Volunteer Rain (2014-09-19 Daily)
“Even in the familiar there can be surprise and wonder.”
I’m weather aware. I remember sitting in front of the TV with my dad watching hour after hour of The Weather Channel in its early days, tolerating the “Local on the 8’s” to catch the progress of an arctic cold front or to get the latest update on Tropical Storm Umberto. My fascination with weather may have originated from growing up in one of the most overcast regions in the United States (Binghamton, New York), or from endless hours watching the sky as I cloud danced in a Schweizer 1-26 sailplane. But it wasn’t until I moved to Texas that my weather awareness developed from fascination into fixation.
The wet, cold climate of upstate New York drove me to southern California, where I lived and worked in Santa Monica for eighteen months. It didn’t take long for me to start missing the damp upstate New York weather as I endured day after sunshiny day with temperatures in the 70s. I’m sure many would argue that’s perfect, but I much prefer thunderstorms, the changing seasons and the occasional ice storm to keep things fresh and interesting. So when the opportunity to transfer to Texas came up, I gladly jumped on that plane and rode it east.
I arrived in Texas on January 26th, 1988, and the day I arrived, the temperature climbed to a balmy 76 degrees. The next week, on February 2nd, it snowed, and I developed one of the worst sinus infections I’ve ever experienced. Two years in a row, during the same week in May, tornadoes knocked out power to the building where I worked, forcing us to go home for the day. The area received so much rain from 1989 through 1992 that the “normal” yearly precipitation level had to be adjusted upward. In 1995 hailstones as large as softballs pummeled Fort Worth, causing $2 billion in damage and injuring hundreds of people caught at the Mayfest celebration on Fort Worth’s west side. On March 28th, 2000 a tornado hit downtown Fort Worth dead center, blowing glass out of the high rise buildings and inflicting $500 million in damage to the city. For someone so weather aware, Fort Worth quickly became my Holy Grail. Except in the summer. And especially during this extended drought the entire state of Texas is now experiencing.
As I write this, the latest measurements by the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in the Dallas/Fort Worth area show that 82% of the state is experiencing drought conditions, from abnormally dry to exceptional drought. This summer, while cooler than recent years, has been frustratingly rain-free, especially where I live on the west side of Fort Worth, where we’re experiencing extreme drought conditions. Having a large garden, I’ve pumped my fist in the air more than once this year as storm clouds have built to the north or west and then drifted slowly eastward, either dissipating before they reach us, or skirting around us. If clouds had tongues they’d all be giving us the raspberry as they slide over the parched brown fields and wilted jalapeño pepper plants. Pecan trees that Hannah planted last year are now three inches tall instead of the average six to eighteen inches they should be. The only thing green around here is me as I watch storm after storm drop their cargo of abundant rain 20 miles to the east.
Because I’m weather obsessed, my morning routine starts out with a quick peek at the latest weather forecast before I start the day, and lately I’ve dismissed the rain chance predictions because anything between 0% and 100% really means 0%. The forecasters should do themselves a favor and just type 0% into the published forecast so we rain-hopefuls can just suck it up and accept the reality that it doesn’t rain around here anymore.
A few days ago I rolled out of bed at o’dark thirty to take our two fat dogs for a walk. Before I left the bathroom I checked my phone to see how cool it was outside, and noticed the tiny weather radar icon showed a blanket of green pixels overspreading our area. I tapped the icon to bring up the full-screen radar, and much to my surprise, it showed it was raining! But the weather forecasters hadn’t predicted rain, I thought. Is it really …? Could it be …? Is it actually … raining …? I finished dressing and stepped out onto the back porch and into a veil of sprinkles. “Thank You, Jesus!” I prayed. The porch was still dry, the warm cement gulping up the light precipitation hungrily, and the smell of rain lay thickly in the air. Humidity draped its comforting arm over my shoulders. I smiled. Big. Leaving the dogs in the house, I opened the front door, stepped into the light shower, and walked two miles in it, praising and thanking God for the volunteer rain.
“Surprising sometimes means unpredictable, but it often means more,” wrote Brother David Steindl-Rast in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. “Surprising in the full sense means somehow gratuitous. Even the predictable turns into surprise the moment we stop taking it for granted.” I’m convinced God sprinkles our daily paths with little treasures of surprise to find along the way. Why does He do this? For me, these little surprises—volunteer rain, a witty zinger spoken by my six-year-old daughter, or a shooting star lighting up my walk—unburden my heart and brighten my hope. They remind me that God is not only there, He’s also intimately involved in every detail of my life, even if I’m not paying much attention. These surprises—unjustified, uncalled for, unwarranted—inspire thankfulness and shift my attitude from self-centeredness and worry to confidence and trust. Jesus demonstrated time and again that gratitude leads to the miraculous, even if it’s a greater appreciation for the moment and all of its splendor.
Yesterday morning, as I sat in my office with the blinds open and watched a broken layer of cumulous stirred up by Hurricane Odile, I smiled as I recalled the wildly gyrating precipitation chances I’d seen over the past 24 hours. Because, as uncertain as the weather forecast can be, there’s always one thing certain about it: the weather, like God, always surprises and delights those who are open to the possibility of mystery and wonder. As Boris Pasternak, poet and novelist, once said, “Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.” Surprise leads to gratitude, and from gratitude comes miracles. Now go run around in the rain if you can find it. And be surprised!
Copyright © 2014 by David C. Hughes
 Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1984. 9.