“…He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45
Most of the articles I write are born out of personal experiences. When a crazy idea or experience emerges, I then reflect on whether the information will be helpful or relevant to whoever may read it. Usually it will take days, weeks or months for an idea or experience to be a complete; however, this one took just hours.
Sunday afternoon I was reading a book at my usual spot down by the river. The sun was shining, a warm breeze cooled the Wisconsin air as husbands and wives paced side by side for their afternoon walks, father’s and son’s cast their fishing lines into the raging river hoping to reel one in for a picture, avid runners clocked their times as they hit each mile marker. It was a beautiful day.
It wasn’t long before the clouds rolled in and I felt the first rain drop hit my nose. In seconds people started to flee towards their cars to shelter themselves from a potential heavy rainfall. I couldn’t believe how quickly an active and friendly area soon became an empty, dark and desolate landscape. I froze this moment as I sat and witnessed this and began to connect and relate this scenario to real life…how the physical weather carries a similar connection to the mysteries of living. How sometimes we can go days, weeks, months and even years experiencing ‘pouring rain’ with little hope that there is a misty calm approaching; or sometimes how our life can feel like one big gray cloud that never seems to rain and never seems to shine; or sometimes how people run and hide from potential rain when most of the time it’s never as bad as they anticipate.
Let me relate this to my own personal journey. Anyone who has experienced any major challenges understands the pain associated with losing patience and hope. For the past 18 months I have gone through a cycle that I can honestly say has been the most challenging, painful and stressful time of my life. I thought I knew struggle prior to this rainfall but my perspective has significantly changed in the last year and a half.
It was around 2011 when the warm and bright sunlight of my life started to turn into gray clouds. I was anticipating a storm I just didn’t know how bad the storm would be or how long it would last. I was living a very happy, healthy, purposeful, financially stable lifestyle with a thriving business and a passionate pursuit to make a difference… when subtly gray clouds started to come in. I wasn’t surprised. Life is full of unexpected challenges. However, these gray clouds seemed to be different. They weren’t real obvious at first and I continued to live my life as if the clouds weren’t there – like I would get a headache and call it ‘stress’ or I would have a sleepless night and blame my coffee obsession. The physical pain of life never really bothered me. I was used to physical pain. I was a competitive athlete for over 18 years. I’ve blown my knees out playing basketball multiple times, sprained my ankles more times than I can even count, have had concussions, jammed fingers and black eyes from elbows to my face…my bones pop, my muscles ache, it’s just the reality of being a former athlete….so the little daily abnormalities never raised any concerns for me.
But, it seemed very quickly the scattered gray clouds grew denser and darker. My personality and attitude began to change (for no clear reason). I was more edgy, unapproachable, negative and distant (or so I’ve been told). It seemed like I was having more bad days than good days. The physical abnormalities I had experienced for years were starting to frustrate me…a lot! It wasn’t long before other areas of my life started to get increasingly difficult. A rough batch of roommates/tenants created financial strain and extra stress, a good friend would quit my business (and I would take it personal), a fight with a family member created unresolved tension and conflict, a prior 30 minute headache turned into three days with no relief.
My gray clouds quickly turned into scattered showers. It seemed like in some areas of my life things were still going well but in other areas things were just beginning to fall apart. Of course in the moment we don’t see these things as gray clouds or scattered showers. We live each day and thank God for only 24 hours because it means we can start fresh a new day; but some of those ‘new days’ seemed to be no different than the previous. I would wake up with every intention to have a positive attitude and outlook but then on the way to a meeting I would get a speeding ticket or I would get a phone call that someone close to me just passed away; pretty soon those ‘clumps’ of days turned into weeks of unending scattered showers. It didn’t take long for an unexpected raging storm to drench my life.
Ironically Wisconsin has been hit with several days of heavy rainfall. Even as I write this the thunder is rolling. But on Sunday afternoon the analogy was so clear. I could see the clouds getting darker in the distance. I could see the rain a few miles out. However, I could not predict the downpour that was about to take place. That’s what happened in 2012 when the downpour of my life hit me without warning. Sometimes, if you are lucky, the rain dissipates before it reaches you. Sometimes it moves in a different direction and someone else gets hit with it. In my case, God pointed that rain in my direction and I was not prepared to take shelter.
