In a storm of struggles, I have tried to control the elements, clasp the fist tight so as to protect self and happiness. But stress can be an addiction, and worry can be our lunge for control, and we forget the answer to this moment is always yes because of Christ.” – Ann Voskamp
I strongly dislike dreary, wet days. To me, a week of rainy weather is downright depressing! Guess I won’t be visiting Seattle anytime soon, eh? What’s that? SNOW? Get thee behind me…
I’ve come to terms with our frequent but usually brief seasonal thunderstorms here in Florida. After all, some rain is absolutely necessary for survival. The way I look at it, if it has to rain, we might as well get quick moving monsoonal downpours and be done with it. Rain at night is acceptable as I am usually sleeping anyway, and the tapping sound on my bedroom skylight is like nature’s own lullaby.
Speaking of rain, it is hurricane season here on the Gulf Coast, and that means preparing for the possibility of a bad storm. Time once again to amass some extra batteries, flashlights, bottled water, canned goods, and other “survival” necessities. Truthfully, many coastal dwellers are complacent, doing nothing to get ready until a calamitous storm looms on the horizon. Suddenly, the stores are swamped with people frantically buying food, water, plywood and other essentials. By then, it is often too late. After the storm, when folks are without sufficient provisions for days or even weeks, the need for storm readiness finally hits home.
What about navigating “life storms?” Should we be prepared in both mind and spirit for the inevitable periods of difficulty and misfortune we may encounter? Is that even possible? Indeed it is. In fact, without a spiritual and mental survival plan we risk being blown away by the fierce winds of adversity when the unexpected makes landfall at our door. There be squalls ahead mates. Let’s talk.
It’s easy to praise God in the good times, but what about when the storms of your flesh are a-brewin’? Not so easy then!” – Monica Johnson
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was possibly the most popular and celebrated American poet of the nineteenth century. He is said to have enjoyed a kind of “rock star” status in his day. In 1825, Longfellow graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. After three years of travel and study overseas, this future epic poet and writer returned to the Pine Tree State and to his Alma mater where he started teaching French, Spanish, and Italian. He soon wed Miss Mary Potter of Portland, and he publish six foreign language textbooks. His creative efforts earned him the Smith Professorship of Modern Languages at Harvard College, but only if he agreed to study abroad for another year. Longfellow returned to Europe accompanied by his now pregnant wife and two of their friends. While on this trip, Mary not only lost the child she was carrying, she too died of complications resulting from the miscarriage. The couple had been married for only four years when the squalls of adversity blew hard upon young Henry. Needless to say, he was devastated. Years later, Longfellow penned this poem entitled “The Rainy Day:”
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.
My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast
And the days are dark and dreary.
Be still, sad heart! And cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
Into each life some rain must fall. Trials and tribulations come upon the just and the unjust alike. Longfellow was made painfully aware of this proverb. But in spite of his grave misfortunes, this poet extraordinaire reminds his own broken heart that the storm clouds of life only hide the sunshine for a season.
There are some things we learn on stormy seas that we never learn on calm smooth waters. We don’t look for storms but they will surely find us. The “God of the Storm” has something to teach us, and His love always motivates His actions.” – Danny Deaubé
Time passed and Henry eventually found happiness in the sunlight of life once again. While traveling in the Swiss Alps during the summer of 1836, he met and fell in love with the wealthy, sophisticated and beautiful Frances (Fanny) Appleton. He was absolutely smitten, but she spurned his persistent affections for over seven years. Perseverance finally paid off as Longfellow eventually succeeded in winning her heart, and the couple married in 1843.
The newlyweds took up residence at Craigie House, a 1759 colonial mansion in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Longfellow had been living as a lodger. When the couple married in 1843, her wealthy father purchased Craigie House and gave it to them as a wedding gift. Henry and Fanny produced six children: Charles, Ernest, Fanny (who succumbed to illness at 16 months), Alice, Edith, and Anne Allegra. Longfellow’s loving family life (so often reflected upon in His poetry) became an icon of American domestic tranquility, comfort, and innocence. The couple enjoyed many happy and successful years together.
But alas, in 1861, storm clouds gathered on the horizon and Henry’s pleasant life was shattered once again. While melting sealing wax, Fanny accidentally set her clothing on fire. She was quickly engulfed in flames and died of her injuries the next day. In his futile efforts to put out the fire, Longfellow severely burned his hands and face leaving him permanently scarred.
On August 18th, 1861, Longfellow sent a letter to his late wife’s sister in which he wrote:
“How I am alive after what my eyes have seen, I know not. I am at least patient, if not resigned; and I thank God hourly – as I have from the beginning – for the beautiful life we led together, and that I loved her more and more to the end.”
I submit to you my friends, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a man who suffered much tragedy in his personal life. But it is also apparent, at least to me, that his soul was prepared to endure the squalls of adversity. In spite of some scholarly debates over Longfellow’s “Theological” leanings, (he was Unitarian) Henry appears to have had a strong and abiding faith in a higher providential power many simply call the Almighty. Why else would he continue to be thankful to “God hourly” for that which the storms of life had ravaged?
After every storm the sun will smile; for every problem there is a solution, and the soul’s indefeasible duty is to be of good cheer.” – William R. Alger
And the squalls continued for Henry. On December 1, 1863, while still grief-stricken over the loss of his beloved wife less than two years earlier, Longfellow was informed by telegram that his first-born son, Charles, while serving as a lieutenant in the Union Army, was severely wounded in Battle. He would eventually pull through but not before a long period of recovery.
And so it was, a few weeks later on Christmas day, 1863, heartbroken over his family tragedies and outraged over the deaths of so many in America’s Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard church bells ringing. The sound of the belfries stirred bitterness in his heart toward a world so full of injustice and violence that it mocked the truthfulness of the Christian Christmas message. So, Henry wrote a poem. Perhaps you know it? It begins this way:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Skipping now to the next to last stanza:
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
But Longfellow does not leave it there. Call it sudden inspiration, righteous indignation, or an unexpected touch from the Holy Spirit ” it matters not to me – for in this poem’s final glorious verse our much tormented poet cries:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
My Liberator, friend and mentor, a man who while visiting the earth was called Jesus, once said,
27 “I am leaving you with a gift peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid. 28 Remember what I told you I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really love me, you will be very happy for me, for now I can go to the Father, who is greater than I am. 29 I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do, you will believe in me. (John 14:27-29 TLB)
33“I have told you all this so that you will have peace of heart and mind. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 TLB)
Years later, one of His early followers, a man named John wrote:
2-5“The test of the genuineness of our love for God’s family lies in this question do we love God himself and do we obey his commands? For loving God means obeying his commands, and these commands of his are not burdensome, for God’s “heredity” within us will always overcome the world outside us. In fact, this faith of ours is the only way in which the world has been conquered. For who could ever be said to overcome the world, in the true sense, except the man who really believes that Jesus is God’s Son?” (1 John 5:2-5 PHILLIPS)
Yes, these are trying times with so many unanswered questions. Death seems to surrounds us. Our traditional values are under assault on so many fronts. Decency and integrity have all but disappeared. We go on hoping for the best, and yet things seem to worsen. Friends, there be squalls ahead, but I’m not worried. I have the conquering power of the Almighty within me. It’s called FAITH.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656