Smiling at the Storm

Smiledeut31“If this doesn’t kill me, it’s certainly going to add to my collection of grey hair!” I yelled to Pedro over the howling wind of the sudden squall that had blown in whilst we leisurely paddled our way back from Bear Island.

“If we get struck by lightening,” he hollered back, “I think just the opposite will happen.”

“What?!” It took a moment for his meaning to sink in, and then I laughed. “You mean getting struck by lightening will turn all of those grey hairs sooty black?”

A giant wave splashed over the bow of our kayak, sloshing warm water from Bogue Inlet into our tiny craft. “Should we get out and walk this baby?” I asked Pedro. “It doesn’t seem like we’ve moved forward in the last five minutes.”

“Sounds like a plan,” he answered. We struggled out of the kayak (one does not enter and exit a kayak gracefully, under the best of circumstances) and started towing it through the shin-deep water next to a hummock of land. Ominous clouds hovered over the estuary, and in the distance (at least, I hoped it was distant), purple forks of lightening exploded on the mainland.

After five minutes of towing the kayak, we rounded the point of land and lowered ourselves back into the narrow confines of the kayak. Although it didn’t seem possible, the wind picked up and water continued to slosh into our boat. My shoulders felt weary—and we still had three miles to paddle.

“There’s a little inlet up ahead,” Pedro said. “Maybe we should wait the storm out there.”

“Good idea,” I answered. “And there aren’t any trees to attract lightening…and we’ll still be lower than the marsh grass…” my words trailed off. Naw, no point in thinking about lightening strikes.

Five minute later, our kayak safely ensconced in a tiny inlet, the heavens let loose with rain so fierce I had to keep my eyes closed. The raindrops started filling the kayak with water (at least it was warm water).

“Here comes hypothermia,” Pedro said.

“I doubt it,” I answered. “If we get cold we can just sit in the ocean water—it’s like a giant hot tub.”

Lightening flashed nearby. I counted. One-one hundred, two-one hundred, three-one hundred, four-one hundred, five-one hundred…KABOOM! The bass rippled through the waters and reverberated the kayak seats.

“Those are some subwoofers!” I quipped as I checked to make sure that our metal paddles touched the kayak—not us.

Pedro laughed. He loves his stereo system. He loves loud music that resonates deep in his chest. He gets ready for church by blasting Toby Mac loud enough for the churchgoers across the street to hear as they head into church.

I heard scraping behind me. “What are you doing?”


“Have we sprung a leak?”

“Yeah, these two big holes where we get into the kayak are leaking like crazy.”

“Oh.” I grabbed the zipped off pant legs of my convertible pants and used them to trap water and then wring them out over the side of the kayak.

Lightening struck nearby again, and Pedro laughed.

The words of a song we always sang at the summer camp where I worked for five years came back to me, and I started to sing at the top of my lungs. “With Jesus in the vessel I can smile at the storm, smile at the storm, smile at the storm!”

“Banana peels!” Pedro shouted over the boom of thunder. “Do you know why I said that?”

“Because that was Vusi Kumalo’s favorite song, and he didn’t know he should peel the banana before he ate it at the end of the banana relay during staff training.”

Vusi, an energetic counselor from apartheid South Africa who somehow ended up as a counselor at Big Lake Youth Camp near Sisters, Oregon, had embedded the lyrics in my mind. He taught everyone the hand motions and routinely rocked the stage with his rendition of the song.

I don’t even know if he’d ever been in a boat, but I’m sure he knew all about the storms of life. After all, his black skin guaranteed a storm wherever he went in his country during a time when skin color defined the worth of a human.

I sang the song to bolster my courage during a lightening storm and torrential downpour whilst sitting in a small kayak in the ‘open ocean’ (the deepest water in the inlet at low tide would probably come up to my waist), but Vusi sang the song as a testament to his faith in a God who would navigate the waters of violence, discrimination and crushing poverty for a man of faith.

But in the last twenty-five years, I have traveled a long road in my own faith. I know now, for certain that nothing—cancer, chemo, caregiving, debt, despair, depression, loss, loneliness, lightening, storms, strife, stress, unemployment, uncertainty, unforgiveness—can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39).

And so while I probably should have harbored terror in my heart at our predicament, I paused to take photos of the wild beauty around me. I savored the warm rain and the wild moment with my sweetheart of 25 years. I grinned and shouted to him, “You’ve had your wish of being on a boat in the open ocean during a squall!”

“Yes!” he replied.

And secretly, I hope that our adventure in the inlet has fulfilled his desire and he’ll never ask me to sail the ‘real’ open ocean. In a sailboat. With giant waves. And big storms.

If that does happen one day, I know I will smile at the storm, because Jesus will always be in our vessel. (click to tweet)

If you’d like to see and hear the storm, you can watch this short video.

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Holly Barrett