I hear they're needing rain in Alabama. My son is ready to hit some fire hydrants just to get some relief. I know, Alabama gets hot. Real hot. I lived there for 12 years and never had a summer I liked. If the rains are particularly stingy, which they seem to be so far this year, the grass turns brown and brittle. Add to that the mounds of fire ants and the weeds that persist on growing even in drought and that was my yard. Growing up I was accustomed to New York summers where the grass was thick and lush green. I'm not a bare-foot type person anymore, but back then I loved the feel of it between my toes. As for the weather, of course it was hot. Sometimes. There were those occasional periods when the mercury topped out and the humidity hung thick in the air, but it rarely lasted more than a week or so. We always knew that comfortable days and cool nights weren't too far behind. In the meantime we pulled out the water hoses and ran through the spray until our mothers told us we'd better quit because we'd used up enough water. Ah yes, there was nothing like summer in New York.
As miserable as Alabama can be, however, it's not the hottest place on earth. No, that honor should go to Honduras, the country where I spent the six sweatiest years of my life. Perhaps I should have been better prepared, but Costa Rica had spoiled us I'm afraid. We went there first to study Spanish for a year in the capital city of San Jose where the temperature rarely drops below 65 or climbs above 80. It's like living Spring all year long. And there's lots of rain. We were introduced to the rainy season our very first day there. We had arrived at the airport that afternoon with three kids in tow and lots and lots of luggage. Harriett Wittenberg, a fellow missionary who had just wrapped up her year of language study, met us there with a pickup truck she'd borrowed. The rain had already started as we hurriedly threw our suitcases and boxes into the back of the vehicle, covering the load with tarps and securing them the best we could. She knew what was coming and wanted to get us to our new home as quickly as possible. But it was too late. We were on the highway for just a few minutes when it came, a hard-driving, wind-swept rain that lifted the tarps and pounded the contents in the back. It was our initiation into a new home, a new country, a new culture. But in spite of the wet containers, I found the rain exhilarating.
It was rather strange living in a place where the timing of the rain was so predictable. Larry and I had classes until early afternoon, and we learned that if we didn't head right home, we'd more than likely get caught in a downpour. We had hired a maid, and the first thing she did upon arriving each day was wash and hang laundry. If she'd waited to do it later on, we would never have had anything dry to wear. One afternoon, shortly after our arrival, we walked several blocks to the grocery store with all three kids. We thought we were well prepared, all five of us decked out in our hooded raincoats that we had been strongly advised to bring with us. The rain had already started as we came out of the store, large sheets of it hitting the sidewalk and splashing up under our coats and against our legs. We must have looked like a family of ducks sloshing through the puddles in our slickers on that long walk home. Needless to say, we were drenched and dripping puddles as we walked through the front door. It's still one of my favorite memories.
A year later we stepped onto the tarmac in La Ceiba, Honduras. But unlike the pounding rain that had greeted us in Costa Rica, here we were met by a blast of hot air that drained five very weary travelers. We were to find that the rain wasn't so predictable here on the coast. We would often go days without the welcome respite that only the rains could bring, a temporary relief from the stifling heat that never seemed to go away. But when it finally came, everything changed. There was a sudden mad rush for swimsuits, the slam of screen doors and the squeals of children reveling in Heaven's gift.
Over time we would find other ways to survive the Honduran heat: solitary beaches, cool mountain streams, breath-taking waterfalls and exotic island getaways. We enjoyed them all and considered them God's special gifts to us, seeking them out as often as we could. But life was also full of school and building projects and teaching and groups coming in from the States. We were simply too busy to load up the car with kids and towels anytime we wanted. But when it rained it didn't matter what we were doing; there was always that same rush that culminated with the sounds of excited children coming from the yard below.
I have a favorite picture that sits on a small buffet in my dining room. It was taken in Honduras on the Fourth of July, 1987. Several American families had gathered to celebrate the day together at the mission home of Tom and Lydia Hines. Even though the house wasn't all that big it came with a spacious yard, perfect for families with kids who needed to run. It also had several trees which included a large sprawling monkey cap tree that offered an abundance of shade. It had been especially hot that afternoon, so when a thunderstorm suddenly blew in, the children were excited and anxious to get wet. The storm lasted for just a few minutes, but the kids ran for the downspouts that were still gushing out rain water. And that's where some of them were standing when my sister grabbed her camera and took the shot.
There are five children in the photo, all drenched with their hair plastered to their heads and their clothes clinging to their wet skin. Two are mine: Fawn, the only girl in the picture and Joel, the oldest and tallest, stands in the middle. His friend Matthew is the one grinning from ear to ear with his hand on Joel's shoulder, and then there's a couple of younger boys, Ian and Erik. The moment caught forever by the click of a shutter.
If I were granted three wishes, I would return for a little while to that place and that time. I would wait in anticipation for the rain, eager to hear the slam of the screen doors once again and the sound of eager feet on the wooden steps descending to the yard below. Then I would join them as they dance in the yard and stand under the eaves troughs, not letting any of Heaven's shower go to waste. All the while I would watch their faces, soaking in the memories of children not yet burdened by life's complications or disappointments. And I would pray for each one that when the heat becomes unbearable, God would be gracious and send the rains once again.