Lessons from Kansas on Living with Storms

Tornado warning

Today’s post from Robynn is one of those posts that offers life-lessons that go far beyond storms. Enjoy!

1.Know the lingo!

One Sunday afternoon, during one of our visits back to Kansas, I was washing dishes and listening to National Public Radio. Suddenly I heard the word tornado. This is foreign stuff to me. I was nervous. I went quickly to the bedroom and woke Lowell. “We’re having a tornado!” He calmly rolled over and sat up. He then sauntered quietly into the bedroom where our 18 month old was sleeping. Lifting Connor up, Lowell continued on down the hall and down the steps to the basement. About half way down, Lowell, still very calm and collected, turned to me and said, “Wait a minute….! Did they say Tornado Watch or Tornado Warning?” I didn’t have a clue. All I had heard was tornado and the name of our county. It didn’t seem to make a difference to me. A tornado is a tornado! But when I racked my brain I vaguely recalled the words Tornado Watch. Lowell quietly pivoted on the steps and started back up them. He ambled back down the hall, gently returned Connor to his crib and wandered back into our bedroom where he laid back down and resumed his nap.

The language of storms matter. Listen carefully. Hear what’s really being said.

2. Expectations matter!

When we first returned to the US, Bronwynn was five years old. One day she came home from kindergarten full of joy and excitement. They had spent the afternoon preparing for the big tomato! I wasn’t sure what she was referring to. It seems a very large tomato was going to come to the school and they had to get ready.She was so excited!

Still baffled, I asked her how they got ready for the tomato. She said they went into the hallway, they had to be very quiet, they sat on their bottoms against the walls and put their heads down between their knees. Ahhh! They were practicing the tornado drill, they were preparing in the event that a tornado might hit the school. Our tomato loving girl was so disappointed.

In the event of a storm, it’s good to know what you’re up against. Expectations matter! It’s time to put the salad forks down!

3. Consider the Source–You can’t believe everything you see!

We hadn’t been living in Kansas very long when friends of Lowell’s invited us to join them for a movie. It was the first double date we had been on with close friends of his. It was their way of welcoming their dear friend’s new bride to town. We went to the movies! Looking back on the event, I question the wisdom in our movie choice! Twister, released in 1996, starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, tells the traumatic story of storm chasers who race across Oklahoma tracking tornadoes. It includes falling telephone poles, flying cows and soaring semi-trucks and trailers! Dramatically ridiculous, it probably wasn’t the best way to be introduced to tornadoes!

It’s important to know that not all information is good information. Be informed but take care in how you form what you believe about storms and tragedy and flying cows!

4. A local resident’s face is better than a radio snippet

Once, flying from Calgary, AB to Hamilton, ON, I was seated next to a woman who was extremely anxious about flying. The moment the engines roared into life, her face flinched, her hands clenched the arm rests, her knuckles turned white and she had to stop talking to focus on breathing. I asked her the obvious, “Are you nervous?” She was terrified! It turns out she had only flown two or three times in her 30 some years. She was a wreck. I told her to watch my face. I’ve flown my whole life. I first boarded an airplane when I was eight years old and I’ve completely lost count of how many times I’ve traversed the globe. “If I get nervous, you get nervous…but if I’m calm you can relax!” She was so grateful. We had a lively conversation across the Canadian Prairies. Several times she’d interrupt the chatter to ask if I was nervous. I shake my head, No, I was just fine. Her shoulders would lower, her grip on the arm rest would loosen. Through a turbulent time, her eyes were glued to my expression. As long as I remained peaceful she was fine. When we disembarked in Ontario, she gripped my hands in mine. She was so profoundly grateful.

That’s exactly how I survive storm season. I keep my eyes on my favourite local’s face. If my husband Lowell, who grew up in Kansas, is relaxed I’m relaxed. And he’s usually completely nonchalant about the weather.

Of course there was one time last summer, when Lowell very peacefully, took all of our important papers downstairs. Then he made sure each of us had a really good pair of walking shoes in the basement. He checked the batteries in the flashlights and he filled water bottles. All of that went to the basement. And then, just as I was beginning to panic, he crawled into bed (upstairs –in our bedroom) and fell asleep.

