Life’s Lightning Strikes

What?!!! Lightning struck our house?!!! Oh my God!!!

 When lightning struck our family shore home a few days ago, thankfully, we were not in the house, nor even in town. But when such an unusual, dramatic event occurs, it naturally leads one to wonder about the big questions: What is the meaning in this? Why did this happen? Is God trying to tell me something?

I don’t know. I will never know. My ego wants so badly to affix an explanation (like a little gremlin in my mind that demands fixed answers), but I’m learning that the spiritual life involves not knowing. It’s the hard work of humility and letting go of certainty. I don’t like that very much.In fact, few of us like to live in the powerlessness and vulnerability of uncertainty particularly when we face danger, trouble, and distress. So what can we do?

We can ask for help and then lean into the faith that there is some source of goodness at work in invisible ways. We are not alone; God is accompanying us (yes, right now) helping us (yes, each of us) navigate our troubles.

The story of the lightning strike and dealing with its aftermath has brought to fruition some important lessons that have taken shape in my life over the past year.

The lightning strike was dramatic, part of an intense, powerful storm that blew through Cape May, New Jersey on the afternoon of Saturday, June 6, 2015. Neighbors actually saw the bolt of lightning hit the house and heard a loud explosion. Our next-door neighbor was blown off his bed. The bolt hit the top of the chimney, traveled down the side of the house into the pipes and wires, from the tippy top of the house to the lowest point in the basement. So freaky!!! Electrical smoke ensued, but no fire, thank God. The brick chimney, air conditioning system, and various electronic systems were damaged. After arriving to assess the damage a couple of days later, we smelled gas and discovered that the lightning’s electrical force created a small hole in the hidden internal gas plumbing line resulting in a gas leak. The house could have exploded. Oh my God!!!

Lightning and other such stormy events can happen anytime. One out of 200 houses are struck by lightning each year, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute (so much more frequent than I would expect). But there are other life events that can feel like being struck by lightning, leaving us vulnerable as we try to pick up the pieces. Here are some tips for you to move through the aftermath of whatever “lightning” you experience. I’ve found that three P’s – People, Perspective, and Praise – have been essential in helping to cope with the turmoil of life’s lightning.

  1. PEOPLE. Upon discovering the gas leak, I called the gas company who promptly dispatched a serviceman (Dave, my hero) within 30 minutes to assess the situation and provide instruction. I was so frightened that I couldn’t comprehend what Dave was explaining to me. He talked on and on about which gas line was damaged and what needs to be properly “grounded” in the future and how we can provide “unions” in order to fix it. Needless to say, these words do not mean the same thing in the spiritual care world in which I work as they do in the world of plumbers and electricians.

Close friends and neighbors, Terri and Bob, swooped in, took copious notes and   helped me listen to Dave’s explanations. Other neighbors and countless service people appeared throughout this drama to help and support us. Most days, it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to get service people to show up the same day in our small town of Cape May (locals call this phenomena “Cape MAYBE”). Yet on this particular Monday, numerous service people showed up on time to help deal with this crisis.

Lesson #1: Ask for help and watch closely for angels in disguise who are sent to help you.

  1. PERSPECTIVE. Aside from this lightning episode, I’ve been dealing with much emotional turmoil over the past several months, grappling with frustration, grief, and resentment involving people I love. To help me move forward, my motto has been “reframe, reframe, reframe.” To reframe is to look at what you are experiencing from a different viewpoint. We can reframe our perspective by placing ourselves in others’ shoes, by readjusting our lens outward to look at the bigger picture, or by trying to move ourselves to a new vantage point. Regardless of the technique, reframing a situation changes our perspective and helps us adjust to and find peace with difficulties. Was it lucky or unlucky that our home was struck by lightning? I choose to take the view that we are lucky to be alive.

Lesson #2: Seek new perspective- reframe, reframe, reframe.

 3. PRAISE. A few months ago at a workshop, I was told to reach my hand into a small brown bag and select a poem. The following poem from Rainer Maria Rilke was given to me.

Praise dear one,

Let us disappear into praising.

Nothing belongs to us.

This poem was exactly what I needed at the time. First off, who doesn’t love being called “dear one”? Beyond that, it reminds us that our grumbling is rooted in the belief that we own things or are entitled to them. Nothing belongs to us. We come into the world with nothing and we depart with nothing. My brother says that expectations are resentments waiting to happen. By detaching from our expectations (lifelong work!), we become lighter and our burdens gradually seem to disappear. Then we are able to thank our lucky stars, count our blessings, and praise God.

When I consider the lightning storm and what could have been catastrophic, it’s easy to praise. It’s more difficult to offer praise, though, when you face trouble or disaster, and you cannot see the good anywhere in it. See #1 and #2, and then hopefully, in time, you will get to #3.

Lesson #3: Praise, dear one. Nothing belongs to us.

Though nature’s lightning doesn’t strike every house, life’s lightning does strike everyone and we discover ourselves shaken up in unexpected ways. When that happens, may you lean into people, perspective, and praise to help you move through.

Blessings and love,