I lay in a cold wet puddle as the wind ripped around me. I felt pitiful. I had been trying to fall asleep for a long time but the wind violently jostled my tent and whipped around the sides in a clamor. In addition, the sky every so often let out thunderous cries as lightning streaked across the sky. Unlike with my previous experience out on the sand dunes of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, here I was protected from lightning with the towering Guadalupe mountains standing nearby, and I had the waterproof fly on my tent which I thought would keep me dry. It was just the noise and the way my tent was dancing in the wind that was keeping me up. Then, as the wind picked up and the clouds broke loose holding nothing back, the fly of my tent was ripped off and the rain poured into my tent.
There’s no use going out to retrieve the tent fly, I thought, It’s probably long gone, flailing out in the wind off in the distance. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head. It was thick. Maybe it will keep me dry until the storm passes.
But the storm wouldn’t pass. It only grew more and more intense. It was undoubtedly a North American monsoon. With intense solar heating in this region of the country during the day, winds shift and low pressure troughs are created bringing in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and gifting the desert with torrential rainstorms.
For future reference, a sleeping bag is not enough to keep you dry from a Monsoon. Water began to soak through my sleeping bag, and it was cold. I curled up keeping my limbs close to the rest of my body to preserve heat. My car was parked about thirty yards away. This was a walk-in campsite. I couldn’t easily get to my car without being fully inundated with the cold relentless sheets of rain, and if I were to go to my car, I’d have to bring everything of value I had with me in my tent, because likely my tent would be ripped away in the wind.
I was going to wait this out. Then with a fierce whip of wind, my tent came collapsing down upon me. The wind completely snapped a tent pole. Minutes later I was shivering in the fetal position in a puddle of water. This was pitiful. Cinematically I could picture this moment in my mind. The camera ascending upward facing downward revealing the image of a man contracted in a puddle of rain water and the water continuing to pour down. I’d look so helpless… but I wasn’t. I grabbed my backpack and was feeling around the layers of cold wet collapsed tent to find the zipper of the tent door. Then with a mad dash, through piercingly cold sheets of rain, I made it to my car. I turned the heat up high and cupped my hands around the vents. I was gonna be ok.
My pillow and sleeping bag were soaked and had been abandoned in the tent. But I had a spare sleeping bag in the backseat. I peeled off my wet clothes, and climbed over the front seat to the back where I pulled down the seat to access the trunk. I retrieved some dry clothes to put on, and I pushed a sweatshirt and other articles of clothes up into the corner of the back seat to great a place to rest my head.
This was not the type of camping I imagined doing this summer. I longed for the dry, star filled nights, with cracking fires, and a peaceful quietude, where cares were long forgotten and my mind and body at ease. Here I was crunched up in a small car as the monsoon raged on.
In the moment this was all meaningless to me. I had embarked on this trip not only to enjoy the scenery and recreation but to also be inspired and hear from God. I have often found inspiration in nature. The previous year God illuminated the canyonlands to show me he could transform the deep dark places of my life. He also inspired me to be unwavering in life’s challenges. I came to moments of deep realization and inspiration by pondering ghost towns and mountain peaks. But this monsoon was a nuisance, void of meaning to me. And in regard to inspiration, this whole trip so far seemed like a failure.
However, I was quick to forget the miraculous incident at Chiricahua when locking my keys in the car. Not only did God deliver me from my circumstances but he told me, “Be Still. Be Calm. Don’t worry.” But now, here, in the literal storms of life, I had placed this off to the side of my mind, forgetting about it and becoming inundated with the negativity around me.
Sometimes we can only find the meaning in situations when we look back on them. There is meaning here. In life we face figurative storms that are in a whole other category than this summer monsoon. These storms of life are painful with suffering, loss, anger, change, and doubt. How often do we let the storms of life distract us from what God has promised us and what he is teaching us? We are quick to focus on the present suffering instead of focusing on what we know about God, what God has taught us in our lives, and all the promises he has made.
