There are only two seasons in Alabama; football season and tornado season. Actually football season never really ends here. The teams only play 11 games but the fans talk about them 365 days a year. Tornado season usually takes up about 8 months of the year. There will be tornadoes somewhere in Alabama every week of the Spring and Fall; you can count on it. Kansas has nothing on Bama. The Wizard of Oz was supposed to be based on Dorothy from Tuscaloosa, but everyone knows the wizard behind the curtain of Bama is The Bear. No surprise there, so they moved the plot to Kansas just to keep the story interesting.
A white Christmas in Birmingham is the unicorn of holidays. In 2010 Bama had snow on Christmas day. Last winter brought us lots of snow, another oddity in Alabama. Then came Spring/tornado season part 1. Tornado season is always dangerous in our state. Last April it was devastating. All of us have been weather paranoid since April. We did not have snow this past Christmas, but we had thunderstorms just a few days into the New Year. Lightning in January is another weather unicorn. This past week only continued the rare weather that seemed to begin Christmas of 2010. In the third week of January a series of F3 tornadoes ripped through our state. The fact that it happened in January, once again, makes it a rare event. This year the storms did not wait for Spring. But this time the tornado was different for me and my family. Not because the storm came early this year, but because this storm had a familiar face.
When tornadoes hit Alabama we watch it on the news and if it is within proximity we load up the following Saturday and go help. You go to hurting people, but they are people you have never met and will probably never see again. As devastating as the April tornadoes were to our state, and as much work as we did at the time, my heart grieved for the people impacted, but I did not know any of them. I helped them, but I did not know them. When the tornadoes hit our state last Monday night, they hit just up the street from my house. I know dozens of the families impacted. 13 families in our church were affected. My daughters go to school with children who are sharing story after story of what happened at their home. When I watch the news I see people who I have met on a ball field, people who once attended our church, people I see almost every day. In April I helped and watched people in North Smithfield, Tuscaloosa, and little towns all over the state. This week it has been Jane, the Tice’s, Ms. Trice, Cheryl, Patsy, A.P. and Toni, the Bohan’s, on and on. The guy on the news is Ken. I remember when his kids were small. His brother-in-law was our youth pastor. This storm did not hit my house, but it severely damaged my home.
I still do not know what it feels like to look at your own house and all that’s left is a pile of debris. I have no idea what it must be like to lose a daughter in a storm, but I was closer this week to understanding those feelings as I have ever been before. None of it happened to me, but it happened just up the street. The first house we put on offer on when we moved here was destroyed last Monday night. We were one signature away from “that” house being “our” home. I moved bricks and tossed debris at one house while a group of men crawled beneath the pile trying to salvage anything of value they could find. I knew the people in the pictures they were pulling from the rubble. I saw chairs and tables crushed beneath the walls of living rooms and dens where I have led families in prayer many times. This week was a reminder that in a moment everything changes. One storm blows through your community and in 10 minutes every scene that has been familiar for 9 years becomes barely recognizable.
Tornado ravaged areas all look and smell the same. If you have seen one, you have seen them all. Yet the world is so huge that the storm always seems far away. Tornadoes happen, but they happen somewhere else. Then it is your street, your family, your friends. No one is immune.
Many people view the Bible as a narrative that occurred a world away and in another span of time. Our world seems so different now than then that the two could not possibly intersect; then suddenly they do. The Bible is honest about a world created with good intentions but ruined by sin. Because of our rebellion in the garden the world that was created to sustain our lives will sometimes fight against us and take our lives. Because of sin the story of the Bible is full of storms. Because that story continues with us the storms will continue as well. The storms remind us that the story of Scripture is not that far away.
After the storm we rush in, desperate to save a life. We become desperate to make things right. Yet ultimately we realize that insurance helps us recover but it does not help us redeem. I visited a man in the trauma unit who told me that this was not his first trip to the hospital after a storm. No matter what we rebuild we know we may be hit again. Our rescue efforts, volunteer cleanups, and insurance policies can make the moment somewhat better but we are powerless to ultimately make it right. We are incapable of looking any of our neighbors in the eyes and saying, “I promise, this will never happen to you again.” It is a cruel reminder that we cannot save ourselves. We need good news.
The Bible is honest about the storm and it is confident about redemption. Along with the angry palpitations of our planet there are also promises of hope.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25
The good news is that the world was not supposed to be like this and because of Christ it will not always be like this. The difficulty is in the waiting, but we do not wait hopelessly, we wait with hope. Waiting hopefully does not mean we passively subscribe to Christ and wait patiently to die. Waiting with hope means that we live for Him now. Waiting hopefully means we must realize that recovery is not simply about extending Christian charity, but about spreading the gospel message. It is calling people to repent of sin and submit to Christ as the ultimate expression of hope. Some may charge that calling for repentance at at time such as this seems cruel, but if we merely rebuild homes in Jesus’ name, we have redeemed nothing. All we have done is recovered and rebuilt something that may be destroyed again. The message of the gospel is that in Christ we enter into a new hope that will sustain us in the storm because we know one day He will come again and return the world to right. We wait for Him to come then, but in the waiting we live for Him now. The promise of the gospel is that one day Christ will end the terror of sin. When sin ends, so will the storms. In the weeks to come our task is to rebuild, but our call is to tell. We must rebuild homes, but we must also give people hope by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These are our neighbors. These are our friends. This is my community. Jesus Christ is our hope.