Thursday, July 31, 2008

I. Hate. Lightening.

I can't help it. It's in my bones. It's beyond just a little girl fear that I never grew out of. I have every reason to fear lightening. It's arbitrary, powerful, deadly, beautiful. It's attractive and horrifying. It's destructive and fast.

I grew up in Knoxville, but many times a year, my parents would pack me up in the back of their silver Delta 88 with crimson velour interior, and we would drive to Tipton County in West Tennessee. Both of my parents grew up in Tipton County, near Covington. Both were raised on farms and both attended the tiny New Salem United Methodist Church, which is technically where they met - in the nursery. My whole family history can be traced back to Tipton County, and going back there was always with mixed emotion.

We would divide our time between my mother's home of origin and my father's. I have memories of sitting with my maternal grandmother (Granny) on her back porch, snapping peas and feeding all the stray cats that she harbored. I have more memories of playing solitaire in the huge living room of my paternal grandmother's (Mama Dow's) home. Both of my grandfathers died when I was about 4, and my memories of them are fleeting.

But, I do remember playing in Mama Dow's backyard. I remember because it wasn't a backyard at all. There, where a yard should have been, was the burned-out, gutted skeleton of a home where she had birthed her four children, raised them into adulthood, and watched crumble as my father and grandfather hurried furniture and valuables out of it during a summer storm. It was September of 1977, and a storm had come rolling onto the flatwoods. My father and grandfather were downstairs, and they heard a huge crack of thunder. My father noticed that it seemed to be a little smoky outside. He ran next door to the trailer where his grandmother was living to check and see if she was alright. As he did, he noticed that his home, where he was born, raised, and had just been eating a sandwich, was billowing smoke and flames.

Dad called the fire department, ran back to the house, and he and B.P. Dow raced to get everything out that they could. The house couldn't be saved, but most of their belongings were.

After that, the house sat, attracting hornets and yellow jackets, weeds and dirt. I used to love to play in the former downstairs bathroom, which still had an entire covering of pink tile on the floor. It was a game for me during each visit to see how much I could pry off and take with me. I prized those tiles. They lasted - through the fire, water, weather and heat - they remained constant. Until I loosened their grasp on the foundation and tucked them in my pocket for safekeeping. The home remained standing until I was in high school. My dad and uncles finally decided to have it bulldozed, and Mama Dow got a proper back yard.

When I was about 6 years old, my neighbors were having a community 4th of July party. As is always the case, a thunderstorm rolled in. We played in the rain, laughing at the nonsensical nature of it all. Then the storm got mad. It began to hail, and a neighbor who babysat for me grabbed me up and headed for safety... under our huge weeping willow tree. The hail was not to be stopped. The rain poured down. Lightening flashed. A loud crack of thunder, and ... WHUMP! A large limb fell from the weeping willow tree just behind where we were standing, crushing part of our fence. I remember being raced from the back of our unusually large back yard to the back door of our home, shielding my head from the golf-ball sized hail and crying about the rain, wetness, and loud noise.

Lightening and I are not friends.

It's no wonder that I used to have dreams about going on vacation and coming home to find our home burned out, the victim of a random lightening strike. As I grew up, I finally came to an understanding that I have a tremendous respect for lightening. Yeah. Respect. I can't understand it. I can't control it. But, I can appreciate its beauty.

When I read Scripture these days, I read with a lens of openness to what the Word can tell me about God. Does it affirm God's love and care for me? Does it tell me how broken the world is, and how sad God must be? Does it speak to human nature and our propensity to keep running from God, and God's refusal to let us go?

The only way I can understand lightening as a force and presence is to see it as an act of God. I know that God is not intentionally destructive, but I also know that God has power beyond my understanding and comprehension. God is love, sure. But God is mighty. And, God knows what's up. Maybe this seemingly irrational fear is God's way of keeping me in check, and making sure I remember who's in charge. I need that sometimes. I need to remember that nothing I can do will separate me from the love of God, but I certainly do try my hardest to test that out. Thank goodness God is in charge.

Because, though I hate lightening, I sure do respect it.

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