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In the Path of a Storm

“Every storm runs out of rain. Every dark night turns into day.” — from “Set You Free” by Gary Allan (click to listen)

A little over 2 weeks ago all eyes were locked on televisions and devices, watching intently as a monster of a storm named Florence brewed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Many projections showed the storm slamming into our beloved Charleston at a Category 5, rolling like a freight train through Columbia and then eventually slowing down over Greenville to bring about “catastrophic flooding.”

It was early still, in the life of a hurricane, and this was an unusually slow-moving storm. So, we watched and waited. We made minor preparations. We implored our loved ones on the coast to pack their essentials and shelter with us. We bought snacks. Lots of snacks. We discussed whether or not schools might be closed, and what we would do with the food in the freezer if the power went out. We made sure our outdoor furniture was secured. We watched more news reports while eating the snacks.

The storm crept along, taking its sweet time, as if we all weren’t just sitting here, waiting impatiently for its arrival. So terribly inconsiderate! Meteorologists predicted that the “monster” was shifting its trajectory further north, and maybe we wouldn’t be quite as affected. But we were warned not to let our guard down just yet; there would likely still be strong winds, heavy rains, and don’t forget all that catastrophic flooding heading down the hills from our already-sodden mountains.

We went out for more snacks. We replenished the wine.

The weekend arrived, and the storm sidled up to the Carolina coast; definitely formidable, but mostly a shadow of the former “monster” it once was. By this time, most of us had stopped watching the projections; we were weary of all the chatter, the slowness of the storm’s approach, and the media’s embellishment of events. I went for a walk, and the day was as lovely as they come. The most beautiful blue skies were above, dotted with the prettiest white clouds, puffy as bolls of cotton. The wind was blowing, but at a level that was just slightly above “breezy.” If it hadn’t been for the constant news coverage, I would have never believed that there was a storm of any kind within the distance of an afternoon’s drive.

It seemed as though even the storm had grown weary of the anticipation of its own arrival. All the time it spent idling away from land, slowly determining its target actually drained it of most of its strength, rather than feeding it. Like a child who stayed up well past her bedtime, the storm crashed clumsily into our coastline, quite a different scenario from the barreling locomotive landfall maneuver that so many had predicted.  Certainly, the storm was devastating and catastrophic for many areas. The effects are still being felt now and will continue to be felt for several months. But the first predictions were wildly different from the final reality. Most of the preparations made in response to those first predictions ended up being completely unnecessary. And even though the people hardest hit by the storm had as much advance notice of their fate as possible, I’d be willing to bet that they were still caught unaware by the harsh reality of weathering a hurricane.

But, life goes on and for most of us who were spared damage from the storm, as soon as the snacks ran out, so did our worries over what would happen.

About a week after Hurricane Florence’s landfall, with several days in normalcy on the books, there was an early evening gathering of dark clouds. I didn’t think much of it, as it only makes sense that the drawn-out Indian Summer we’ve been experiencing would easily stir up a thunderstorm. The next time I looked up, half the sky was covered in thick, dark clouds, and I could see a wall of rainwater several miles in the distance. A few minutes later, I felt heavy raindrops plop, plop, plopping on my head as I walked briskly into the grocery store. A half hour later I left the store and had to run through the parking lot with my sandals in my hand. Maybe not the best idea, but they were too delicate and slippery bottomed to wade through what I estimated to be a good 2 inches of water on the pavement. Rain pelted me from all sides of the tiny, inadequate umbrella I’d thrown in my purse at the last minute.

As I drove away, the dark clouds that had been so far off in the distance had closed in all around me, blocking the last of the early evening light. In some places, the roads were covered in rushing water. Traffic lights were out, and a few minor accidents were on the road’s shoulder. The thunder boomed so loudly in my ears that I just knew it had to be in a cloud directly over my head. Lightning streaked across the sky, adding palpable electricity to the air. Power was knocked out in places, and the wind blew down branches and tossed debris.

No warning. No preparations. No watching other than what we did with our own eyes, estimating the distance of the clouds. No waiting other than sitting in the place where we were upon the storm’s arrival, lingering there until it passed and we felt safe to be outside again.

Two storms. Very different in their origins, their size, and their strength. But they ended much the same, causing minor inconvenience to many, and major devastation to a few. A storm causes everyday life to take a pause so that we can sit and wait for it to pass. And, pass, it always does. Whether it moves on to a new location or dissipates and falls apart, it can’t sustain enough strength to stay in one place, churning with intensity for very long.

And so it is with the trials in our lives. Rarely do the storms we prepare for end up being the ones we have to ride out. It’s the ones that materialize from nowhere that knock the wind out of us.

