Calm in the Storm

Destination day dawned clear and bright.  I awoke with a mix of glad anticipation to finally arrive in the Keys and a sense of loss that my journey south was coming to a close.  If you’re tempted to feel sorry for me, don’t.  I have five days in Islamorada to look forward to, and another five to drive back to Virginia.  Yet there remains an inescapable sense of losing something I can never quite get back.  These last days had been so full.  Full of wonder, joy, discovery, miles traveled, new thoughts and ideas, peace.  I was a little bit afraid to stop and risk breaking the spell.

But day dreams of wide aquamarine waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic overruled my doubt.  And truth be told, I admit to beginning to feel a little trapped by central Florida.  I think it was knowing that I was flanked by far-off balmy beaches running up and down to both my right and left, though the only things in sight were massive black thunderclouds dead ahead, and a 360-degree panorama of citrus trees.

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A small glimpse of the orange groves in Central Florida.

In fact, in those next few hours, I drove by every single grove of orange and grapefruit trees in all of Florida.  Orchards themselves were nothing new to me.  I grew up in a land of sweet and sour cherries, peach, pear, every variety of apple imaginable.  The mountainsides above our valley were dotted with fruit farms owned by neighbors and friends, and we all picked our share as teenagers.  But these endless green groves rushed silently past my windows for miles as I headed further and further into the darkness of the impending storm.  Dozens and dozens and even a hundred miles.  Tropicana, Florida’s Natural, Minute Maid.  This was big business.

Somehow in the midst of now pelting rain and wind, I was lulled into a reverie as my mind wandered back over the miles.  The word contentment kept replaying over and over.  There was a peace that had come with this journey, and it was a somewhat unexpected revelation.  And oddly there was another word that kept creeping in, but more like a memory:   fear.

EE5C9877-8E62-44D0-A908-F9B1866B70BFContentment vs. Fear.   Not typical antonyms, but yet they are.  Enemies, in a way.  Thinking on this, I recognized that to be content requires the absence of fear.  I consider that you cannot have both at once.  This moment in the storm was an example of exactly that.  I couldn’t see 5 feet in front of me, yet there was no fear.  The road was predictably and comfortingly straight for 50 more miles at least; I knew where I was going even though I’d never traveled this way before.   The storm would not dissuade me from my “okay-ness”.  No room for fear here.

We all have songs that speak to us in different seasons of our lives.  Currently, Zach Williams’ song, Fear, He is a Liar won’t leave my brain.  Its truths are tangible.  From the time I was a little girl, FEAR was my demon. Of course everyone is scared sometimes.  We know it’s healthy and normal.  It keeps us from burning our fingers on a hot stove or stepping too close to the edge of a cliff.  But a healthy fear of something is different than a controlling one.  And while as a child I had no reason to be controlled by fear, I was always afraid something bad would happen.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of strong mind.”  (2 Tim 1:7)  Life-changing words for me.  God did not give us fear.  Fear didn’t come from Him.  This verse is rich for me.  And now this song.  The refrain is a powerful adaptation of that verse in a way.

“Fear, he is a liar

He will take your breath

Stop you in your steps

Fear he is a liar

He will rob your rest

Steal your happiness

Cast your fear in the fire

‘Cause fear he is a liar”

A liar.  Fear takes, stops, robs, steals.  Gratefully, I realized these days on the road had allowed me to trade in the adult version of all that for it’s sweet counterpart – contentment.

More verses in my head: “Be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. (Hebrews 13:5)   And “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation . . . I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  (Phil. 4:11,13)

Peace, rest, deep breaths, contentment.  Slowing down, appreciating the small stuff, the simple things, being certain of what I cannot see.   Yes, this is where I was headed all along.  And here I found it, in the eye of a black cloud, water gushing down the road in a nameless, faceless place.  It was perfect.  To be honest I quickly realized I was much like Dorothy and her friends (minus the tornado part, thankfully!), on the hunt for something they imagined they were doomed to live without only to find they had it all along.  Contentment had never left me.  It was always there, but I had traded it in for fear, and noise.  Now the lure and the peace of the road restored it to me.

