As I write this blog entry, the city of New Orleans is marking the thirteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On August 29, 2005, Katrina came ashore just east of the city. For those of us in the area, we breathed a sigh of collective relief as peril appeared to skirt around us.
Then . . . the levees broke.
At the time, Katrina’s devastation was conceivably the worse physical damage that I had sustained in life. And it would be an understatement to admit that she dealt quite the emotional blow as well. At the time – and for a long time after – I operated under the mistaken delusion that “it couldn’t get much worse.” Be careful what you “wish” for. Obviously, I didn’t wish for worse or even for proof that Katrina was indeed the worse that life had to offer. However, more than once in the ensuing years, I’ve indeed dealt with worse – much worse.
A couple of nights ago, my twenty-year old daughter (who was in second grade back in 2005) reminded me of the upcoming date. First, I was a little surprised that the upcoming date had snuck up on me.
How could something so traumatic fade so quickly?
How could an event that defined our lives for so long now feel like a long-lost memory?
Then, I felt more than just a little convicted.
Had I forgotten the lessons learned in 2005?
Those lessons didn’t come easily – was I letting them slip away?
What event defines your “high water mark?” Which loss or struggle surpasses all others dividing your life’s history into before and after? What’s your hurricane?
What day did your levees break?
Does that event define you or does it refine you?
Whether a single incident or a drawn out season of struggle – trials leave their mark. Smaller challenges scuff up our spirits creating a fine patina the way constant use etches the handle of silver dinnerware -the tiny scores imparting character and distinction without impeding the fork’s usefulness. Some trials are heavier. They gouge souls leaving distinct marks the way a stiletto imprints a wooden floor.
Life’s really big storms consume our spirits – at least for a while, if not longer. Hidden beneath the consuming surge is a deluge of mud, debris, and muck. The true mess isn’t even visible until the waters recede.
How do we keep from being washed away with the tide?
How do we defy being defined by the event?
How do we become refined without becoming resigned?
Our marks, gouges, and scrapes swirl into a worn patina like a fingerprint on our souls. These are our stories. And while each one becomes part of our unique identity, how our stories are told is the difference between allowing those stories to define us or permitting those stories to refine us.
So often, especially when an event or circumstance is fresh, I let it define me. It’s all I talk about. It’s all I think about. It’s all-consuming. I become that story. Then as time fades, the circumstance tends to fade. But have no fear, there is always a new trial or circumstance waiting in the wings primed to take center stage. I slip in and out of circumstances being defined in the moment. Too often, I resist the reformation. I run from being refined for everlasting.
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. – Michelangelo
Our stories are hidden within mountains of stone. Like streams slowly etch valleys into the face of stone, our trials wash over us with the power to release our inner angels. The troubling tides can cleanse away the muck to reveal our message. Yet, I’m much more comfortable behind the defined stone than I am revealing the lessons refined by trials and circumstances.
Satan knows my limitations. He knows my temptations. He knows that I’m not inclined to allow troubles to wash over me. And, I’m not pushing my way to the front of the line to be cleansed. Oh, how he knows my weaknesses. He knows that I’d be hard-pressed to resist the temptation of certain offers – like erasing the deep wounds inflicted upon my loved ones or bringing Brooke back. But here’s the thing. The things that I’d be tempted to entertain in trade aren’t within Satan’s power.
What I want, Satan can’t give me.
Satan has no power over life or death. So, he seeks to deceive. He throws obstacles in my path that feel like life or death. He creates an illusion of life and death so powerful that I’m constantly tempted to turn my focus away from the one power that does have dominion over life and death – God.
In my own little world, Satan wins this battle more often that I care to admit. But, in moments of clarity – I am reminded that the war was won when Jesus gave his life so that we may all have eternal life.
A survivor of Hurricane Harvey recently introduced me to the phrase – “don’t waste your hurricane.” Brilliant! One of Satan’s “go to” tactics is to encourage us to place blame for our circumstances. Typically, he encourages us to cast that blame squarely upon our Lord. Frankly, when things are going wrong – God is an easier target for blame than Satan just because God is sovereign, and Satan has no real control. Just like Satan will never tell us the full story when attempting to gain a toehold in our lives, he will never tell our stories fully. Don’t give him the chance.
My angel is hidden within the marble. My story is written above, beyond and between the lies. And so is yours!
If we grant Satan creative license over our tales, he will twist and pervert them. If we grant Satan artistic license with our marble prose, he will chip away the most valuable pieces. With Satan in charge, we waste our hurricanes. We miss the opportunity to motivate, inspire, and provide hope to another. We miss the chance to connect.
When we lay our stoney struggles at the feet of the Lord, we are trusting the ultimate Sculptor to release the angels within. When we turn our waterlogged journals over to the master Storyteller, we turn evil on its head. These are acts of worship. Make no mistake, these are acts of defiant worship. Only God has the power to breathe life into the disasters that Satan intends for our destruction. Only God has the power to reveal the angelic hidden within the agony. Only God has the power to refine our circumstances.
So – how will you allow your story to be told?
How will you use your hurricane?
Will it define you or refine you?