How Survival Mode Enables You to Harness the Storm’s Strength


by Christina Hubbard. Storms heal. Last week, a perfect downpour swept through my neighborhood. It bent the top branches of the oak tree. New leaves rustled an intoxicating whisper against a slate sky. In the backyard tree, a lone bird chirped a song, seeming to beckon and harmonize with the darkening landscape. I was in a somber, restless mood myself and in need of a real rest, for many, many reasons.

I went up to the second-floor library away from the family. I opened the window and sat on the carpet where I could see, hear, and smell the storm. The chaos inside me was due in part to this process of recovery. Just that day the orthopedist had told me I needed physical therapy to speed the healing of my broken ankle. I had already been putting in an hour of exercises each day and three hours at the pool per week. I was tired of the tight tendons in my foot, shuffling from here to there, and the perpetual looks of pity. I was weary of trying to stay strong and be positive. I was exhausted from steering every conversation away from my broken state. My deepest desire that night was to brood like a thundercloud.

The Accident

Storms descend on us with force, sometimes rather suddenly. Angels bowl, as my mother used to say, with thunder and lightning. They downpour a darkness, both refreshing and ominous.

My injury happened unexpectedly. I fell off a step on the morning of my sister’s baby shower. Really though, it was the tipping point after months of previous trauma. On an October morning, my daughter was riding her bike to school. A car turned left, didn’t see her, and struck her. She fell to the pavement, staggered a few steps, and then collapsed a few feet away.

She had left the house in the dark before I even woke. My husband was in Romania for work. It was shortly before 7 a.m. when my phone lit up with a call from an unknown number: “Your daughter has been hit by a car. She’s okay.”

What does one do in such a crisis? I went on autopilot. I fumbled for pajama pants and my glasses. I woke my eight-year-old son with a shake and said, “I have to leave. Abi has been hit by a car. Get ready for school. I’ll be back soon.” He opened his eyes. I hoped he heard me, and I hoped he didn’t.

I got in the van. As I turned right around the block, I heard sirens. They were for her. That was the beginning of the season of survival.

Someone asked me last night at a party, “How have you been?” It all spilled out: seven months of survival. Recovery has been an elusive idea, just out of reach. “I had no idea,” the asker replied. My daughter’s accident, three months of the family being sick, then my ankle break, and two days later, surgery to repair nerve damage from Abi’s incident. In other words, we’ve been swaying in an endless storm.

Wanting to Forget

Life has bent us sideways, testing our rootedness, bashing us with force and elements. So many times I have wanted simply to duck into the basement—as we do in our Midwest tornadoes—and forget these past few months ever happened. I have wanted to forget the way I saw my girl helpless on the pavement surrounded by EMTs and police. How the officer asked if she halted her bike at the corner before crossing the intersection. How she lowered her eyes as she lay on the gurney and said, “I should have stopped.”

I wanted to erase from my memory how that officer lifted her bent up bike and asked for my keys so he could place it in the trunk of my van. How we couldn’t figure how to get the seatbelt across her aching shoulder so I could get her safely home. I yearned to forget how I went into task mode as I drove her to the house, left her in the car, and fetched my son, miraculously calm, eating cereal at the table, and dressed for school. I wanted to forget how he asked her if she was okay and all she could do was moan. How I dropped him at my friend’s house, and how she told me she prayed with him after I left.

I wanted to forget how her school principal called me on the way to the hospital, and I don’t even know why I answered. How I hung up and called my husband, choked back my croaking voice, and said with a tremble, “Abi’s been hit.” The trees seemed to glow their greenness against the morning sky so blue as we drove like it is after a storm.

I would like to erase from my memory how I didn’t realize how hard I wanted to weep as I sat across the room and watched the ER doctor examine her in that big white railed bed. How I wanted my parents to hold me, but they couldn’t because they were hundreds of miles away and probably too afraid to call me back after my text. Yes, I wanted to forget it all.

