There is a dirt road on the western border of Missouri and Arkansas that winds for miles over an Ozark ridge until it eventually comes to nothing in an overgrown pasture beyond a tree painted purple. The mail lady calls the road, “The End of the World,” and the epithet is spot on. It is a lonely, isolated place where no one except for those who live there bothers to go. For two years my husband and I, with three small kids in tow, made our home in that remote place.
In many ways life at the End of the World was exactly what we’d always wanted, but in other ways it beat us to the ground. We moved to the property full of hopes and dreams but what we found was heartache and disappointment as we battled one obstacle after another: fleas, termites, a chimney fire, broken down vehicles, sickness…and loneliness. The loneliness was a thing you got used to but never quite forgot.
Our home overflowed with rejoicing and life, and it overflowed with lamenting and loss. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Springtime was one of the “worst of times.” Thunderstorms would rattle the whole house, straight-line winds would bend trees nearly double and tornadoes would touch down all around. We would anxiously watch the sky and the radar, and we would pray.
Every time those storms hit – day or night – a neighbor up the next hollow would blast music through the woods. They must have had their radio hooked up to powerful speakers for us to hear it as clearly as we did and the only thing we could figure was that they did it to drown out the noise of the storms.
The music frayed my nerves. It was like a bellow of fear echoing through the mountains and it unnerved me to know someone else out there was as scared as I was.
Somehow it’s easier to be afraid when you’re the only one. You can fool yourself into believing that someone else has things under control even if you don’t. But when another person is afraid of the same thing you are, and they’re afraid enough to broadcast it over an entire mountain side, then it’s pretty hard to keep your own fears in check.
My dread of those spring storms grew every time I heard that radio blaring through the rain, and I would have been happy to never experience another thunderstorm ever again.
And yet…there is something rather remarkable about the relief that comes after the storm that I think I would have missed. Somehow that encounter with deliverance makes the storm itself almost worthwhile.
The rain has finally stopped and a distant rumble is all that’s left of the fear and dread you felt moments before. A bright sun and a blue sky peek through gray and purple clouds as they hurry away. You inhale the deep, muddy scent of rain, and a sweet stillness fills your soul. In that exhilarating moment you sink your fingers and your teeth into life in a way you never have before.
There is beauty in this world that can only be seen through storms. If I had found some way to escape, if I had turned up the volume so that the thunder never reached me, I would have missed the whole picture.
The mountain people of Appalachia understood this. My husband’s West Virginian grandparents told me once about a custom they had growing up. They said any time a thunderstorm rumbled overhead, everybody stopped what they were doing, took shelter, and reverently sat down.
Pop’s dad had him sit on the basement steps. “Sit there quiet, Donny,” his dad would say. “God’s talkin’ and we’re gonna sit still an’ listen.”
It didn’t matter if you were religious or not, everybody knew that storms were God’s way of speaking and when He thundered, you listened.
Choosing stillness in the midst of a storm is tough; it’s much easier to just turn up the music and drown it out. But easier doesn’t mean better and sometimes God sends rumblings that are impossible to drown out. Sometimes the only way forward is right through the belly of the storm. Sometimes that’s exactly where we find God.
“Then the LORD answered Job from out of the whirlwind.”Job 38:1
My father-in-law uses the phrase “embracing the cactus” to express this idea of acceptance, of leaning into pain rather than pulling back from it. It’s a choice we can make even when circumstances are wrenching or bewildering because we know He who allowed those circumstances is full of goodness.
I wrestled with this truth for the first time when, as a child, I heard the chorus of Michael Card’s song, “In the Wilderness.”
In the wilderness
In the wilderness
He calls His sons and daughters
To the wilderness
But He gives grace sufficient
To survive any test
And that’s the painful purpose
Of the wilderness
“He gives grace sufficient to survive any test.” This is a truth I had to experience before I could believe it. It’s a truth that God has been kindly teaching my husband and me for the past 13 years.
Brooding clouds are always casting shadows are. Sometimes the storms pass, but sometimes they crash down with a weight so crushing it seems impossible to bear and everything in me just wants to escape, to grasp for some way to drown out the fear that choking me. But when I lean into the pain instead, when I listen, I find that God is singing over me.
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”Zephaniah 3:17
He is always moving, and being. God is. And His grace is sufficient.
Honestly though it doesn’t always feel like it. There are plenty of moments when the waves are crashing and I frantically cry out, “God, don’t you care?”
His answer is always the same: “I’m here.”
When a whirlwind of pain crushed down on us as our pediatrician spoke the word “cancer,” He covered us with a tsunami of peace that passed all understanding and we worshiped even as we grieved.
When the disappointments and hopes deferred of our wilderness property struck, and everything we had worked toward seemed stripped away, He graciously gave us joy.
When loneliness and financial struggles overwhelmed and anxiety rose like a flood up to our necks, God comforted us with his own loving presence.
So I guess I can say now from experience that God was present and His grace was sufficient…even for the End of the World.
Featured image by welcomia