Storms fascinate me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the desert where rain, or even a cloud, is something of a novelty. Since each storm in the desert is an Event, I have learned from the few I have encountered.
From dust storms I have learned the importance of preparation. On a hot August day in the late afternoon, a dust storm rolls into Phoenix, Arizona. We receive advance warning on the radio’s rush-hour traffic reports. From our kitchen window we can see a brown smudge in the southeastern sky. As it blows nearer, it takes form as an immense wall of dust.
We run outside to bring in the laundry, latch the gates, fasten down loose objects in the yard, and collect stray children. Through sad experience we have found it much easier to shut the windows before the storm than to spend the next few days cleaning up the gritty mess.
But once we are safe inside the house, we enjoy the wind. First, the citrus trees across the park start to shake, then the huge eucalyptus trees begin to toss, and then it hits. All we can see is dirt, sand, and bits of blowing trash. A brief rainstorm usually follows with big splashes of water, just enough to wet down the dust. And we feel safe because we have prepared.
But the musings prompted by simple duststorms fade next to the intangibles taught by rainstorms, especially those shared with my family. I have not always enjoyed large electrical storms. In fact, I remember being afraid of thunder and lightning when I was younger. But that all changed one summer.
Traditionally, my father’s family holds a reunion in St. Johns, Arizona, on Pioneer Day, July 24. The whole town celebrates this significant date in Latter-day Saint history. Hundreds of people drive out on the plateau, past the fairgrounds and airfield, and park their cars in a huge circle like the old pioneer wagon camps. Everyone brings food, and after eating we walk around the circle, chatting with relatives and friends.
My cousins build a fire to cook the foil dinners—hamburger, onions, carrots, and thin slices of potatoes. Balancing on tipsy camp stools, we eat while trying to keep our paper plates from blowing away in the wind; we finish off the feast with brownies still warm and gooey from the oven.
And almost every year, as is common in late July, a storm builds up. One year the lightning was so fierce that I was terrified. Dad patiently took me by the hand, and we walked over to his father. “Ask Grandpa to tell you about thunder and lightning.”
Grandpa stood in the middle of the circle, holding on to his cap and shielding his eyes from the blowing dirt, and began to teach me about storms. He talked about the movement of storms and what caused them. He talked of larger weather patterns in northern Arizona and electrical phenomena, including how to calculate the distance from you to the lightning.
But more than teaching me the scientific explanations, Grandpa quietly taught me through his example not to be afraid. He taught me that storms are to be appreciated and admired, surveyed and studied, but not feared. So from thunderstorms and Grandpa, I learned how knowledge and courage can dispel the darkness of fear.
Once I learned this, I began to enjoy our particular family storms, these windy, loud, wet surprises that are something of a tradition for us.
Our Pioneer Day reunion at St. John’s usually spills over into the nearest weekend, and one of the scheduled activities is a picnic in the rain. Actually we just plan the picnic—the rain takes care of itself!
The day starts out inconspicuously enough. All the grandchildren are drafted into a picnic lunch brigade while the parents are sequestered for a family council. We pack lunches, thirty or so, and soon it is time to leave. The house rings with shouts: “Wash your hands. Go to the bathroom. Pack the cars. Where are all the kids? Who’s going in my car?” If it takes us two hours to get out the door, no wonder the children of Israel tarried forty years in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land.
When we leave St. Johns the sun is still shining. But over the White Mountains we can see a cloud or two. We caravan into the mountains, bounce over dirt roads, and finally wind up in a clearing—the only one without cows.
By now everyone is famished and quite willing to whip out tables and benches, pray, and commence eating. It must be the sound of soda pop cans being opened that starts the deluge.
It begins with about six sprinkles—a light warning. And then, gleeful that it has us worried, the storm settles in for lunch. It doesn’t just rain, it hails. We dash for the cars with armloads of picnic paraphernalia as the thunder echoes off the mountains. Within minutes we are all shivering and giggling in our cars, counting noses, chewing soggy sandwiches and potato chips, and listening to the rain pound away.
These are our family storms, the friendly, happy storms, the ones that draw us close together—albeit out of necessity. From these storms I have learned the strength of family, a source of security in my life. The family ties of love, security, and support are moorings that help us weather the tumults and tempests of life. Anchored by family love and wholesome traditions inspired and multiplied in power by the gospel of Jesus Christ, we find the safe harbor that Helaman spoke of: “Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, … when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power to drag you down … , because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation” (Hel. 5:12).
Yes, I have learned much from storms. I have learned that not all storms can be experienced from within the safe boundaries of home or inside the family car. But when a literal or figurative storm threatens to overwhelm me, I remember a certain storm-tossed sea and a band of frightened disciples awakening the Master. As they watched Christ calm the raging sea, the early disciples marveled, saying, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Matt. 8:27.) The elements are indeed subject to Christ, as we must be. And I know that in my own life, if I am grounded on the foundation that is Christ, he alone has the power to say “Peace, be still,” and my troubled way will be made calm. Most of all, I have learned that the storms of life are best endured if we are prepared, surrounded by those we love, and, through faith, “clasped in the arms of Jesus” (Morm. 5:11).
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