Scripture is flooded with promises of God helping his people in times of trial. We can read these and be reassured and find peace, but even greater confidence is found when we consider all the times these promises in scripture have played out in our lives. As followers of Christ we see the scripture come alive in our lives as God carries us through hard times.
I reflect back when I was a freshman in college battling depression and insecurity about my faith. After spending so much time in an unhealthy church where fellow “Christians” treated each other combatively, I began to question God’s goodness and even existence. Then in my own quiet time I came across James 1, “Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, for you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” In the trial of my faith in God himself, God began to reveal himself to me through a series of answered prayers and strength in the midst of my weakness. In a note to a God I thanked Him for doing good things in my life. I asked that I would always feel Him near, and I asked that He would give me a heart of worship. God, in the most miraculous way, answered me through Jeremiah 32:40 “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, promising to never stop doing good things for you. I will instill in you a heart of worship, and you will never leave me.”
In the storms of life, I am prone to be the pessimist, letting my thoughts snowball out of control, thinking things can only get worse and speculating my doom, but then I remember this promise: God will never stop doing good things for me. After speaking to me in that moment, God set me on a path of healing. He brought a dear friend and spiritual mentor into my life. Together we held onto the verse Romans 8:28. It was our verse. “For we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and have been called according to his purpose.”
Other substantial storms in my life have had to do with my health, between ulcerative colitis, Pancreatitis, and all the challenges they have brought, I’ve clung onto my life in the most desperate of ways in the most excruciating pain and loneliness. During this time a harmony of verses was cemented in my mind “After you have suffered a while, the God of grace Himself, whose knowledge surpasses all understanding, will restore you and make you strong.” Also with diagnosis looking grim, God laid before me many times Jeremiah 29:11 “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” As a feeble young man, hospitalized, making my way down the hallway with my walker, this verse again jumped out to me inscribed on the wall. Not only was it a promise in scripture but I know God was directly promising it to me. When health challenges return and I question the future I have to remind myself of these promises.
And then years later there was my drive to the doctor’s office. All they could tell me on the phone is that there were abnormalities in my blood work. I knew something was wrong. I feared for the challenges ahead. My mind flashbacked to the nights in college of rolling around on the floor in so much pain that my mind couldn’t even formulate thoughts. And I began to consider all the sleepless nights in which I always had to keep moving. Movement was the only distraction from pain. I couldn’t bear this again, I thought. As I was driving on my way to the doctor’s office God spoke to me saying,”never again will you go through the pain you’ve endured.”
I’d soon find myself in a battle with lupus and a relapse of ulcerative colitis. Miserable, yes, but physically painful, no. God spared me. When medicines fail, when blood work is out of range, I remember, “never again.” God promised me. And He’s also said He has “promised me hope, and a future,” He also “will never stop doing good things for me,” and He “will restore me and make me strong.”
When you encounter life’s storms are you quick to imagine the worst? Do you wallow in the suffering, doubt the prospects of your future, or even begin to feel like you’ve fallen away from God’s grace? Although this may be a natural human response, we can change it. When faced with the monsoons of life, pause. What has God taught you in life’s prior challenges and deliverances? What has He promised to you? Contrast your own worries and concern verses what you know to be true.
One of my favorite musical artists, Steven Curtis Chapman, in his song “Remember to Remember” sings of just that. We have to remember what God has led us through previously. He’s led us through the canyonlands and to mountain peaks. What has He taught you along the way?
A life with God has nothing wasted. Your story is a part of God’s story. He uses your past to prove himself and his character. Next time a storm rolls in, my hope is that you don’t camp out in the monsoon, but pause and take inventory of promises you know to be true. If you’ve never heard God’s voice, may you begin to seek it and begin to start a life with Him. Only then you will realize you are equipped and empowered, not just cold wet and crunched up in the backseat of a car.
Read my previous episode “The Mystique of Carlsbad Caverns,” here: https://joshthehodge.com/2020/02/08/the-mystique-of-carlsbad-caverns/
Check out my new book “Canyonlands: My Adventures in the National Parks and the Beautiful Wild,” here: