Summer is trying to hold on out on the Oregon Coast, but Fall is letting us know that it won’t wait much longer. We still see sunshine most days, it is still warm enough to be comfortable in a variety of clothing choices. Still, the drizzles have become more frequent, and there is an afternoon wind that doesn’t feel very summery. There is something a little unstable in the air, you feel a change getting ready. I’ve heard predictions of a very strong El Nino this year, and I’m not really completely sure what that means for us weather-wise, but it could be the strongest on record.
These afternoon winds have altered several retreat group plans, especially for boating. Most people don’t want to find themselves out in a rowboat on Smith Lake if the winds are gusting at 20 mph. It means a pretty good workout or a motorboat rescue. What’s more, even if you are a paddler, it means hopping a bunch of choppy waves just to stay in place. This need to alter a schedule based on weather is one of the most helpless feeling inconveniences. Even if everything is planned and scheduled perfectly, there’s nothing that can be done about the weather. The lake might have made perfect sense for 3pm on paper with everyone else’s schedule, but it makes much less sense when you’re standing on a dock, holding your hat down so it doesn’t blow away, considering whether it might still be fun to send the group of novice paddlers out in single kayaks.
These are the times in life when we must adapt outside of the plan we’ve made. In normal life, we need plans to hold our life together to fit with the culture we live in. We live in a world of plans, and those plans give us a lot of stuff that makes life easier. But, I get reminded all the time how there’s a lot of luck sometimes involved for a plan to really go like its meant to. Even within our best plans, we have to remember that we only know a little bit. There are so many other variables around us we just don’t understand.
One afternoon this week, I was leading boating for a group of college ambassadors. It was windy, and there understandably weren’t many takers on the boating option. Still, I had a few students brave Lake Smith’s waters in rowboats. One boat did very well, figuring out the paddles well enough to go into the wind, the way we instruct them to. The other boat spent too much time figuring it out, though, and got pushed to the far end of the lake, then had to continue to learn, paddling against the wind. When they were doing their best, they were basically rowing in place. They waved their oar in the air, which was the signal I instructed them to give if they needed a rescue.
I sprung into action, putting the first-aid kit and lifeguarding tube into out johnboat with the 10 horsepower outboard motor. I started up the engine, yanking on the chord like you do a weedeater, and honestly it’s probably not too different from a weedeater motor. I untied the boat, pushed off, and about the time I got out of reach from the dock, the engine died. No amount of pulls got the engine going again, so I paddled the boat back, and jumped in the the manual, rescue row boat. This basically meant I would row a boat to the end of the lake to try to row a whole other group of people back against the wind. It was the best I could come up with at the time.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we attribute to the Hand of God. I think it’s dangerous territory to say with certainty that God is doing something or telling us something specific. I feel strange when people explain to me something God did and know what God was meaning to do. It seems a little too easy to confuse that with some other kind of motivations. Like the boyfriend who breaks up with his girlfriend, because he feels like God wants him to focus more of his faith. There are so many directions this gets taken, and sometimes it doesn’t feel too far away from something like, “I really feel like God is leading me to buy the turkey sandwich over the ham because my stomach growls more when I think about turkey. I think God wants me to be more sleepy today, because he loves me and wants me to nap.” It seems to me that you’re just hungry for turkey. If God tells you, though, you are more justified to buy the turkey, and people can’t really get angry with you because you listened to God.
Knowing or trying to interpret what God is saying to us, just seems like it should be pretty challenging. Sometimes what I hear as claims of God speaking looks a little too much like the easy way out, a way to pacify our feelings. And, without really meaning to, we’ve put ourselves up on this high horse, saying we have a direct line to the greatest being in the universe. I don’t mean this to call anyone out or try to down the way someone believes. I just feel like God works in much more subtle, layered ways than handing out dating advice–it’s not just a simple “this” because of “that.” Life is much more complicated. I feel like God must be infinitely more complex.
I made it out to the group, still trying to row their way back. I had some people get into my boat, so we could even the weight out. I gave more rowing instruction, and we began to slowly make our way back to the dock. Then I heard the buzz that could only be a weedeater or a 10 horse outboard motor. Ben, one of our resource staff members had seen me leave, come over and got the johnboat running. If you don’t have the throttle turned to just the right spot on the steering handle, the engine will cut out. Ben has had this happen enough that he knew immediately what the problem was. He dragged the stranded rowboat back, and then came got our boat (I had just about rowed us back though).
There’s so much I could infer, depending on how I’m looking at it, about what God might be saying to me. Maybe God was sending me a lesson in needing to ask for help. Maybe God was protecting us and comforting us during a windy afternoon. Maybe God was in the conversation I had with the college ambassadors in my boat that I wouldn’t have had without rescuing them, so it was a lesson on unexpected things. Maybe God was showing awesome power through the wind. Maybe God wanted me to work up an appetite, so I would eat the turkey sandwich and feel his love in that moment. Maybe all of that was happening. It seems a little too much like some kind of plan I would cook up, though, and there’s just so much I don’t understand.
At the end of the week, a strong set of storms came in, bringing a few inches of rain and some very strong winds. Gusts were approaching 60mph. The lake was a constant set of white caps, doors were thrown open and slammed, and I sometimes had to lean into whatever direction I walked. This seems like a different type of storm, one for a different season. Hope texted me, “Come out to the ocean. It’s awesome!” The staff was on the beach, as the sand blew in clouds about 4 feet tall. In the distance, the waves crashed hard, but you could hardly pay attention to the ocean, because the wind was pushing you, moving you in its direction. People talked about going out there in shorts and the sand hurting their legs. Still, they talked about it in this excited way with no regrets. There was a small element of danger in this–trees could fall, power lines could drop. But, some of us wanted to witness this power, stand a little closer to it.
Saturday night as we were nearing the time for everyone to go to bed for the evening, the power went out all over camp. I put on my rain jacket and went out into the steady drizzle to help pass out lanterns to our guests. We lit candles in the house, wondering how long we’d be without light. The power was only out for about an hour or so, but it had been enough of a diversion from the normal to make us take note of it. It was enough for us to tell people about it the next day. Even though the night was nearly finished and in the books, it still took us away from the plan. Lessons in every direction.
In my life, I often worry myself with how a moment should feel or what I should know from my experiences to the point of taking away from the moment. We as humans are successful, because of this tendency to figure out what is going on with the world around us–it’s an important thing. Sometimes we get so obsessed with it, though, we will make our own explanations for something, even if we don’t have an adequate one. Standing out in that great, powerful wind, I had no idea what it meant, what it was saying. I just knew I wanted to be there next to it. Maybe something inside of me will be stirred up or maybe comforted or inspired because of this. I don’t know at this point, but if it is as big as I’m telling you it is, it has something to tell me in words much bigger than mine, bigger than something I can plan for.