Marking Storms and Making Choices

Fourteen years ago this week, I’m working at a local high school as a sign language interpreter. It’s morning and the bell rings to end the first class of the day.

I gather my bag just as the student I interpret for motions that she’ll meet me in the next class. Thankful for the few minutes, I make my way to the teacher’s lounge for a quick phone call. My sister is in labor and I want to call Mom who is with her to find out how it’s going.

The phone rings on the other line and Mom tells me there’s no baby yet, but soon. Just as I’m hanging up to rush to where I need to be, the principal’s voice comes over the intercom, announcing a tornado has been spotted in the area and everyone should stay put. I instinctively turn to look out the window behind me, surprised to see my own reflection staring back instead of the front lawn of the school. Outside is dark as night and it’s not even 10 am.

chatting at the sky

Later we’ll learn the storm that May morning wasn’t necessarily impressive according to the F-scale, wind gusts reaching just above 80 mph, but it still comes in as the worst the city has seen in 20 years. My drive home that afternoon is careful and filled with detours – around downed trees and power lines, the aftermath of the day the sky turned black.

My apartment wasn’t damaged and neither was my car. The school day eventually continued and my nephew, born later that day, is now almost fourteen. There isn’t any reason in particular I should still think of that storm often, but I do. Because of this.
chatting at the sky This tree in our neighborhood bears the mark of memory. I don’t know how the storm affected the person who carved the wood that day, but it was enough for them to take the time to mark it.

When I walk past this tree on the trail near our house, I think of that day still – how the principal had to make a choice for the sake of safety to keep the students inside, how the sky turned black and ominous, how we couldn’t change the weather, only try to stay out of its way.

That’s the way to handle yourself in a storm, take cover and wait for it to pass over.

But it’s possible to live like a storm is ever brewing just outside the door even when the sky is clear and bright. It’s possible to take cover even when there’s nothing to take cover from, except for a heavy idea or a recurring thought in the night.

It’s possible to live as though every move you make is an anxious attempt to avoid an unwanted consequence rather than a thoughtful decision to move toward life. And this life becomes one marked by hiding from the potential storm of loneliness, failure, isolation, invisibility, or insignificance. Take cover or the storm might overtake you.

Avoid danger. Sit under the banner of fear.

photo 3-2I’ve done that. When the kids were little I lived in fear a lot – of them getting sick and it never ending, of me getting sick and not being able to take care of them, of making the wrong decisions about where we should live, how we should school, if I should take a job or not.

When my first book came out and speaking opportunities started to roll in, I said yes more than I maybe wanted to because I was afraid of missing out on something. I also said no a few times because I was afraid I couldn’t pull it off. Fear works both ways, you see – keeps you from doing things you might want to do and convinces you that you have to do things you don’t want to do.

I still make wonky decisions based on fear when it comes to my work and my writing, my home and my life, but I’d like to think I’m doing that less.

Just two weeks ago I was wrestling through a should-I-or-shouldn’t-I scenario as to whether or not I should make a phone call. A phone call, you guys. It wasn’t something I had to do, just something I felt like I should do.

But when I took a few minutes to think about the reasons why I felt like I should make the phone call, none of the reasons were rational or good. Each one of them had to do with avoiding a consequence. If I call, then this person will be happy. If I don’t call, then this person might be mad. Love was never a motivation in this scenario. Only fear.

Storms everywhere, on every side.

I decided in that moment to do what I thought was best. I didn’t make the phone call and chose to believe whatever storm might come as a result, well. I’ll be okay. And guess what? I was.

This will probably always be something I need to walk through, making decisions out of love rather than from fear. I can’t prevent storms from coming, but I can decide not to invent my own. I like the idea of marking a storm like the tree-writer did. This happened, it was bad, and we lived through it. But I want to let go of the habit of making them.

What are your experiences with marking vs. making the storms in your life?


  1. says

    This post is such a great reminder for me this morning. I’m one of those people who constantly plays the “what if?” game with worst case scenarios. It’s funny: I always try to inspire people to move past fear on my blog, but I’m horrible at taking my own advice. I’m going to make my new mantra, “I will not create a storm that doesn’t exist” whenever the anxiety comes my way.
    Ashley Brooks´s last blog post ..An Awkward Metaphor

  2. says

    Not wanting to belabor and drone on about the age thing, but there is no denying that age not only wears you out and down, it also roughs or toughs you up. My epiphany on this issue of worry and fear was somewhere in my early fifties. I discovered Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, wherein I learned about ‘being’ God’s will”, not just wishing and praying that I might “do” His will.

    When you are surrendered, meaning you are empty of self motivation and realization, you might have a moment where you stop to consider if a thing should or should not be done now and again but even in occasional quandary where the answer will not come, you are girded up with an under garment of faith–a guarantee that walking out into a void God will make a step or give you wings.

    All things come together for good for those who love the Lord.

    I can’t tell anyone else how to get to that place. But I can say, it does exist, this condition where you don’t have to be afraid anymore. Everything that is good or appears to be, everything that is bad or appears to be, works out so long as the intent is to glorify Him in everything you do or don’t.