The rains let up (though they would come and go several more rounds before I arrived), sunshine shimmered through the clouds and I opened the sun roof to let the rays soak in and take in deep, fresh breaths of clean air (I’d be lying if I said “orange-scented air”, but that would have been cool!).

I happily drove on, reminiscing on all the little things that paved the path these last five days.  Here are a few random discoveries from my collection of experiences thus far:

  • Old hotels are the best hotels.
  • Small-town people are almost always friendly.
  • There isn’t a town or village in the south without a clapboard Baptist church and a Dollar Store.  (Is there a connection between the two?  A question for another time.)
  • There are an insane number of small never-heard-of-them-before college campuses between Virginia and Florida.
  • Signs that say “Bear Country” are actual serious.  Not just a fun photo op.
  • Bees are beautiful.
  • It’s possible to build a fire out of totally wet wood if you’re very patient (+ firestarterJ).
  • I love fog.
  • Theoretically, you can easily run out of gas on either Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway if you’re not careful.
  • Waking up on a mattress in the back of your car on the top of a mountain is exciting.
  • RV parks are almost as common as Walmarts in these parts.
  • Just as interesting is that you can spend the night in your RV in a Walmart parking lot and they’re cool with it.
  • Greenville, SC is a “do-over” (= two thumbs up).
  • It’s possible to buy “New York Fried Chicken” at a middle-of-nowhere gas station in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
  • You’re never too far from a Starbucks if you really need it.

To sum up, I realize I cleared the fog and relearned some big important stuff that’s really pretty simple.  I’ve also learned lots of seemingly trivial things have made the trip that much more memorable.

My last important lesson of the day was a geographic one, however.  If you drive far enough into the heart (or bowels, I’m not sure which seemed more accurate) of Florida, you eventually have to head east to the Ocean or west to the Gulf.  Continuing southward would simply make me part of the food chain in the Everglades.  It was a little like playing chicken – you eventually gotta choose a side or risk dismemberment.  So, I stared down the swamp until the road gave me no choice, then promptly veered left and skirted Lake Okeechobee on my way to the coast, Miami and beyond.

If I stepped on it (and route 95 wasn’t a parking lot), I’d be hanging loose in the Keys by mid-afternoon.  These next five days will be just fine after all.

 

4 thoughts on “Calm in the Storm

  1. I look forward to reading your blogs. You are an incredible writer and I feel like I am on the road with you. Thanks so much for sharing your journey.

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  2. Your musings about fear brought up two related memories for me. One was all of those nights we spent at Nanny Helen’s house on the (many, many) weekends that Dad & Mom were away for Amway goings-on, where I would lie in my own tiny bedroom in my own tiny bed, not being able to sleep for fear that Mom & Dad would be killed in a car crash. Over and over, I would imagine that they were dead, never to return to us. For some reason, this fear only played on my mind at Nanny Helen’s (where we slept on Saturday nights), not Nanny Katie’s (where we slept on Friday nights). Maybe it was because I had my own room at Nanny Helen’s…all alone with my thoughts.

    The other much more fun — but somehow intricately linked — memory was of this:

    Take a cup of kindness
    Add a dash of charity
    Mix with understanding
    And a bit of courtesy

    Top it off with patience
    Sprinkle liberally with cheer
    Serve generously to everyone
    You meet throughout the year

    Do you remember that? It was a framed poem (of course bordered by curlicued flowers) hanging either at the top of the stairs or in my room at Nanny Helen’s, and I would do a little routine for you, swinging back and forth in the doorway b/w the stairway and my room, quickly reading each line and then swinging back in the other direction where you were, acting as if I were “riffing” for you. You always pretended to believe that I was making it up as I went along, and you were very impressed with me (it only just now occurs to me that you knew the truth) — and I remember making you laugh.

    Fear vs. contentment…fear vs. laughter and connection and kindness… Thank you 40+ years later for pretending that I was brilliant, and helping to keep my fears at bay.

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  3. I never read this until just now! I was just going through old comments, thinking I need to write something today, and saw this. I DO remember the poem, but I wouldn’t have been able to place where. That’s hilarious. I also had fears they would die in a car crash, but I was older when that started and didn’t go away until my freshman year of college. I was sure they’d die some night traveling back from Ohio or some place and we would be left with baby Mike and I’d be a parentless “mother” at 16!

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