At the end of July I helped guide an inflatable kayaking trip down the Owyhee River in northeast Oregon. The river is a classic western U.S. landscape: high desert, complete with canyons, sage brush, juniper trees, dry creek bottoms, scorpions…the whole lot. Yet this particular trip had one dominating element: storms. A pattern emerged after the first day. Partly cloudy mornings and sunny afternoons, followed by some mean looking clouds around 5pm. For days this pattern held true like clockwork. It was bananas.
On day 3 we paddled to a place called Chalk Basin where we would camp for the night. The days storm was on our tails, gaining on us as the afternoon wore on. We pulled in around 4pm and started to unload our kayaks. As we did the storm pulled in. Imagine this: the wind starts to pick up, you start to smell the moisture in the air, a few drops start to fall. The wind strengthens and you can see the rain falling in the distance coming closer. You start to brace yourself and then lightning flashes. CRACK! Thunder joins the fray, and then the rain hits you, a wind gust cools the water pouring down your face and brings a shiver, and you know the storm has fully arrived.
Other days we had been able to get shelter partially setup before the storm hit, but not that day. That time it caught us early and we felt it’s presence. We found what shelter existed among the sage and willows on the shore, huddling together with nothing more to do than wait it out. We were drenched, every one of us. Sometimes a rain jacket helps, other times it’s pointless. This instance was the latter. We crouched next to each other. A song broke out: I’m siiiiiinging in the rain, just siiiiiinging in the rain! I looked around, taking stock of our group. Some seemed to be doing okay, others were shivering from being wet. Although we made light of it for a bit, not much had changed in the elements…we’re not out of this yet.
We made some moves and ended up huddling under tarps for temporary shelter. After a solid 35 minutes the storm let up a little bit and we setup our group shelter and made hot food and drinks for all. The weather didn’t change for a while, but the evening ended with clear skies and incredible stars as usual. What a day!
I share this story because Jesus showed me something powerful through it. I was viscerally reminded what it’s like to feel a storm. I felt the sting of the wind on my face, I tasted the rain on my lips, I smelled my surroundings, brilliantly brought to life by the water, I heard the crack of thunder unfiltered above me. It struck me how when I’m in town I often retreat to shelter when a tempest blows through. I sit inside and watch as it rains, thunders, and gusts. Maybe I see a person running inside under an umbrella, or a car drives by with it’s wipers blasting as it hits a puddle and douses the sidewalk. From my comfort and safety behind walls and looking through a window I observe.
But we are not called to observe, we are called to participate, to be present. How many people do we know in life going through hardship and our response is to stay at a distance, hoping and praying for them to make it through in okay shape? I’ll be the first to say I do. I am challenged, though, to not just sit inside where I am dry and safe, but to go outside and be in the storm, to feel it. Maybe I just need to remember sometimes what it’s like to feel, maybe I need to go sit next to someone getting “drenched” by pain in life, or grab an umbrella and go walk with someone and hold it over us. I think of Jesus who did this very thing for all of us when He left the glorious presence of His Father and came to Earth to be with us, suffer pain, and die for our sake (Phil. 2:1-11). I am inspired to follow Him in this.
Whatever it looks like, I invite you to stand up, grit your teeth, and get out into the tempest. And maybe I’ll see you there…in the storm.