When I was in elementary school we lived in Oklahoma, and I lived each day in constant fear of tornadoes. In the morning I would wake up and peer out the window at the sky and try to determine the likelihood of a tornado destroying our home or my school that day. If it seemed questionable at all I began implementing a strategy to stay home. If there were storm clouds on the horizon I would suddenly feel a stomach ache churning. Every slight chance of rain was met with a cough and possible fever. I was sure that a tornado would come when I was away from my family and we would all be separated or killed. The danger felt very real to me and I could not seem to shake my fear. I checked the news, called time and temperature daily, and learned all of the signs of trouble: wall clouds, green skies, and anvil shaped thunderheads.
I remember driving home one stormy night with my family through a severe thunderstorm and feeling the panic rise within me. My anxiety transformed into a slew of questions. "Could lightening come into the car?" "If a tornado came what would we do?" "How could we be sure that we were safe?" As a scientist my dad answered my questions, explaining that the rubber in the car would conduct the electricity into the ground, and providing logical answers for my other questions. But none of that seemed to calm me. Then I remember him turning to me and asking me a question. He asked me to look at his face and to decide if he looked scared. I looked at him and decided that he didn't seem to be afraid at all. Then he told me that whenever I was afraid I should look at his face, and if he wasn't scared, then I didn't need to be either.
My whole life I have looked to my dad in moments of joy and pain as a confirmation of safety and peace. When I have felt overwhelmed or afraid I have gone to him and felt his calm comfort and reassurance that things would work out. When I have been worried about a major life decision I have looked to him and felt his complete confidence in my ability to make good choices. When I have experienced great joy I have looked to him and felt his joy magnified.
On the day that Jonah died my dad was doing research on the north end of the Great Salt Lake. The news traveled to him slowly, and then he began the long drive on dirt roads and highways to the hospital. I remember the moment he finally walked in the room. I saw his face and felt such a release, like I could let go of some of my strength and that he would help me carry this new sorrow. In that sacred space he mourned with us and gave us blessings so that we could endure our new heartache.
After Jonah's funeral service and burial we all retired to our homes to rest and recover from an emotionally exhausting day. A storm moved in while I slept and I woke to the sound of car doors closing and my family arriving with food to sustain us. I walked outside and looked to the sky. The dark storm clouds were receding and the setting sun shone across the valley. Two vivid rainbows arched over our home. I stood in our yard amazed by the poetic and biblical feeling of the moment. Then I felt my dad's strong arm reach around me. He leaned down and whispered that rainbows are symbols. They are a promise from God that we will never have to pass this way again. Before that moment I felt so much uncertainty and fear. But as we looked to the sky together I wept and let my heart believe in that promise, because I knew my dad believed it.
My dad has calmed my fears, celebrated my victories, mourned beside me, and let me lean on him for strength. I believe in a benevolent God who loves his children, because of the way my dad loves his children. His love for each of us is unique and unconditional. In those times when storm clouds seem to gather on the horizon and fear builds in my heart I remember my dad's counsel to me as a child. When time or distance separate us I know that I can find the same peaceful reassurance in looking to my Heavenly Father. I also know that when the storm finally passes, God's promises will be clear and reflect the beauty and pain of all that we have experienced.