Monday, September 2, 2013

On Facing the Storm

When I was a kid, I grew up spending a lot of time at my grandparents' house. Behind their house was a small creek. Well, that's not true. In upstate NY we call it a "crick." I spent summer after summer admiring that "crick" from the small red wooden bridge my grandpa had built across it. And I would find a long stick and some string and my grandma would give me a safety pin and some bread, and I would spend hours trying to catch a fish the size of a large minnow. In drought, the "crick" was low and a few times I remember putting on some of my grandma's rain boots and walking around in the shallow water. And when storms would come or the snow would melt, I would watch as the water rushed below my feet, catching glimpses of it's fury between the cracks in the boards of the bridge.

My grandma and I would eat lunch on the bridge and she, no doubt, got tired of me pointing out all the fish and water skippers I would see, over and over and over again. But she never once let on if this was true because she is amazing like that. When we would finish lunch, we would take a walk in the woods just beyond the "crick" and see what treasures we could find. A leaf. A rock. A pen. Nothing impressive but, to a 6-year-old, a treasure nonetheless. And my grandma would always act as though I had found a million dollars. I adore this woman.

This is one of my favorite childhood memories.

As I write this, three boys are swishing their way through a swollen creek out back of the porch where I am trying to work. I'm housesitting for a friend for two weeks while trying to get some work and writing done. If I had the money, I would buy this house in a second just for the sunporch and view alone. The 280 degrees of windows gives way to nothing but enormous trees, endless ivy and vines, and the sounds of wildlife. It's a rare serenity you don't expect inside the city limits of Raleigh. I have one week left here and I'm mourning my friend's return already.

Just two days ago, my daughter and her friend were wading through this same creek in rain boots that probably weren't necessary but fun, nonetheless. Wading probably isn't the right term here. It was more like rock-hopping with an occasional splash. The water level was low; just a small stream of water flowing over and through the rocks that form the curves and bends of the creek. I've spent the better part of the past week enjoying the sounds of this rain forest-like haven. It's like a live version of one of those sound machines that drowns out background noise and helps you fall asleep. Admittedly, though, I have found myself often straining to hear the songs of the live water flowing in the creek below. It's been dry the past few weeks and the sound of a gently rushing water just hasn't been there.

Then, yesterday, it rained.

A series of storms with high winds rolled in that dropped rain at a reported rate of over four inches per hour. As it often does during times of heavy rainfall, the local mall parking lot flooded, leaving cars submerged and owners scrambling. I was sitting outside at a Starbucks just a mile away from the house when the rain hit, and made a break for my car with lightning bolts jetting out of the sky all around me. (Otherwise, I would have danced in the rain until I was soaked through.) I made my way to the house and headed for the sunporch that has become my sanctuary.

As I opened the main sliding door that leads to a deck and stairs down to the creek, I took note of nothing different. Rain drops were dripping off the leaves onto the deck before me, but the rain had lightened and nothing appeared out of the ordinary. No trees down. No plants overturned. Everything was perfectly intact.

As I was closing the screen to walk back inside, I heard a sound that I can only describe as liquid thunder.

And it was getting closer.

And for several moments, with this mysterious thunderous roar growing louder by the second, my mind raced to figure out what was happening...what was about to happen. I literally was scared for my life for the better part of a minute. happened.

I could see it coming, a huge mix of brown and white churning together, seemingly fighting for who would go first as they weaved their way through the turns of the creek like a bobsled in the Olympics. I literally stood motionless, bracing myself against the deck railing as I tried to figure out if I should stay or run. The deck is a good 20 feet above the creek, and I remember my friend - the one whose house I am at - telling me that even in bad storms and hurricanes the creek had never flooded beyond the line of ivy that was visible along the banks. That gave me a brief sense of comfort and relief and so I set my fears aside and decided to stay and face what was coming my way, hoping for awe and not destruction.

It seems like such a puny comparison, and I don't mean to minimize it at all, but in that moment, I thought about all the victims of the 2005 Tsunami and how they rushed to get higher as they saw the water approaching and tried to make sense of it. And I wondered if my feelings - the feeling of being entranced by the power and awesomeness before me fighting for priority over a fear of the unknown and a desire to be safe while trying to make sense of what was happening - it was mind-boggling. And I wondered if this was exactly what the tsunami victims felt and was reminded that it was very much the reason for the demise of so many. Their decision to face the storm ultimately cost them their lives.

