Lay it down. That’s what you do.
You press it in His hands hard the first moment you smell the rain. Don’t wait to surrender it. Cover yourself good, wrap up with Him, spend more time there, instead of less.
Lay it down right then, and ask the people who love you to stand with you through the downpour. Don’t run away. Don’t keep that storm a secret. And don’t hold it at your sides, clenched in your fists.
All this time, and I’m still learning what to do when it smells like rain.
Tuesday night and Kevin wraps his arms tight around me, and I cry into my pillow, gasping for breath. And finally, finally I pray, and the words tumble out a mess, in sloppy shapes only God understands.
Emptying days come like a summer storm, gray and hovering heavy. Everything looks too green, feels too tender. Bird song drifts away on the breeze that lifts my hair and raises goosebumps on my arms. Everything is suddenly too quiet. I can smell the rain, the wet scent of it carried on the wind, left behind on my skin. And just as I look up to assess the skies, the thunder murmurs a promise. When the rain comes, it will come hard.
I know in the morning, pushing my body through the last of my run, coming home soaked with sweat. Sometimes life just hurts. The muscles in my legs spasm as I stretch, and I want to linger there, thinking of the two bright yellow birds I counted, noticing the shape of a budding rose at the base of the steps.
All this time walking with God, and you’d think I’d know what to do. You’d think I’d just surrender it at the beginning. You’d think I would walk closer instead of further away, that I would know how to abide, how to dwell, how to remain. But I still don’t, not like I should.
It’s coming. I think it, right then. Just this: a storm. I feel it on my skin, behind my eyes. I hear it thundering distant, right from the thickly clouded parts of me. And I don’t know why I don’t lay it down right then. That’s what prayer is, really. A laying down of things God already knows, a releasing, a fragrant offering of faith and trust. But He won’t take what I don’t offer. It’s His gift to me, the choice. I should place it all in His palms just then, right when I notice the darkening sky. I should ask my sisters, my husband, my family to stand with me, to lift their shields up next to mine. But I don’t. Why don’t we? Even after all this time, I can feel a storm coming and swallow the prophecy.
I push the feeling down deep and go back in the house. I dry my face and arms on a towel and let the tornado sweep me up in its black, weaving center. I feed children and brush my daughters’ hair into smooth ponytails. I touch their cheeks and arms with my fingers and whisper love and I’m so proud and I hope. I wave them off to school and wash dishes and gather my lists too long. I drive through traffic and wait in lines and pile groceries in the trunk and on the seats. I unload and eat an energy bar with one hand and squeeze in a few sweet minutes to hear my mom’s voice. I could tell her about the storm warnings. She wants to know those things. But for some reason, I don’t give her the opportunity to wrap her arms tighter around me in the boat. I don’t say the words, I’m having a hard day. And all the while, the thunder rumbles. And It smells of rain.
The first drops come in carpool, just a drizzle, as I sit noticing the trees, the way the leaves hang low and twisted in the thick heat. Suddenly, I gasp, thinking of Riley, feeling the not knowing, the gray uncertainty of epilepsy, the narratives of other lives that make me sometimes think what if. Just like that, I sit choking on grief, and the tears gather, and I say out loud the thing that every mother says sometimes: “Please. Please let me see my children grow up.” I should continue. I should let the words tumble out into His lap. I should press the fear into His hands. But I don’t. Instead, I swallow it all and press on. And I feel it coming, the first scattered drops still invisible, a warning suddenly cool on my head, my cheeks. I inch forward and I swallow hard and I turn my thoughts away. And I don’t know why. I don’t know the thing that sticks in my throat, the thing that makes me refuse to give it all over.
At home, I watch Riley’s smile a little more closely. I reach up and touch her hair, and she giggles. And I savor her a little long, the just me and her, losing track of time, until the lightning cracks and startles me. I am late—late to pick up the other two; late to talk to my waiting friend; late to relieve the teacher who sits watching with Adam. Riley and I rush with the flying wind. And the rain threatens. And the storm gathers behind my eyes. And I feel like I can’t breathe.
“I was worried,” my friend says when we arrive. I feel her anxiety, choppy like the swells, as Adam climbs in, and Zoe lifts her arms in a question, walking toward me.
“I’m sorry. We’re okay,” I say to her. “Riley and I got carried away.” And that’s the truth, but only part.
I don’t know why I don’t tell my friend more, why I don’t ask her right then to help me trust. I don’t know why I go all opaque, like the clouds hovering over me. Friendship is the sharing of His strength, sometimes what He’s stored up in me, sometimes what He’s stored up in her, but how can we share at all if I won’t tell her when something’s coming, when I know I need a shield?
Because when I get home, that’s when the wind whips up fierce and I feel blown around the kitchen, up and down the stairs. The noise deafens and threatens and I feel like I’m just barely hanging on to anything I can. Riley’s homework feels like a tsunami, like it will drown the two of us together, and I know Zoe needs my listening and Adam needs me to include him, to make him engage. And I am sure there’s not enough of me, knowing I’m a clay jar, knowing Who fills and Who moves me. I know I am nothing apart from Him (John 15:5).
And yet, the storm makes me afraid I might drown.
