Gathered like chicks under my wings

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
—Psalm 36:7

 

Last night I saw so many of my friends in Florida posting Facebook posts and texts of their children and families gathered together to ride out Hurricane Irma.  One friend posted a photo of her son sleeping peacefully in a pile of blankets in the kitchen pantry.  She’d had a sleepless night from the howling winds, but her child rested, oblivious to the storm.
—Leon Bloder, “God Draws You Close

My adult life, meteorologically speaking, has been uneventful. Like the third Little Pig, I live in a brick house. As Jesus advises, our house is built upon rock—in fact, we barely have 18 inches of dirt before we hit that rocky substrate. (No pet graves in our backyard!) My Sweetie maintains an internal maintenance clock, which has kept our roof sound. We also happen to live in a microclimate of Austin that seldom sees our chief threats: hail and tornadoes head far north or somewhat south; flash floods happen near us, but our ridge has been too high for any of them to touch us.

When my dad was working on his PhD., we lived in Athens, Georgia—a notoriously tornado-prone location. I was three when we arrived, and turning six as we left; in my fifth year Athens experienced seven tornadoes. My mom and I drove under one of them to pick up my dad from his lab and go together to safety… I remember the trees beating the roof of our VW Beetle, all century-old oaks in a stately allee. I remember the aftermath of that one, too. The twisted and missing structures in the trailer park next to our apartment complex. The missing siding on our building. The missing roof on the building across the parking lot. My mom says that, for more than three years after that day, all my self-directed art contained tornadoes. I know that a particular shade of green sky makes me queasy even now, and when I was sixteen I called my beau R in uncharacteristic hysterics because I was home, alone, with that mottled grey-green overhead.

 

When my girls were young Scouts, our area (“service unit”) held an area-wide multiage weekend cabin-campout each spring. It was always held in late spring, and though it was never exactly the same weekend, it somehow consistently coincided with unpleasant weather. (Central Texas springs are quite stormy. Except when they’re hot.) So each of their troops had slogged along, singing in the rain, learning that a Girl Scout good time is not dependent on the weather. They had gotten fairly weather-wise for urban children, too. So when B’s troop were 4th-graders, they squinted at the darkening skies across the lake, weighed the attraction of the Saturday night program (meh), and decided to head back to our cabin ahead of the rush. We would be tooth-brushed, warm, and above all dry as we listened to Ms. Kimbol read from someone’s novel and fell sleep.

We did just that. We briskly made our collective trip to the bath-house, came back and climbed into pajamas. We cackled gleefully as the storm broke on the metal roof of our cabin, knowing that our sister Scouts were going to be oh so sadly soggy. Mid-chapter we were out like lights, thudding rain notwithstanding.

(Amusing side note: When the squall finished, the other troops returned, delightedly splashing through the many large puddles and calling (shrieking?) to one another as they began their bedtime routines. Our sleeping girls stirred restlessly from the noise outside. One raised up on her elbow, fixed us adults with a bleary eye, and said in a voice that would do credit to one of the Wicked Witches, “MAKE. THEM. STOP.” I was flummoxed: one gets to splash and carry on at Girl Scout camp; it’s part of what makes camp worth returning to! My co-leader Kelly smiled at me and said, “I’ll take care of it.” I never did know what she did, but the outdoor volume switched off… and there were no complaints later from adults or girls.)

With the world of camp now fully quiet and dark, we adults got ready and climbed into our sleeping bags for the night. We had a specially-situated cabin: cantilevered over the lake, next to the water-slide rigged out of tarps. Prime real estate; we were fortune’s favorites and were thankful.

Until the real storm came.

Before we adults were able to drop off to sleep, the wind had kicked up. It had begun whipping up the water and tugging on the wooden shutters on the cabin’s screen-windows. (We had closed them before the squall, but not all of them had latches.) Rain began to drive down again on the roof, wind shoving it so far sideways that it showered through the ridge vent into the cabin proper. The wind would pick up the unlatched shutter on the lake-side corner and rain would pour through—we lifted the girl sleeping in the bed next to it and found she was laying in over an inch of water already. She didn’t wake, even as we carried her to a bed halfway across the cabin and wrapped her in dry towels and blankets. None of the girls waked.

We tried to rest, but that stupid shutter kept banging, letting cold air and water gust in. I stared at the bed above me and rummaged through my head… tape, no; tie-wraps, none with me but I could add that to my gear next time; shoelace, too big; what about dental floss? I got up, rummaged around for my floss, and went over to Kelly and Becky’s bunks. I murmured my plan, and while Kelly was silent Becky said, “I’ll help you.”

I was, let’s say, not excited about my plan. It involved working our way around the cabin, on what seemed like a catwalk under sunny circumstances—the floor of the cabin extends perhaps three feet beyond the walls to make a walkway. Did I mention the cabin is cantilevered over the lake? The rain was still driving slantwise; the wind had been making the sound of trains rushing across the prairie ever since the storm arrived. My story-telling mind looped a tale of the wind pushing me from the slick deck into the water, or if not me, then Becky.

To reach the problem shutter, we stepped from land to the rightmost walkway, worked ourselves all the way out over the water, and turned left as we ran out of wood. As we rounded the corner, we lost the protection of the lee of the cabin. The wind punched us as Becky wrestled to hold the shutter’s former hook up against the little eye-bolt on the wall. I struggled to thread the eye, to firmly catch some part of the hook, to tighten the floss enough to remove wiggle (flapping) room, and to knot this… this… mess together such that it would stay tied.

The wind still howled; the rain still whipped us. Successful, we carefully maneuvered back into the cabin. We dried off and climbed back into bed, to fall asleep.

I opened my book and pointed my flashlight at it. I listened to the wind some more. Surely we must be safe? Surely we would have heard the siren wailing the pattern for “tornado: shelter in place!” if a tornado had come? Surely we must be safe, and they would alert us if we needed to pull these sleeping girls into the center of the room, to pile mattresses atop us all, to pray that our roof would hold and we would not be pulled apart.

My bedtime books are always old-friend books. My eyes drifted to the end of the two pages—I can’t say I’d read them—and I turned the page.

I continued this way until the lashing storm subsided, and I dropped into sleep.

 

The next morning, in our intact cabin, the girls teased each other about who awoke wet from the rain and who’d chosen a dry spot. The girl we carried gets the bulk of the ribbing—we joined in, because, well, ONE INCH of cold rain-puddle and not even a peep? As we dressed and brushed our hair for breakfast at the mess hall, each of the other adults paused near me to murmur,

“I was really afraid. I thought we might not make it through the storm. But I would look at you, and you were reading, so I knew I didn’t need to worry.”

 

 

God in the storms, God in the eye in the storms, God in the calm before and after: you gather us under your warm wings so that not even one toe peeks out from beneath. Your steadfast love quiets our hearts and lets us sleep under that warmth. As the new day dawns clear we are ready to scoot out into the world, our dry feathers and rested energy silent witness to the blessing and provision embedded in your love. May we always remember; may we always bring another chick along with us each time of sheltering.

 

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