Always seek out the seed of triumph in every adversity. – Og Mandino
I left home for my 12-day trip on Sunday, Dec. 27.
The original plan was to leave on Monday, but with the prediction that Winter Storm Goliath would bring snow and ice to Kansas City on Monday, an early departure seemed prudent.
After taking care of a few chores, I finished packing and was on the road before noon. It was a gray day with temperatures in the 20s, but at least the roads were dry.
Over the next 12 days I would visit my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in Atlanta before heading down to Florida’s northeast coast for a few days there. My trip would end in south Florida where my company was holding its annual sales meeting.
With several stops along the way, I was excited to begin the journey.
30 miles east of Columbia, Missouri I drove into Goliath.
My goal was to make it across the Mississippi River and into southern Illinois before calling it a day. This progress would set up an easy seven and one-half hour drive the next day to Atlanta.
Persistent rain made the drive challenging. I toggled the windshield wiper speed from intermittent to low before having to set the speed to high. With the increasing clouds and late-December sun, it was dark by 2 p.m. I still had two hours to go.
One hour outside of St. Louis, the Google Maps app alerted me to a route change. A long stretch of Interstate 70 was closed because of flooding.
Exiting off the interstate, I enjoyed the reprieve from the huge waves of spray hitting my car from the tractor-trailer trucks as they passed.
After navigating a few surface streets, the new route took me to Interstate 64 West. 40 miles away was the Mississippi River and then a few miles after that the hotel waited.
As I approached the river, I grew anxious. The rain had left pools of water everywhere. Imagining what the Mississippi was doing freighted me. With the miles clicking down until I reached the river, the pressure in my chest increased.
8 miles to go.
3 miles left.
The bridge was now visible.
I prayed for slower moving traffic as I crossed. I didn’t want a truck racing past me as the surging river waited hungrily below.
With 500 feet to go, I felt relief as I made it to the other side. I was at the hotel 10 minutes later.
Green, Yellow and Red
The next morning, I woke to the sound of rain striking the window. I turned the television to the Weather Channel as I opened the weather app on my iPhone. Radar showed a gigantic swath of green, yellow and red from Missouri to Georgia.
Winter Storm Goliath was getting stronger.
The choice was clear. I could wait out the storm or I could face Goliath and travel on to the good things waiting for me.
45 minutes into the trip, I found an exit and pulled off the road. I could have traveled further before needing to stop, but I was already on edge and tired of the rain. Never in the past 38 years of driving had I encountered conditions like these.
As the morning grew later, some light was able to penetrate the tight grip Goliath held on the world. The light revealed fields covered by water. It look like the rising water was pushing against the interstate’s guardrails and could rush onto the road and consume everything in its path.
I made the decision to keep driving, but every 30 to 45 minutes I pulled over to catch my breath and replenish my courage before starting again.
The rain wouldn’t stop. The trucks wouldn’t slow down. My fear wouldn’t subside.
It was like this all the way to Chattanooga. Now 13 hours into the drive, I was emotionally drained. With the traffic at a dead stop, I called Mary Beth. After exchanging routine updates, I asked her to stay with me. I needed to hear her voice.
My wife checked the radar and told me that my best bet was to pull over and rest for a while as another large band of yellow and red made its way across I-75.
I eagerly found an exit.
Exhaustion and stress covered me. I set my phone’s timer for 30 minutes before closing my eyes. But the sound of the rain kept me on guard.
In that moment, I wished I was next to my wife enjoying the sound of rain as we dozed in that blissful state of sleep when the night is over and the promise of a new day is waiting to be enjoyed. But in that moment, I never felt more alone. Often times it’s our darkness moments that give light to the things that matter most.
The timer’s alarm prompted me to open my eyes and check the conditions. The rain had subsided. My son’s home was less than hour away. I started the car, put it into Drive and was determined to finish what I had started almost 14 hours ago.
Monday, December 28, 2015 changed me.
Later that week, I read about the full force of the storm on weather.com, “Between the tornadoes in Texas, flooding in the Midwest and blizzard conditions in the Southern Plains, Midwest and Northeast, Goliath’s impacts have taken 52 lives across the country.”
My fear was justified. Goliath was a killer. Both relief and guilt filled me with an awkward comfortableness. Sometimes life has a perverted way of providing the experiences that stay with us forever. Looking back, these lessons are the ones I will always remember:
Fear is good.. Fear tells us to pay attention. It keeps us alert and ready for whatever challenge is heading our way. Fear reminds us the world is unpredictable, intense and unfair. Knowing fear is there to grab our attention gives us the opportunity to live happily when the danger signs are quiet.
I am no David, and that’s okay. I didn’t volunteer to face my Goliath. In fact, I tried to avoid the conformation, but miscalculated its size and ferocity. By midday on Monday, it was clear the giant was in control. I am no David, but I didn’t give up either. I made it to my son’s house as promised.
Maybe the most important life-defining battles aren’t the ones we seek, but are the battles that find us. And once we are toe-to-toe with the adversary, we learn that through God’s grace we have the courage to stand and fight anyway.
Love is the best armor. When it felt like I couldn’t drive one mile more, my wife told me I could. Even 700 miles away, she was with me – encouraging me, supporting me and facing Goliath with me. With love, we are never alone.
I made the final trek home on January 8.
Rain showers traveled with me. But instead of the unrelenting rain I experienced the week before, this rain was gentler as if it was simply reminding me to stay alert so I could make it home.
When I pulled into my garage, I let out a sigh and lifted my eyes. Gratitude was the only message delivered in the prayer.
I was thankful for the time I had with family and friends. I was thankful for the chance to enjoy Florida. I was thankful for all of the beautiful things that bless my life. I was thankful to be home.
I was not thankful for Goliath.
Facing Goliath isn’t something any of us plan, but it is something that’s inevitable. And when the battle is over, and if we’re still standing, the real victory isn’t in Goliath’s defeat, but in our awareness that life never tasted sweeter.