We batten down our emotional hatches to protect our hearts, only to turn a corner and run right into the one person that broke us. We stock up on healthy habits to ward off disease, then find out that our genetics had the deck stacked against us from the start. We work long hours and say the right things to the right people to create job security and build empires, just to see it all decimated by conditions that are completely outside our control. We plan, we prep, and we worry, all in an attempt to stay a step ahead of the things that we predict will bring us down. But in the end, the worst of times we have to weather ride in like a summer storm: loud and blustery, obscuring our vision and scaring the hell out of us. All with little to no warning.

As a child, I was terribly afraid of storms. My childlike mind placed my fears in the tangible features of the storm. The rumbling and shaking that accompanied thunder made me think the walls would fall down around us. Flashes of lightning always felt too close, and I was sure someone would be struck down.

My parents tried many things to calm my fears, but the thing that worked best was to have me count slowly between the thunder crack and the lightning flash. Each number represented a mile’s distance between us and the storm.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi… I peered out the window, searching for the lightning, closing my eyes tight when it flashed.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four… Until the spaces between the numbers grew further still, and all that was left of the storm was a rumble in the distance, and steam rising from the hot ground.

I still count the seconds and miles during storms, but now it is to calm the fears of my daughter. I know now that the seed of the fear doesn’t come from the actual thunder and lightning, but rather the unpredictability of nature and the helpless, untethered feeling that comes when things are out of our control.

As an adult, storms don’t scare me as much as they used to. My childhood fear has been replaced with a buzzy kind of nervousness, along with awe and respect for what God can do.

Many of us see storms as a sign of God’s strength and might. We cling to the childlike image of Him above us in the clouds, glowering down on creation, flexing his Godly muscles and loudly proclaiming His superiority. I see storms more as a sign of His promise. Less of Him saying to us, “Stand back and see what I can do,” and more of Him showing us, “Look here, see what you can do with Me by your side? Don’t waste your time preparing anything, because the preparations have already been made. I’ve given you your portion. You have all you need. This storm will leave you, and I will still be here.”

Preparation is good, but worry is fruitless. No one can truly predict a storm’s outcome, except to say that it will eventually burn itself out. But God’s provision is constant, and He will never leave us unprepared.

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
–Matthew 6:34

 

 

 

 

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Featured post

Pool Parties and Peach Queens

“Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired… jumping, running—that’s the way to live.”—Jack Kerouac

Aside from a brief period of time when my children were small and hadn’t yet learned to swim, pools have always held an alluring quality for me. As it generally goes, the things you don’t have are the things you want the most. My family didn’t have a pool, nor were we members of a neighborhood association that provided one. This meant the only time I got to dip my toes in a pool was either when we were on vacation, or some kind soul invited me over to their home for a swim. I spent most of my summers paddling around in murky lake waters. I yearned to be in water which was clear enough for me to see my feet; and, to be able to plant those feet on a surface that didn’t squish up between my toes. Bonus points for the feeling that there wouldn’t be any unidentified creatures sharing my swim space. It didn’t bother me a bit that the chlorine in those pools turned my hair green and plastic-like, resembling some sort of radioactive straw. Never mind that my eyes were red and scratchy for days after hours spent in a pit of chemicals, giving me the look of a pre-teen meth-head mermaid. Also of no concern to me? Those pools that had the rough concrete bottoms that worked on my feet like a meat tenderizer. By the end of a week of vacation, I could still find that one spot of uninjured skin on the corner of a big toe, and I would use that to bob up and down when I couldn’t just tread water.

Dive competitions, Marco Polo, handstands, breath-holding contests, balancing on floats, you name it, I was ALL IN FOR IT. Drop me at the pool and drag me out when it’s time to eat dinner.

In high school, many of my summer days were spent sweating it out at my summer job, but every now and then, a group of us would all have a day off. I can see myself now, having spent the entire morning in pajamas, watching MTV and eating peanut butter out of the jar, just waiting for the phone to ring. (What must it be like for kids these days, to have all their friends just two thumbs away right there in their phones? I think of all that time I spent staring at the phone at my mother’s house, willing it to ring.) Some days, the call I was waiting for would finally come in.

drew barrymore scream
Actual photo of me being super excited that someone finally called me.

“Hello?”
“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“What’re you doin’?”
“Nothin.’ What’re you doin’?”
“Nothin.’ (pause) A bunch of us are goin’ over to Lotie’s. You wanna come?”
“Yeah, let me get my bathing suit on. See you in twenty?”

That was cool, right? It didn’t sound at all like I was dying to get out of the house and go somewhere, and that I would actually be ready and watching the driveway through the blinds in approximately 7 minutes, right? On the other end of the line was my friend Libba, and she was talking about getting a group of our friends together to go to her great aunt Lotie’s (a nickname for Lois, and pronounced “low-tee”) to swim in her pool.

shag girls
“Get in, loser. We’re going swimming.”

