When Storms Rage On (And How to Get Through)

May 22, 2013 | 30 comments

The phone rang before dawn on a Friday morning in 2000. It was my newspaper editor.

“Jennifer. How quickly can you get to northeast Iowa? More than a dozen twisters went through.”

I fumbled for my glasses. Slipped on blue jeans and tennis shoes. I kissed my husband goodbye, and grabbed the faux-leather briefcase that always sat by the back door.

In less than two hours, I was in Dunkerton, Iowa. The town had been turned inside out by a tornado. The morning sun cast an eerie, happy glow over the sad and twisted innards of people’s lives.

I remember with startling clarity how a John Deere tractor, caked with mud, sat atop a barn, rather than inside it. I stood on a woman’s concrete front steps that led to nowhere but sky. I saw a little girl’s Sunday dress draped in a tree. There was this one multi-colored afghan. I imagined that it might have been draped, for years, over the back of someone’s wooden rocker. And now, it flopped over an uprooted mailbox.

I helped some guy pick up photographs and manila folders strewn in his yard. It was a small thing, this picking-up-of-things. But he didn’t know what else to do. Neither did I.

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack wore a leather National Guard jacket that morning, and he muttered a greeting to the mayor: “Here we go again.” I wrote the words down in my spiral-bound notebook.

Yeah. Here we go again. 

One year earlier, the governor had walked these same streets. He had declared the area a disaster when a flood pummeled the region. Another year; another storm. He was back again, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets the morning after a twister left a town in tatters.

So unrelenting, these storms that sweep over towns and cities. Storms drive up from the ocean’s shore or out of the greening sky, raging across plains and whole towns, unchecked.

Storms don’t play fair. And it’s hard to believe that any F4 or F5 cloud could have a silver lining.

Like, ever.

As a Christian, I might be tempted to tie a neat theological bow around the whole mess. Like I could single-handedly stick up for God or make excuses for why bad things happen on earth. I’ve never been very good at that sort of thing. It feels like putting a fresh coat of red paint on that leveled barn. Like putting lipstick on a pig. Because you can’t make a disaster look pretty, no matter how hard you try.

So we just sit in the rubble a while, right down in the mess.

We are all Oklahomans this week. And we don’t know what else to do but sit and weep with our friends. The only theology I can come up with is the shortest verse in the New Testament —

“Jesus wept.”

Sometimes you don’t know how long you’re going to have to wait to find the good in a storm. Maybe we have to wait all the way until heaven.

I walked through a tornado’s rubble that Friday in May of 2000, wondering about those sorts of things. Wondering if any good could ever come…

That morning, a guy told me about a 120-year-old country church that had been torn to shreds. So, like a good reporter, I drove my Toyota down some rubble-strewn road, until I found the church between fresh-planted farmfields.

The glass doors of the church were, remarkably, still intact. They weren’t shattered. Just scratched. That’s important to the story I’m about to tell you, so I put it in big letters here. 

Inside the doors, I found the pastor. His black pants and minister’s collar were covered in dirt.

We introduced himself as Pastor Dean. I asked a few questions, wrote down his answers. Two men stood up by the altar, one of them wiping tears with the back of his hand. Women, who had overseen potlucks and bridal showers, carried out kitchen utensils and coffee cups. A few guys walked by us, carrying the pulpit.

I remember how the pastor told me he didn’t know what he was going to preach on Sunday; 200 people would look to him for spiritual guidance. He didn’t even know where they’d worship.

“I served in Vietnam for two years,” the pastor told me. “And since then, I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a complete loss of control as I do right now.”

But, he promised, “we’ll be back up and running again.”

I thanked the pastor, and clutching my reporter’s notebook, walked out the door, never to see the church again.

All these years later, I never knew if his words about rebuilding that church were the product of wishful thinking or stubborn faith.

* * *

Thirteen years later, all of our eyes are glued to Moore, Oklahoma. How do you rebuild after something like Oklahoma?

Parents grieve over lost children. Children grieve over lost parents. Homes and schools were leveled.

Can we hold out hope for real rainbows after storms like these?

I Googled this morning, looking for that church that the pastor promised would be rebuilt. Googled, like I might find some sliver of a silver lining. Please, Lord? I searched online. Made some calls. Googled more. But … Nothing.

My heart sunk into my gut.

So, I called another pastor in another town at a Baptist church. “Oh ye-eees. I do believe I’ve got the number ’round here somewhere…”

I held my breathe. Jotted down the number. Dialed fast.

