When I was going through my divorce, a friend of mine told me that I reminded him of a palm tree. I think he even gave some ridiculous demonstration that involved bending and swaying. I wanted to tell him to shut up, but his words which were supposed to be encouraging caught my attention. He proceeded to tell me how palm trees are known to be able to weather hurricane force winds. He had already helped me through some tough times prior to my divorce. That day I wasn’t too pleased at the comparison of myself to a palm tree. I knew what he was referring to, and I wasn’t ready to go through another of life’s storms. I was weary and ready to retire from heartache. Curious though, I went home and studied up on palm trees. To most of us they are just a tropical symbol of relaxation and vacation. I discovered that palm trees have very strong and stubborn root systems. They also, unlike other trees, have wood that is alive throughout their trunks. Any damage to the outside of the trunk in a storm will have little or no affect. Between the trunk and the roots, the palm tree will bend in the midst of a storm, but it will not break. It is resilient and will bounce back. When the storm stops and it stands up, it is actually stronger in the place where it was once bent! In the end, I was cool with all that.
I am definitely not a storm chaser, but I am convinced I attract storms. Perhaps I am a storm catcher? When I was in kindergarten my family was visiting Milwaukee when I experienced my first tornado. The sound of the siren seems to ring in my ears to this day. In 1992, just a couple of days before I was to leave The Netherlands after living there for 3 years, I experienced my first earthquake. All of our household belongings had already been packed up and shipped out. I was sleeping on the bare floor of my room. I remember waking up to the house shaking and seeing the trees bending through the window. It was the strongest recorded earthquake in Northwestern Europe’s history. It was felt all over Europe from London to Milan. In 1996, while living in North Carolina and pregnant with my oldest child, I lived through Hurricane Fran. That was by far the most frightening of all experiences because I was expecting it. I tried to find what I thought was the safest part of the house and I hid under a mattress. In January of this year I was caught in my first real whiteout. I was traveling by snowmobile 45 miles across a frozen lake to the Northwest Angle which borders Ontario, Canada. It is the northernmost point in the contiguous 48 states. The snow that fell, the clouds and the wind created a situation where the horizon could not be seen. There was nothing! Similar to an out-of-body experience, you feel as if you are floating in a white marshmallow world. Our 1 hour trip turned into 3! Three fourths of the way through I panicked because of whiteout vertigo. I still refer to that situation as “arctic hell.” I survived it all.
We all face terrifying storms in our lives, and not always the ones defined as natural forces. Our storms have various names – divorce, death, addiction, illness, depression and the list goes on. We can let these things damage and disable us, or we can allow them over time to strengthen and empower us. We can use these experiences to transform us into stronger and more resilient individuals. I believe that resilience is not a trait someone is born with. It is a process that we learn and develop. It is like weight training. We are building muscles of resilience throughout our life. A person who is resilient has come to believe in their strengths and abilities, has formed positive relationships, problem solves, can communicate, and has a sense of purpose. This process is not easy. We will still hurt, be angry, and grieve over our situations. That is not a bad thing. Let’s be real – that is normal. The important thing is that we do not stay planted there forever. At some point we need to continue on and choose to live free. We need to focus on the positive and practice gratitude through the difficult times.
Do you know what is exciting? As I have grown older, I see that my passions and my purpose have been birthed through the painful times. I would not be the same without them. If you are there now I encourage you to press on and don’t give up, because storms do not last forever. Things will begin to happen. Your roots will grow deeper and stronger. Radically accept and embrace the storm. You will grow more resilient and be able to withstand harder things, and maybe even help others withstand hard things. Sometimes you just need to dig deep and try to find meaning in the midst of the madness. Let your faith grow. Discover who you are. Like the palm tree, we can be bruised and battered on the outside by our storms and circumstances, but we can still stand strong and flourish on the inside.