It’s good to watch those who have weathered storms before. It’s good to see how the react. They’ve been down this path before. They have experience.

5.There is healing and hope ahead

Last Sunday afternoon the skies were ominous. There were layers upon layers of clouds, dark clouds, swirling clouds, clouds of strange colour and texture. I felt the nerves begin to quiver in my stomach. We left a high school graduation party at the same time as some good friends of ours: Mike and Mary. Mike and Mary and their family lost their home in the tornado that struck our town in 2008. Most everything they owned was rendered rubble while they clung to their children in the safety of their basement. As we walked across the parking lot I asked, assuming I already knew the answer, “Do you guys hate storm season?” They both laughed and shook their heads. Mary grew up here. She loves it. Mike is resilient. Both of them acknowledged their youngest daughter Linda, 14 or 15, is still afraid. But the family laughed about that too and then they got in their van. And Linda got in the driver’s seat. Mary’s face flinched in fear at the prospect of letting her daughter drive. Mike just laughed.

I marveled at their strength. I stood amazed at the healing they had experienced and the joy the exuded. They’ve endured a lot of storms (and perhaps the tornado was the least of them) but they walk in healing and hope. I find that evidence that there is a God.

6. The storm you have is better than the storm you don’t

Four or five years ago we visited Florida. As I showed my driver’s license to a shopkeeper she shook her head and said, “Kansas! I could never live in Kansas!” I was in the throes of culture shock myself and was inclined to agree with her but I suddenly felt a wave of defensiveness well up. Why not? She explained that she couldn’t handle tornadoes. What about hurricanes? She threw back her head and laughed. Hurricanes weren’t bad. They gave you lots of advance warning. Hurricanes were gentle compared to tornadoes. Given that the infamous Hurricane Katrina had just been through three years before I was shocked. She was insistent though. I said I could never live in hurricane country. She looked at me like I was nuts, shook her head and finished checking me out.

We are given grace to live with the storms we have. It’s a mystery but it’s true.

People in Kansas are fixated with the weather. They check it compulsively. I have found that odd in my cultural adjustment. But now I understand. The weather matters here.

Ultimately, the Holy Weather Maker, still has final say.

And yet  – we do well to ready our homes, our hearts for the storms that will come. Perhaps no amount of storm preparation can fully fortify us for what’s ahead but we can gear up with an inner calm and joy and laughter and with a profound sense that there are clear skies ahead. These are some of the things I’ve learned from Kansas about living with storms.

11 thoughts on “Lessons from Kansas on Living with Storms

  1. I loved this article Robynn! And to the lady who couldn’t live with malaria – I found it really strange as I grew up and talked to people who saw malaria as deadly threat – for us, having it over and over again in Pakistan it was much like catching a cold. Take the medication and it goes away within 24 hours! I have to say, seeing the news about the Olklahoma tornadoes recently, I felt much like you must have in Kansas Robynn, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to live in the path of such extreme weather! Here in Australia it is the incredible bush fires and flood waters that happen annually.

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  2. Robynn, I can identify with some of your experiences, having just moved to Nebraska for the first time. I was a little nervous at times in the past couple of weeks, especially when a siren went off in our area, and I had no idea what it meant. My Nebraskan husband was not worried though!
    Re: “the storm you have is better than the storm you don’t”–a few years ago we met a group of Floridians who had just returned from a trip to Northern Iraq. It was a year with a lot of hurricanes in FL. While in Iraq, a dear Iraqi man asked them sincerely, “Florida??–isn’t it dangerous to live there??!!” It is a matter of perspective!

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  3. A parallel can be found in my questions to those who have lived with the threat of malaria – yet I live with ticks and West Nile, and take what comes. Very insightful piece, Robynn…

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    1. These words from you Melody mean a lot. You know about “storm management”. Thank you for your kind words.

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  4. Robynn- your wisdom is amazing! Thanks for the deep thoughts and truths about storms. After leaving Kansas I do not miss the tornado threat but I am learning more about dust storms and wild fires. There will always be storms but how we live in the midst really matters. Thanks for the words you share, friend.

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    1. I agree Jill – I had a week of non-weather storms and had the privilege of reading this through several times before it was posted. Each time I picked up something different.

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