A Shelter in the Time of Storm

One week ago, I was visiting family for the Spring Break school holidays. As we drove to church, the skies were thinking about clouding up, and the wind was beginning to whip. During services, it steadily darkened, and the sky grew angry.

As services concluded, my mother and I checked the weather–I on my phone, she on the computer. It looked as though the severe weather would split. We would be fine.

I decided to stop by Walmart on the way home and pick up a few things that we had forgotten to pack.

As it turned out, that was a fateful decision.

When we were in the store, thunder began to rumble. The lights in the store flickered twice, and my son and I hurried for the checkout. As we got in my truck and headed out, the lightning was flashing and popping, but the wind had died down. There was no rain.

Still, the sky had an eerie feel, and I drove through town and onto US 60 a little more purposefully than usual. I was confident we’d make it home before a drop fell.

We weren’t far from home–maybe two miles–when the heavens opened, quite literally. Water poured onto my windshield in droves, followed by the telltale ping and thunk of hailstones. In an instant, my visibility was gone.

I put on my brakes, my heart thumping in my chest. This was no ordinary rainstorm. I’ve driven in a tornado before–on that very road, no less–and I knew what was happening.

I was afraid to stay stopped where I was, because I didn’t know if someone else was behind me and might run into me. I thought I was also a little close to the shoulder, so I began to ease forward into the whiteness of the maelstrom.

The truck crept forward at less than five miles an hour. To my surprise, I was too close to the shoulder, but not on the passenger side as I expected–my front driver tire dipped off the pavement.

The shoulder felt flat, so I pulled the truck off the road onto the grass and put the transmission in park. Just then, my phone began screaming its warning siren–there was, in fact, a tornado in the area.

I told my son to unbuckle his seat belt and get under the bench seat in the rear of the truck, thinking that if the hailstones shattered the glass, at the very least he would be sheltered from debris.

He was terrified as he lay on the floor. My mother called–or he called my mother, I can’t remember–but they couldn’t hear each other. We heard enough of the conversation to know that she, my father, and my other children had arrived safely at home.

After several harrowing minutes, the rain slowed and my headlights illuminated the truth of our situation. Looming ahead in the darkness, just a foot or two from my front bumper, was a telephone pole. We had almost had an accident.

I felt a thrill of terror surge through me, but I knew that I had to be tough for my son’s sake. I could not come unglued, no matter how much I might want to do so.

“I’m going to get back on the road,” I told him. “I’m going to stop at the first house with lights on and we will get out and knock on the door.”

He stayed huddled under the seat as I backed up and navigated the truck back onto the road, spinning my tires in the slick grass. Just ahead on the left, there was a neighborhood. No lights on at the first house. None at the second.

My heart was really thumping now as my phone pealed its siren again.

We had to get out of the storm. I had to get my son to safety, and the cab of a pickup truck was not going to do it. Finally, in desperation, I whipped the truck into a driveway. There was a faint glow from the inside of the home (it was almost 8:30 by now).

“Cameron, listen carefully,” I said, trying desperately to keep my voice even. “We’re going to get out of the truck and run to that house and beat on the door. If nobody answers, we’ll come back to the truck and drive to another house. Don’t lock the truck doors so we can get in fast.”

We dashed across the sidewalk to the front door, small hailstones pelting us as we ran. We rang the bell and knocked. No answer.

My heart sank. What would we do? Where could we find shelter?

Just then, the homeowners pulled in to their driveway. We ran to their truck and begged them to shelter us from the storm. And in their kindness and generosity, they did.

When I get truly upset or nervous, my mind fills with hymns. It’s easier to focus on the verses and the music than it is to worry about my problems. As I stood, dripping wet, in the doorway of their home, all I could think of was “A Shelter in the Time of Storm”.

The Lord’s our Rock; in Him we hide,
A shelter in the time of storm.
Secure whatever ill betide,
A shelter in the time of storm.

The raging storms may round us beat,
A shelter in the time of storm.
We’ll never leave our safe retreat,
A shelter in the time of storm.

“A Shelter in the Time of Storm”, Vernon J. Charlesworth (public domain)

That kind, thoughtful, generous couple didn’t have to allow us into their home. They didn’t know us. We were wet and our feet were dirty–but they invited us in and offered us shelter until the raging storms abated enough for us to continue on our journey.

I can never repay them for welcoming us in that terrifying night. Their actions were those of true Christians: selfless and giving.

Like Christ, they tended to our needs without asking for anything in return. They offered us a safe place, just as He offers us His saving grace.

I’m sure that I will never travel that road again without thinking of them. That night, as I tried to calm down enough to sleep from the adrenaline that refused to subside, I thought about my own Christianity. Would I do as they had done? Would I offer a stranger shelter in the time of storm?

Then it hit me. This is something that I do in my life routinely, albeit not as dramatically. I’m a schoolteacher. Whether I’m aware of it or not, for many students, my classroom is their safe space, their shelter.

I don’t have to wait for a tornado to spin up in my front yard to follow Christ’s example. I have only to live, and to follow.

I hope you’ll do the same.

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