June 1, 2020

​Forecast: Heavy Rain

We say, “Send me,” but God doesn’t send us alone.

Dixil Rodríguez

One of the most difficult aspects of moving to a new place and setting up “home” is finding those spiritual and emotional havens. For which community projects will I volunteer? Who needs my help? Where will my spiritual gifts be of service? Where is my new church located? What will my new religious and spiritual family be like? Of all the necessary questions for adjustment, I can always rely on two constants: God’s leading and unknown weather forecasts.

God always leads and makes the necessary introductions for us to serve where He needs us. I volunteer in places where family and friends honestly express: “I would never have seen you participating in that project!” That’s part of saying, “Send me”: you never know where God needs ambassadors.

The second constant I know for sure: God’s introductions do not come with a weather warning. Whether it’s physical or emotional, we can’t predict if our location of service will experience sunshine, rain, or heavy storms. The best I can do is prepare by praying that I will have the heavenly “gear” to get through whatever comes. In that preparation I’m not alone.

Plenty of women and men have prayed “Send me,” but it always begins with a recalled admission: “Here am I.” It’s not that God needs to know where our geographical location is in order to put us to work—it’s a willingness to admit that we’re ready for service, regardless of the weather. That’s not an easy task. Think on it: ready for service, regardless of weather. Imagine all the pictures and images of “what’s left” after a hurricane, tornado, or storm. Are we still willing to serve?

Would you rescind your offer to serve because the sun is too hot or the air too humid? Would you rescind your offer to serve because of the possibility that you may end up in a place that’s unfriendly or dangerous?

God willing, we simply serve and rely on Him to help us through any weather. The forecast uncertain, we may be fortunate enough to receive a warning of any impending storm. What do we do with the very real possibility of a forecast of dangerous weather? When we hear it coming, how do we prepare for a storm?

Shared Stories

It was a week of good news. A physical checkup had demonstrated that I was in “good health.” Actually, my physician said: “Everything still looks perfect. You’re a miracle and a blessing. Go and continue enjoying life!”

Anyone who knows my personal story can attribute “miracle and blessing” only to God, not to science. Continued good health? That’s a blessing I never take for granted. Yes, it was a day of good news! Also, the news was right on time, as I prepared to take on new responsibilities in my professional life: more time as a chaplain and less time as a professor.

Yet in my sunshine I heard the faint sound of thunder and heavy rain.

That evening, as I served a new volunteer community, I found myself going through a familiar routine of donning a mask, gloves, and gown before entering a room to visit a patient, Emory. It was a pleasant visit. A man of faith, he shared a brief synopsis of his life and thanked me for my visit. He suffered no delusion that he would recover from illness, but he was at peace. As with many people, he had outlived family and friends. He was on his own, but he was quick to say: “I’m not alone, no matter what it looks like.”

With a bit of time before beginning my new job, I decided to visit Emory again. On my second visit I heard more details of his life. He had served as a missionary, a doctor on a different continent. He had to learn to speak a different language. We spoke of cultural differences, ministering to the sick, the poor, everyone we often call “the least of these,” when in reality we’re just as least as they are, all alike, fulfilling the call to love one another, labor with one another. His words inspired me, and I promised to visit again.

A day later I go through the routine again: mask, gloves, and gown before entering the room. As I say a quick prayer before opening the door, I hear the voice of a nurse behind me whisper: “He’s not well, Chaplain. This will happen quickly.”

I sit with Emory for a while. This time I tell him the stories. I tell him about relocating, moving to a new place, preparing to begin a different ministry. He listens, smiles, laughs. His green eyes look cloudier than the day before, but he tells me he’s not in pain.

In a moment of silence he reaches for my hand and says: “I, too, told God, ‘Send me’; then it all changed. I rescinded my willingness to serve.” A tear runs down his cheek. I hold my breath and don’t move lest his next words are not ready to meet the air we share. “I said, ‘God, I wanted to serve; I just didn’t think it would be like this! So hard!’ My family struggled. Even after we returned, my wife suffered with chronic pain from repeated malaria acquired during that time I had said ‘Send me,’ but . . .” he stops to catch his breath. I see him labor, and I nod. There is no need to finish the sentence.

I know.

We embrace the words “God will never give us more than we can handle” and “All things are possible through Jesus Christ”; then we realize that in our service, during our ministry, there may be collateral damage, loss, struggles. We remember we are still human, fragile. We doubt. What was once a distant sound of thunder gets closer, and we remember that sound precedes a mighty storm.

As I conclude my visit, he asks me to pray. I hold his hand, and once my prayer is finished, I feel a gentle squeeze to my hand as he begins to pray. It’s not often that this happens during visits, and I’m humbled to hear his voice lift up words of gratitude and praise to God for all the kindness and joy of the day. His voice is strong, determined, but his words demonstrate that God has been not only a Father but a patient Friend to him. The honest words make tears pool in my eyes. Just as the prayer nears a close, I hear my new friend share a weather forecast:

“God, keep this young woman on this path. Help her stay the course, so that when the storm comes, You will give her strength to run ahead of chariots, creating a path through heavy rain, where You lead. Send your angels to sustain her.”

I hold his hand as he falls asleep.

Running with Another

Hours later, in the safety and comfort of my home, I read the story of Elijah and Ahab for the eighth time. In my mind’s eye I imagine the scene. As a child growing up in the Caribbean, I remember the sight of rain so thick you couldn’t see more than a few inches ahead. How thick was that heavy rain for Elijah? Is it possible to imagine that same heavy rain as not just physical but emotional? How many times have I asked God for guidance through a storm? How many times has He sent someone to help me through a storm?

My “good news week” ends with prayers of gratitude, prayers of comfort for my new friend, and prayers for purpose: “Here I am. As You have blessed me for so long and kept me for so long, send me. Even if it storms.”

Throughout the hours of the night, the sound of thunder grows, and the winds change.

Crisis Conditions

Several weeks later, a new morning, a new reality. Thunder is loud, rain is heavy, visibility is poor.

The early hours of the day find me sitting in my car, dialing a familiar phone number: my parents. I’m calling to ask for continued prayers. I’m headed to work through a heavy storm, and I’m not the only one. As I begin the journey, I remember the prayer of my friend: “Help her stay the course.” My “good news week” is now a reminder of how much I must rely on God to run with me through any storm. To be in the trenches means to serve in faith, running ahead of the heavy rain, ahead into the unseen and
unpredictable. Yet, as Emory reminded me: “I am not alone, no matter what it looks like.”

The request, so obvious to me now, is that all of us “stay the course.” That we run together with the purpose of ministry and mission, true light bearers in the deep dark, listening to the one still voice that can be used to calm and bring peace among the noise. In every capacity we are prepared, secured, comforted with God’s promises; words so clear we should not fear to stumble in our capacity to share the strength and peace they bring. Here we are; send us.

As I stand in line to be screened for temperature checks and answer questions, a familiar nurse I work with recognizes me and walks over to clear me for entry into the hospital. “Tell me, Chaplain, what’s the weather like?”

“Forecast? Heavy rain,” I say with a smile. Yet here we are, still willing to serve. No rescinding. No left, no right, just forward.

“Are we ready?” she asks as she jots down numbers on a clipboard.

Yes, we are.

And just like that, following the footsteps of the One who faced a deadly storm for me, I step into the heavy rain.

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over many waters. . . .

The Lord blesses his people with peace” (Ps. 29:3-11).

Dixil Rodríguez has served as a university professor and hospital chaplain.