In September of 1900, the U.S. Weather Bureau, the predecessor to today's National Weather Service, issued warnings to the people of Galveston, Texas, telling them to seek higher ground. It was an age before sophisticated weather equipment such as Doppler radar, but scientists had correctly charted the path of an approaching hurricane as heading directly toward the city. They erected storm flags and otherwise spread the word.
Unfortunately, fewer than half of the people of the city heeded the warnings. Some were foolish enough to move toward the shore, curious to watch the approaching storm and to get as close to it as possible. By the time it hit with full force, the island on which the city sits was completely cut off from the mainland and escape was impossible.
Today, Galveston's hurricane of 1900 is remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in the nation's history. An estimated 8,000 people died.
Similar physical disasters take place around the world today, from the tsunami that devastated much of southern Asia in 2004 to the destruction caused by hurricane Katrina in the southern United States last year.
But there are much more devastating spiritual storms raging around the world on a daily basis. They cut through lives, dragging people down with the swirling debris of sin and indulgence. Many times, the victims become lulled by warm waters, oblivious to the dangers around them. Others, like the curiosity seekers in Galveston, foolishly try to get as close as they can to the evil, anxious to see it first-hand. They, too, run the danger of becoming so lost in the surge they can find no escape.
The Savior has issued many warnings about this storm. He has set warning flags along the shores and sent watchmen to tell of what is coming. Prophets have described in detail what we must do to be safe.
"Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them," the Savior said, "I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it" (Matthew 7:24-27).
Using this imagery, each of our lives can be compared to a house. We either construct it out of strong materials, using the solid foundation of the gospel, the sturdy roof of modern revelation, and maintain it by constantly obeying the commandments and repenting of sins, or we use lesser materials and stand by helplessly as storms of all kind beat down and dash it to pieces.
Those storms are real, as is the misery they spread. Many times, physical lives are lost. Always, eternal lives are put at risk, with the only rescue being a reconstruction project using humble repentance and sincere obedience.
Years ago, President Joseph F. Smith described the prescription for safety this way: "But the men and the women who are honest before God, who humbly plod along, doing their duty, paying their tithing, and exercising that pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, which is to visit the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions and to keep oneself unspotted from the world, and who help look after the poor; and who honor the holy Priesthood, who do not run into excesses, who are prayerful in their families, and who acknowledge the Lord in their hearts, they will build up a foundation that the gates of hell cannot prevail against; and if the floods come and the storms beat upon their house, it shall not fall, for it will be built upon the rock of eternal truth" (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, pp. 7-8).
After the big hurricane, the people of Galveston rebuilt. They erected a giant seawall to protect the city against future storms, which remains in place today. Each of us needs to examine whether we have a wall of righteousness guarding our lives and protecting the house we are building on a sure foundation.