In the days back when our three children were very young, we would spend a few days each summer tenting at various State Parks throughout New England. Looking back, these little vacations were not only a whole lot of fun but also served to nurture something of a pioneer spirit in the Lowry clan, which in turn created a great many indelible memories for all of us. This particular camping trip, however, turned out to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
In retrospect, we should have seen it coming: the day we left was really too hot and humid in which to travel; we hadn’t even made it ten miles out of town before Sarah (who was four at the time) got car sick; Zachary (who was just over a year old; Oy Vey, what were we thinking?) was acting inordinately fussy; and though Jake (at eight) was a trooper, even his patience was sorely tested by the fact that during that summer nearly every highway in Maine and New Hampshire was both congested and under construction, so what should have been a two or three hour drive took five.
Mom and Dad, however, were undaunted by all of this, figuring that once we’d arrived at the campground, all we’d have to do was to pitch our tents and then sit back, relax and enjoy the slower pace of outdoor living. Or at least that was the plan; one that worked until just about the time we got everything on our campsite nicely set up, the very moment that dark clouds rolled in, thunder began to rumble and rain started to fall, the first in a series of torrential cloudbursts that would continue unabated over the next several days!
Understand, we were not worried about getting a little wet, nor were we overly concerned about the tent leaking; we had tarps strategically placed overhead to keep that from happening. But that night as it rained harder than Lisa and I thought possible, the tent began to leak from the bottom up (!) soaking just about everything – and everyone – sleeping inside! But even this was OK: after all, you have to expect some of this when you go camping; it just goes with the experience. But then, around 1:30 in the morning, Zachary woke up screaming, obviously in a great deal of pain – and a couple of hours later, as I drove through the night to a tiny hospital emergency room many miles away in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where our son would be treated for a severe ear infection, I began to realize that this little family camping trip had now become an exercise in survival!
One thing was for certain; this was no longer fun!
However, either fiercely determined or extremely foolish, “for the sake of the kids” Lisa and I made the decision to tough it out for at least one more day, for surely, things couldn’t get any worse. But then it was Sarah’s turn to get sick; all the clothes and bedding we’d taken to dry at a nearby Laundromat got soaked all over again, thanks to the next rainstorm to pummel southern New Hampshire; and in between the raindrops, for some unknown reason we’d managed to attract every sweat bee in the park to our campsite! We finally came to the conclusion that it was well past time to give up on this fiasco of family fun; and so, with yet another storm looming on the horizon we hurriedly broke camp, packed the car and buckled the children in their car seats to make our escape – only to discover that our car wouldn’t start, thanks to a battery that had inexplicably gone dead overnight!
Suffice to say that we did get home… eventually. And, as I recall, didn’t it feel good to get home!
It’s funny, however, what you remember: a few days after that miserable trip was over and I’d returned to my regular regimen of bible study and sermon preparation, the very first verses of scripture I faced that day were these from Colossians: “…with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (3:16-17) I remember very clearly laughing to myself that God must truly have a sense of humor, given that this particular verse came my way right then; after all, in the middle of a sleepless, restless, rainy night with a crying baby in the middle of the woods I was not feeling particularly grateful in my heart, and trust me, I was most decidedly not singing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs!” Yes, of course, that night we were concerned for Zachary, and as parents that was the overriding concern of the moment; but in all honesty, in there, too, were the emotional by-products of jangled nerves and the fervent desire to be able to go back to sleep in a warm and dry bed! I remember realizing all at once that in the midst of that particular situation my words and deeds were not, in fact, wholly done in the name of the Lord Jesus; and that as warm and assuring as that exhortation of scripture feels as it resonates in our hearts, actually living out of the truth of it ends up being very hard at times!
Indeed, life – as it unfolds in all its wonder and mystery – certainly doesn’t make this any easier.
Here at East Church, as a congregation we regularly share our prayer concerns as part of our worship; and recently, I’ve been struck by how many of our petitions have to do with the sheer volume of concerns that have seemingly “piled on” an individual or within a family. It’s one thing to have to face concerns with, say, the illness of one loved one; but how do we deal with the burden of several different and seemingly unrelenting crises all at once. It’s a stressful situation, to be sure; both for those needing care and for those providing it, and in our weaker and more fatigued moments, we are tempted to let our own anger and frustration get in the way of the love we are called to give. It’s no wonder that sometimes this admonition to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” comes off as more of a cruel taunt than a word of comfort, just another reminder that where the many storms of life are concerned, it doesn’t rain but it pours.
And yet amidst the deluge, here’s Paul, still urging us “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” to clothe ourselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience;” and above all, with love, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (vs. 12, 14) You’ll notice here that Paul isn’t assuming an automatic adherence to the many virtues of our Christian faith; life is far too complicated, and alas, you and I are far too human for that to ever happen. But – and this is key – in the midst of those circumstances where we might indeed feel overwhelmed and woefully underdressed where life and faith is concerned, we can still “clothe ourselves” with all that we need to survive and thrive until the storm has passed – and the best part is that by his grace God provides us the clothes we need until it becomes a regular part of our wardrobe.
In our times of prayer these past few weeks at church, we’ve prayed that those facing the relentless storms of life might receive the strength and peace they need for the way, as well as some respite from their struggles; and above all, that they might have a profound awareness of God’s presence, ever and always working for the good in the midst of whatever they’re going through. Indeed, whether that awareness comes in the profound and palpable sense of inner peace that the world can’t give nor take away, or simply from gleaning the one mustard seed of faith needed to survive the storm for one more hour, there is something very reassuring about being clothed in the warm, dry garments of God’s own love and mercy amidst the storm. Truthfully, sometimes that’s all one needs.
After all, however relentless the storm might be, it will pass… eventually. And won’t it feel good to get home!
c. 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry