By Steven Norris

In 2018, my family spent fall break at a friend’s condo in Panama City, FL. News about an impending tropical storm had barely registered for us. It wasn’t supposed to be that bad.

We arrived on Sunday, enjoying a lazy evening settling in. As the sun rose, we journeyed down to the beach to see some of the most impressive waves I have ever witnessed on the Gulf Coast. When the beach closed down, we started wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. 

As the mandatory evacuation alarm sounded on our phones that night, we quickly decided that we had better pack the car and head north. Hours later, we watched from home as a category 5 hurricane pounded the coast.

We returned ten moths later. Thankfully, the area around our friend’s condo was only mildly affected. Other areas were completely devastated. Touring some of the surrounding areas, my wife and I were struck by a story from the historic St. Andrews community.

For anyone who has ever been to St. Andrews, you have probably seen Oaks by the Bay Park. In the center of the park stands a gigantic oak tree nicknamed, “The Sentry,” thought to be at least 250 years old. 

Our guide told us that, following the storm, the whole community gathered in the park. Worried that The Sentry may not have survived the intense winds, they held an impromptu vigil celebrating that its roots held strong and it had weathered one of the fiercest storms to ever hit the Gulf Coast.

Maybe there is a lesson for us all in that tree. You see, there was a huge difference between the way The Sentry experienced the storm and the way other plant life did. Trees, bushes, grass, many with much shallower roots, were completely uprooted – tossed about by the storm. The Sentry, however, with its roots plunged deep into the earth, stood tall and strong.

In Psalm 1, we read “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”

Today’s storm may be more metaphorical in nature, but this truth is no less applicable. This is no time for shallow platitudes or empty sentiment – tossed to and fro by the prevailing winds of the moment. This is no time to get caught up in silly disputes and to waste our time shouting into the echo chambers of our own making.

This is a time to tap into the deep roots that have held us strong for centuries. This is a time to find nourishment and stability in the simple yet challenging call of Christ – to love God with everything we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is time for truth.

For those that do, we will weather this storm. Those that do not, however, will continue to find themselves crashing against the volatile rocks of circumstance again and again.

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