Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Stormy Weather

Several times in the past few months, I have written about We Walk Together, a newly formed walking group here in my beloved Charlotte. Walking. Talking. Laughing. Taking photos. Learning the history of our city. Seeing the broken places. Inspiring one another to be "repairers of the breach." During the summer and fall, we walked two, sometimes three times per week. Once we completed our fall schedule of walks, we took a break. Well, now we are back on the move. 

Our 2016 plan is to walk together every month on the 15th of the month and find a way to serve the community the 30th of the month. Last Friday was our first walk of the year. And on January 30th, the group will join an organization called Perfect Provisions to serve a meal to people living with homelessness. 

Because I talk so much and write so much and like talking about what I write and writing about what I talk about, I was asked to provide an inspirational quote for each walk. Sometimes I quoted other writers. Sometimes I wrote original pieces. Sometimes I combined someone else's words with my own. Always, I felt honored and humbled to speak to those who joined us in our meandering.

This is what I read last Friday morning - There’s a magnet on my refrigerator with a quote by Vivian Greene that says, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain…” Here we are on a cold, cloudy morning, with rain threatening. It would be easy to stay indoors on a day like this, to avoid stormy weather. It would be easy to postpone a walk because of possible rain. But sometimes the best thing we can do is go for the walk anyway, dance anyway. In life, we all face storms and challenges related to our health, finances, relationships, politics and more. We can hide and pout and be afraid. Or we can dance. We can walk through the storms - and we can do it together. As we walk together this morning, can we encourage each other to find ways to dance in the rain? To be grateful and keep our spirits high and our hearts in one piece even when we are struggling to stay above water? As we walk, perhaps we can dance a little bit too. 

After I read it, someone wondered aloud if there were crosswalk signs anywhere that suggested that pedestrians dance across the street. I commented about seeing an advertisement in Spain many years ago with a photograph of a crosswalk signal that said just that: Don't Walk. Dance. And I boldly suggested that on our walk that morning, that we should dance across an intersection. 

This past Sunday evening, my daughter and I attended a service honoring Martin Luther King Jr's birthday - and the preacher's sermon was entitled: "Your Storm, His Peace." His chosen Biblical passage was the eighth chapter of Matthew - the story of Jesus being asleep in the boat while the disciples faced a terrible storm. 

"Don't you care that we are drowning?" That's the question they asked Jesus when they woke him up. For them, this was a life-threatening storm. For Jesus, apparently it was white noise, so unimpressive that he slept through it. Their storm needed his peace. They begged him to save them, and he did. He calmed the storm. Then they wondered, fearfully it appears, who the heck he was that even the wind and waves obeyed him. 

I have faced some storms in my life. I am still facing storms in my life.
So have you. So are you. 
So is the whole wide world. 
Today I heard about another school shooting, this time at a university in Pakistan.
I heard the story of a student hanging himself in a student hostel in India.
Recently, I heard the story of a woman who lost her baby just hours after childbirth.
Poisoned water system in Flint, Michigan.
Kanswer, kanswer, too much kanswer. 
Hospice care. All night vigils.
Depression. Diabetes. 
Anniversaries of tragedies. 
Wars and rumors of wars.
Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Snow. Ice. Sleet. 
So many storms. 

We don't all face the same storms.
Nor do we face them at the same time or in the same ways.
Kind of like the way storms roll around this country and the world.
Kind of like the way it's winter right now where I live 
but it's summer right now where The Australian Open tennis tournament is happening.
Their storms are different from our storms. 
Your storms are different from my storms.
Someone I love dearly was diagnosed with breast kanswer a year before I was - Stage 0. Until she told me about it, I never knew that Stage 0 even existed. A little over a year later - I was diagnosed with Stage 2B. Just a year later, someone I knew, someone almost twenty years younger than I am - Stage 3B. The wife of an old friend of mine lives with chronic Stage 4 breast kanswer. Different storms. Different times. Different stages. 
Same desperate need for peace. 
Our storms. God's peace. 
The three of us felt it, basked in it, emerged from kanswer deeply indwelt by God's peace.
Others are still in the stormy weather. Bracing for impact. For the roof to be blown off. 
For the house to be shaken from its foundation.

