Around the bend, a waterfall

Power. Beauty. Change, often slowly. Calm, eventually.

A meandering stream, gentle and pure. Strength and sound as the river transforms into a waterfall. Then, a peaceful near silence as the river continues on.

Each waterfall is different. Some are wider, some taller, some roar, some are gentle.

As different as we are as people.

A river follows the path of least resistance, heading downhill, away from its source. Sometimes over an unexpected waterfall.

It never remains in the same place.

A big splash

The river of my life flowed smooth for many years. A great job, a healthy family with three growing boys, purpose in life, community involvement, some recreation and exercise … it seemed too good to be true. It was easy, too easy, to just coast through life, engaging but only to a point, then pulling back before wounds were exposed.

cascade park 2

Until a huge waterfall changed the course of my river.

Losing a job I’d had for 24 years will do that.

I’ve written about that before, several times. We’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary of that event this spring. It feels like a lifetime ago, with the river of my life twisting and turning repeatedly. Many of you experienced this as well, in varying degrees.

My life sometimes feels out of control, emotionally anyway, heading downstream to an eternal destination that features “the river of the water of life” (Rev. 22:1). It’s easy to get caught up in the struggles of this world and lose sight of what it’s all about.

Shortly before we left Rockford, Ill., I visited the Anderson Japanese Gardens there. It was peaceful, with meandering streams and soothing water formations that the Japanese love. It provided a momentary calm in the months before we moved to Elyria, Ohio, during the last polar vortex five years ago.

In Elyria the stream of my life has taken a couple more abrupt turns. After my 24-year job ended, I never held a job more than 2.5 years (twice). One job lasted eight weeks. I’m now retired, although it still seems funny to say that because I’m “only” 58 years old. (My dad retired younger than that, actually, so maybe it’s not so unusual.)

Hard to see the future

days dam 2

I took one waterfall photo through trees.  I should have known the camera would focus on the branches and leave the waterfall blurry. I thought about going back there and re-taking the photo, but decided not to.

Sometimes the storms of life are blurry, aren’t they? We don’t see them coming. We don’t know why. We feel the fall, then the hard splash of the river as it crashes into the pool at the base of the waterfall.

We submerge, and wonder if we will ever resurface.

We eventually do, don’t we?

But we resurface in a new place, a different place. We are changed.

We didn’t ask for change, but it came anyway.

Some changes are exciting. Some are not. Some are big and powerful. Others are more languid.

Each of us experiences the wide range of powerful and calm, the river always moving, always going somewhere, never static, never staying in the same place.

Some of us travel farther than others do, but all of us travel.

That’s what rivers do.

Can any of us see where we are going? Really see?

I don’t think so.

The greatest adventure

mill stream run 1

Yes, we see heaven, for those of us headed that way. (It’s a destination worth pursuing for everyone.)

But on Earth, the journey to get there … we often can’t see around the next bend.

I hear sermons and speeches sometimes that say the Christian journey should be the most exciting path to travel.

It should be. Jesus offers adventure like no one else does. Serve orphans and widows. Take our faith to different lands, or to the next-door neighbor. Meet the needs of others. Pray. Worship. Don’t accumulate worldly possessions for their own sake, but to share with others. And so on.

So often the waterfalls in our lives aren’t those types of adventures. We tend to fall over them, rather than willingly jump into them. If we would jump into a waterfall of our own volition, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a tall one, with such a painful landing.

How prepared are we for life’s falls, twists and turns? They’re inevitable, so why does no one help us navigate them?

O but the Bible does. It’s all in there, really.

I still fall hard because my faith isn’t what it should be. Just because I read the Bible doesn’t mean I’m prepared for life’s waterfalls, big or small, clear or blurry. What do I do with the information I learn? In the words of a preacher, how do I apply it?

During this week’s polar vortex here in Ohio, a friend who has school-age children collected food for dozens of children who might otherwise go hungry because they get their best meal of the day in school. She organized that food collection in her kitchen spur-of-the-moment, and gave groceries to more than a dozen families as well. Not for her own self-satisfaction, but because she saw a need and decided to fill it.

That’s adventure. That’s faith in action.

If the world saw more Christians doing stuff like that, perhaps we’d be more likable, more believable, more like a river worth jumping into.

Even in the middle of winter.

