What keeps you going when adversity hits?
I lay flat on my back in my Petoskey, Michigan bed, mucus filling my nostrils, throat and lungs. A million ice cubes shivered across my skin. As soon as I wrapped myself in heavy blankets, blistering heat threatened to burn me from the inside out. Little alien aches turned my body into a pile of ill-fitting bones topped by a pounding head. My alarm went off. It was time to get up.
Talent, skill and marketing tricks fly out the window at times like these. None of your qualifications matter one bit when adversity puts its hand on your throat and asks why it shouldn’t strangle your resolve to keep going.
“Can’t I just call in sick and tell them I can’t come?” I thought. I hadn’t slept more than 10 minutes that night, and the thought of driving 5 hours, followed by a couple of plane jumps to Wichita Falls, followed by another restless night didn’t sound appealing in my misery. My emotions told me to hide. But 150 kids had signed up for me to teach them about creative writing. I knew that something special would happen if I could just get there. I rolled my body out of bed and plunged my head under the strange sensations of the shower.
When I was a little boy I loved the cool water in the swimming pool that made Texas summers so much more bearable. Every time I went to the pool my dad would tell me to swim toward him. If any of the rest of you have fathers, you know what happened right before I reached him, legs and arms kicking furiously. He backed up.
It always made me so angry that he did this, and frustrated and whiny. I’d push even harder, feeling unjustly made to swim farther than our bargain and slightly afraid that I wouldn’t reach his arms. But I always did. Years later when I asked him why he always did that, he said, “I wanted you to figure out that you could go farther than you thought you could.”
This morning I was thankful for my father’s semi-cruel lesson. I pulled on some clothes, stuffed my belongings in a bag, checked the directions to the rental car return, ate some granola and fruit, said goodbye to my aunt and uncle after they prayed for me and headed out the door.
As soon as I got within cell phone range I called my girlfriend Vicki. Talking always keeps me awake on long drives, and she knew that I would need some help this morning. It felt good knowing I wasn’t alone early that morning as I got onto the freeway in Gaylord, Michigan, knowing that I would have to fill up soon, but expecting slightly cheaper gas prices a little further down the interstate.
Twenty miles later the gas light popped on. “Uh oh,” I said to Vicki.
“What?” she replied, slightly concerned.
Nothing but slushy snow draped over tall trees filled my view. “I hope I see a gas station soon,” I said. Ten miles later I saw my first sign of civilization, billboards. One of them mentioned something about gas, but it looked to be another 20 miles. “I hope this little Chevy Aveo gas tank has as big a reserve as my Honda Prelude,” I thought to myself, noticing that I had seen very few cars on this stretch of road.
A mile and a half from the exit for gas, the Aveo expired. “There it goes,” I said to a concerned Vicki. Glancing in my rear view mirror I noticed a black SUV about to pass me. I rolled down my window and frantically waved at them as I pulled over to the side and switched on my hazard lights. “If I have to walk to the gas station from here I could very possibly miss my flight.” Off in the distance angel choirs sang as the old, Ford Explorer’s brake, and then reverse lights, came on and started getting closer to me.
A smoking cigarette poked through the gaps in his teeth as the driver asked what was wrong. When I told them I had run out of gas, the younger guy jumped in the back, and I hopped in, never more grateful to have lost my sense of smell. I said goodbye to Vicki for the moment and my redneck angels, Steve and Mike, drove me to the nearest Citgo and then back to my car with a borrowed plastic container and $5.00 worth of gas.
“How’d you run out of gas in a Chevy Aveo anyway?” Mike asked. “Don’t those things get like 40 or 50 miles a gallon?”
“This one doesn’t,” I said, noting how it had required more frequent fill-ups than I hoped.
I finished emptying the tank, started the car back up, waved goodbye to Steve and Mike and drove back to the Citgo station to fill the rest of my tank. Gas here was indeed cheaper than Gaylord, and I had only lost 30 minutes of drive time. Vicki rejoiced with me as I got back on the road. A little while later she had to go, and I called my mom for another partner on my adventure while I ate raw spinach leaves to supply my body with nutrition and keep myself awake. I called a bunch of people that day in my travels, asking them to pray for me or somehow otherwise help me in my quest. You can’t survive if you try to do everything by yourself.
Despite a wrong turn or two I reached the rental car location in time to get a taxi to the airport and make my flight. I kept worrying that someone at some point would quarantine me for my bloodshot eyes and obvious flu-like symptoms, but no one ever did. I slept, shivering and sniffling under a blanket, for most of my flight.
Missy Mayfield of the Region 9 Education Service Center greeted me in Wichita Falls, and I explained my sickly appearance. We both felt confident that once in front of all the kids I’d find the energy to perform and teach. She offered up a local steakhouse as the place to eat, and after spinach leaves, a salad in the Detroit airport, and the most immunity booster, bee pollen, antioxidant, protein powder supplements ever assembled in a smoothie in the Dallas airport, I decided that I deserved steak. Mc Bride’s Steakhouse didn’t disappoint.
That night I crawled into my hotel bed early, and slept for half an hour to an hour at a time. In the middle of the night I awoke to sheets completely drenched in sweat. My fever had broke, and I already felt better. I changed my clothes and got into the dry bed. An hour or two later I woke again with more wet sheets. “Can your fever break twice?” I thought as I shifted over to the other side of the bed to find a dry spot.
Morning still came too quickly, but I plunged myself into the magic power of the shower once again, reminded myself that God was with me, and listened to hear Him tell me that He was proud of me. It always sounds like my dad.
In front of all the kids the workshop went better than expected. Seventy-five kids from the rural districts around Wichita Falls listened with wide-eyes and then wrote furiously when I asked them. Their obedience, attentiveness and excitement always amaze me, and I noticed their teachers writing diligently as well.
When we finished, Missy told me that I had exceeded her expectations. She told me that one of the kids who had read in front of the class had extreme behavioral problems and almost wasn’t allowed to come. “His teacher said that no one’s ever gotten through to him before today.” A weak smile appeared on my face as I relished the joy of kids inspired and motivated as a result of me deciding not to give up in all the challenges that fought against me reaching the next stop on this adventure of doing what I was made to do. I would have never made it without lots of help from others along the way.
Hardship and difficulty will assault you when pursuing whatever road awaits your decision to get out of bed.
Talent and ability don’t make that decision easier.
You need a reason that’s bigger than yourself and family and friends to multiply the tiny amount of strength you have.
The world’s waiting to hear that story.
So stick your head under the magic waters of the shower and get ready to live it.