Rain in the Desert
by ST Chapman
I call them prayer walks. But are they really? I walk, I meditate, I plan, and I just appreciate. I imagine as I set out from my car that Jesus is walking with me. I invite him and of course, he graciously agrees to come along. And I start out ok. Remembering He is there beside me. But soon enough. Well, soon enough, I am planning my dinner, my schedule for the rest of the week, perhaps a future trip or event. And every now and then, I remember Jesus is with me and he loves me in spite of the distractions.
I used to be a runner, slow and steady. I would listen to music as I plodded along, mile after mile, with dreams of future marathons floating round my brain. I would picture myself strong and fast, even though I wasn’t either. But it didn’t matter. When you tell someone you “just did 10 miles that morning before work,” they rarely ask if you are fast. Or strong. They just assume that because you ran longer than they drove that day that you are pretty amazing. And the truth is, you really are.
But those days ended a few years ago when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease whose primary purpose is to attack my joints. And for me, the place that got the worst of it was my feet. The bottom of my feet. Tender, inflamed. Before the diagnosis, I thought perhaps I was just running too much. That maybe I had a running injury, that badge of honor that confirmed I was indeed an athlete. Laughable in hindsight, but there you have it. After three new pairs of running shoes, a new mattress, and a reluctant break from all things physical, I went to the doctor and learned that nothing was going to cure me. I would have this for life. The best I could hope for (and a definite possibility) was to find a medication that would alleviate the pain to where it would be more tolerable. And there was certainly the potential that I would run again. But it didn’t feel like it at the time, and it still doesn’t.
And so, I walk. And I am happy enough with this because I couldn’t walk much at all in 2019. I could walk through the house. I could, on a good day, walk the block to the nearby grocery store. But most days, I simply sat in my chair and waited for the medications to do what I was paying them to do. And it took over a year. I can walk now. A few miles at a time on a good day. But I can walk and so I do. With Jesus.
Today’s walk was particularly special. There is rain in the desert. In a place that gets 350 days of sunshine a year, a rainy day in the spring is a pearl in an oyster. There are different birds today, singing songs I do not know. The washes are filled with water, runoff from the towering rocks that hover over us like shadows from a cloud across a large open field. They form small but violent waterfalls, and the sound is deafening. There are flowers I haven’t noticed in days gone by and against the grey and muddled skies, the color is as vibrant as a celebration, perhaps Holi.
Rain in the desert is a gift. A quenching of thirst for a parched landscape that likes to think it is mean and hardy, but like the rest of everything on this planet, needs a few drops of grace now and again. This is when the desert comes alive, revealing secrets we can only glimpse when the water washes away the stains that hide a vulnerable and beating heart. It is an answered prayer, reminding us that better days are possible, if only for a time.
I feel the rain on my own face and do not hide. Instead, I take off my hat to experience all it has to offer. Like the giant saguaro cactus, I stand tall and unafraid and accept this cleansing, feeling my sins wash away as they did years ago in that baptismal. I taste salt, miles and miles from the ocean. I look over at Jesus and he is crying too. He knows.
And then the rain stops with the same suddenness from which it started and the desert yawns with false bravado, resuming its familiar rhythms once more. Like a tough guy, pretending he doesn’t care when his love walks away again. But if you pay attention and look very closely, you can see the tears still wet on his cheeks.
ST Chapman lives and writes in Tucson, Arizona. One of her essays was recently featured in Just Between Us. When there isn’t a pandemic, she can be found traveling the world, meeting interesting people and writing about them. You can connect with her at www.stchapman.com and Instagram: @stchapmanwriter.