Real life

bangladeshRescuers today search for survivors and bodies after Tuesday’s massive landslide in Rangamati district, Bangladesh. (The Associated Press)

It’s hot outside this week.

That’s been the lead story (or close to it) on the six o’clock news every day. Glad they told me it’s hot. Wouldn’t have figured it out otherwise.

I did learn something, though. We’ve had an official “heat wave,” which is three consecutive days of 90-degree temperatures. We tied a daily record here in the Cleveland area twice this week, with 93 on both Sunday and Tuesday.

We’ve long had a fascination with weather in this country. TV stations hire as many meteorologists as they do news reporters. (That’s an exaggeration, but probably not a big one.) The news radio station I listen to in the morning gives a weather update every 10 minutes (because listeners tune in and out quickly, and the station wants to ensure everyone hears a weather report).

Weather effects

Does weather change our plans often?

The people I work with like spending time outside, but when it rains, we don’t do that. When the sun shines, we use sun block – lots of it. When it’s humid, we limit our time outside to short stretches. In the winter we don’t sit outside because it’s too cold. We enjoy indoor activities.

So yes, weather does affect our plans.

Personally? Not so much.

I like being outside in all types of weather. I walk or jog year-round. In winter I wear layers of clothing. I don’t don a scarf because I like the fresh air on my face. There have been days I’ve chickened out because I didn’t want to deal with the cold, mostly because of my fingers – the first part of me to get cold, even with two pairs of gloves on.

In the summer, I like being outside when it rains. On a hot humid day, especially, rain feels good.

I’ve been out a few times when it’s rained so hard my shorts and T-shirt get as drenched as they do in the washing machine.

When a thunderstorm passes by, I’ll sit on the front porch and watch it. Lightning and storm clouds are cool (as long as nothing gets hit and catches fire).

We are blessed in the Upper Midwest that we rarely get severe storms. The occasional tornado or damaging thunderstorm is about it.

In the extreme

Extreme weather makes the national news frequently. Severe tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, the occasional rock slide or mudslide affect various parts of our country and world.

Wildfires are another story. Some occur naturally; some are the work of humans, either intentionally or not. They can and do cause severe damage. I can’t imagine being in the path of an out-of-control wildfire.

Fire is wonderful when it’s confined to the barbecue grill or backyard pit. It’s essential to operate a stove, furnace and your car. We need to treat those flames and sparks carefully, as we all know.

Weather makes the news internationally, too. Just now on https://weather.com/ I see a story about a Bangladesh mudslide that has killed at least 140 people and caused massive destruction. Wow.

Bangladesh, east of India, is a densely-populated country of 161 million people. Poverty is deep and widespread. Formerly East Pakistan, Bangladesh came into being in 1971, when the two parts of Pakistan split after a bitter war.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12650940

Because of its poverty and population density, weather events frequently have extreme consequences there. This is yet another reason that those of us who live in the United States can be grateful.

While weather dominates the local news this week, we can give thanks that it’s not nearly as severe as Bangladesh is enduring right now – or, perhaps, other parts of the U.S. We do need to take precautions, though, as the newscasters repeatedly tell us: Stay hydrated (water is best), don’t overdo the sun (skin cancer and sunburn are real) and watch out for bikers and pedestrians on the road.

‘Real’ life, ‘real’ power

Why talk about the weather when there’s “real” news to talk about, such as ongoing – and new – intrigue in Washington, D.C.? Because not everything in life demands controversy. Not everything is a life-and-death matter. (Although the weather can involve deadly situations.)

Politics is a game that some people play well, and most people play poorly. Depends who you ask who plays politics well or not.

Weather, on the other hand, is what it is. Weather is real life. Today, it’s hot. Tomorrow, we might get thunderstorms. Sunday, it’s supposed to cool off. (We’ll see if that weather front actually reaches us on Sunday.) We plan accordingly, and adjust as needed. We compromise. We make it work.

We enjoy the weather, we avoid it or perhaps we endure it, if we work outside and it’s uncomfortably hot, for example. We delay children’s ball games when lightning strikes nearby, because we fear the worst.

We spend too much of our lives that way. We fear the worst, so that’s how we live. We expect bad things to happen. Even regarding weather.

I’ll stay on my porch when thunder and lightning dominate the sky. Storms reveal nature’s power, and our helplessness, in a way. There are forces out there bigger than us. Much bigger.

We respect them. Because we have to.

Because with weather, we deal with life as it really is.