There was a pool. There were friends. There might not be diving competitions, but there would definitely be laughing. Actually, there probably would be diving competitions. Whatever it was, I was ALL IN. Libba, usually accompanied with a couple of our other friends, would pull up to my house in her gigantic, late-model baby blue Bonneville and lay on the horn. I would practically skip down my front steps and jump in for the outing. It wouldn’t be unusual for us to make a stop at the nearby Clock restaurant for cheeseburgers and fries. Not necessarily because we were all that hungry, but because it sounded good, it was on the way, and we were 16, blessed with the metabolism of caffeinated squirrels.

crazy squirrels
“Anybody got a Diet Coke I can have?”

Soon after we arrived at Lotie’s, a slow trickle of friends would start showing up for the impromptu get-together. Libba’s cousin would almost always be there, too, with a pack of his friends, and before we knew it, a small party would be underway.

Lotie’s house was an oasis hidden in plain sight in the middle of residential downtown Greer. It sat on the corner of two well-traveled streets; a modestly sized house with a backyard that was almost completely enclosed by a decorative brick wall. I wonder how many people passed it regularly, having no idea what a beautiful secret garden, sparkling pool, and quaint pool house were in that backyard. It was built in the early ‘50’s, and it is believed to be the first pool in town, and for a short while, the only one. I didn’t know Lotie personally, but she and her husband must have been quite the entertainers back in their day. For several years, they opened their home and pool area as hosts of parties celebrating the contestants of the Peach Queen beauty pageant during the South Carolina Peach Festival, which was held for many years in Greer. One year, they filled the pool with peaches for a photo shoot with the beauty queens, who had traveled from all over the state. In the pool house hung several black and white photographs from those parties. Smiling beauty queens, with perfectly coiffed hairdos and makeup, wearing modest bathing suits. Some floating blissfully on pool rafts, while others sat on the side and dangled their long legs into the clear water. I imagine an invitation to one of Lotie’s pool parties must have been a pretty hot ticket back in the day. Those gals must have primped and prissed all morning long to get ready to strut their stuff at literally the only pool in town.

My friends and I arrived at Lotie’s pool party about 40 years after those beauty queens, and while there was certainly no primping and prissing on our parts, I imagine we enjoyed it every bit as much as they did. I also like to think that Lotie still enjoyed the art of entertaining. She almost always came out to greet us and make small talk (before her afternoon nap, naturally). Ever the gracious hostess, she would have her housekeeper, Imogene, bring us fresh chocolate chip cookies. Imogene was like an angel, dressed completely in white, and those cookies were undeniably heaven-sent. Even if we were still full from the cheeseburgers, we devoured those cookies as if we hadn’t eaten in days. Lotie was from another time: the summer after our senior year she asked some of the girls in our group if they had their hats and gloves ready for going off to Clemson in the fall. Her mannerly demeanor and dedication to keeping up her home had a way of making us feel special. Knowing that she thought highly of us kept us in line. We would have never wanted to disappoint her by acting like a bunch of hooligans. Now, that’s not to say that we abided by royal protocol every time we went over. There may have been some jumping off the roof into the pool during Lotie’s naptime. Probably a fair amount of foul language was batted around. But for the most part, I think we highly respected this lady who showed us that she thought we were worthy to share in her lovely oasis and partake in the Lord’s cookies.

For a hot minute, back in early Spring, I fell under the swimming pool spell and thought about having one installed at my own home.

At first, I thought it would be easy. I stood in the backyard with a very friendly and motivated contractor who told me, straight-faced, that we could be swimming by July. Sure, there would still be decking to be done, but we could work around that, right? I was like a female Clark Griswold, staring out the window at my crystal clear blue pool, with my smiling family and friends waving back at me, singing my praises for making all their dreams come true. A hero for the ages, I tell you.

cousin eddie in pool
“We love you, Mom!!”

But there was a problem. Well, several problems. The more we learned, the more we wanted, and, as home improvement projects tend to do, the plans outgrew the budget and we had to put on the brakes and redirect. I wonder if this happened to Lotie and her husband as they planned their pool? It must have seemed like an insurmountable task at the time. Not like now, when there are pool companies all over town. They were the very first one! Their neighbors must have thought they were crazy, digging a giant hole in their backyard and building a whole separate house. Think of the traffic they must have created with all the workers. And how did they find someone to help them maintain it? It was the only one in town! Surely, at some point, they had to think they might have been making a colossal mistake, that the whole thing was more trouble than it was worth. But at least one of them had the motivation to keep going with it. At least one of them was excited about being the center of the social scene. One of them had a vision of children paddling around in the backyard, growing up and inviting over a new generation of friends. They almost certainly were committed to this being their “forever home,” and couldn’t let resale figures cloud their judgment. But I doubt that even the most visionary of people could have foreseen a great-niece and great-nephew with a pack of restless teenagers still enjoying the fruits of their labors and worries a full 40 or more years after they had the idea to take the risk and make it happen. I guess sometimes in life you just have to shut out all the reasons you have for not doing something, and instead look at what kind of happiness you can create for yourself and spread to others in the process. It’s like thumping the first tile in a line of standing dominoes and having no idea where the line ends.

