As these things go, it wasn’t awful. Along with several hundred thousand of my fellow Connecticut residents, I spent all but twelve hours of last week without electricity. By the time Hurricane Irene reached New England, it was merely a tropical storm. Yet the storm left more than half of Connecticut’s customers without power, and residents of New York, New Jersey, and Vermont continue trying to reclaim what’s left of their homes and livelihoods after devastating flooding.
We were well prepared for the storm, I thought. I had topped off our propane tank and joked that the beloved Swede could kill and roast his own game if need be. Unlike many in the state, we continued to have running water. My in-laws, the senior beloved Swedes who live less than a mile away, never lost power. They made space in their refrigerator and freezer to babysit some of our food. There are few things, short of a hurricane, which will motivate me to clean out my refrigerator, and now I have a clean refrigerator.
Local schools and town halls opened shelters and facilities for residents to take showers. For the most part, people remained civilized and calm. There were no mobs, no riots, no looting. This, after all, is Connecticut–the land of steady habits–where people dress in loafers and oxford button-downs, and bravely soldier on.
My in-laws invited us over for showers after our hot water tank had grown cold and we enjoyed several evenings of lovely family time, having been drawn together by the storm. Irene’s powerful wind blew in crisp, cool, sunny weather; so we opened our windows wide, not missing our air conditioning in the least. I commented on Facebook that, although I remained without power, it was hard to be grumpy while the weather was so spectacular.
After three days, I was grumpy. I was tired of having to get in the car and drive in order to take a shower. I was tired of carrying all my power cords in my purse; always looking out for places I could shoplift electricity and wireless service. I was tired of hanging out at Starbucks and going out to dinner. Yes, sometimes too much of a good thing really is too much of a good thing. I longed for a home-cooked meal. A plate full of boiled spaghetti slathered in Prego sounded like heaven.
Lights began to go on in streets near my neighborhood, even as trees remained untouched and entangled in power lines near my home. I began to understand the temptation toward class envy—the resentment of the haves by the have-nots. I drove past people washing their cars in driveways and wanted to roll down my windows and scream, “Don’t you realize there are still people without water! How dare you?”
These past few days have not been among my proudest moments as a faithful, mature, gray-headed follower of Christ.
As someone whose heart breaks over images from places like Kenya and southern Sudan, where people experience real suffering and loss, I grew impatient with my own impatience. I tried counting the gifts, looking for opportunities to see God’s mercy and give thanks.
And I failed. Miserably. Over and over again, I found myself returning to words from a precious hymn I have loved all my life:
Oh, to grace, how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.
Daily. Hourly. Minute by minute I need grace. In my whining self-pity, I found myself returning again and again in confession:
Lord I’m doing it again, being an ungrateful brat; thinking I deserve more blessing than you have given me.
And He, the One who reveals but the fringes of His power in the winds of the hurricane, answered me–not with the thunder of condemnation, but in a whisper of grace. Because I belong to Him.
I know, He says. I forgive you; you are mine. Continue to follow me, to learn of me. We’ve still got much work to do. I’m not finished with you yet.
Near the peak of my frustration last week, I heard a knock on my door. Upon opening it, I found the woman who works at the local post office. She bears a long, vertical scar on her chest and often wears a halter monitor while working behind the post office counter. I’m guessing she’s acquainted with suffering and is grateful for mercy received in her life.
She was going door-to-door at homes where she knew folks were still without power, offering bottles of water, snacks, and popsicles; offering a glimpse of God’s mercy, goodness, and grace. I pray that in whatever small measure of suffering I experienced last week, I’ve learned some of these deeper things of God–demonstrated both in the wind of the hurricane and in the still, small whisper of His kindness.
And may God give me the grace to take the things I’ve learned and put them into practice.
Linking with Jen and the sisterhood: