Monday, October 6, 2014

Be strong in the storm

Many of you know that I attended my cousin’s wedding this weekend out of town. The wedding reception was held in a large tent at a resort on Lake Michigan. When I left for the venue early Saturday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to have a bit of sunshine and was optimistic that the weather report might be wrong. The sunshine lasted for only 11 minutes of my journey before giving way to heavy rain that would last for the majority of day, and well into the night. I was glad to arrive in South Haven after a 3-hour drive in pouring down rain and high winds. At some points, it was nearly impossible to see more than a few feet ahead of me, but then the sun would come out….in the midst of the rain…and shine brightly on the colorful autumn leaves. I kept expecting to see a big rainbow in front of me as I drove, but I never did. With the rain, strong winds, and road construction, it was a rather difficult drive and I was grateful to arrive safely at the destination.

One of the things I enjoy most about driving (preferably in good weather) is the time I get to spend in quiet reflection. I rarely listen to the radio when I drive because I enjoy the silent time. In my often way-too-busy life, finding time to think and reflect is rare, but for me, it is essential to my well-being. In between the rain showers, I was able to focus on the beautiful autumn color. Because I was heading south, the color has not peaked as it has at home, so I was treated with a glorious display of vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. I couldn’t help but notice how those trees just ‘came alive” against the backdrop of the dark, gray, storm clouds.  I hadn’t really noticed how the color appeared more vibrant and glorious.  Hmmm….whenever I ‘notice” or “see something different or in a new way,” I know that God is speaking to me and there is a lesson or connection waiting to be discovered.

When I arrived in South Haven, I went directly to the church for the wedding mass because I was unable to check into the resort until later in the day. The ceremony was lovely and filled with the expected mixture of emotions typical of a wedding, but amidst the joy of the celebration, was a bit of heaviness in the hearts of those present. The groom, my cousin Jon, is the brother of Bridget, the beautiful young lady killed in a tragic auto accident last Thanksgiving.  One of the groomsmen was Bridget’s fiancee’, Nick, who was driving the vehicle. Bridget and Jon were to be married in March and she was to supposed to be a bridesmaid today as her brother married Liz .  Many of those present were dealing with all sorts of emotions: joy, sadness, regret, guilt, disappointment, and for some, resentment and unforgiveness. There was more than weather threatening to dampen a joyous occasion, but all went well and the day was full of joy and celebration, in spite of the circumstances.

When the ceremony ended, I headed to the resort. I was anxious to get there because I had been told that it was right on Lake Michigan. I love the water and didn’t make it to the lake this summer as I had hoped, so I was looking forward to being lakefront for a couple of days; however, I was in for quite a shock when I pulled up to the resort. When I got out of the car, I struggled to stand up. The wind was blowing so hard that it blew the car door shut on me and the sound of the waves crashing against the bank was incredibly loud. I’ve not spent much time on Lake Michigan before, and I have never seen the lake like that. I didn’t even know that it raged like that, although, the locals would probably have said, “Awww…this is nothing….you should see it…..” It was an eye-opening sight for sure. Even though I had heard the weather report was for cold, windy, and rainy weather, I was not prepared for this.  The wind was whipping so hard that the rain was coming down sideways, and the actual temperature was in the low 40’s; the wind-chill even colder. I was told that the large party tent had blown down the night before and had to be put back up that morning. It is early October, right?????

I could see the lake from my room, and although I was disappointed that I couldn’t go down to the lake that day due to the weather, the wedding party couldn’t take photos on the beach (or outside anywhere for that matter), and the guests would miss out on an infamous “Lake Michigan sunset” that I have yet to witness, I realized that there is absolutely nothing that I, or anyone else, could do about the weather. Things actually got worse as the reception began; the wind was blowing so hard that the sides of the tents were flapping, at some points knocking things over; many of the guests (me included) changed out of wedding attire into warmer clothing and wore heavy coats at the reception; and the bottom of the bride’s dress was soiled from walking to the tent across the wet, muddy ground…..and YET…..none of this really matters, does it?  The weather merely presented an opportunity for the family and guests to ‘rise to the occasion,” “rejoice in spite of,” and make the best out of a situation over which we had no control.  And certainly….God would have a lesson to be learned through this. I retired to my room early, but when I left, the party was in full swing….in spite of the raging storm whipping against the canvas sides of the tent walls.

I was happy to wake yesterday morning and discover that even though the winds were still blowing strong gusts off the lake, it had stopped raining. This meant that I would get to walk down to the lake before heading home. I bundled up and headed down to the shore amidst the loud roaring of the sea. I still hadn’t gotten used to that sound. I can’t even imagine what it is like for those of you that have lived through tornados or hurricanes. As I walked along the bluff, watching the sea crash into the break wall and the whitecaps roll off the shore, I kept thinking about my personal journey to wellness. I thought about yesterday morning before I left when I fed my goldfish in the pond and noticed that even in the nasty, cold, rainy weather (before the brief surprise few minutes of sunshine), my morning glory vine was FULL of beautiful blue blooms lifting their heads like a song of praise to their Creator. I thought about the magnificence of the autumn colors against the dark, stormy skies. I thought about the joy in the midst of the lingering grief at the wedding. I thought about the celebration inside the tent while the storm raged outside threatening to sabotage the wedding reception. I thought about how God blessed me with strength to remain strong in the midst of temptation to eat wedding cake or be unkind in the midst of some guests who have disappointed or hurt me in the past.  Perhaps God was trying to remind me that there will always be those things in life over which I have no control…..and yet….in these situations….. I am given the opportunity to SHINE brighter; rise to the occasion; rejoice….in spite of; and be strong amidst the storm?????

Although we all wish that our lives were “picture-perfect,” we’ve likely discovered that life is filled with both sunshine and rain; sadness and joy; good times and bad. I’ve weathered and survived some pretty tough times with the death of my parents at a young age; job loss; etc…, but admittedly, nearly “drowned” in the rough waters of loss just a few years ago. Instead of turning to others for help, I tried to ‘self-medicate’ with food and isolation, and as you know, was at rock-bottom not so long ago.  Instead of “rising to the occasion” and shining brightly against the backdrop of life’s storms, I shut others out and allowed the sadness and both physical and emotional pain to nearly drown me.  Fortunately, God rescued me and pulled me out of the stormy seas and literally helped me stand on my own two feet again!  I’m eternally grateful for His loving kindness.

My life is so much different these days; and yet, certainly not “perfect.” Like you, I struggle on a daily basis to stay on track. I’m tempted, not only to give into emotional eating, but also to “be unkind to those in my life that ‘push my buttons.” If ‘biting my tongue” burned calories, I’d have no problem losing the 20 pounds I’d still like to lose! J  I have days when I’m sad and I miss those in my life that are no longer physically present. There are rainy days that cause havoc on plans; stressful days that make me question my  chosen profession; painful days when my Rheumatoid Arthritis make it difficult to do even the simplest tasks; and emotional days when all I want to do is eat chips.  And yet….so many of these days are caused by things over which I have absolutely NO CONTROL.  I cannot control weather; I cannot control the behavior of others; I cannot control the things that happen to me…..but I can control my reaction.  I can control my behavior. I can control my tongue….and I can ultimately choose to either “Shine brightly amidst the storms like the autumn leaves”, “bloom gloriously like the morning glory in the rain”, “rise to the occasion and be the “bigger person” when others arouse negative emotions in me”, and “mostly, be grateful; peaceful; and joyful: in spite of…..those situations, temptations, and struggles that are bound to come my way. And like I discovered this weekend when I saw the rage of Lake Michigan for the first time….there are storms out there that are bound to come that I have yet to even experience and cannot even imagine.  When all else fails, I can simply walk away.  It’s my choice….give in….give up…..or stand strong and use the opportunity to shine!

Wherever you are on your journey….I encourage you to be strong today. If you are in the midst of a storm, or are struggling in some way, I encourage you to dig deep and trust that it won’t last long. If you are contemplating beginning a journey, be aware that you will have days when you think you won’t be able to go on; it will be hard; but take comfort in knowing, that you WILL BE able to do it; YOU WILL find the strength to go on; YOU WILL change your life….if you stay focused, stay on track, and keep your eyes focused on your goals.  If you are enjoying success, making good choices, and remaining strong, be sure to rejoice and be grateful, and become a “beacon of light” for others and a ‘stronghold” for those who are struggling.  Each day we are given a new opportunity….to give up….or rise up for the glory of God and show our ‘true colors.’  I hope you make the choices today that will strengthen you on your journey and cause your heart to rejoice…. “in spite of….” what may come your way. Be joyful; be grateful; be peaceful and Be a “MORNING GLORY” for someone today!!!