On Sunday night, the preacher challenged us to imagine ourselves in a flood situation.
Having climbed an embankment or a hill, we watch in horror as our houses, the whole house, floats down a swollen river. Everything. Gone. Floating away. 
We may never have to experience that kind of devastating loss, but we are not immune from suffering. We are not immune from loss. We are not immune from sorrow. 
There aren't tornado shelters strong enough or secure enough to guarantee our protection from the storms that life inevitably brings our way. 

I pray a lot. A lot. And often when I pray, I ask God the same question that the disciples asked Jesus: Don't you care that we are drowning? 

Then I create variations on that ancient query.
Don't you care that we are suffering?
Don't you care that there are children living in deep poverty and attending dreadful schools?
Don't you care that the planet is getting hotter and storms are more frequent and more intense?
Don't you care that there are so many people who are hungry and homeless and sick?
Don't you care?

As the questions arise, so does the realization that these are questions that must be asked and answered in the mirror. And out in the world. In conversation. In food banks. In school board meetings. In classrooms. In town hall gatherings. In government centers. In churches. In our neighborhoods. And yes, sometimes in our own backyards. 

In the meantime, in the in-between time, let there be dancing. Let there be singing. Let there be rejoicing. Because lives are changing. Lives are being saved. Communities are coming together to solve gang, drug, and violent crime issues. Churches are opening doors and sanctuaries and fellowship halls to provide shelter on cold nights. Protesters are making their voices and requests heard. Permanent housing is being constructed and offered to those in chronic homelessness. And larger conversations are happening around transforming our broken school systems so that our children can be educated and prepared for a productive life in their communities. This work is not easy. It is not fast. It brings its own difficulties, its own storm clouds. 

I live in an area where some news programs refer to their weather forecast segments with names like "Severe Weather Center 9." Strong storms are frequent in these parts. When there is thunder and lightning, we are advised to wait for the storm to pass before venturing outside. We are warned against using electric and electronic appliances. Stay away from windows. And in extreme cases, residents on the coast of North Carolina are forced to board up windows and head for safety inland.  

I confess that there have been many moments in my life when I have wished I could board up the windows and head inland for safety from the hardest moments. The first week of each three week chemotherapy cycle was always one of those times. During my father's bout with kanswer. During some of the early years of parenting. During the illnesses of other loved ones. Following the shootings in Sandy Hook in December of 2012 and in Charleston, SC in June of 2015. And those are just the stories that affected me on a personal and spiritual level. We have all had those moments. The world reels from those moments - every single day. 

The good news is that in the midst of my storms, every single one of them, I have felt peace. 
Inexplicable peace. 
Undeniable peace. 
Life-affirming peace. 
God's peace that passes all understanding - because I know it didn't come from inside me. 
Peace that kept me calm and hopeful during chemo.
Peace that kept me calm and joyful in Haiti and Nicaragua.
Peace that kept me calm and confident when the second Gulf War began while I was in Europe.
Peace that reminds me that I am not alone. I am never alone. Nor are you. 

I can't see God. I can't feel God. Not directly anyway. But I believe that I see God in the smiles, the eyes, the faces of those who walk and work and live with me. I believe that I feel God in the touch, the tenderness, the embrace of my friends and family. And I believe that experience the presence of God in the company of those who walk and dance with me along life's journey. 

Last Friday, we did dance across one intersection on our walk. 
Arms raised. Bottoms shaking. Laughing out loud. 

In life, we walk together.
We laugh together.
We suffer together.
We weep together.
We dance together. 
We face storms together.

I cannot and will not speak for you and your house.
But as for me and my house, in our storms, we rely on His peace. 

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