I hate tornadoes. Not just a mild hatred, but a phobia I have had since I was very little. I guess I used to ask if there would even be a tornado during a snow storm at times because I was so scared. That phobia followed me into adult-hood and I feel like I have it under control pretty well now. I don’t run to the basement when there is only a tornado watch. I do keep my eyes on the skies though and can tell you where the storms are. Old habits die hard!
I would even have recurring dreams of tornadoes destroying my house and farm. For decades this was a recurring dream. The kicker was that in my dream, nobody believed me that there was an impending tornado. So, part of the dream is me freaking out and telling people to take cover and another part of the dream is me walking in the rubble and calmly saying, “I told you so”.
Fortunately, this dream has subsided. Unfortunately, it has been replaced by trauma filled dreams. I would kind of welcome the tornado dreams again.
I had the privilege of growing up in a close-knit farming community. My best friends were my neighbors and cousins. We went to school together, went to church together, and grew up together.
This past weekend I went back to my small hometown church for the Christmas program. It had been a long time since I had been to a service at my hometown church. The great thing is that the church is the same and outside of some gray hair and aching joints, the people are the same too. These are the people who raised me along with my family. They were Sunday School teachers, 4-H leaders, neighbors and friends. There was always a feeling of looking out for each other. To me that equals safety. Something that I have been missing for a long time.
The church is my firm foundation and my family and community reinforce that. My assault was the tornado that destroyed everything in my life, except that firm foundation. I like to think of it as I had a nice ‘house’ that I thought was built well, but when the winds of trauma kicked up my house just couldn’t withstand the pressure. What was left? Wreckage. Everywhere. Nothing intact. But, the foundation of my ‘house’ was also left. The deep bedrock was still there and the bricks forming the basement were still there too. The deep bedrock is my faith and the basement bricks are my family and community. They withstood the storm.
In Washington, DC I would go between a couple churches over the years. One of those churches was National Community Church (NCC). It was unlike anything I had ever been to before, especially coming from a more strict upbringing. It was so joyous! All walks of life there to praise the Lord and listen to scripture. I like being filled with joy!
NCC was a refuge for me. For a few months I was doing intense therapy on the weekends called EMDR that would last 90 minutes. Imagine 90 minutes of the most intense imagery and reliving what happened. All to help the images go away and move on with life. Those weekends left me exhausted for days. My brain literally hurt. If my therapy session was on a Sunday morning I would immediately go to NCC for church. I had a smile on my face entering, but underneath my sunglasses were my red, puffy eyes and face. I sat in back on the left side (I’m a creature of habit and this is where my family always sits in church…don’t get me started). I didn’t really want to be near anybody because I didn’t want people to know that I had been through such emotional work just a few minutes before. But, I knew that I needed to be there to be revived. It was my firm foundation.
One Sunday after yet another intense, tear filled therapy session I found myself at NCC. Almost literally at the feet of God. I was weak, tired and in great despair. Every week of therapy got harder and harder. I didn’t know how much more I could take. I just wanted everything to be like it was before the assault. I wanted this all to be done.
The message that day was talking about Matthew 7:24 and having a life built on a firm foundation. The house on the rock. He talked about how sometimes life brings in a big bulldozer and levels your life down to the foundation. Some people have a foundation built on bedrock and some have a foundation built on sand. Which are you?
That message really hit home for me. At that point I realized that my ‘house’ was built on a firm foundation. I had been raised in the church and by my family, friends and community. The dreaded tornado happened and I felt so stripped of everything at that point. Stripped of my identity, my passion for life and full of shame. But, I realized that I could rebuild my ‘house’. One step at a time. My foundation was built on bedrock. Now to figure out how to build a ‘house’ again.
After the message the church band played a song I had never heard before called, “You Make Beautiful Things”, by Gungor. Music is something that is a great emotional release for me and I was not expecting what was to come. The song talks about building beautiful things out of dust. Being torn down and built back up. That is all it took for full-on sobs to start. I had never had that happen before at church. Sure, maybe a few tears here and there when there is an emotional service, but never anything like this. For the first time ever in any church, I didn’t care what people thought about me or how I was acting. I just sobbed through the whole thing. It was an ugly cry and it was beautiful. It touched me and I knew that I would be okay and that recovery was possible. Life might not be the same as it once was, but my foundation never changed. The Lord is rebuilding me piece by piece and that is beautiful to me.
About 18 months later I found myself at a new church called Waterfront Church and after an especially poignant message they played, “You Make Beautiful Things”. I hadn’t heard that song at a worship service since that date in August 2015. I was new at this church, but hearing this song helped me realize I was in the right place and doing the right things. Keep on moving forward. Keep building.
So, I find myself back where my firm foundation was built. In small-town America with my faith fully intact. I’m nervous about building my house again. I’m like my young-self wondering if a tornado will hit in the winter. But this time around I know how to reinforce it with faith, family and friends. I can’t do it alone.