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For several months, a cloud followed me everywhere, and darkened every sky above me. Which was strange, because the cloud was thousands of miles from anywhere I’d ever stood.

Still it did cover me, awake or asleep. It was a cloud of ash, born out of a volcano I’d never seen.

We’d been invited to manage a farm as part of a ministry venture. At first it seemed like needs we could meet and talents and experience and resources were finally aligning. At first my only misgiving was the cloud.

I became obsessed with it, and studied satellite projections of it’s path. Did it camp above the farm that would become our home, or only blow over it? Would it choke me, or the trees we wanted to grow? Would it give my children asthma? Or worse?

When we cried out to God about it, all we heard was, “Go”. So we went. After a lifetime of crossing the Atlantic for love, work, and family, I crossed the Pacific and landed in the middle.

It was lovely. Not lovely in a tropical paradise postcard kind of way, but in an unruly, ungovernable kind of way. Every corner was crammed with jaw dropping, heart pounding loveliness. Except for the unmistakable swath in the path of the volcano. It was ravaged.

When we pulled up to the gate, there was no one to let us in. So we climbed over. We saw the farm that could be ours. And the cloud.

In stark contrast with the riot of green all around, the land was parched. I felt my heart sink, and then tentatively rise. It was still lovely. Something in me still felt drawn to this desolate land. We stretched out in the sparse, crunchy grass and watched the sun sink over the ocean. When we spoke, it was in hushed voices. We silently agreed we were on holy ground.

We walked the length and breadth of the land and took in every gnarled tree, every rocky outcropping. I found a grave site, intact, with the headstone weathered beyond legibility. We noticed the low lying areas where water may have once run through. But everywhere, it was dry. Was the acid rain from the cloud frying the tender blades of grass? Was it burning the soil?

We couldn’t tell for sure. The lichen we found on the few tree trunks told us the air was safe to breathe, or at least not dangerous. Several neighboring farmers helpeg us decode our observations. The cloud wasn’t the issue, they insisted. The problem was water. There was no way to dig a well, no access to municipal water. It was just plain dry.

It was time to face the cloud itself. I stood as close to it as I could, felt the thick heaviness of it against my throat and against my lungs. I prayed to God and rebuked the cloud.

IMG_0191I couldn’t breath. To be fair, that may not have been entirely the cloud. I had lost my bearings, lost the peace that was mine to guard, mine to lose.

Lost to this nebulous fear

anxiety in aerosol form.

The next day we drove to the edge of the Earth. The wind was so insistent on tossing us over, I had to get down on my belly and crawl to peer over the cliff. There it was. The Pacific.

The Peaceful.

Geographically we were near the center, yet I sensed the words “Pacific Rim”.

“You’re at the edge of the deepest reservoir of peace in the world. What you cling to with fear you will lose. Seek peace and pursue it.”

I peered over the rim into the churning depths. They foamed and swirled and pounded relentlessly. And they bear the name “The Peaceful”. How do they do that?

I waited at that edge for an omen, an invitation. Metal signs warned us diving there is deadly, so I fought the urge to plunge in. “How can I dive into that peace? What does that mean in this moment? Does seeking peace mean facing the cloud and claiming protection, victory over the elements? Does it mean turning my back on this beauty, and facing another blank Midwestern winter?”

No answer.

Confused, I stood and fought the wind to walk away.

The answer sank with a heavy thud in my chest. “Go back. Learn to love and be loved.”

That’s when I realized how much I wanted this place. I wanted to extract everything brave and wild and lovely from that land and make it a part of me. I coveted this sweeping landscape as the backdrop for my story.

But I sensed God telling me, “You don’t need this place to make your story big or crazy or exceptional. You don’t need this place to make you sexy or brave. Your story is enough. You will always be those things where ever you go and where ever you stay.”

Today snow is falling outside my window.

We could have spent today at a green sand beach, or one with black sand.

They’re both in what would have been our neighborhood.

Instead I chose this.

I chose to stare down the dormancy, the bleak cold.

Because after coming face to face with the cloud, I understood it differently. From a distance it was this ominous, nefarious thing. Close up, it reminded me of a different cloud. One that shielded and shaded. One that signaled closeness, involvement. So thick it held back enemies, so heavy it kept the priests from serving.

The air of that whole place was thick with glory. It was not my place, not my time, but that same glory hovers over me in this in between.

I will hide myself in the cloud.

I will catch my breath.

I will learn to love and be loved.

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