Now that my cancer is pretty much behind me (literally!) I can see that the whole experience, from diagnosis to radiation, chemo and surgery, and all the poop bags in between, sucked me (and my friends and family) down one of life’s dark, smelly, turbulent storm drains. I never really thought about it until I nearly lost Chester to a watery grave down a storm drain last week.
We were bouncing to get out and run some trails. The jet lag brain-fog that had accompanied me since getting back from London was loosing its grip and the thought of an hour alone to chase Chester through the woods took a good 20 years off my mindset (if not my muscle tone!). The weather was every runner’s dream; cool enough to not wilt in the heat, sunny enough to get me out of bed and breezy enough to evaporate the sweat that always seems puddle in the bottom of my sports bra.
I love you all, I really do, but when I’m running trails I really don’t want to see you or meet you! It’s MY time! Just me, Chester, the open trail and the illusion that I’m a hardened trail runner from the Pacific North West! As we began to explore the switch back paths that took us deeper into the woods the trails were gloriously void of all human life. The composted leaves under foot were wet from the previous night’s downpour but not so waterlogged that I should have worn my wellies*. The spring in my step had returned and I managed to forget about my never ending list of life draining actions. We headed into the twisting maze of trails that wound through trees that were vibrant with spring’s emerging life … I was in heaven!
We spent our time chasing squirrels and getting lost until we crossed the final bridge over the wide, swollen creek that marked the exit of the woods. Chester decided he needed a drink and wandered down to the rocky bank to rehydrate. Drinking and swimming every creek he comes to is nothing new for Chester, and I often use his watering stops to wash the mud off his legs (with his black, muddy, skinny legs, and a big, white, fluffy body he can start to resemble a sheep instead of the noble watch dog he’d like to be!) What was new that day, was the fact that he just stepped off the bank and disappeared! My large, unsuspecting, and deeply stupid K9 psimply vanished, engulfed by the swollen waters.
When he popped up to the surface a couple of seconds later, he had already been swept into the centre of the river and, at an alarming rate, was being dragged by the current towards the concrete bridge. Despite his best efforts he couldn’t swim against the swell and as our eyes met, the inevitability of him being swept under the bridge dawned on us both. The fear multiplied as I realized that this was no ordinary bridge. Not only was it made of solid, “puppy pulverizing” concrete, but it was also a storm drain bridge. This meant that the entire volume of upstream water, swollen by the previous night’s downpour, was being forced through two smallish water pipes underneath. The words “Oopsie Buddy” cheerfully escaped my lips in a rather lame attempt to minimize Chester’s panic (I think it was some kind of motherly reflex reaction born out of years of uttering “Oopsie” as various children fell out of trees, bumped their heads or came to me with blood oozing from a pocket knife wound). And then he was gone – flushed unceremoniously through the pipe.
Moments later he was regurgitated on the other side of the bridge into the swirling white water beyond. This was Pooh Sticks* on steroids!
As I witnessed my large soggy doggy struggling against the current, various courses of action crossed my mind at lightening speed. Each one was either dismissed as ridiculously useless (throwing him a stick to hang on to!), dangerous (me jumping in after him!), or impractical (me throwing someone else in after him!). Finally, I had the notion of pausing, looking up and checking out what lay ahead down stream.
As I looked up from the potential disaster unfolding in front of me, and looked ahead to the waters down stream, I was relieved to see that about 50 yards ahead the waters calmed and the creek bed shallowed to a more friendly elbow depth (Chester’s not mine). So, I decided to let him float off into the distance until he reached calmer waters and could heave himself onto terra firma. Once on dry land he raced along the bank, bound up to me and execute his wet-dog, spin cycle, shake for maximum mummy drenching potential. He then gallivanted off to chase another squirrel, completely unperturbed by his adventure and close shave with a watery grave.
But his little adventure and how I handled it made me think (as my adventures with Chester often do!). It made me ponder about life, cancer and how we tend to react when we feel ourselves being sucked away by a strong current and find that we are heading for the dark turbulence of one of life’s water drains. When this happens to me, as it did the day I was diagnosed, it’s normally all I can do to keep my head above water long enough to take a breath, before I’m submerged again, ready to be spat out on the other side, only to face more eddies and currents dragging me further from where I had hoped my ideal life would take me. My natural reaction is to swim against the current and fight with all my might to return to the safety of the moment before it I was swept away.
It’s a rare occasion when I have the foresight to look up and ahead, and check out the conditions of the waters stretching ahead of me. So often I miss that calm waters lie ahead and that just floating with the current, however fast, turbulent and scary, will take me to safer, shallower waters that offer new and exciting places to explore, recuperate and rehydrate. When I was going through cancer my normal state of being was panic and thrashing about. It was only on rare occasions that I was able to look up and ahead.
Sometimes the drenching and flushing last for a short season, but for many of us it can go on for weeks, months or years and we get tired, despondent and hopeless; fearing that we have been abandoned to the swollen waters of suffering. But we’re not alone. Often there are others in the waters that make the journey bearable and there are many people on the banks who’ve just found the safety of the shallow water who want to cheer us on and show us the way. And despite what it may feel like, or what we believe at the time, God has not abandoned us. He is in the water with us as we flounder and fight the currents. In fact, it’s often in the drenching that we meet him face to face. And we can rest in Him and trust Him to lead us to safety as we float with the raging current.
If, like me, you were or are in turbulent waters right now or you can see that you are about to be sucked into one of life’s storm drains, let me encourage you to stay calm and look ahead and look about you. Please know that you aren’t alone and that you can look around and see others that want to help you and lead you to calmer waters. And when your faith is water logged and sinking it’s OK to shout out to God and tell him you’re drowning. Contrary to popular belief He loves us whether we are clean, dry and on solid ground, or whether we are thrashing around and floundering like a drowning Doddle. Either way, He wants to meet us right where we are.
* Wellies: The English name for rainboots. Named after Lord Wellington!
* Pooh Sticks: A game played by Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poohsticks