Within minutes, I was talking with Pastor Bill of the St. John’s Lutheran Church of rural Dunkerton. Pastor Dean, the one with the dirt-covered collar, had long since moved on.

But here’s what Pastor Bill said: the church made good on the old pastor’s promise. 

That church had rebuilt after all.

My heart quickened. It was like an affirmation that a storm can’t destroy everything. Like it can’t destroy hope.

Like a twister can’t wreck God. 

The pastor said it hadn’t been an easy road.  In 2008, a second tornado hit that church, causing $65,000 damage. No, it wasn’t like what happened in Oklahoma. Not at all. How do you measure a loss of a church to the loss of a  life? But the folks in that Dunkerton church have a special place in their hearts for the people combing through the rubble today.

If Pastor Bill were asked to fill a pulpit in Moore, Oklahoma, this Sunday, he’d give folks the message he once heard from a therapist who spoke about the difficulty of divorce —

“The only way out is through.” 

As for the rest of us, the ones out here groping for answers? Well, he said that sometimes, it’s best to say nothing at all.

“Just be there. Help people. Hold them,” Pastor Bill told me. “Tell them that their pain is your pain too. We weep with those who weep. And rejoice with those who rejoice.”

I wrote down his words fast, then thanked Pastor Bill for his time. But before I hung up, I asked him what they were able to salvage from that old church I stood in thirteen years ago.

And get this : The doors. They still have the glass doors. They stand at the entrance to the nave.

Those glass doors, scratched and marred as they are, are a poignant reminder to everyone who goes in, or who goes out. They remind everyone that the good pastor is right : the only way out is through.

And Christ is the door.

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by | May 22, 2013 | 30 comments


  1. Hazel Irene Moon

    It is so difficult to express the pain and hurt of my heart for all that has happened. Yet hope is there for a tomorrow that the sun will shine.

  2. Mia

    Dear Jennifer
    My heart cries with you all here in South Africa. I think we shouldn’t break our minds about why these things happen, dear friend. We live in a broken world that is lost in darkness and that lies in the evil one. But we have the assurance that Jesus weeps with us and that He is making everything new!
    Blessings to you, Jennifer

  3. Laura Rath

    I have tears as I think about this…all the times I’ve wondered where God was in the storms of my life, why I couldn’t hear His voice…maybe He didn’t need to say anything—because He was just there, holding me and weeping with me. Beautiful.


  4. Megan Willome (@meganwillome)

    “Storms don’t play fair.”–This is what I’m wrestling with now. Still moving through. I suspect that I may have to wait all the way until Heaven.

  5. Lisa notes...

    I’m so glad you followed up with the pastor, Jennifer. Gives us all hope in the midst of yuckiness.

    Even though this truth is hard, I believe:
    “Because you can’t make a disaster look pretty, no matter how hard you try.
    So we just sit in the rubble a while, right down in the mess.”

    Sometimes that’s the best thing to do.

  6. theperkster

    Great post. The reminder that Jesus wept for the brokenness we endure, God grieves for us, is such an apt reminder in a time we want to last out.

  7. shanyns

    Great post, It gives me hope. And encourages me in my walk. God bless you!

  8. Sandra Heska King

    Sitting here in silence. Thinking of scratched glass and smudged mirrors and how one day, someday, maybe, we’ll see clearly. Thinking how these things make us and re-make us and remain with us and how we may not find our way out until we finally break through the veil. Big sigh.

  9. ro elliott

    The only way out is through….simple but profoundly true…and life so many times looks more clear and peaceful through the rear view mirror…it is a gift to be able speak into hard situations with words of grace and hope…thanks for writing…blessings

  10. Donna Blum

    Thank you Jennifer! Once again, your words have captured my emotions precisely. In this life nothing is certain. One minute we can be on the top of the world, the next in the valley of the shadow of death. The only thing that can never be taken from us is our Lord Jesus. So how should we respond in situation like this? I think Romans 12:15 says it best. “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” At times I have to remind myself that what we are experiencing today is not new to mankind. For me, it helps to look back and how others have weathered the storms in their lives. The Bible provides several examples. Habakkuk continued praising God no matter what bad things happened and Job did not turn against God even when everything dear to him was taken away. It is impossible to comprehend why things like this happen. We don’t always get to see the silver lining or the rainbow, but we must trust in God’s character. He is a compassionate and loving Father. He desires to comfort us and protect us. He doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but He will use them. We must not lose hope. We live in a fallen world where there IS going to be trouble, but Jesus says to rejoice! John 16:33 (NIV) “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Thank you Jesus!