Lotie and her husband (and probably Imogene and many of the Peach Queens) departed their earthly oasis several years ago. The house went up for sale, and I’ve heard that a lovely young family lives there now, which makes me so happy. I hope they use the pool often and that they love it as much as so many people before them have. There are gallons upon gallons of memories and good times in that treasured pool, each generation adding more, to the point of overflowing. But isn’t that the great thing about memories? There’s always room for making more.

IMG_8223
“Off my raft, sister. I’m making room for memories.”

 

Featured post

An Open Letter to January

 

“And I’m like… ‘I just… I mean this is exhausting, you know, like,
We are never getting back together. Like, ever.’”—T. Swift

 Oh, January. Do we have to do this again? Really? Must we trudge down the same slush-covered, black-ice paths that we’ve trod so many times before? Is it really necessary to huddle by that proverbial campfire to hash out our feelings, just so we can walk away with hot faces, cold backsides, and smoky-smelling hair? Okay, fine, let’s do it. Let’s go there. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.

First of all, you absolutely exhaust me. I don’t know how you’re doing it, but I’ve spent our entire time together in a bleary haze. Much like Dorothy running through the field of poppies on the way to Oz, most of my days are spent barely putting one foot in front of the other. Must. Lie. Down. What in the world? I’ve taken more naps in January than I did all of last year. I’ve lost all will to be productive. January, are you drugging me? If so, NOT COOL. Stop it.

giphy
“Poppies…”

Speaking of cool, you’ve got a cold, cold heart, January, and frankly, I’m tired of it. (See? Tired again! What’s in this drink?) Seriously, you’re freezing me out, and I can’t take it anymore. I’m a Southern lady, and my blood just isn’t thick enough to withstand all this Arctic blast nonsense. My core body temperature has dropped and I’ve taken to wearing blankets as clothing. In public! I simply don’t care; I am THAT cold. What’s that? You say you tried to make it up to me by tossing a few spring-like days into the mix? We both know that’s a bunch of malarkey. You were just being moody and manipulative, toying with my emotions and giving me a glimpse at a Spring that is still far, far away. I’ll tell you how you can make it up to me. How about you show up with some Benjamins once this gas bill lands in my mailbox? Yeah, just what I thought. You’ll be long gone by then, I’m sure of it. Deadbeat.

cold lady
I only walk as far as the cord on this space heater.

You know something else, January? You’re making us all sick. Literally. Flu here. Strep there. Stomach bug hovering all around us. I feel like I need a mask and latex gloves every time I go outside of the house! Once I put all that on along with my blanket, I’m pretty sure I’ll get picked up and put on the first train to Crazy Town. So, I’ll just stay home, where all the real germs can be found, because I’m too stinking tired and cold to clean anything up around here.

sick-person-costume

January, we’re just not good for each other, and I think we both know it. We were doomed from the start. The first day you were here I had a roaring headache, a slovenly house, and an appetite for all things fried and gooey. I know, I know, you tried to make me feel better by telling me all the things I could accomplish in the New Year, but where are we now? My jeans still won’t button, and I just tripped over a pile of laundry while looking for the remote under an empty bag of chips. Those aren’t kale chips, January, that laundry isn’t clean, and I’m not looking for the remote so I can watch a thought-provoking documentary. Oh, and those Snow Days you threw in? Way to turn our attempts at a Dry January into a wet, sopping mess. Good one. Nice touch. Honestly, you bring out the worse in me.

drunk woman

You’re right. It wasn’t always this way. I wasn’t always this bitter. There was a time when you could whisper words that would inspire joy and excitement. Words like “inclement weather,” “wintry mix,” and “school closures.” But things have changed. That was a different time. A time when those words meant that I had no responsibilities and could live recklessly. A time when someone else picked up all my things and washed them for me. A time when hot chocolate and marshmallows and warm cookies had no calories. I’ve grown up, January, and you and I have grown apart.

unhappy-couple

That, and, also, you’re a jerk. We’ve been through this enough times for me to say with confidence, it’s not me, it’s ALL YOU.

Buh-bye, January. Don’t hurry back.

bye felicia

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