Windstorms or wind-powered? We get to choose.
We can rail about and fight against the random tempests of life. Or, in the middle of our storms, we can seek the calming - and yes, sometimes confusing - breezes of the Holy Spirit.
On Tuesday December 20, 1977 I got both in one day.
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to thy God to order and provide; in ev'ry change He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav'nly Friend thro' thorny ways leads to a joyful end.*
I had just completed the fall quarter of my second year at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, and Christmas break with my family in the SF Bay Area was an eight-hour drive north. I loaded up my recently purchased 1971 Datsun 1200 – a Nissan by its former name – and started early, finishing breakfast by 8:00AM in the appropriately-named town of Grapevine after navigating the Tehachapi Mountains.
The first hint of trouble came as I pumped gas for the remaining six-hour drive: I found it difficult to stand up straight. No rain; no snow; just torrential winds. But I filled up the tank and resumed my journey north on Interstate 5.
Or so I thought. Just a few miles later the California Highway Patrol constructed a roadblock in both directions. The wind was kicking up so much dirt we couldn’t see to drive safely, so we were instructed to stop our cars and wait out the storm.
That didn’t work out so well. Dozens of us sat stalled in our cars, waiting for the signal to proceed. But after an hour of almost choking in the dust – even with the windows closed – we received further instructions: drive south slowly to the town of Grapevine to settle in for a long pause. We also learned that the winds had topped 100 mph.
Three coffee shops – which one to choose? Hey, why not the one with the nice view out the many windows? (I’m not sure what I was expecting since the visibility was down to 2-3 feet). I maneuvered my little Datsun in between a couple of 18-wheeler semis and headed into the restaurant.
Coffee was on the house, and new friendships were formed as stories were swapped and travel plans were lamented. But instantaneously the newly-formed community took on a very different dynamic.
Our idyllic retreat was disrupted by the sudden shattering of one of the plate glass windows. Amidst the screams and the confusion and the cold December winds, hammers and nails materialized from somewhere. Some of the men picked up and secured one of the free-standing tables to the window frame to block the wind.
That helped reduce the inside air flow, but failed to ease a pervading apprehension. Twenty minutes later – bang, another window broke. Then another. The coffee shop went into full Titanic mode.
Well, okay, maybe I exaggerate a little. Yes, women and children were instructed to retreat to the kitchen. And losing power caused another groan; no more coffee!
But on that day, what we all drank instead was a tasty blend of creativity and fear, well-seasoned with a shot of deep concern for everyone’s safety and comfort. Somewhere around six to eight windows blew out that day, but tables were again employed as best efforts to keep the wind out of the restaurant.
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be bright at last.*
And then I led a prayer meeting and the winds miraculously died down. Hallelujah!!
Uh, no. I was on the floor in one of the wait stations, shoulder to shoulder with other stranded travelers. Mostly I wished that I had decided to go to Denny’s with their ugly – but safe – cinder block walls.
Yes, I was praying, but not in fear. I still recall a surprising sense of calm. We’re okay, and it’s going to be okay. But I also remember my repeated request: Just a windshield, that’s all I ask. I couldn’t see my car in the parking lot, but I knew that if plate-glass couldn’t stand up to the wind, how would my little sub-compact do? Just a windshield – that’s all I need to drive home.
Sometime around four o’clock in the afternoon, a Highway Patrolman came into the restaurant and announced that north-bound travelers were free to go. (I learned later that I-5 southbound remained closed for twenty four hours).
I quickly headed out to my little Datsun. Of its six windows, only one survived the storm – the windshield. Thank you Lord! Several inches of dirt on the floor, an obliterated dashboard, a sand-blasted paint job, but I had a windshield.
The engine started right up, I wrapped a sleeping bag around me, and started my drive home.
Did God have a hand in preventing my windshield from breaking? I can't say for sure, but as a financially-strapped seminary student I was thrilled that I was able to drive all the way home.
Once in the repair shop, the technicians informed me I couldn’t have driven too much further, as dirt had made its way into the cylinders. I paid the $50 deductible, and insurance paid for a new engine, dashboard and instruments, six windows and a paint job. Who would have guessed – hurricane force winds would buy me a new car? That little car served me well for four years, including a punishing winter in Chicago, and was the get-away car for Linda and me as we left our wedding reception.
Full disclosure – Linda always hated this car.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know His voice, who ruled them while He dwelt below. *
This wonderful hymn was birthed out of Psalm 46, a poetic reminder that we don’t need to fear, even though the foundations are trembling, and life is turning upside-down. Why? Because we know one thing to be true: The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.
This event took place just four years into my life journey with Jesus. Forty-five years later, I’m still trying to learn how to listen to the Holy Spirit in the middle of my everyday tempests.
How about you? What’s your storm? May we seek to listen for the Holy Spirit’s calming reminder: Be still, and know that I am God.
Benediction of Blessing
May you be given a sense of God’s presence with you amid your storms.
May you lift up practical prayers as you struggle: Just a windshield.
May the calming breath of the Holy Spirit give you peace, allowing you to say nevertheless.
* Hymn: Be Still My Soul, text by Katherine von Schlegel, sung to the tune “Finlandia”.
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM