As a young girl, I spent many of my Summers in Chicago. I distinctly relish in one or two memories of each Summer…thunderstorms. My San Diego raised self loved a big Mid-west, rumbling, striking thunder and lightning storm that lit up the sky. I reach back in my mind and replay my cousins and I outside swimming, playing kick the can or baseball when we watched the sky go from one hue of bright and blue to dark and black. I remember our faces lighting up as we all scurried to clean up our outdoor activity and race inside to seek refuge. I can still hear the sound of my sparkly sketchers as they hit the pavement racing my cousins inside with excitement building in my little body with each stride. We would always come together as a team to plan what we we’re going to do to keep each other safe. We would run down to the basement and investigate any potential cracks or opening where the storm could possibly get us and barricade them off. We grabbed flashlights, blankets and of course all the food. Chips, dip, popcorn, candy, soda pop, anything we could get our sticky little fingers on. We were the big super heroes saving the day. We were simply saving each other from being the damsels in distress in the middle of a storm. We would create shelter also known as a blanket fort, bundle up close together, turn on our flashlights and favorite movies. One hour after another, sitting there being with each other giggling, sugaring up, and talking as the soundtrack of the big storm played in the background. Thinking of how lucky we were to be safe together.
Being from Southern California, I didn’t know much about thunderstorms. All I knew was that inside was SAFE and outside was UNSAFE. Outside was dangerous. Outside was where even the strongest tree branches fell. Where the wind pushed down everything that was deemed stable and the darkness was a big scary unknown that you don’t dare make eye contact with. The louder the storm, the closer it was and the deeper you bury yourself in your shelter and clench your eyes shut. When the power went out, or when the lighting strikes a little too close for comfort is when you lean in closer and come together to keep each other protected. That’s all my nine and ten year old self knew. Maybe, it wasn’t actually the storms themselves that I was captivated by. Maybe, it wasn’t the awe I felt watching the sky be painted from blue to black in just one stroke. Maybe, I was entranced by storms because I fell in love with the people I built shelter with. Just maybe, as a young girl thunderstorms were my catapult where I would learn how to tie people close when darkness came. That when thunder raged louder and scarier, that was my cue to bring the light in closer. To hug the love for people tighter. I discovered that when armoring up for a big storm, we can prepare by hoarding all the flashlights, the junk food the blankets we have, but, if you forget your people, you have nothing. No amount of junk food is going to validate your feelings stirring in fear and uncertainty when lightning strikes. Not even the biggest or softest blanket in the world is going serve you reassurance, hold your hand and whisper “you’re safe, I’m right here.” The brightest flashlight cannot compare to the light and warmth that togetherness radiates. Only people can do that. Thunder storms is where I learned seeking people is the best refuge amidst the biggest storm.
That ten year old girl who once ran towards physical shelter when raindrops pounded against her face is now 24 and sprints past the houses and towards the people. Instead of using my hands to gather flashlights, blankets and food, these days, I use my hands to reach for other hands. Mid reach for these hands, I find I only need to reach about half way before they grasp mine right back. Standing together, hands clutched in the middle of the storm doesn’t mean one person has their shit together and the other one is falling apart. Sometimes, it may look like that, but, not always. Actually, more times than not both of you are broken but need one another for reassurance to know you’re not alone. Other times, the hands you’re holding are carrying the same pain you are, the same experience and you’re walking together to discover the next right thing. Before you know it, you’re not just clutching one or two hands. You look up from the sadness, you uncover your ears you unclench your eyes. If for only but a moment and see you have the most grandiose shelter you could have ever imagined; a whole army of love warriors around you. What is special and unique about having a shelter of love warriors is that you experience how everyone holds your hand differently. Sometimes, people see the storm approaching before you do and start running for you. Others, come after it’s been raining hard and the wind is blowing. They grab your hand when the clouds turn dark. Sometimes people are holding your hand and they don’t even know it. That’s my favorite! The storm is still raging on all around you, but, you’ve stopped running and hiding. There’s no need to run anymore when your shelter is surrounding you.
The end of 2018 and 2019 thus far has been biggest storm I saw coming but never wanted to unleash. I kept running and running, rain kept hitting my face harder and harder as I continued to pass shelters. The intensity of the storm increased so gravely that I collapsed. My feet couldn’t carry me any longer. I fell to my knees and reached for hands instead and you know what? Shelter showed up. Isn’t it amazing that we get to reach for a shelter who will meet us where we’re at?
I unclenched my eyes and saw my sister warriors, my sweet dancers, their gracious families, my favorite dance choreographer, a church who loved me, my treasured new life witnesses and professionals whom I don’t know where I’d be without. My shelter is built on a foundation of love letters. Sweat, hope and inspiration from Wednesday night dance classes. Hugs and “I did it” faces from my favorite dancing souls and invitations from their families to holidays. Safe hands of professionals and doctors who held me tight in the place I was in and loved me through it (and continue to do so). It’s a pretty damn strong shelter if you ask me.
My sisters were and are my flashlights. My best friends Kati, Maggie, Shanna, Abbey and so many others caught the cue to bring the light in closer when it got dark. Holding my hand and stepping with me when I couldn’t even see where the next step was. Sending love in the mail after particularly trying weeks. Reminding me what my next right thing was when the wind tried to blow me away. Shinning their light in the direction of strength and love when the power went out. Replaced the batteries when they had to shine the light for a prolonged period of time. Only to reassure me they were still there through FaceTimes, phone calls and everyday texts. I didn’t know hugs could be felt or light could be seen from a thousand miles away but, that’s how strong my chosen sisters are.
My every week Wednesday dance classes were and still is my soft blanket. A sanctuary that wraps me up tight in inspiration and truth telling. A familiar comfort of mine reminding me “its okay, you’re safe here.” Navigating a storm while trying to be where your feet are is incredibly frustrating and tiresome. It’s almost impossible to do without guidance. Almost. But, I found the guidance. Or I should say the guidance showed up, because she was the one facilitating the class. This is one of those strong pieces of shelter that is particularly special. One I couldn’t have predicted or foreseen coming, didn’t even know I needed, but, just fell into my lap. When I lost sight of the floor, or my feet got tangled or my body said “quit”, Joy said “sometimes we get wrapped up in just the moves, but, just listen and tell your own story.” Before, I could tell my own story Joy showed me how to listen. She showed me listening is not waiting for your turn to dance or story tell. Listening is using your ears to hear the story behind the lyrics. The musicality and accents that might otherwise be lost. Your eyes to see how other people tell their story and grab on to their movement almost to dance in response and say “yeah, me too.” In order to listen I needed to stop moving. Just, like how I had to stop running to seek refuge.
When I just stopped moving and reminded myself to listen first, I found the floor. The floor of my shelter that would keep me safe. The only way I was able to do that was being able to decide that the shelter was safe. Dance doesn’t make the space safe, only people can do that. Joy makes the space safe, she made it safe to dance my story week after week. She deemed my storm safe and “all cleared” to experience in a way that was comforting. She’s a human who tossed me the blanket reminding me that it’s important to be seen and it’s important to be known. My feelings from the storm-the fear, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the anger came out on the dance floor every Wednesday because the foundation of my shelter was safe. Without even realizing it, Joy watched me dance out my storm every week and was a keeper of the story that brought me to it. She looked and listened to the storm raging on and used it as a soundtrack that authentically matched her choreography. Without Joy, I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to unclench my eyes and look up at my shelter and see I have a big ole blanket around me to keep me warm. I didn’t know when the storm would end or where the lights would come back on but I had Wednesdays with Joy.
The food my cousins and I used to collect as a nine year olds I no longer had to search for. My shelter was always in full supply thanks to my favorite dancing gals. These hearts kept me fueled to ground my feet and stand in the storm. Their little, but, mighty hands grasped mine and their power reminded me of my own. Dancing the stories of their hearts and storms with such raw conviction, nourished my soul and cleared my sight to see I’m not the only one standing in the middle of a storm. Their innocence and honesty reminds me to reach my hands outside of my own shelter and be a shelter. With these dancers, I was supplied with the whole food pyramid. Sweet and energized on life that laughter sent us all on a sugar high. Hugs, high fives, notes and thank yous that left me craving more and more, just like the fattier foods do for me. Team work and execution that served as the nuts and bolts our time together. The technique and partnership that kept us strong, the meat of it all. Style, expression that kept us always captivated by one another. The little something extra or the side dish we all got to indulge in with one another after training so hard. There’s something different about this supply of “food” then the food my cousins and I reached for in a storm. That food kept my stomach full, this nourishment keeps my heart full.
In physical thunderstorms, we need to search for, or build shelter. We need to seek out the resources; Go to the store, buy the flashlights, purchase the food and get that blanket off the top shelf. In life’s thunderstorms we are in abundant supply to both give shelter and receive shelter. This time around, I received shelter. Everything I needed couldn’t be found at the store, or in the basement. It could only be found in people. I was fully stocked from the love of people. The flashlights, the blankets and the food I didn’t need to search far for. It was in the hearts of people where I found refuge. It was building shelter together that made this storm so bearable, almost sweet.
To this day I’m still in love with thunderstorms. The darker the clouds, the louder the thunder, the brighter then lightning, the better. It’s God’s reminder to me that He graced me with the best and sturdiest shelter I could imagine…