourselves to be distracted by things that don’t matter?
I’ve been through many storms since that day in 1993.
I’ve experienced stormy times when I’m shaken to my core.
I’m left breathless, looking for something to cling to…
And I remember…
I remember a desperate little man lying on a bathroom floor and the clarity about what matters most that I gained there.
25 years ago today, I survived the storm.

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