How beautiful God must be. No wonder He isn’t visible to our human eyes. Oh God, I hope my soul looks beautiful to you. – Dolores Marie Ray
Experiencing the Tornado in Nashville
You might have heard about the tornado in Nashville this month. As a night owl, I was still awake when the weather started turning bad. My daughter, who lives nearby, was also up. We were texting about the impending storm when the tornado sirens began to blare.
Shortly after, the local weather forecasters warned of a large and dangerous tornado heading in our general direction. We were told to immediately take cover. It was moving quickly.
Marissa and I continued to text, even after taking cover the best we could. We are originally from Wisconsin, where basements are common. We do not have them here. On this night, I missed basements.
Texting was a blessing. As long as I kept receiving those texts, I knew Marissa was safe.
We were fortunate. The tornado missed us. As you may have heard, Germantown and East Nashville, as well as other areas in Tennessee, were not so fortunate.
Ultimately there were 24 deaths in four counties. Two were in Nashville; 18 were in Putnam County. I read that the National Weather Service is calling it an EF-4 there.
In Nashville, homes and businesses are gone. The Diocese released a moving video showing some of the damage to the beautiful Church of the Assumption and surrounding Germantown area. Obviously there will be no Mass held there for now. At the time I am writing this it seems unclear if the church will be able to be repaired.
Marissa and I texted for a while after the storm, emotions running high. After we said goodnight, I decided to email my siblings. I suspected they might hear of this on the news (I had already seen it on one of the major networks) so I wanted them to know we were all safe. I did not want them to worry if they tried to call in the morning and got my answering machine. Given it was now near 4:00 a.m., my plan was to sleep in.
I started writing the emails. Then I choked up. Tears started falling. This was not just about the tornado. There is another story behind this.
As a college student in 1980, I lived in Eau Claire, WI. We had a terrible storm that summer. Word reached us later that winds reached at least 125 mph. The Governor declared us a disaster area.
At the sound of the sirens, my roommates and I raced to the basement. The winds seemed to go on forever. When it became calm again, we took our first tentative steps outside.
I knew there would be damage, but it was worse than I imagined. The neighborhood looked like the set of a disaster movie. Fortunately, nobody was harmed.
After checking on some friends in the neighborhood, we went back home. We did not have cell phones to text with or computers to email our families, and it was too late to call. With no electricity, there was nothing left to do but go to bed.
The sound of the phone woke me the next morning. I knew it would. My mom had heard of the disaster. Needless to say, she needed to know her daughter had survived.
The night of the Nashville tornado brought back all those memories. My tears were not about the storm. They were about what was not going to happen in the morning.
Mom died in 2006. Later this morning, the phone would not be ringing.
I went to bed in tears. I woke up in tears. It took me by surprise. While I expect to grieve her to some extent the rest of my life, I did not expect this.
I suppose it is natural that she was on my mind. The anniversary of her death is February 26. The year she died, February 26 was the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. The parish where attended Mass liked to give out pocket reminders for the season. That year it was a cross made of nails. The cross was heavy in my pocket that year.
This year the anniversary fell on Ash Wednesday. In my mind, Lent is connected to her death. In addition, she left a lot of notebooks behind and recently I have been reading them.
The words at the beginning of this page are a quote from Mom. Reading them, you would not know that she suffered a great deal in her lifetime, both physically and mentally. I have written elsewhere about some of her trials.
I have no doubt Mom’s soul is beautiful to God. Her words help me contemplate the state of my own soul and how to beautify it.
In The Day Is Now Far Spent, by Cardinal Robert Sarah, he writes, “The saints are people who struggle with God the whole night until the dawn.”
Mom’s notebooks showed the great pain she went through. At times she pleaded with God to heal her. She did, in fact, struggle with God. Mom desperately desired a normal life. Even so, she always ended with words asking for God’s will to be done.
A Relationship With God
During dark times in my life (and my mom’s life) I have had my own challenges with my relationship with God. Mom reminds me to make sure to always end up giving it up to God, to trust in His will.
In his book, Cardinal Sarah says, “A Christian’s strength comes from his relation to God.” He also reminds us, “The chief preoccupation of all the disciples of Jesus must be their sanctification.”
The relation with God does not just happen overnight. Mom had a deep love of God before her years of suffering. I think that made a big difference when her life got difficult. When we are in pain and God seems so absent, anger and fear can cause us to turn away. If we are already in the habit of turning towards God, it gives us a better chance of allowing our sufferings to be sanctifying.
In other words, because Mom always desired to stay close to Jesus, her sufferings could help her to grow in holiness. She developed an even more beautiful soul.
We should, of course, always strive for an ever-closer relationship with Jesus. As fallen humans, however, sometimes we need reminders. The gift of Lent is our constant reminder for at least a season.
Cardinal Sarah even offers ideas on how to do this. Referring to being disciples of Jesus, he says:
The first place in their lives must be given to prayer, to silent contemplation, and to the Eucharist, without with all the rest would be vain agitation.
It is important to find time to pray each day without the distractions of daily living. We prioritize so many things over our time with Jesus. I am certainly guilty of this. Yet, what can be more important than spending time with God? We often seem to find it more desirable to spend time conversing with friends than with our Creator.
This is also a good time to remember the gift of confession. This sacrament helps us to look into ourselves and see what is getting between us and God. It is helpful for our relationship to our Father to even confess venial sins. Gathering the humility to tell a priest who we really are is a way to pour out our love to the Almighty. This is how we repent and turn back. Confession helps us to be changed.
Today I am particularly struck with Cardinal Sarah’s words about Eucharist after hearing that Rome has temporarily canceled Mass. While this will be difficult for the faithful, I pray that those who are lukewarm will realize what they are missing and thirst. As someone on Facebook said, this Lenten season is looking like a dessert for some. We all know that deserts can bear fruit. Jesus made that clear.
I want to share another quote from Cardinal Sarah’s book. “The saints found God. These men and women found what is essential.”
Essential, indeed. Without God, we have nothing, not even our very lives. During this Lenten season, make Him your priority, with the hope that you will continue to grow closer to Him for the rest of your life. Love Him, thank Him, and praise Him because He is God; not for what He can do for you. Learn that something else my mom said is true:
I need You so badly like the leaves need the trees to grow on, I need You.
If you realize this, even when the tornados in your life are overwhelming, you will cling to God. He, in turn, will never let you go. No matter how the tornado ends, you will find what is essential.