Zoe wants to make her own cheesecake for her birthday, and she’s flying through the kitchen asking questions and cracking eggs and turning on the mixer and pressing cracker crumbs into a pan. And Adam can’t find his PDM, which doubles both as glucose meter and the control system for his insulin pump. “Where’s your check your blood sugar,” he’s asking me, wandering through the room, looking lost. I send him to check the car, but I already know he’s left it at school. I can feel it coming. In the background, Riley’s reading aloud from a book, something for school, something about a girl whose best friend wants her to try out for cheerleading even though it’s the last thing she wants to do.
Back to school for the PDM, and it sits in Adam’s cubby in the classroom. And the thunder rumbles. Adam’s teacher tells me how I was too late picking him up and they won’t wait like that anymore, and we talk about Riley and middle school, and I leave, feeling the rain beating on my arms, soaking me. Home, and Riley and I still have her 5K training to do—something we enjoy together, a break for her, something important—and homework and homework and homework. Dinner waits, unfinished, and the dishes from the cheesecake, and Adam asking me to watch Tom and Jerry.
Riley and I run, her longest run yet, and she giggles through the beginning, when I’m not warmed up and wondering how I will move at all. And then when I know she’s struggling, she presses on anyway, never giving up, never complaining, as though that’s just the normal way. And the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:2), the Spirit says, steadying His hand strong on my shoulder. But right that moment I’m not sure I have faith or want to persevere. And I don’t know why I don’t lay that down too, right then, when I know He can see right through my heart.
When we get home sweaty, Kevin is home, and I can see on his face the day at work, the tired and hungry. I wish I could welcome him with more than this storm, with things done and in order and ready. He asks a few questions and starts working, finishing things for supper while I wash off and Riley follows me upstairs with her homework on a clipboard. We work until Kevin finally says, “Time to take a break and let the poor girl eat.” And he doesn’t mean it this way, but all day I have held it all in my hands instead of laying it down, and I wonder, “What about poor me?” I don’t even know yet that the water is up to my waist and my selfishness threatens to wash me out of the boat.
Kevin prays over our meal and he prays for Riley too, for her finishing, for her ease, and I wonder bitterly why He doesn’t pray for me and my strength and my trying to guide her through, and the dark shadow tumbles out of my mouth in a mumble. ”And help Mom, too,” I say as we lift our heads, and he smiles and says, “Well, absolutely.” And I don’t know why it doesn’t occur to me right then that all day I have smelled the rain and not once asked him to pray. And he lives as part of me. But how can he support me if he doesn’t know?
Kevin cleans the kitchen and helps Zoe change her insulin pod while Riley and I finish her homework. Zoe and Adam slip past for bedtime, hugging us from behind when my arms should be wrapped full around them, and I look up from time to time and see on Kevin’s face what I am feeling, the weary, the too much. We are a cork, bobbing on stormy seas, and staring into the hard rain I have forgotten it’s the Master of Storms who travels with us. Finally, I make a note in Riley’s agenda to finish something tomorrow and I send her to rest, and I find my husband in his office sending emails. I sit down in the bottom of the boat and wrap my arms up over my head. I am soaked.
I wander away and finally let it swallow me, this storm I’ve watched approaching all day. I crawl into bed and let it come, the drowning sea, the rain splatting against the choppy water in heavy sheets, the grief and the whys and the I don’t know I carry deep. I let them sweep me on my back, and finally I let go, and I release my grip, curling into a ball. Rain falls hard, and I gasp for air, and finally, finally I lay it all down. And this is my prayer, a prayer for the emptying days, a prayer for the storms:
Here. Here I am…Here it is. Fight for me. Grant me faith. I believe, but oh LORD, help me overcome my unbelief (Mark 9:24). You, who can calm the storm with a word:
Tell it to be still (Mark 4:36-41). Tell it now.
Help me not to fear my own drowning, when I struggle to breathe. Help me not to lose my footing watching the wind. With my eyes on you and you alone, I know can walk on water (Matthew 14: 28-30). You have said that you’ll never leave me nor forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6 and again and again and again). You have shown me that it’s enough that you’re always in the boat, always aware of me. You have said that the battle is yours and it’s not mine and it’s not against flesh and blood (1 Samuel 17:47; Ephesians 6:12). Ready me. Be my umbrella. You are my strong tower, my refuge, my safety (Proverbs 18:10). You are a shield around me, my Glory, the One who lifts my head high (Psalm 3:3). You are holding me, and I will not drown. Because of your unfailing love, I can sing in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 63:7), even as the rain falls all around me. I can laugh at the days ahead (Proverbs 31:25). You protect me (Proverbs 2:8). You do not sleep, but watch over me (Psalm 121). You, Oh Lord, are the one who sees me (Genesis 16:3). Even as the rain soaks my cheeks, let me rest in you (Psalm 62:5). Help me remember. Help me know that my labor for you is not in vain, that it will surely yet reap a harvest (Galatians 6:9). Help me now, as the storm rages and I feel it deep, to be confident of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see (Hebrews 11:1).
And as at last the Spirit speaks through me the things I cannot say (Romans 8:26), this is what He whispers into the heart of me, as finally I curl into Him, empty:
Peace. Be still. Beloved, you should have been right here, saying this, from the first smell of rain.