Word association: Florida. One thinks of palm trees, turquoise water and white sand. Some may envision Miami’s skyline with Crockett and Tubbs in a sleek Ferrari, speeding on coastal roads. For others, maybe its football, the Everglades and gators. One thinks of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and maybe a sundown town on the Panhandle, or a political stronghold and controlled public narratives of climate change, with seawater seeping. And hurricanes.
When I study Psalm 92:12, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree,” the context contains imagery of date palms, historically important, familiar in the region of Israel. Able to survive harsh environments, some bear fruit for 100 years. As a student, I know this. Date palms. But meditating on those words, I start thinking of palm trees and hurricanes in Florida.
These gigantic, powerful, swirling storms form over warm ocean waters. Hundreds of miles across, they greatly disrupt life, causing massive property destruction and killing many.
I’ve been in one hurricane. It came up through Alabama from Florida, magnificent in size and power, straddling and crossing states. Humanity seemed puny as this monster went wherever it pleased. Spectacular lightning tore through dark skies, plummeted to Earth, and thunder was inescapable. It was belittling, terrifying. If I didn’t already believe in God, that lightning would’ve convinced me.
I try to get knowledge and good understanding, so that I might communicate life, encourage others and give hope. So, while dwelling on Psalm 92:12, I called my good friend, Skip, a Floridian, to ask his observations of hurricanes and palm trees.
Skip told me to avoid the hurricane’s right front quadrant, where the winds are more forceful. Hurricanes feed on waters, then roar onshore, so, well fed, this is the most devastating part. Early warnings allow some to flee, others to take shelter. The winds are 74-155+ mph, and in the major wind levels, telephone poles snap, roofs tear away. Trailers are snatched into the sky, communities are submerged. Our worst are solemnly remembered for decades by a single name: Andrew. Katrina. Sandy. Harvey. Maria.
The hurricane’s eye, the center, is maybe 20-40 miles across. Onshore, after the brutal front of that storm passes, the eye is relatively calm, sometimes with blue skies and gentle breezes.
In the temporary calm of a hurricane’s eye, one may be tempted to leave shelter, wrongly believing the worst is over. But following the eye is the eyewall, with updraft and the most violent, deadly winds. If one doesn’t understand the nature of this storm, one may have a false sense of relief, as if its all over. But it isn’t. Its about to get worse.
This era has experienced plenty of global and domestic bad news. We’ve had pandemic deaths, wars and conspiracy theories that created fears and increased instability. Its overwhelming. Lies make it darker, more dangerous. People don’t know who to trust. We need shelter. We want it to stop. All of that. But we’d be unwise to think the trouble of this era is over.
Perhaps a significant emotional event will intervene; a death, a birth, a conversion. Something.
Lonna Nicolle struggled with meth addiction for 20 years. She hated herself for every relapse. Five days after she got out of rehab, two of her children, Matthew and Andrew, tragically perished in a fire. Lonna’s life was irrevocably disrupted. She relapsed. Then one day, she ran into her own written words:
“I would have cherished every moment, That I had you here by my side, And I would have taught you in a fire, Upstairs are nowhere to hide But all the would-ofs and could-ofs, Won’t bring you back to me And All I can do to make it up to you, Is change who I used to be.“
The next day, July 15, 2007, Lonna checked back into rehab and has been clean ever since! As a storm in life, that was a category 5.
Which brings me to the palm tree, the Florida kind. With an elegant, linear profile, palm trees survive major hurricanes that can level a forest. How? While sturdy trees are violently torn and uprooted, the palm tree bends until the hurricane passes over. With no defiant posture, it bows and survives.
In this forest, where people presented their cause as just, even when it wasn’t, anyone’s inflexible devotion to that cause is not good or right. Such defiant loyalties are misplaced, and consequences follow. Still, some won’t budge. So, if that’s you, and if your fears were manipulated, and your trust was abused, with category 5 disasters threatening us, I have one question: before what truths will you bow, in order to change who and what you used to be?
Yielding to truth requires humility. Respect and do right by your fellow humans. Protect the most vulnerable. Speak only truth and use the same measure with everyone, no matter who does not. Take courage; hurricanes don’t last. This season of darkness, with all its deceivers, will surely end. Stars are seen best at night. And, like the palm tree, the righteous will flourish and thrive.
By Frank Robinson