Before I could grab my phone to take video, the wall of water came rushing at me with all the power and force of an avalanche and was quickly right below where I was standing, gushing over the largest boulders, completely covering the creek bed and raising the water level several feet. This happened in mere seconds. And the creek I had been straining to hear for the past seven days was now very audible. You would have had to yell to talk to someone standing next to you in order for them to hear you. It sounded like Niagara Falls. And I grew up in Upstate New York. I know Niagara Falls.

And so I stood. In sheer awe of what had just occurred. Completely mesmerized by the sight and sound of the rushing water that had so unexpectedly and unapologetically descended upon the once-empty creek below me. And I thanked God that I stayed to experience it.

Today, the water level has dropped and the forcefulness and power of yesterday has subsided for the most part. There's random bits of trash strewn along the edge of the creek bed and I'm fighting the desire to go be a good steward and go clean it up. That's just me. The creek is still very audible, though, and still rushing in some places, and I am enjoying the monotone melody it offers.

And then these three young boys walk by. They can't be more than ten. They were still in their pajamas on this holiday morning. Two had rain boots, one was in bare feet. They were talking about how far they wanted to go and what they hoped to find along the way, one of them carrying a Halloween pumpkin that once held mounds of candy, I'm sure, just in case he found something worthy of taking home.

Yesterday, I finished reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. (Check it out here). A dear friend recommended it to me and I went out and bought it that day and couldn't put it down. And I am changed forever because of it.

It's all about creating your story. And that your story is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of little stories throughout your lifetime. And that it's not one story that will make your life meaningful, as we so often think is the case. It's all the little stories that make up the epic adventure that is your life. Your legacy. It's about embracing opportunities to write even just one sentence. Or maybe a paragraph. A page. A chapter. One word at a time. One adventure at a time.

I think having this book - these thoughts on what makes a good story - so fresh in my mind is what drew me to listen for the boys' return up the creek. I heard them coming and I raced down the steps to talk to them. It was as if I wanted to say to them "Good for you for getting in the dirty water and taking an adventure! Don't ever forget this day." As they walked past, I called out excitedly from the deck landing.

"Did you find anything exciting?"

"No ma'am," said the boy in front, carrying the halloween bucket, now with something dirty inside. He must have found something.

"Nah," said the boy in back, dragging a long piece of green plastic behind him.

Then the boy in the middle looked up with a huge smile on his face and held up a small football.

"I found this!" he exclaimed. "It was stuck under some branches but I got it out."

"That's awesome!" I hollered back. "Have fun on your adventure!"

And they went on their way, splashing through the deepest parts of the water that still remained in the curves of the creek. And I smiled knowing this is exactly the type of thing Donald Miller was talking about. And it reminds me of my childhood. And I realize I have written this same story, over 30 years ago.

Who knows how long that little boy will carry that football with him throughout his life? At some point, it will probably start to disintegrate and get tossed in the trash. But he has a story to go with his find, and that story will probably last a lifetime. He will undoubtedly go home and tell his parents and maybe his siblings and friends. And someday maybe his kids. And then his grandkids.

It amazes me how a story that might seem so insignificant now, is one that has potential to come back 30 years later and flood you with emotion and realizations and epiphanies that just make your story that much more meaningful.

The storm yesterday, these three boys today, and the memories I have as a child playing in a creek, gave life to this thought.

In life, storms come. Sometimes we might see or hear them coming. Sometimes they catch us by surprise and send us running for safety. Often times we are afraid of them. Though sometimes our knowledge or the presence of others helps us overcome our fears.

And with the storms comes muddy water and swift-moving currents and trash left on the banks of creek beds and it can leave your mind racing to figure out what just happened. But when we choose to face them head-on with the knowledge that they always pass and the sun always returns, it is easier to endure them amidst the wind and the rain and the uncertainty. And when they do finally pass and the muddy water recedes, if we look hard enough, or remember back far enough, beautiful things can be found in what's left behind.

For one little boy today, it was a football. All because he had the courage to put on his rain boots and get into the trenches and find something worthy of taking back with him.

For me, it's the realization that it's not the story ending we are living for. It's the story we create to get there. And the way in which we choose to face the storms of life head-on and make our journey - our story - more meaningful every day. And embracing the little-known fact that this can take us for the ride of a lifetime on our way to the story's end is what really matters.

Go find some rain boots, my friends.

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