Tampa Bay, Florida—my hometown, the lightning capital of North America—sees 100 thunderstorms per year. For eighteen years I lived every fourth day to the clap track of thunder.
People know Florida as the sunshine state, and the sun does shine, but on summer afternoons, even on cloudless days, the winds change and by three or four the storm rolls in.
I remember sitting on the terrazzo floor of a little two bedroom house my parents rented, looking out the window watching lightning streak across the sky like electric roots. I was seven and not at all afraid.
You get used to the thunder. And the lightning, fragile and mighty, seems beautiful.
Locals learn the lightning rules early: Get out of the water. Don’t stand under trees. Put the golf club down.
But other than obeying the rules, we go about our day.
I have friends in Texas who wake up every night a storm rolls through. I sleep through them. My Floridian husband always sleeps through them. My brother slept through tropical storms and hurricanes.
Here’s the thing about living with storms, especially in a place like Florida: You expect them to come and you expect them to go.
We plan on storms, knowing they’re part and parcel of Florida life, a payment for the otherwise perfect weather we enjoy. It rained on my wedding day. I was not surprised.
We also plan on a storm’s inevitable end. We expect the sun to shine in the morning, if not in time for an evening stroll on the shore.
Here in Austin, Texas people freak out over storms. Central Texans know what to do in a drought but give us six inches of rain or a tornado warning and we are in full-throttle panic mode. It’s because people in Texas don’t know storms. They haven’t experienced enough of them.
Of course this is an illustration. You know the point already.
Life’s storms come—of that we can be sure—and still we freak out when the clouds roll in. The biggest freak-outs come to those unaccustomed to storms.
I wrote in my journal last Sunday, “I am blessed by an abundance of suffering.” Not Job-level suffering, but enough to know storms come and storms go. It’s been one of the most peace-giving truths I’ve learned in my 31 years.
Knowing storms come prevents disorientation; storms rarely knock me off my feet.
Knowing they go gives me hope in the suffering.
Living on earth is a lot like living in Tampa: As long as we’re here, the storms will come. They’ll come out of the clear blue sky, dumping all over your perfect picnic or beach wedding or high school graduation ceremony. They’ll soak the interior of your car with the windows down. They’ll down the tree in your front yard.
But then they’ll go away—just as unexpectedly as they came. The sun will come out and dry up the wet. In an hour you’ll look around at everything green and lush, beautiful, and you’ll pinch yourself wondering if you dreamed the thunder. Or maybe you’ll spend a few days cleaning up the mess left behind. Perhaps you can’t fix everything now broken. Still (still) the storm will pass.
Until it’s time for a storm again.
I long for the day when storms cease, but until then, I expect them. And I expect them to go away.