    For Him,
    Meema´s last blog post ..Family

  3. says

    This was so beautifully written! I admittedly do this a lot – feel like this often. There is a very emotionally draining dynamic that’s remained after my divorce. I struggle a great deal with communication with their father. We are court ordered to communicate for the best interest of the children so I briefly try to communicate school notes, appointments, or conditions. However, most of my SHORT comments are followed by long, and always hurtful, emails that a co-written by his mother and her boyfriend. It makes every single act of communication with him nearly send me into panic for the fear of the “what if’s” in the emails, the words that will follows, the blame that will be put upon me… It’s no quality of life. It’s been an incredibly unsettling several years of just living in fear. It will never stop. They will do as they do and there has to come a point for me where I consciously start fearing it so much. I appreciate this post. It was truly encouraging and touched very near to my heart!

    • says

      Samantha, your comment is almost what I was going to write…very similar circumstances. It is very unsettling to have to communicate with my abusive and controlling ex-husband. I have been viewing those emails as further proof of his dysfunction and controlling behavior. Problem is, no one needs anymore evidence, least of all me. I’m “over” this particular storm. Yet it still rages around me. I’m trying to figure out how to remove myself from this dynamic. I just don’t know.
      Charlotte Hammer´s last blog post ..Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

      • says

        It’s comforting (not in a literal nice way that see someone struggle however) to hear that someone else goes through this. The control comes mostly from his family (mother, grandmother) than him, but for a mid-twenties grown man you’d expect he’d have more sense than to need his mother to make decisions for him – that’s just simply not the case. Numerous therapists have reviewed them, they’ve been examined by a lawyer, doctors, specialists… no one thinks it’s appropriate, called for, or with good intention. While I understand the therapist rationalization for it (“you can’t rationalize irrational people” or the psychological term “enmeshed” on an obsessed level), I have yet to find comfort in it. I have a child with special needs that requires a great deal of my time, energy, and attention and on them (my 2 children) is where I WANT to focus my energy. It seems though, that no decision I make is not met with a negative consequence, email, text, or backlash of pictures captured through stalking my daily routines. I’ve been told you can’t remove yourself from the dynamic because the children are involved. But to figure out how to remain calm in the midst of the constant storm would be a revelation. I read Emily’s posts and find a lot of comfort here. I only wish I could achieve more inner peace about the situation.

        • says

          This story is more common than you might imagine. Is it this era? Something in the water? I don’t know why, I just know there is a growing problem with narcissism and other mental disorders that cause enormous problems with child custody battles that simply have nothing to do with what is best for the children.

          I could point you to a free downloadable ebook, Remedy In The Silence–A Faith Testing Encounter With A Psychopath. It might offer a new perspective which can help sometimes.

          If there is no real danger of physical harm, the two main fears that one must overcome is not trusting the system, which is certainly not fail-proof–wondering if the lies and charm will sway the officials. If you are assured that the officials know the truth and can see where the problem lies, that alone helps take the teeth out of the bite.

          And then there is the great unknown of what is said and done when the child is exposed to the dark side. While there are certainly some tactics that work in some cases, like not engaging or responding to baiting, prayer has to be the first thing one turns to, not the fall back position.

          For Him,
          Meema´s last blog post ..Family

          • says

            “While there are certainly some tactics that work in some cases, like not engaging or responding to baiting, prayer has to be the first thing one turns to, not the fall back position.”

            Thank you, Meema, you are certainly right!

  4. Kelli says

    I have taken notice lately in my own little corner of the world that even the memory of a storm can cause fear and stir a storm in our hearts.

    A couple of weeks ago my husband was out of town for the weekend & as I slept with my windows open, the gentle breezes of evening took a turn in the wee hours. As the wind started to howl and my curtains danced themselves into a tangled mess, fear rose in my heart. The panic showed up not because of the weather in that moment, but because it was a reminder of a time a decade earlier when my husband was away & I had peered out those same windows to the destruction of a microburst.

    Similarly, I believe we can live this “fear of a storm” relationally. When we weather a storm that feels beyond us, it is easy to begin to operate out of fear – with the number one priority being to avoid that type of pain & drama again at all cost. Sadly, when we choose to live this way, it affects others as well. Fear is contrary to love. I believe when we live hunkered down, trying to keep our own lives calm and safe, we can lose sight of the bigger picture. By living in this self-protective way, we are not truly loving others and can even prevent them from taking faith steps and flourishing. Quite honestly, the boundaries we set because of our fears, can be a roadblock to others’ growth and service.

    I love seeing how the Lord deals with storms in Scripture. So many images of our trembling hearts and His amazing power. I would love for my mind to go to Him first instead of my memory of the storm.

    “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them our of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whipper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm…” Psalm 107: 28-30a

  5. says

    Emily…These words hit me hard this morning! It is so easy to be consumed by storms of our own making. These are storms that would rarely come to anything if we weren’t always dwelling on them.

