I’m not at all sure how I feel about surprises. I used to really enjoy them, mostly because they were usually good surprises. However, 2020 and now 2021 have been full of very unpleasant surprises.
Covid-19, of course, being one of the biggest and worst surprises ever in my life. Just about the time the world is starting to get a handle on that and get people vaccinated, a whole raft of new strains have emerged and it seems as though no one is really sure if the vaccines will work on all of them. This big ugly surprise keeps playing hide and seek with us. (PS I’m a 1B and on every list I can find and still can’t get scheduled. If anyone has any insight, let me know.)
We finally get past “the worst year” most of us have ever experienced, only to be met with 2020 2.0 aka 2021. Not only are more new strains of the virus arising, the weather had some very unpleasant surprises for us too. I live in Houston, which has generally very warm weather year round. Winter usually feels like fall would feel anywhere else. For the first time in many years (disregarding all the little snow flurries) Houston had a memorable snow event. The last one before this current storm was December 2017, and the main reason it was so memorable was that, surprise, surprise it followed on the heels of Hurricane Harvey. Prior to that, the most recent big snow event was 8 years before that. (Internet source, google search: ABC13 Winter Weather, Houston KTRK, Copyright 2021KTRK-TV) Along comes 2021 bringing one of the worst winter storms ever. Not because of the amount of snow, but because of the near zero temperatures. Water and power were out in many parts of Texas.
Now that may not sound like such a big deal to any of you who come from cold country and as my friend in Wyoming told me it was -24 where she live and they managed to maintain power and water! Way to cold for me. The reason it was a big deal here, is that municipalities either didn’t have a plan for this type of emergency or their plan failed. (FEMA offers some of the best disaster training for cities and counties that you can imagine. Perhaps someone will see the need for that now in Houston. )
At any rate, as I understand it, the water was frozen in the pipes and could not flow and the power needs overloaded the grid. I’m sure all of us have at one time or another been without either water or power or even without both at the same time. But it is not too often that those losses extend over several days (at least not in the dead of winter. Hurricanes, of course, are a different story). We forget just how dependent we are upon water and power. The worst, for me anyway, was that we could not flush a toilet without water or power.
Fortunately for me, I had spent the last 8-10 years in hurricane prone areas and so I had an emergency plan. Cook everything in your freezer, fill your car with gas, have enough bottled water on hand for a week. And check your emergency backpacks to make sure you have the supplies you will need if you must leave. Most gas stations ran out of gas as the roads were too unsafe to deliver gasoline to them. People panicked and bought all the water they could lay their hands on. Packaged ice made for great cooking water, especially when the boil water notice was posted. You can melt ice and cook (if you have a gas stove or bbq grill).
I live in an apartment complex and fortunately had access to a swimming pool where residents were bringing their containers to fill them up with water to use to flush the toilets. It is also amazing how dependent we have become on electricity to survive. I would have given a great deal to have had a gas stove or gas fireplace at that point. Instead, several days were spent getting out in the bitter cold to walk the dogs and then crawling back into bed to get warm. You can’t read, you can’t play games on your phone, you can’t check the internet (it goes down too when the power does). It is very disconcerting. It is extremely difficult to accomplish much of anything by candlelight.
However, I found there is one activity that rises to the top when everything is quiet and dark–and that is prayer. You can focus when there are no extraneous noises or distractions. You can really take time to speak with and listen to God when you don’t have to run to the next meeting or cook the next meal or deal with whatever else we have filled our lives. You can see God in the beauty of the storm and the gleaming white snow all around You can praise him for the warm blankets you have and a safe place to sleep. You can get so much closer to the kind of relationship we are supposed to have with Him. As I prayed, I found so many things to be thankful for even in the midst of the winter storms. I have a roof over my head, blankets on my bed, warm clothes, food in the fridge and water. I am blessed beyond all measure.
I know I have gone on and on about unpleasant surprises, but the flip side to that coin is the wonderful, unexpected pleasant surprises. I received one just yesterday. Many of you know my son passed away almost 7 years ago now. A few years prior to that he had been living in Oregon with the love of his life. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. He moved back to Las Vegas then down to Texas. When he left Oregon he left practically everything behind. One thing in particular was a beautiful frame with a picture of my dad in uniform and some of his personal mementos. I had spoken to the young woman some years ago and she assured me she would send his things to me. It just never happened, until now. Several days ago, she reached out to my daughter and told her she still had Sean’s (my son’s) belongings and she wanted to send them to us.
She did just that. Not only was the framed item I mentioned included but things I never knew my son had kept. Included in the things he kept were all the cards and letters my dad, my daughter and I had sent to him when he was living away from us. I knew he had a kind heart, but I didn’t know just how sentimental he was. There were mementos from races and concerts, and pictures of his two younger half-brothers, even notes from his step-mom. I was absolutely moved to joyful tears. The anniversary of his death is a little more than a month away and it is always a difficult time for me. However, having these wonderful items to sort through and put in an album will help turn my sorrow to joy. People say time heals all wounds, but they are wrong. It doesn’t. It just puts more distance between the event that caused the wound and today. C S Lewis likened it to an amputation. You can learn to walk again, but you will always know the leg is not there. That’s so true, there is a hole in my heart left by my son’s death even though I know he is safe in heaven and look forward to whenever God calls me home to join him.
In the meantime, I thank God for sending me this miracle surprise. One I never expected or even thought about. Thank you Lord for the gifts that you give us. You do indeed give us the desire of our hearts, even though we may not know what those desires were until you provide it. Bad weather may come and go, sorrows may occur and surprises may be happy or sad, but the word of the Lord stands forever. Psalm 86:5 says “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.” Surprise, God loves you (and He loves me too).