Thursday, June 19, 2014

Storms, Ignorance, and Memories

Can you believe that June is already almost over?

In a week and half, July will be upon us, and before we know it, we'll be sitting next to our buddy in Starbucks with an iced-venti-no-water-light-berry-very-berry-hibiscus-refresher-sub-green-tea and, staring at the street, murmur in a heat induced lethargy, "Can you believe that the summer is almost over?"

Or maybe that's just me.

Thus far, the Las Vegas summer has been exquisitely dry, but honestly, what do I know? This is the first summer that I have spent away from Prescott in seven years.

I'm having forest withdrawals.

A few of my students and former camp staff chums asked me a while back, "Why don't you blog more camp stories? Those are great."

Camp stories forever chronicle the pride-induced humiliation of my character development as well as the more embarrassing chapters of my discovering my spiritual gifts.

This is the story of how I discovered my gift of controlling the weather.

Just kidding.

This is a story that has been affectionately named "Johnny tests God" and is also well remembered as one of the worst natural disasters ever to blight Prescott Pines Camp.

This story takes place earlier in my camp career, as most of my humiliating camp stories do, during youth camp. Camp was on a fiery roll; the energy was high, the campers were involved and stoked, the staff were organized and enthusiastic, the band was rad, and the speaker was great. It was a great week of ministry.

Thursday was always a big day being as it was the last full day of the week of camp, so we always want to end the week with a bang.

It was water day, and the water games were intense and wickedly successful, the mud pit was deep and smooth, and nobody had gotten hurt. Towards the end of water games, dark black clouds that threatened the horizon began churning far off in the distance.

Being covered in mud, a little bit of rain would be fun as well as functional, washing the mud away.

With splotches of residual clouds drifting high above, a tiny sprinkle began to drop on to us, lightly kissing our mud-caked, adrenaline filled bodies, but after a moment, the spritz stopped, leaving us still very much covered in mud and discontentment.

As the field echoed with disappointed sighs and huffs, I turned my churlish eyes to the heavens and voiced my disappointment to the skies. I shook my fist and addressed the creator of the universe with a voice that burned with ignorance and pride.

"Is that all you got, God?!"

My rebellious exclamation echoed through the trees of the quiet forest. The breeze that whispered through the pine limbs gasped and held its breath, and the forest stood still. In the distance, a squirrel cried out in terror.

In a swirling barrage of violent buffeting gust, the foreboding oppressive cloud titans that crouched in the distance began closing on our position from all sides. The four winds that had graciously blessed us with a lovely breeze all day had betrayed us and transformed in to the harbinger of meteorological doom.

Brace yourself. A storm is coming.

Entranced by the sudden change of weather, we gazed up at the kaleidoscope of spinning clouds that converged upon us.

In my ignorance, I had doomed us all.

Then all at once, the wind stopped. Above us was a thick canopy of black clouds that blocked out the high afternoon sun. I stared at the new sky and tilted my head, wondering if we would get more than the previous spritzing.

And then I heard it. A quiet whistle and a soft thud. Between my feet landed something very out of place in the middle of an Arizona summer. I knelt down and picked up a gnarled piece of ice the size of a golf ball.

That's when we should have started running.

Have you ever had a bucket of water poured on to you? That's how the rain came. Not in progressively increasing levels of rain, but in thick sheets of rain that soaked you through in seconds. Golf ball sized hail pelted us from above, laced within the sheets of water. It only took one massive clap of ground shaking thunder to inspire us all to run for cover.

It was every man for himself, man versus the scornful mother nature. I remember running through streams and puddles, not being able to see through the stinging rain and onslaught of welt-inducing hail that beat upon
my cold wet flesh. I made to the MAC and tore open the door. Inside looked like a refugee center. miserable and frightened Arizonans consoled each other as water ebbed under the doors and covered the floors. The sound of gallons of water and hail pounding on the roof of the 65 year old building was near deafening.  

I was dripping wet, covered in welts, shivering from the sprint and the cold. Several of the other summer staff found me and ran to me.

"Johnny, this storm is so bad! Where did it come from?"
I didn't answer.
"We have to get to the Depot. The radios are in there as well as the other staff."

Going back out in to that storm was not my idea of a good time, but we had a job to do.

We ran to the Depot through the storm, being crushed by the weather the whole way. When we arrived, leadership pointed to us and said, "There is a group of girls still on the field under a cover of trees who are too scared to come here." Without discussing a plan, we sprinted away back to the field. Now the hail was all different sizes ranging from tiny rice sized pellets to racket ball sized monstrosities. We barreled over bushes and rocks, splashing through brand new creeks that had formed in a few seconds. When we got to the field, we found the group of five girls huddled under a canopy of branches, shivering and hiding from the hail. Using out shirts and towels, we created makeshift umbrellas for them to hide beneath as we escaped back to the depot.

We returned to the depot and collapsed in to a few chairs by a fireplace. Then the power went out. We were surrounded by darkness and the cries of surprised campers.

After an hour of darkness and meteorological onslaught, the storm subsided to an icy drizzle that lasted through the night in to the next morning. Sidewalks were covered by newly shifted earth, and buildings were filled with rain. I spent the rest of my Thursday brooming multiple inches of rain water out of the dining hall.

Unfortunately, the power stayed off all night and wasn't restored until the last ten minutes of the final Friday morning chapel.

As miserable as this story sounds, in the years to follow, I met hundreds of campers who were there that day who hold that as one of their favorite camp memories despite the cold rain, painful hail, and inconvenient power outage.

Just to clarify, I don't actually believe that the sudden storm was God punishing me or that my pride inspired the peculiar weather in the least. Looking back, it was an exciting memory filled with adrenaline, fear, action movie-esque scenes of rescue, and incredible feats of nature.

Nevertheless, I don't shout at the sky anymore.

Nate T B