  11. Lyli @ 3dLessons4Life

    Storms really don’t play fair. This Florida girl has seen it — but the only beauty of it all for me is how people come together after storms. Neighbors stand in the street and open their hearts.

  12. Donna Blum

    I just wanted to share one more thought. “The only way out is through” Jennifer, this is so true. At nightfall, when darkness overtakes us, it is so tempting to chase after the setting sun. But, if we do, we will only be in the darkness longer. The quickest way to get out of the darkness and into the light is to head straight into the darkness…in the direction the sun will rise. Even in our darkest hour, there is always hope. Psalm 30:5 – “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”.

  13. Lynn Morrissey

    Jesus wept. Can we do any less……and sadly, sometimes we don’t do even that, but turn our eyes away, because the devastation is so great. Thank you, Jennifer, for reminding us to weep, to pray, and not just to look through glass doors, but to push through them to come alongside to those on the other side of devastation.

  14. Caryn Christensen

    Jennifer, my friend, you have a way with words that captures the very essence of the way our hearts feel in these storms. Thank you.

  15. Beth

    Jennifer, I’m so grateful for your beautiful post today. Thank you! Thank you for the reminder that we need to weep with those who weep. Your words are filled with grace and hope. Blessings to you.

  16. Dolly@Soulstops

    So grateful for your words and that Jesus weeps with us then gives us the grace to go through…such wisdom, grace and comfort..blessings to you, sweet friend 🙂

  17. jessistrong

    beautiful words. Thanks, Jennifer.

  18. Alecia

    I believe Christ is there among the people of Ok, walking amongst the rubble bringing hope and a helping hand. In tragedies we see Christ the most, his heart breaks right along with ours. Your words bring comfort and hope in a time like this.

  19. rachel

    such heartache is seen in the aftermath of this storm. and i wept over the loss of the lives, that tiny 3 month old baby taken to the arms of Jesus through the wind. praise God that He is greater than anything.

  20. Misti

    Thank you so much for your words. I’m going to print out this post & read it frequently during the next few weeks & months. I’m from Okla. I have a friend who needs to read these words too. Thank you!

  21. Dea Moore

    Yes to every part of this….the earth groans and we groan for the full redemption coming— when this life is through. We will see what sin did to earth, to the people God created. We will walk through the Door to no more pain, no more tears— and please Jesus, no more storms, or earthquakes, or cancer, or war…..

  22. floyd

    Wise and moving post, Jennifer. Much is lost, and I too wonder how much is gained? My guess is that we’ll be blown away by all that we didn’t see when it is revealed on the other side of this fallen world.

  23. Barbie

    Jennifer, my heart breaks over the magnitude of this loss. We cannot understand and we aren’t supposed to. To know that God knows our grief, bares our sorrows, weeps with us, is so comforting. In continual prayer for Oklahoma!

  24. Jillie

    Weeping with those who weep, from ‘up here’ in Canada. And praying. Your words are a great comfort today, Jennifer. So real and honest. From the heart.

  25. Nancy Ruegg

    I, too, take great encouragement from: “Sometimes the only way out is through.” But it was your concluding comment that grabbed me: “Christ is the Door.” Oh, yes! He is the One who gets his children through, providing the strength to persevere. And we have story after story through centuries of church history as proof. Praise God also for every miracle of provision and protection, a foretaste of the perfection we will someday enjoy in heaven!

  26. Donna

    The beauty of this post leaves me breathless. Thank you for sharing. I google+’d it to share.

  27. Shelly Miller

    This gave me chills Jennifer. And I witnessed the reporter in you more in this story than any others I’ve read of yours. A hound for the story, always. Love it. Love you and the way you love people.

  28. Marie Cupstid

    Jennifer, what a beautiful post. I can’t imagine experiencing that type of devastation first hand. You were brave to go. I blogged after the Haiti disaster, http://justcallmerie.blogspot.com/2010/01/jesus-wept-for-haiti.html, and used the same thought as you – how Jesus wept. I always feel so far away and so useless. Thank you for the reminder of how prayer is the greatest help of all.

  29. Amanda B. Hill

    the way through is hard and we all have battle scars, but we are reminded of grace and mercy in the aftermath. Weeping for the lost who can’t see this wisdom. . .



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