Back in July, Ellie and I had a wonderful weekend in New York City where we saw almost every block of Manhattan, mostly on foot. Our flight home was no less entertaining as we sat on the runway at LaGuardia for 5 1/2 hours. We both were amazed and giggling at the reactions of the people around us after only the first hour, at which point it would be safe to assume from the attitudes and behaviors of our fellow passengers that we had been taken hostage, were crashed on a deserted island and had no immediate prospect of rescue. People were raiding the snacks in the back of the plane, coming down the aisle with hands full of cookies and tiny packages of pretzels or nuts. They ran out of water in that back galley before we ever took off. (Never mind the fact we could still see the gate, had electricity and bathrooms, and people had full access to their iPads, phones and laptops.) But when we finally did take off, our plane was surrounded by flashes of lightning, and though I didn’t want to alarm Ellie, I was as frightened as she was at the concept of being a metal object flying up into closer proximity with those storm clouds. (My Air Traffic Controller brother-in-law would of course dispel any of this anxiety with the reality that nobody in the entire aviation industry would send planes into known danger because that would hurt everyone…but as previously observed, rational responses do not always dominate in matters of the unknown.)
Last week at Tybee Island, we rented sea kayaks and paddled our way over to Little Tybee. It is an undeveloped little island with streams, marsh, and more secluded beaches. It was truly beautiful and in places, like being on an uninhabited planet. Half our crew headed back to the mainland for an earlier return, leaving just my dad, Chad and me to explore as we waited for Terrell to return from ferrying the group. As they began rowing away, rumbles of thunder started moving in and dark clouds could be seen to the north, but presumably a long way off. We kept exploring. Then from the other direction, we saw one of those zig zag lightning bolts and realized we might not want to be standing on this wide open beach on an island where we were essentially the lightening rods. Just before Terrell paddled his way back to us, a phone call came in (to my cell wrapped in baggies in our backback) from the kayak place telling us storm cells were popping up all over and we needed to get back, if we were able. Panic set in as the lightning bolts seemed to increase while we pushed our boats back into the water to return to the mainland.
Film makers have always known the power of juxtaposing blissful moments with mortal danger because the change is so unexpected and jarring. In one moment, everything seems in control, reliable, predictable, comfortable and purely good. Suddenly something capable of destruction swoops in, reminding me of my powerlessness and confronting me with my fears of loss, devastation, trauma and inconsolable pain. When I am standing along a stretch of the island on a sunny morning with nothing to look at but blue herons sitting on driftwood branches in the midst of wide expanses of federally preserved marsh and sea and old live oaks covered in Spanish moss, my soul is filled with the beauty and peacefulness of my environment. When lightning bolts fill the sky in all directions and I am vulnerably out in the open with a sea river standing between the safe place I need to be and my current position, my soul is filled with the terror of my environment.
“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? Job 38:8-11What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Job 38:24-27
We returned home from the beach Saturday night, and in typical form, I awoke twice that night in a panicked depression over the fact we were just “moments ago” in my soul’s most contented environment and suddenly it was all over and school was upon us and my children would be leaving all day every day to an unfamiliar public school and…just like lightning flashes and bolts surrounding the plane or idyllic island, all the beauty and peace around me seemed threatened and in peril.
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. Matt. 8:26
Once again, I find myself rebuked by Love, reminding me that the Prince of Peace is a person, not a place, season or sunny day. How quickly I place my trust in the seen rather than gripping, by faith, the Unseen. How quickly I assume my knowledge and understanding is the measure of my stability, peace, confidence and even bliss. The Hollywood film makers jolt the audience simply for the effect and shock value. The Great Film Writer holds dear His creation, His children and His people, juxtaposing the Prince of Peace with a stormy sea not to shame or shock, but to mature their faith and grow His Kingdom. May my confidence shift its placement from my environmental control to His control of all things, for His good, life-giving purposes.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8