In life, you are either going into a storm, you’re already in a storm or you’ve just come out of a storm. These are the three basic phases of life.
I want to ask you a question, Have you ever personally survived the storm? I mean a real storm, the type that tests everything you are inside and out. The type that brings out the best in some and the worst in others. I know what that’s like, most of us have felt that fear and that anxiety and the first time I felt it was in 1985. I was six going on seven years old. I come from a big family and we lived in a small town in northern Arkansas called Yellville, Yellville Arkansas. There were seven children plus my mother and father all packed into a single wide trailer home in a run-down old trailer park just off of highway 412.
Now if you know anything about the weather in the south then you know that it is subject to change and then change again faster than anyone has time to say it and that’s exactly what it had done on this particular November day. We had seen it all, rain thunder, lightning, hail, everything. Then around eight or nine o’clock that night we heard that high pitched emergency alert come beeping across the TV.
My whole family, all nine of us, crowded around our little black and white tube where we could see the weatherman in a panic frantically announcing that a tornado had just touched down nearby and was about to smash directly into us. This thing had come out of nowhere rampaging with no warning. We were going into a storm, a big one, and I did not know it at the time but I was about to be changed forever.
My mother wrapped up the baby, my little brother, he was less than a year at the time and began to round up the smallest children, my sisters and myself included. My older brothers went to work moving furniture and covering windows doing whatever they could as fast as they could. My father had drug some mattresses out into the hallway. He appeared to be constructing some type of shelter, it was chaos. Everyone was shouting over the sound of the rising wind and I could hear the gravel and debris clicking and ticking as it struck the aluminum siding of the trailer. Now the whole place began to sway back and forth, this storm was coming fast and that’s when the power died… The lights our little tv, everything… and there I was standing in the dark holding a cheap flashlight and I remember wanting to cry. I think I was feeling sorry for myself but I learned fast that there is no time in the middle of a storm for standing and feeling sorry for yourself. Storms do not allow for that type of weakness. My whole world was vibrating with this raw power that I had never seen before, this thing was on top of us. This monster was at our door. Our storm had arrived.
The whole family retreated to the hallway where my father had prepared a shelter, just a few mattresses lining the wall of the hallway and a few blankets and each other is all we had for protection but it would have to be enough. My daddy was a country boy to the bone and he always did what he could with what he had. My mother cradled the baby and gathered the girls around her on the floor then my brothers and I huddled around them and last my father sealed us in with his body finally pulling one last mattress over us all.
There we were all nine of us, wedged in and trembling, waiting on destiny. My daddy cursed, my mama prayed, the baby cried and we were all scared to death. That’s when it happened, that’s when the full force of this tornado hit us like a plane crash. The power of those winds lifted the tiny trailer entirely off the ground holding it airborne momentarily before suddenly letting it go, sending us crashing back to the earth. The impact shattered every window in the house all at once and that let the storm inside. The wind filled the house with broken glass and freezing rain. It sounded like thunder itself was crawling through our home. There was a sickening crunching noise from outside as a nearby tree was uprooted and came crashing down across our roof and sending one of its branches tearing through the bathroom wall where it burst through the bathroom door extending itself into the hallway where it came to rest right on top of our feeble shelter. We were all feeling weight of this branch pressing down on us. This was the first time I had felt the fear of death, and when I was convinced we were all about to die the winds gradually began to subside. The storm released its grip on our little trailer and the walls sagged and slumped to one side like a beaten fighter after the 12th round. In mere seconds the world around us had fallen silent, only the sound of dripping water could be heard but we had survived. Three people died that night in Yellville. Three people lost their lives to that storm and my family and I were blessed to be survivors.
This is only one example of a storm, one story of survival but life itself consists of many storms. My brother weathered the storm of alcoholism, my aunt battled the storm of cancer. There are financial storms, storms of depression, emotional, mental spiritual storms; storms of all kinds. Some of you are in a storm right now and it’s written all over your faces. Some of us are in a storm right now and it’s written all over our clothing; but what these all have in common? The common thread that ties them all together is the fact that these are all defining moments in our lives.
Your personal storms are the moments that will define you. These are the awe-inspiring events that collectively make us who we are. Metals on our chest do not make you a warrior. It’s the battlefield that makes warriors and these storms are our battlefields. We may panic every time we are going into it and like that fallen tree we will fear the worst under their full weight but I can tell you that if you are patient and like my father you do all you can with what you have, you will come out of it a survivor, stronger than you were when you went in because what does not kill us only makes us stronger and what does not break us only makes us better. Our storms are blessings in disguise and I’ve learned that hidden behind those dark clouds is the future me, a stronger, wiser me. So today I’ve become a storm chaser. I seek out the battlefields. I seek out the bad weather. I seek out all opportunities to define myself.
Think about it, have you ever met a successful or a happy person? Well, don’t let their big smile fool you. That person has seen more stormy weather than any trailer park in the south. They will tell you themselves that they owe their success to the storms in their lives. So when I see those clouds building and I know that it’s coming, I simply lace my boots and grit my teeth because I know that on the other side of that devastation is a brighter day to be lived. I stopped expecting all the time sunshine back in 1985 because that’s not how life works. Today I expect the storms and I greet them with a smile. On that night over 30 years ago I began as a boy but by the time it was over I had become a triumphant survivor and I owe that all to that tornado. There is so much truth in that night for me that it would set the tone for a hard but beautiful life filled with many storms to come.
We are always in one storm or another, they come and they go, they come and they go and I’m sorry to tell you the weather doesn’t get better but that’s not bad news because storms are stepping stones and if we’re not being battered by the winds of change then we are not growing. If we’re not drenched in the rain of terror then we are not being tested. And if you are not weather-worn then you are not living. You see, the truth is that we can only truly find ourselves after we have fully lost ourselves in the eye of the storm.