As I write, Dame Florence (not to be reckoned with) is pummeling the coast of North Carolina. Five hours, twenty-four minutes and three-hundred fifty-miles away, my precious Mother is secure in her home, shelves stocked (one Wal-Mart run later) and ‘hunkering down’ for what she expects to be persistent rain, flash floods, and unwelcome power outages. We will stay in touch by phone, technology obliging. Safe in my Portland parsonage, this gale feels too close. A proud new Pacific Northwesterner, I am never too far from home. Appalachia is in my heart. Always.
From my placid home-study, surrounded by family photographs, delicious books, assorted items of nostalgia that made the cut in the many moves of itinerant ministry, and amidst my prized birds (inanimate bric-à-brac given three very real felines), I close my eyes in prayer and reflection. The storm commands my attention.
And with it arrives an awareness that no matter our fortitude, the depth of our faith, the health of our family or finances, none of us is finally impervious to the gale-force winds that life sometimes brings. For me, it’s not so much the tempest without but the one that rages within. The gentle breezes that, over time and with the right combination of high and low air temperatures and undercurrents, reach storm-size proportions. I am not unaffected.
Poor time management. Eating on the run (as if my ‘to do list,’ even for God, trumps proper nutrition). Thumping my nose at sleep. Hit or miss exercise, especially the out-door kind, conveniently blaming the recent rain. Then there’s a gnawing melancholy, that once examined, I christen the sweet nectar of travel and the palpable anticipation of a simpler life and schedule. I already miss Anthony Bourdain. A courageous and authentic soul who, in sharing his travels with us, acquainted us not only with the world, but with his own very raw human struggles. May he rest in peace.
Never far away, is the very real battle between my head and heart, to make the difficult and often unpopular choices that life and the sense of ‘call’ sometimes requires. Powering up on Starbuck’s, my drug of choice, only masks the deeper issues. I know better. Like the North Carolina shoreline, I am reminded of my vulnerability. That I am not, despite how I often behave, invincible. Like dissipating clouds, the words of a wise friend envelop me, ‘Be kind to yourself.’ And so this morning, I send love and a thousand “Amens” her way.
These gusts are not unknown to most. We’ve charted and maneuvered these uneasy waters. In the greatly aged it may be expressed as ‘why am I still here? What purpose am I serving? For those who eat at AARP discount, the mirror is our protagonist, revealing a ‘new’ body that looks, feels and acts strangely unlike the one of our youth. It’s the “new normal.” We acknowledge it alright even as we try, with chutzpah, to make peace with it. Some days we are more successful at that task than others. Admittedly.
For those still parenting young ones (some courageously doing it ‘solo’), it’s balancing work demands with the needs of our children that unsteady us. The needs of our progeny who are all so very different. Busy children. Precocious children. Children who think they are adults but act otherwise. Or children who are anxious and troubled.
For some of us, the storm is a seemingly unquenchable mourning, both of loved ones who have left us and a myriad of other losses that go unrecognized as grief but nevertheless, produce the same torrent of emotion within us. Like moving. Or empty-nesting. Or a faith crisis. Or caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
For many unnoticed among us, the storm that assails is our own situational or genetic disposition towards depression. A nemesis of sometimes unrivaled proportions, it is often endured in silence for fear of social misunderstanding or worse, ostracization. A lonely, lonely place.
Here in my little monastery, I flip devotionally through the Gospels and land on a familiar story. With boundless joy, I discover it remains unchanged! Undisturbed by gathering clouds and anxious current, its message prevails. Awakened from sweet sleep in the belly of a storm-tossed boat by wide-eyed, fear-filled Disciples, Jesus is unshakeable. In his resolve he speaks, from the boat to the out-of-control storm. They’re familiar words and forceful. And they wash over me once again like they have for countless years. How could I forget?
“Peace, be still.”
And I know it will come. As sure as the eye in every storm comes.
Despite the buzz of hurricane coverage up two flights of stairs in a still sleeping house, despite gale force winds and angry waves, this ‘vessel’ remains steady. The shoreline is in sight. My anchor is in hand. Cheesy, isn’t it? But true.
I gave up trying to explain it a long time ago. Somethings you just know in your head until you feel it, finally, deep in your soul.
In Faith, believing,