Storms Ahead?

Storms. We’ve all experienced them. Rain. Sleet. Snow. Sometimes thunder and lightning. Once in a while, hail. Maybe even tornadoes. Storms aren’t necessarily bad—like a light drizzle, cooling on a hot day. And, sometimes, they’re needed—rain falling on a parched, thirsty land is a good thing. Other times? Well, you get through them. They pass.

I actually like “inclement weather”—weird, right? But, there’s something about it that I find invigorating. Maybe it’s the electricity in the air, charging me up along with those ions. Or, it could be conditioning from my childhood.

Some of my earliest memories are of severe thunderstorms that brought tornadoes to my hometown in the Texas panhandle. A study in contrasts, my parents opened the windows of our house just a bit at the same time they closed the doors in the hallway. I’d be settled into that secure inner sanctum with blankets and pillows, stuffed animals and baby dolls. And books—always books! There, in that safe cocoon, I’d ride out the storm while my dad stood guard on the front porch, listening to the weather updates on his transistor radio, his eyes searching the skies.

I’m not sure where my mom was during all of those storms, but she was likely finding her own way to handle the situation. Our neighborhood used to have semi-regular “floods” before the city fixed the drainage system. All of us kids saw the water-covered roads as an amazing opportunity for fun—we’d be out in our rain gear, stomping around and having a splashing good time! Every so often, the water level crept up the lawns, inching its way toward the houses. Once, as it moved into the depths of our garage, I heard my mother tell me to stop splashing—I was creating more waves than she could sweep back from the doorway. You read that right. My mom was standing guard in her own way, armed with a broom, sweeping back the water as it seeped across the sill from the garage into the kitchen!

During one of those bigger floods, I remember looking out the back windows with my dad, watching with delight as our sailboat floated around the back yard. There wasn’t any sense of disquiet—Dad had likely already lifted what he could in the garage to a safer height and Mom was probably at her post with her broom. He and I sat there for quite a while, watching the boat bob up and down, drift this way and that, imagining all of the places we could travel to in that little ship.

There were times we got caught in storms while driving, but I can’t remember ever being truly afraid. I was safe in the backseat, my dad at the wheel. And, honestly, the faster the windshield wipers swished across the glass, the more exciting I found it! The only instance I ever remember being “scared” during a storm was when I was startled awake by the sudden, loud static of the radio blasting on during a stormy ride across southern British Columbia; once the adrenaline left my system, though, I was fine. Even sliding across ice was something like a ride at the amusement park. Dad was steady at the wheel, my mom calm beside him. (Not to mention purposefully doing “donuts” on the ice with my big brother in charge—fun stuff!)

As for snow storms and blizzards? I was safe and warm in my house and, besides—it was snow! Seriously, people! Snow + kids = Magic! Look it up—it’s in the Parents’ Resource Book under “Duh!” The only time I ever felt threatened in the slightest by that crystalline gift from God was when I was six or seven. A massive snow storm left our yard covered with a good 3-plus feet of snow. Bundled up so I could hardly move, walking like a short, puffy Frankenstein, I wandered through snow that reached my chin. Meandering toward our neighbor’s house, I crossed the property line—not thinking about how the ground level dropped off at that spot. Suddenly, the snow was well over my head—all I could see was white! I staggered around for a moment, got my bearings and managed to turn back in the direction of my home. When I maneuvered myself back up the slope—to where I could see, again—that scary moment became an exciting adventure!

What about those other storms, though? The ones where emotions rage, tears fall like rain, tempers flare like lightning. We’ve all experienced those, too.

I made a mistake a few days ago. I prayed to be a better example to my daughter—grace under pressure, gentleness, speaking softly—all that… I failed. Miserably. It’s the holidays and there was sugar cookie dough ready to be made into delicious, happy shapes. My nine-year-old and a college-aged family friend patiently cut out trees and elves and stars and bells (and more!), placed them carefully on the cookie sheets and sprinkled them with colored sugars. There were smiles and giggles and laughter in the kitchen. When the first pan was safely in the oven, my older “daughter” left for work and I helped decorate the next pan. Midway through, my little girl said, “Mom, what’s that smell?”

You know what’s coming right? Well, maybe you have an idea, but unless you were driving past our house when a charred cookie sheet belching black smoke came hurling out the front door, you don’t really know. What you also don’t know is the emotional storm I found myself in. Guilt—why didn’t I set that timer?? Rage—how dare those cookies burn?? Sorrow—all of the time and care and delight experienced by the girls, wasted!

After a few minutes of turning on fans and opening doors and windows so the cold wind could help clear the air, I stomped out the front door and retrieved my best cookie sheet. My favorite cookie sheet, for that matter. It was thin and sturdy and had this textured surface that simply baked things well. Well, now it was covered with little black rocks, shaped obscenely like Christmas ornaments, which could take down a Marine at twenty paces if thrown accurately. To make it even worse, in between the cute little missiles was a coating of ugly, sticky tar. I picked up the cooling pan, smacked it against the sidewalk (dislodging the hard-cooked dough armaments—and marched back into the house. At the kitchen sink, I set to cleaning the pan with soap, then aluminum cleanser and, finally, my trusty—cleans anything—can of Barkeep’s Friend. (It’s kind of like Comet, but better!) My fingers cramping, the scrubber was falling apart—as was I. Crying, storming, letting loose the occasional colorful epithet… what a great example I was to my daughter.

She, on the other hand, was watching calmly from her perch on the red stool at the island in our kitchen—where she’d been the entire time. Except, maybe, when she might have hopped off in order to see a cookie sheet fly out the front door. Every so often, I’d hear her sweetly tell me that it was no big deal. It was okay. No, I argued with her, it was not okay that I’d ruined their efforts. And, it wasn’t. And, it was.

As the true surface of the pan began to reappear, I noticed that I’d dented it at one corner. My husband calmly took a pair of pliers to the roughened edge, smoothing it back into place. Mostly. My favorite cookie sheet is still in the kitchen, ready to use. It still has darkened residue in the groove around its edge that I think only my husband’s Dremel will clean, and I can still feel some roughness at the edge where I knocked it against the walk. Even so, it’s still with us—slightly battered, quite worn—but present, all the same.

Isn’t that the way it is with storms? The realities of life hit and we have to find a way through the rain, ducking from the lightning, balancing on the ice. Maybe if we can find a way to pause, to listen, we’ll hear a soft voice telling us it’s okay, that—in the long run—this is not a big deal. Maybe we can close our eyes and feel our father’s presence—calm and reassuring—making us absolutely fearless in the storm. Turning those storms, in fact, into life’s adventures. Adventures we can use to dream about the future.

This afternoon, my daughter will return from her last day of school before Christmas Break and the oven will be hot and ready, more dough ready to turn into fabulous cookies. We’ll laugh and giggle and smile as we use a worn and slightly dented cookie sheet to make warm, crispy—and edible!—works of art. And the roughened edge of that pan will remind me… Turn on the timer!

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