Friday, July 5, 2019

Storm Stories

“Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship”  (Jonah 1:5). Storm stories are fascinating to hear, but not so nice to experience. I still recall a series of sermons called “storm stories” preached by the then pastor of Central Assembly of God Church in Great Falls, Montana. The pastor was also a rancher and had driven cattle to find better grazing lands. He described brutal storms causing the drivers to find safety. He told of elk hunting in the Rockies when early fall blizzards came up and stopped their ways, as the skies grew so dark they could not see their hands in front of their faces like midnight. The rains come down, turning to hail. Can you imagine such circumstances, as your raingear seems to be useless in the wind? The summer warmth disappears as you begin to shiver, drenched to the core. These are the Bible stories of Jonah and the Apostle Paul in Acts 27. In each case it was God who brought them through safely, but not until they feared for their lives. It was this kind of storm that brought John Newton, a slave-ship captain, to go to his knees and pray to God for deliverance. It was such a storm that brought me to my knees in a blinding blizzard in the middle of the night along the shores of Lake Superior.

I was driving home from a far north hospital where I was the CEO assigned to turnaround a disastrous situation.  The hospital had been loosing money and about to close when the Board of Directors called a hospital management firm in a last ditch effort to save the only hospital for 100 miles.  I addressed the Board at a special meeting with my company owner. We had spent just three days analyzing this hapless hospital. Even though several other companies had unsuccessfully tried to save them, we told them we could.

I packed for a weekend, but ended up with a two year long tumultuous voyage of my life. This once prosperous hospital serving the UP of Michigan was losing millions as every contract, including union contracts for all employees were bleeding the hospital to death. The turnaround included laying off one-third of the overstaffed facility and renegotiating every contract. Midnight oil was burned and we were reminded of how the union employees, including nurses had burned the Catholic nuns cars to the ground in protest over negotiations. This was a very frightening time. I hired a big-city labor attorney to help. There were actual threats on my life and protests in this city that started the union movement in our country. Only when we began meeting with employees around the clock and sharing the details of our hopeful plan did our fortunes begin to change. Cooperation began slowly, climaxing after a year with the decertification of the unions and a new cooperative employee group. We turned the ship around from a multi-million dollar loss to an equal profit in two years. The ship was upright even though the sails were torn and the keel retarred. The rudder was rebuilt and it was pointing into the wind, making for safe harbor. Like the story in Acts 27, no one had drown, although, many had suffered through the high seas and low supplies. But we were safe and secure. Now in fact a new hospital has been built that is a testament to the toughness of the region. It had a better ending than the infamous tanker SS Edmund Fitzgerald that sank in 1975, losing all crew, in a storm on Lake Superior just a few miles from this hospital.

As I drove home after weeks without sleep from the waves and the spray, I was a broken man. I was exhausted physically and emotionally from the work. I had lost my baring in the storm. It took intense counseling, but more so the grace of God to bring me to safe harbor again. Lots of strife and struggles with the Lord brought me like Jacob to a new place of integrity and faith. Like John Newton, I was now a former wretch saved by the love of the Father. You know the words to the hymn, they are mine as well.

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