We made our typical fifteen mile ride up the lake and into the serpentine river channel. It was there we spent most of our time hitting the several spots that always produced as the sun dropped behind the horizon and darkness filled the sky. Several largemouth and a few smallmouth bass had accepted our offerings when the first rumbling noises filled the humid July air. “Looks like we might get wet,” my partner deduced. Until now, thunder was all we heard. That was about to change. The first bolt of brilliant electricity descended rapidly further stimulating our heightened environmental sensitivities. “That’s not good,” Dave astutely surmised. Our concern derived not only from the lightning and the damaging winds that could follow, but also from the location of the storm. It was directly down river between us and the safer confounds of his truck back at the marina. Priest Lake is undeveloped with essentially nothing upon its shores. We were in no man’s land with no place to go. We couldn’t run much further up river in his boat and if we went down river the storm would attack us sooner as we sped across the main lake body. Neither prospect inspired confidence. We decided to stay put and keep fishing.
The thunderous explosions began to increase in duration and frequency. The sky above maintained a nearly constant state of illumination. Large drops of rain splattered the river far behind us and continued a steady processional to our waiting vessel. The voracious wind detached leaves from the swaying limbs of their tree’s trunk. My heart pounded at a frenzied pace. My mouth was dry and breath shallow. Fear paralyzed my movements. I moved lower to the boat’s floor and below the level of the stern light reducing my profile and potential target. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Static electricity shocked the tip of my index finger attached to the metal handle of my fishing reel. And then suddenly, it happened. A bright light exploded on the bank just within sight of our boat. The noise was deafening. I felt the heat radiate out from the affected area. I had been in storms before including a tornado that tore the roof from our church in northwest Alabama when I was a child. I was old enough now, however, to truly understand the sober realities of Mother Nature. I had never been more frightened. All I kept wondering was how friends would explain to my wife that my zeal for fishing had led to my untimely demise.
My partner said a few hail Marys and I offered my own protestant versions of contrite pleas for safety. I also was sure to ask forgiveness for my errant past in case deliverance never came. I made a couple of deals with God on the river that fateful night if he let me out in one piece. I promised to be a better man and to appreciate the blessing it was just to be able to wet my line. I promised to tell my wife that I loved her every time we separated. I promised to call my Mother more often and never skip Sunday morning church for a fishing adventure. I promised to be a good Father myself if that occasion ever came. Some of those promises I’ve kept to this day and others I’ve fallen a bit short on. But, even now, when storms come and lightning strikes I recall with amazing acuity the agreements made with him back then on that stormy river.
Sometimes God uses the quiet whispers of his gentle Spirit to illuminate the road less traveled. Other times he employs bolder and more apparent methods preferring a brilliant display of cosmic power to jolt us from our lukewarm stupors. And sometimes, if we are lucky, he teaches a spiritual physics lesson with a simple bolt of lightning-a lesson that reveals the potential disaster of death ill-prepared for and helps us see more clearly the potential energy left in living…