Looking back I can see that the scattered showers were actually warning signs from God. Either I would listen to the warning signs and do something about it before it got worse or I would have to accept the fact that heavy rain was coming my way. I’ve also learned that sometimes God has to go to extremes in order to wake us up and/or teach us something. Again, anyone who has experienced heavy rainfall for any extended period of time knows what I am talking about. I am not referring to the one or two bad days a month where everything seems to be going wrong. I am referring to the continual ‘bad days’ …and worse, not being in control or having a solution for those days.
I could argue that probably 90% of the time most people have a choice on whether their day is going to be filled with sunshine or filled with rain, just by their attitude. During most of my scattered showers, there probably could have been more days of sunshine if I would have just chose to have a better attitude. But, it seems like 10% of the time (in life) there are those moments that even a good attitude usually can’t improve the situation (i.e. grieving the loss of someone you love, serious illness, abuse, marital stress, financial disarray, etc, etc). That 10% is what I like to refer to as the ‘raging storms’ of life.
It’s in times like these that our trust and faith in God is most important. Without going into any major detail I can say with certainty that the heavy rainfall I experienced these last 18 months have been, without a doubt, an enormous test of faith. From a car accident that left me lifeless for over a month, to an inoperable brain tumor diagnosis, to major treatment decisions such as 6 weeks of radiation and several months of chemotherapy, to multiple days and weeks at a time of physical pain and sickness, to financial stress due to large medical bills, to almost losing my house, to watching team members and friends walk away from their dreams, to a healing that left me relieved but completely lost, to financial collapse, to depression, to loss of hope, to another brain tumor diagnosis, to the loss of my last living grandparent, to a family collapse and a 3rd brain tumor diagnosis; it has been a period of pouring rain with very little sunlight. I guess the old saying is true, “When it rains, it pours.”
And yet, even though it is still raining, I can finally see the sunlight beaming through the clouds. I can’t even count the number of times I thought the heavy rain would never end; that I would never see the light of day.
All of us experience different heavy storms in life and most people experience storms multiple times throughout their life, even for extended periods of time. It’s a very challenging and confusing place to be. And sometimes the storm hits you even when you try to seek shelter but often times there is no shelter at all. The storms of life are meant to change your landscape. If your landscape isn’t changed in some way, then it probably wasn’t a storm.
If you are being drenched right now, I want to encourage you that things will get better. There is always a calm after the storm. But in the meantime, here are some things that have helped me have patience and hope in the pouring rain:
- Stay positive - Always be the light in a dark room. You can’t always control your circumstances but you can control your attitude in those circumstances. It helps to surround yourself with a community of friends and people who are encouraging and uplifting. LIFE Leadership has been that community for me.
- Stay busy (with your priorities) – Keep your mind focused on the things and people who are important to you.
- Do things you enjoy and are passionate about - Even when you don’t feel like it, force yourself to do it anyways.
- Don’t complain about your problems or your bad day - The more you complain, the worse it makes you feel. BUT…
- Communicate with trusted family, friends or mentors - The storms of life should never be handled alone. Guidance, support, encouragement and love is so crucial. But make sure to communicate those struggles only with those closest to you.
- Serve Others – Help other people make it through their storms and you will likely think less about your storms.
- Pray – Spend time communicating with God.
There are a number of other ways to overcome the raging storms of life and these are just a few that have helped me. I pray that if rain is pouring down on you right now that you cling to the hope that there IS a calm after the storm. There is a rainbow coming. There will be sunshine again. It’s just part of the process. Be patient. God has a plan for the rain you are experiencing and He wants you to use this experience to glorify Him.
Sunday afternoon when the rain came pouring down, I just sat there and let myself get drenched. It made me feel more alive than I have felt in a really long time. If you have ever been completely drenched from a rainstorm you understand what I mean – you can feel every drop, the chill runs through every vein in your body, your heartbeat races just a little bit faster than normal and it practically takes your breath away. It was the first time I was able to thank God for the raging storms in my life because it meant that I am still alive. It meant that no matter what happens to me in the pouring rain, there is ALWAYS calmness, rainbows and warm sunlight to look forward to – whether it be in this life or the next! Stay strong when rain pours down on your of life (because it will) and hold onto the hope that someday we will get to experience eternal sunlight forever with Jesus.