Tag Archives: Tornado

Storm Kits for Life

The word “storm” is an adequate metaphor for those moments of chaos we all encounter from time to time as we walk out life. Rough and tough times, unforeseen pitfalls, and uncontrollable situations are common to us all. Trouble is an equal opportunity employer that never discriminates regardless of race, creed, social standing, or sex. At this moment in your life, you have just exited a storm, are experiencing a storm, or should be expecting a storm. It is not if but when.

Natural storms follow weather patterns so we learn to expect them. And so does trouble and tribulation, but our belief system is oddly different. We somehow believe “it will never happen to me.” Therefore it always seems to catch us unaware and unprepared. And boom—the storm hits and life gets turned upside down and inside out. Huddled in piles of anxiety and fear, we put our head in our hands and cry, “Why me!”

Job put it this way: “Man who is born of woman, is short of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).Trouble is on its way. The only question is—will it stop at my house today? Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with the inevitability of that trouble tornado or thunderstorm of trials than cringing in dread and despair. Perhaps we should all put together a simple storm readiness survival kit.

First, we need to be weather aware. Good times don’t last forever. The stock market that goes up will come down. You will not be 100% healthy all of the time. And people will disappoint you, disagree with you, disappear on you, and even die on you. There is some kind of storm on your horizon. So—be alert!

When the trouble hits and the winds seem like they will rip you apart, dig your feet in and stand firm. Storms are temporary even if they come in multiple waves. They do not last forever. Hunker down—God loves you and he is bigger than any storm that rages around you. You don’t have to hang on to him, because he has you by your hand and he will not let go. Even though you feel like the wind is tearing you apart—relax. God will not forsake you.Tuscaloosa, Alabama Tornado 2011

Next, find the eye of the hurricane—by that I mean find a quiet place in the midst of the storm and have a genuine conversation with God. For heaven’s sake talk to him. Tell him how you feel. Be totally honest and voice the fear, the despair, the discouragement, or the feelings of destruction or doom you are experiencing. Ignoring those feelings will not lessen their destructive impact. Release them before they have an opportunity to raze your faith. Then use what little faith you have left to thank God for his protection and his provision. Being thankful in the midst of the storm is a sure sign you will be standing when the gale ceases and the sun breaks out once again.

0512-0705-3017-2448Finally, once the wind subsides and the sun pops out, assess the damage, clean up the debris, and get on with your life. Don’t allow trouble to deter you from your purpose or freeze frame you in a place of less than or self-pity. Move forward—don’t live looking back. Find others who have survived similar storms and share your stories together. Learn from their experience, as well as yours. Experience is actually a good teacher if we learn from it. If we don’t learn from past experience, rest assured—history will repeat itself at some point in the futuTrouble is a part of life, regardless of the depth of your faith, the demeanor of your influence, the development of your pocketbook, or the discernment of your wisdom. You can’t avoid it, no matter how well your storm shelter is constructed. But—you can survive it and even thrive from it, if you strive in your preparation for the next one. Just check the radar—at some point another storm will blow in. Prepare now, you will be ready!

A Framed Reminder

The Tuscaloosa Tornado

There are some images that are scorched in my mind—images that are just as real today as the moment they happened. The images of President Kennedy’s assassination and the subsequent funeral, the assassination attempt on President Reagan, and the July 27, 2012 tornadoes that ripped across my beloved state of Alabama are still fresh and clear even though the first one happened almost fifty years ago. It is amazing what we remember and what we forget.

The image of the monster tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa, Pleasant Grove, Northern Birmingham, and Fultondale is one I wish could be erased, but likely it will never disappear comletely. That evening in April the skies rained what many might call debris (I choose to call it pieces of life). Although we live almost seventy miles from Tuscaloosa, bits and pieces of the people whose homes were destroyed there came to rest on my property as that dark day became an even darker night.

Early the next morning, I climbed aboard my old Ford tractor and began the job of bush-hogging a large field in front of my home. On my way out the driveway I began to notice shards of paper, roofing, plastic, insulation, and wood. For some unexplainable, but irresistible reason, I began to gather each piece I saw, which meant over the next few hours I must have climb off and back on my tractor a hundred times. I stuffed the fragments in my shirt pocket until it was packed so full I couldn’t get another piece in it. Over the next few hours I filled up several Wal-Mart bags with precious portions of what had once been someone else’s life. There were bits and pieces of bills, checks, business licenses, a page from an old annual, pictures, and other reminders of what a normal everyday life looks like.

At the end of the day, what I held in my hands had taken on an almost of sacred aura. I realized there was more to this than I thought. God seemed to be the driving force behind my careful collecting of these scraps of life. I sensed I was to buy a large frame and somehow fit everything I had picked up in it. So off to Hobby Lobby I went.

As I began to glue the slivers, splinters, and chips together I realized each piece

The Collage

was special—a puzzle piece of someone’s life. While I was working, my wife gave me something she had found earlier in the driveway as she went to check the mailbox. It was a fully intact canceled check from the 80’s. What rocked me was the last name on the check—it was Hannah—my last name as well. That check had traveled a long distance and landed in my driveway. Coincidence? I think not. God was talking and in a rather loud voice.

As I finished the tornado collage and stared at its story, the Holy Spirit began to speak in his familiar gentle voice. “These pieces of life represent the lives of people—the people that I love. Use this collage to remind yourself of the endless crowds you come in contact with every day whose lives are decimated, destroyed, and devastated by sin. Don’t just hurry by—stop and help them put the pieces back together through the love of Jesus Christ. I don’t want you to ever forget the field of destruction you walk through every day. Never forget you carry the answer and the hope within you that can restore what the devil has stolen.”

So…I share this story again just in case there is someone out there whose life is coming apart at the seams. Jesus really does love you and he alone can restore what has been stolen. Just cry out from your heart and trust him with your situation!

God Lessons Learned in the Storm (Part 3 of 3)

The degree of devastation in a disaster is usually determined in the days that follow it. Thursday, April 28 was such a day. As the sun began its westward climb this grim truth became apparent. The grizzly reminders of the past Wednesday were painfully etched in Thursday. No other day of weather has ever been so deadly in Alabama.

This day would forever change my life and ministry. Returning from an early morning walk Cathy showed me a check she had found in our driveway. This check belonged to a person with our same last name and the address was Tuscaloosa, almost 70 miles to the south. The same storm that had devastated that city rained its shreds of stolen booty across our property. But…the likelihood of a check belonging to a Hannah in Tuscaloosa landing in the driveway of another Hannah that far away was not coincidence; it was God, and He was about to use a prophetic picture to proclaim the necessity of a profound message.

Sensing God had something to say I followed His leading and began picking up what many might term debris, but for me these fragments were sacred. I was gathering the past and present of people whose future was uncertain and whom I would probably never meet. Nothing was complete, just bits and pieces, slivers and shreds of lives destroyed in a moment by a terrifying wind. I must have climbed down from my tractor over a hundred times as I mowed the five acre field near the road, each time retrieving a precious portion of another’s private possessions. Scraps of receipts, a merchant’s ledger page from 1942, addresses, bills, half a wedding invitation, a corner of a page out of someone’s school annual, magazines, newspapers, and textbooks were mixed with bits of sheetrock, tar paper, painted luan splinters, vinyl siding, and various shades of Styrofoam insulation.

It was a somber task, especially when I knelt in the weeds and picked up a green and white plastic ball that had been kicked about the day before by a little girl in her yard. The thoughts of what might have happened to her gripped my heart and the tears began to flow as I considered my own four-year-old granddaughter. God was systematically demolishing every hesitance lodged deep in my soul that would preclude me from hearing clearly what He wanted to say.

I sensed in my spirit that I was to take these fragments of my culture and put them in a collage and frame them. It was a both a sobering and sacred experience as I painstakingly assembled it much like a CSI technician would re-assemble a crime scene. Its terrifying message suddenly gripped my heart as God’s voice echoed in my spirit.

“I want you to put this prophetic reminder in a place where you can look at it every day for the rest of your life. These bits of personal property represent real people whose lives are devastated. But…it also represents all the people who do not know Me. It is a picture of their lives, their relationships, their hopes, and their dreams. Though they may smile as you meet them, their lives are just as shattered as the ones who have survived this storm. The invisible storms are just as destructive as visible ones. They too, feel isolated and hopeless. I want them to know I love them with an everlasting love.”

Things grew quiet again, and a new revelation dawned on me as I stared at the collage in my hands. “Lord,” I said, “there’s absolutely nothing that represents You in this picture.”

Then God whispered, “You do!”

God Lessons Learned in the Storm (Part 2 of 3)

Unique days are never forgotten. Those moments impact a person by marking them for life. Wednesday, April 27 was one such day in my life. It was a defining moment that will guide me for the rest of my life.

I awakened to the news that a tornado had struck downtown Cullman about 40 miles north of my home. My first thought was of two friends who are church planters and lead Desperation Church near the center of the downtown. I prayed, sent a text, and waited…and waited…and waited…but no reply. So I prayed harder.

The weather was deteriorating, moving quickly from bad to worse. The television meteorologists were tracking a huge storm that was bearing down on Tuscaloosa. They were using descriptions and scale numbers far above the levels they had been taught in school. I have family in Northport and two more friends who are church planters and lead Refuge Church in Tuscaloosa, so I prayed…hard.

I will never forget the next few minutes. One of the television crews had parked on a hillside east of Tuscaloosa and was filming the horizon when a gigantic black tornado over a mile wide at the ground appeared and began moving from left to right across the screen. Homes, businesses, trees, and people’s lives were sucked up in the churning vortex of this monster’s mouth and obliterated in its massive jaws. A numbing helplessness crept over me as the tears ran down my face.  Familiar places were disappearing before my very eyes—the Big Lots, the Chevron Station on the corner of 15th and McFarland, and the Full Moon Barbeque—all gone in a moment—in the blink of an eye. Places I had been just a week earlier. Homes, apartments, and businesses vanished. I prayed, sent a text, and waited…and waited….and waited…but no reply. So I prayed harder.

This particular storm stayed on the ground and headed north toward Birmingham—churning its way through Pleasant Grove, Pratt City, and eventually Fultondale, leaving a path of devastation, desolation, and death. We heard its roar as it passed seven to ten miles south of where we live. I prayed and prayed and prayed, and then I prayed some more.

Prayer is the equivalent of throwing your hands up in surrender without giving up hope.  Let me explain what I mean. There are moments (far many more than we are willing to admit) where we are helpless. In prayer we surrender the selfish independence that makes us think we can take care of our own selves. We can’t! In prayer, we cry out for provision or protection from One who is unlimited in power—omnipotent. We call for the Lord God to come—to help—to protect—to defend—to whatever it is we need in those moments. And…God always comes. He never leaves us, even in the midst of a killer mix of swirling wind, unrelenting hail, twisted metal, and the blackness of lost hope.

Twenty-three tornadoes bathed in countless prayers finally brought this horrendous day to an end. The day is past, but the physical and emotional cleanup will take months and years to complete—if ever. God is answering the prayers. Stories are surfacing of miraculous moments in the midst of those monsters’ grips. His faithfulness is being shown in a myriad of different ways.

And…during that day two welcomed texts—one from Cullman and one from Tuscaloosa appeared without warning on my cell phone. Thank you Lord for hearing my prayers!

God Lessons Learned in the Storm (Part 1 of 3)

God seems to catch the blame for everything. He is the sovereign Lord and Divine Mastermind of everything created, but it amazes me how easily the creatures He created want to pin responsibility at His doorstep. Divine sovereignty never eradicates human responsibility. They are not diametrically opposed or polar opposites. On the contrary, they are partners in what we call this reality of life.

It seems that the dooms-dayers, the naysayers, and the pious pharisaical players of prophetic gobble-de-gook love to point out how natural disasters and deadly diseases are the judgment of God. They would say the tsunami that struck Japan, or Hurricane Katrina, or the Aids virus, or a thousand other methods by which human beings tragically die are somehow caused by an angry God, who is only giving us what we deserve. The enemy has done such a good job that most Christians now believe and parrot this idiocy.  “Ouch!” you say—“that’s a bit strong don’t you think?” No, not really. If I could muster a way to say it in a more straightforward way I would, but it probably wouldn’t be rated G and thus deemed unwholesome and ungodly.

We are living in a marvelous dispensation of grace that began the moment Jesus took on our sins and became sin for us and will extend until He removes His church from this world. It pleased the Father, according to Holy Writ, to pour out all the condemnation and punishment that we deserved onto the shoulders of His dear Son. Jesus endured divine justice that we might embrace undeserved mercy. He bore the wrath so that we might be granted grace. Judgment was satisfied and its cost was Christ. God was and is still pleased by this. He is not mad. God is good.

Wednesday, April 27 will be an infamous and long remembered day in the history of my beloved state. Alabama The Beautiful was devastated by a historic weather pattern being referred to by many as the “Perfect Storm.” A Northern cold front collided with a Gulf warm front and their deadly offspring were ushered across the Southern United States by a relentless jet stream. The result was a series of killer tornadoes of epic proportions. They began early in the morning and continued with a vengeance throughout the day and into the night wreaking havoc and raining death and debris from one side of the state to the other.

These terrifying storms were not the handiwork of God. No; they were the result of one solitary act of human disobedience that occurred in the tranquil paradise of Eden. That single deed opened and unleashed a proverbial Pandora’s Box of evil on a once pristine and ideal environment created in perfect balance by a loving God. Paradise was not just lost, it was replaced by a system of cause and effect, which has snowballed into a planet whose natural laws seem out of control at times.

One word of encouragement: God is still in control. He has not abdicated His role as Creator. But…He is not to blame—we are!