Across central Washington, a great swath of valley between the Cascade mountain range and the Rockies, rises into a broad plateau. Here, in the center of what looks like nowhere, the high desert plain reaches up to kiss the generous sky.
To the east and to the west, the geography is mountainous, forested, full of rocky outcroppings and river canyons, waterfalls and majestic headlands jutting into the Pacific. But here, in the flat, stillness of the plateau, the land and sky meet like large open palms.
We jettisoned forward, eager to end the road trip and settle into our own beds. Cutting across the black plain in a hurry we covered miles of highway that stretched in front and behind like a long braid.
There isn’t much to see out there. On highway 395, you set the car on coast and push on through until the plateau falls down Sunset Hill into the valley we call home: Spokane. This night was lit up by a round moon, white and lazy. The clouds hung about like forgotten laundry on the line floating on the heat of the summer night.
On the south and eastern horizons I noticed flashing pools of yellow light.
As we moved eastward, the flashing increased. Lightning storms raged in the skies over the rolling Palouse hills; far off in the distance they caught our attention, entertained us like a fireworks show. We were too far to hear the thunder, it’s beating drum and thrum of accompanying rain would be lost in the miles and miles of airspace.
We saw only the flash of the storm, we felt not it’s power.
The diversions we packed along to wile away the hours held little interest compared to the atmospheric light show. We instead watched with anticipation for the great columns of fire reach from black ground high into the night sky, a silent picture show.
“Did you see that one?” someone would exclaim.
“Oh, that was huge!”
“I saw it too.”
The silence in the family van was peppered with bits of exclamations.
But far away, beneath the storm, and within the storm, the fields and barns and families in farmhouses experienced the summer storm more fully than we who watched from a distance.
The beating rain or hailstones that pounded on acres of crops and rooftops meant something greater to them. To us it was fascinating, entertaining, even. To them it was powerfully present, overwhelming.
My sister recently travelled through Montana where a tornado reached long fingers and ripped off the siding and roof of her travel trailer. That storm came close and offered a taste of its power, its potential for devastation. It is scary being in the storm and under its swirling, careless strength.
We escaped a storm last summer.
A day at the lake, a drunk driver, a crash that left our van crumpled, our bodies broken.The storm of that night reached close, crushed a lung and tore open organs. We were all in the vehicle together, but I somehow withstood the most destruction.
While I’ve been grateful that I took the greater share of injury, instead of my husband and children, I often shake my head, baffled by the the details (and the miracles) of that night. The driver sped into the roadway fast as a flash of lightning. The seconds of devastating impact have left months (years even) of disabling after-affects. A day doesn’t pass that I don’t wonder, “Will I ever be normal again?”
And like those souls who return to homesites flattened by tornadoes or crumpled by an earthquake, we visit that night often in solemnity of spirit, in gratitude, in dismay, in anger, in grace, in prayer.
When the storm is upon you, you feel its flash reach to the center of your soul and the devastating power pushes you to limits yet unexplored. It is there that you gather your hope and your little bits of faith, like a frightened hen gathers her chicks in the farmyard, and hunker down…hoping, waiting for the storm to pass.
Perhaps, my friend, you’ve been there, too?
The storm is in the wayward child who flings and flashes herself about on the skies of youth, undeterred by wise warnings and words of love.
The storm is in the mass of tissue that formed a menacing knob in your breast.
The storm is the ripping apart of souls once joined in marriage and now crumbling under the torrents of time and neglect.
The storm is the mind, twisted and wracked by the past.
The storm never stays on the horizon. It moves in, moves on and moves you to wonder, to look up and ask:
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from you, maker of heaven.
We find faith that is our ballast not in the peace-times, not even in the quiet of the eye of the storm, but in the holding fast to that anchor of truth even while the rain is driving and the thunder rolls, even when the pain is searing and the heart is sick with worry.
I wish that storms never came, that life was all sunny skies and mild, refreshing mists, iced tea on patios and ruffle-bummed babies splashing in the kiddie pool.
But then, we’d never know the power of the storm: the power it has to strengthen and shape and instruct the soul. We’d see only the flash on the horizon and we’d be starved of its strength.
There is powerful peace found in the storm and a hard-learned truth: I am not God, I cannot make my heart beat.
I cannot stop the rain nor start it. I can hold fast and look for help. I can grasp all faith in shaking hands and wait and face the storm.
Help will come.
A Song of Ascents.
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever.
* Linked up here with Duane Scott