People you meet in the Bathroom during the Storms of Life

My daughter and I were just reflecting on one of our homeschooling conferences and the last night when we wound up in the bathroom during a tornado warning.  As we talked about the evening, some thoughts just jumped out at me.

Earlier that evening we had been at the Duggar family cookout.  Every year on the last day of the conference, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar host a cookout at their campsite and everyone at the conference is invited.  We have been attending their Friday night cookout for several years now, and every year I wander around the cookout talking to people I don’t know.  It’s always a challenge for me being an introvert at heart walking up to strangers and starting a conversation.  Every year, however, I push myself to do this.  I look for a face I’ve seen earlier in the week and usually say something like, “how long have you been coming to conferences?”  Or the easy one at a homeschool event, “how many children do you have?”  If I can find a question that gets them to respond to something, then a conversation breaks out.  Sometimes, I fail.  Some people don’t talk.  Some are more nervous than I.

This year our evening was cut short.  Usually, after eating someone builds a campfire and people bring out musical instruments and there’s always singing.  This year the ALERT men showed up and instructed us to seek shelter because a bad storm was on the way with tornados.  There had to be more than 100 people milling around, and they all scattered and scurried off like cockroaches when a light comes on.  Moms and dads looking for their children and rushing off to their camp to batten down the hatches to keep things from blowing away.

After everyone found their kids and secured their campsites, we all met together again in the bathhouses.  The bathhouses are made of cinder block, so they are the best location during a storm.  When gathering in the bathhouses for a storm gender is no longer important.  FAMILY is important.  We have men in the women’s bathroom and women in the men’s!  Some kids are upset, worried because they’ve never been through a storm before in Texas.  Some parents are worried having never grown up in a tornado prone area.  But what’s important is what happens in the bathroom during the storm.

One of my first memories of Michelle Duggar is…in the bathroom.  We had a storm that year, and my husband wasn’t there.  I was a newly widowed mother of six kids.  I had just been through my own storm in life with my husband’s suicide.  It’s interesting going through storms whether natural or in our lives; you can learn a lot going through storms.  When everyone was worried and talking about the storm and whether it might hit, what to do, etc., Michelle Duggar said, “let’s sing.”  She started leading us in hymns and songs thanking God.  I remember thinking that was a bit odd at first.  Almost like she had checked out on reality and entered her own little world.  But the more we sang, the more people calmed down and began to put their trust and focus on God and less on the situation at hand.  I learned a lot that year from Mrs. Duggar in the bathroom.  I had gone through that trusting in God experience when my husband died, but I never thought to do that for other things.  Big things in life, like life and death, sure those belong to God.  But storms.  Those just happen.   We can’t control them.  If a storm is coming, the storm is going to come.  But what I learned is how we go through the storm matters.

We can choose to go through the storm kicking and screaming, crying, fearful, worried, cursing the storm.  The storm is still going to come.  Or we can choose to go through the storm with peace, trust in God and calmness in our spirit knowing God is in control.  The storm is still going to come.  I used to believe that if a storm was going to be it was going to be, but I’ve learned after many years in the bathroom at the ALERT facility during homeschool conference that…singing praises to God, praying and trusting in Him, the storms usually dissipate shortly after we gather.  Some will say this is just a coincidence.  Some will say the storm wasn’t that bad, to begin with.  Some will say God never intended that storm to be more than it was but our perception changed.  All I know all the years we’ve gathered in the bathroom during a storm, we’ve had tornados spotted near the edge of the property that someone saw change direction and go around the fence line not hitting anything on that land.  This year the alert on my phone went off saying damage was imminent, mobile homes would be destroyed, take cover now, and within a minute it changed from all that to just a watch and a possible situation.

I also learned that going through a storm with people brings you closer together.  I got to know something about Michelle Duggar and her family that first year.  I got to see her showing grace under pressure as we were all gathered.  That year the men went into the men’s bathroom and the women into the women’s and families were separated.  She had no fears or worries for her children who weren’t with her.  She knew they were safe.

I learned that during a storm it doesn’t matter who you are, people are open to talk.  As I stood out in the porch area of the bathhouse so I could get some signal on my phone to see how the storm was progressing, lots of people came out to see if I had any updates.  When I was able to get a radar picture or an update of any kind everyone wanted to know what was going on.  One mom asked if her child could see the radar picture.  He apparently likes watching the radar.  When we would get an updated image or information, someone would always relay that information into the bathhouse, and it would spread around assuring everyone that things were calming down.  We also talked about where we were from, what kind of storms we had endured there and got to know each other a little bit more.  It wasn’t nearly as difficult to start conversations in the bathroom.  One man opened up about a tornado he saw once and all the damage it had done and related an experience as a truck driver about his trailer being lifted off the ground during a storm.  Some people shared that they didn’t live in an area with tornados and this hiding out in the bathroom was a totally new expeirence.  Some shared that they lived in Texas and that it’s a part of life hiding out in a closet a few times a year during a storm.  It was easy conversation.  No one had to try.  It wasn’t like at the cookout where I had to think so hard and seek out someone to talk to.  It just happened.

Looking back on that time in the bathhouse, it becomes very clear to me.  During the storms of life, we learn to trust God, we build friendships, we learn more during those times than during the calmness.  When things were good, families were focused on themselves and getting things done.  During the storm people focused on helping, finding missing children, some leading songs to keep others from worrying, getting updates and sharing them.

We may not enjoy the storms of life.  But I do believe they have a purpose.  That old cliche what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger has some truth to it.  I know surviving my husband’s suicide and what ensued afterward made me into the person I am today.  Before he died, I didn’t handle storms well.  Now, storms are a part of life, and we do more singing and praising during them now, and they are easier and easier to weather.  I’ve made lifelong friends due to storms I’ve been through as well as storms they’ve been through that we shared.

I’ve also watched people go through storms who fought it the entire way.  I know someone who still curses every storm and fights it kicking and screaming the entire way, and I’ve watched this person be miserable for a long time now.  The truth is we all have to choose how to endure the storms of our lives and how we do that determines whether or not we will enjoy our life or merely endure it.  I’m very thankful to Michelle Duggar and to God for allowing me the opportunity to go through that first storm without my husband with her.  She taught me a lot in that bathroom, and it has helped me along my journey of raising 6 children without a husband/father.  It hasn’t been easy, but even during our most challenging times, we’ve tried to go through it growing stronger instead of bitter.

I pray that whatever storms God allows to come your way that you learn not just to endure them but to learn how to gather together in the trenches, make friends along the way, share stories of what you’ve been through, sing praises to God and enjoy the journey along the way.  Storms have a purpose, whether in the natural to cleanse things, take out old dead trees, burn away areas of forest that need to be rejuvenated or whether they are in our lives to remove things from us that are holding us down, remove obstacles keeping us from fellowshipping with others or to teach us how to think about someone else’s needs more than our own.

May you learn to weather your storms with God’s grace, peace, and love.