I knew there was something special about her, the first time I saw her standing solitaire on that grassy bluff a year ago. She fascinated me, maybe more than the grizzlies across the Shelikof Strait from her, stuffing themselves on salmon as I stood not twenty feet away.
Last September, I watched her blown about in a furious nor’easter, wondering if she’d be ripped to shreds like the fish I saw in bear jaws. She survived that one storm, but I went home wondering if she would break from all the storms to come. And then I found myself at the beginning of my own series of storms, a season that lasted a full year, one full calendar of pages flung over, of days and months crossed off, feeling too many times like I just might not make one—more—day.
Another September has come, and I returned to see her still standing as our skiff came ashore on her Alaskan island in the midst of astounding beauty and harsh reality.
I was relieved.
And I still wondered . . .
How does she survive here, out on the edge? How does she even thrive?
When tempest winds rage all around, thirty-knot gusts power-washing her arms with horizontal salted sheets, why doesn’t she just break and fall?
It’s the blowing and the bending in life’s storms that strengthen her, causing her roots to grow deeper because of the agitation, the disruption of calm. Above, she appears blown about, even stretched straight out, rattled. But below, she sinks deeper life supports, adding anchor invisible—invisible even to her—especially to her. Because she’s focused on keeping her leaves and just—plain—standing when the worst hits.
I can relate.
We all have our storms—those harsh realities in our wondrous world that seem to come out of nowhere sometimes. Life can take us and whip us raw with winds threatening to break us, down us, leave us rotting on our crumbling cliff edge of life we once thought so solid.
These are the challenges we’d give near anything to avoid, because going down into dark is hard, frightening, beyond what we believe we can handle.
And we’re right.
We can’t handle.
Fierce realities bring us fast to the end of ourselves.
And we may not come through our storms with all we held before.
We may lose something of ourselves in our gusty soul-shaking moments, things we ought not to have held so tightly in the first place—like our pride we don’t even know we have—and our notion of self-sufficiency—and control we don’t even think we try to impose—and our possessions—and our kids—and our parents—and our opinions—and any other worldly idol that has stolen our soul and driven us madly off-course from our calm.
What if there’s no happy ending to our dreams and we’re left looking straight in the eyes of some physical or relational or emotional or material death?
What holds us together then?
What keeps us grounded and growing still?
It’s not the storms that destroy us.
It’s our refusal to bend, to accept—our rigid insistence on our own way that snaps us straight through.
But if we stay supple, if we bend with what is, we will discover great truth, setting us free from toppling fear and bitterness, bringing us into a place of peace no one can break—ever.
Rooting ourselves deeper into God grounds us and grows us into unstoppable forces, ever standing, even in the fiercest storm.
We come through stronger, bigger, braver.
I look back on my past year of storms, September to September, and I can say absolutely . . .
It was the worst of times. It was the best of times . . .
Because I weathered it with Him who made me into someone stronger than I was a year ago—someone stronger than I thought I could ever become.
I’ve lost much.
But I’ve gained more.
Life can be horribly hard, yes?
There’s always something or someone to lose.
And sometimes, there just aren’t happy endings this side of heaven.
But there can always be joy-filled endings, and new beginnings, when we are filled with God.
I left Alaska one month ago tomorrow. I came home to sickness, and death, and a kid’s broken finger, and surgery. And just this week, there’s a huge storm brewing that will hit shore today, unlike anything I could have ever imagined, leaving some shaking like never before.
But this I know . . .
I know now, for certain, that even if I lose EVERYTHING in this life, there is ONE who holds me secure, always and forever . . .
My God, my refuge and strength, is our ever-present help in trouble. God holds the trees, and me, and you. God grounds us for good, right where we’re planted . . .
I visited her many times during my week on her Alaskan island.
She was calm and strong, with no storms forecast. I sat down next to her, my back against her trunk, gentle breeze lulling, listening to the crow’s call echoing off the hill and the cricket humming some rhythmic score down around her still buried roots, deeper now, more secure. She and I, we have survived this past year in our own separate worlds, in our own individual storms. Having grown stronger still, we still stand with arms raised high toward that great and wondrous sky and our God who made all.
And at least I . . .
I am thankful.