    I am a storm maker and a dweller on the “What if I were to?” Or “What if they?” and it has killed and crippled so many times.

    And you know…Those storms that DO come? We always get through them with one lesson: “God is faithful. He is my help!”

    Thank you for these words and the reminder that in my sin I make storms and dwell on fear but in Christ I am called to something far greater. :)
    Victoria´s last blog post ..The Strength

  6. says

    Here is Kansas we know about storms. I am thrilled and fascinated by them and it drives my husband crazy when I want to be out in the middle of them, watching, pushing the edge of common sense and safety. In real life, I have the tendency to want to run out into the storm and try and manage it, try to force it into right behavior, instead of the wise thing of hunkering down and waiting for it to pass. I’ve made alot of mistakes by making decisions in the middle of a life storm simply because I felt out of control. Great post that has me thinking.

    Oh! BTW I’m reading a Larry Crabb’s SoulTalk and LOVING it!
    Kelli´s last blog post ..Death by Laundry and Other Confessions

  7. Patricia Kay Groom says

    “I willl not create a storm that does not exist”…..grateful for this moment of hearing from the Lord through You. Grateful.
    Thank you for listening to the Holy Spirit as you wrote this message.
    Bless YOU on this journey of becoming Christlike.

  8. says

    I so relate to you, Emily. Everything you write here feels so true. Perhaps that’s part of the INFJ / 4wing3 mindset, no?

    I’m between books now, having pretty much wrapped one and planning to get back to another that has only had a shaky, shaky start. And I want my approach to be different this time. I let fear and frenzy drive so much of the process for me. I want to walk away from that, or in the least stop living like there’s a storm outside.

    In this in between time I’ve reminded myself how blessed I am to be doing exactly what I what, to be where I want to be with the people I love. There is no reason to slip into the worked-up mode that is my MO.

    Taking those little steps with you.
    Caroline Starr Rose´s last blog post ..Author A. C. Gaughen’s TEDx Talk

  9. says

    Today, I came up with this idea that can be either crazy good or really stupid. I was wondering whether I should give it a try or not. After reading this post, I decided to sit with the idea in silence and listen to what my heart tells me. I’ll see what the voice of love says :)
    Yuko @ northfield gate´s last blog post ..Listen to the songs of your heart

  10. Heidi says

    This is truth. I struggle with this type of fear daily. These words resonate in my heart: “This will probably always be something I need to walk through, making decisions out of love rather than from fear. I can’t prevent storms from coming, but I can decide not to invent my own.”

    Thank you for sharing your heart here.

  11. says

    “I like the idea of marking a storm like the tree-writer did. This happened, it was bad, and we lived through it.”

    i like that idea too. it feels an honest and healthy way to deal with the storms.
    my more natural response so often is as you described;

    “Take cover or the storm might overtake you. Avoid danger. Sit under the banner of fear.”

    but i like to think that is lessening too. and i think it’s the marking that makes the difference. acknowledging the emotions so that i can then move forward towards life and the risky adventure that it is.
    melony´s last blog post ..on looking out into the great unknown and being afraid

  12. says

    I am coming to the end of a storm season that really knocked me off my feet. Now that things are settling, I find myself panicking that I’m not going to be able to pick myself up and start over again (or that I will get back on my feet only to be knocked back down by yet another gust of wind). So…thank you for this. I am taking the time to look out the window, see that the sky is still blue, and step out in courage again.
    Marian´s last blog post ..Weeding Hope

  13. says

    I’m reading this in a moment of insecurity and indecisiveness. I continue to be surprised, when brought to my attention, how much of a motivator fear is for me. As you’ve previously said, I should “refuse to be shocked” but it is a struggle and I love these words in particular “I can’t prevent storms from coming, but I can decide not to invent my own.” Thanks for good and true reminders Emily.
    Samantha Livingston´s last blog post ..Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

  14. says

    I have been living with increasing anxiety through very stressful job situations for the last three years and recognising that I am often absorbing other’s anxieties reflected back onto me was a major turning point yesterday. What a relief I could finally find the courage to say I couldn’t do it any more and was able to say I would find something else to do; change my life before it changes me forever into someone I don’t want to be. I am thrown completely onto God’s mercy and provision but it’s better than drowning under the weight of anxious living. I know all the verses about not worrying and being anxious for nothing and now I’ve taken that step I am feeling more peaceful and trusting the Lord for whatever comes next.
    Alice´s last blog post ..Our Darling Amy

  15. says

    “It’s possible to live as though every move you make is an anxious attempt to avoid an unwanted consequence rather than a thoughtful decision to move toward life. And this life becomes one marked by hiding from the potential storm of loneliness, failure, isolation, invisibility, or insignificance. Take cover or the storm might overtake you.”

    Really appreciated what you wrote here. I don’t want to be someone distracted from moving forward because I’m too busy ducking behind trees.
    Kelly Raudenbush´s last blog post ..How to serve my country {award-winning guest post}

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