Stuck and Struck

Survival bends you backward like a storm you never saw coming. When no one is there to hold your hand, and you don’t know what to do because you’ve never been here before. In my case, I didn’t know whom to call or how. I wanted to phone the pastor of the small church we had started attending, but I couldn’t even think of how to do it or what to say.

Survival is the state of being stuck in a moment. It’s the doctor saying, “You can go home,” but you barely believe him. It’s trusting your feet are going to get you to your car somehow. It’s saying yes to the first family member who offers to come and be with you, even though they’re thousands of miles away. It’s saying, “Oh, God,” in your head over and over.

Survival is being struck by life’s miraculousness and the fragility of breath. Its a heart beating alive so loudly within your own chest and being paralyzed at the same time. Survival is life breaking and marching forward before your eyes, and still, somehow, you keep going.

As I write this, my head throbs thinking of all of this again—how what we don’t want to happen often hits us with a gut-punch and leaves us reeling for days, weeks, and months. How even when we see the wonder standing mostly unscathed (she just had a few broken bones), we are still hit hard. In surreal moments later, we think we’re coming up, standing upright, stronger even. Then repercussions and winds knock us down: sickness, PTSD from cars coming at us, driving by the place we survived, and trying to hold ourselves together.

The Release

Thunderstorms can only hold their watery burdens so long. They loom and push us with gusts, but eventually, the skies must let their contents go. They must release the rain. In the library, as I watched the storm through the window and sniffed wetness through the screen, I surrendered a sense of holding on.

There is something cathartic about a storm, a supernatural strengthening. Roots push deeper into dirt as rain descends. Plants shoot up and out of the ground, seemingly overnight, while lightning startles the senses. We feel uprooted and sown in a single moment. The dust of our lives abruptly watered.

I will not forget this season of survival. As much as I want to, I cannot. If I cease to remember how I endured, how my family persevered and held on, despite nearly facing our worst fear, then I cease to heal. We are here to listen to the storm and to be in it, not run from it. The storm tests and tries us like nothing else. We must remember.

We must not forget what happened and what could have. Denial is no heart’s friend. We have been saved from so much, but not hardship.

To the ancient desert fathers and mothers, suffering was not a trial, but often, a desire. Later, Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth-century monk, encouraged his friends to suffer well and to embrace it wholeheartedly, “Love sweetens pain; and when one loves God, one suffers for His sake with joy and courage.” This bothers me and makes me incredibly curious. Dear Jesus, my faith has so far to go.  

So in our anxiety, doubt, discomfort, in our so-very-tired states of surviving with only enough hope and patience to cup in our hands and drink feebly, we hold on. Our lives do not end in our irritation, discomfort, or even our earth-shattering losses. If we live in God’s kingdom, death cannot hold us. This is a mentality which is missing from most of our lives. Today’s storms are training grounds for heaven. I may never know how, but gloriously, we are made more whole through periods of suffering.

Teach Us, Oh, Lord

When the heavens cease their emptying, everything looks verdant, almost neon, and smells of fresh, damp earth. Thunderstorms heighten the senses and swathe the world in an urgent realness.

That storm last week marked the end of my survival season and the beginning of recovery—from everything. From almost losing a child, trying to be her rock and help, from rotating shifts with my husband, and finally, becoming the cared for.

The rain soaked to the earth lightly that dusk while the bird sang her song sweet and shrill. I breathed deeply in and out, of dark, sodden soil, leafy growth, and recovered life. This is a time of coming to understand pains’ great change, the wear it bears down on body and soul. Suffering presses us to our limits and pushes us to the brink of our nothingness. This is the kind of healing that hurts. It stretches sinews and cynical thought processes we never knew we had. We sacrifice time and create a space to make way for the hope of recovery. Survival is both storm—destructive, dark, and beautiful—and it is miracle, alive, and so, so fragile.

Storms cleanse the land and us. They revive what is dry and dying within us. This summer we recover and find a resiliency which lives beyond and moves forward with such a power and grace—we must not only wonder at it, we become it. I will not forget.

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May 24, 2018