Summer in the Desert Southwest is a time for early-morning starts, late-night energy, and all-day courage to endure the harsh and domineering heat of the season. The train of momentum we rode in spring with hope on the rails and agreeable hours has stalled. Summer sits there exacting more from us than seems fair. Fortitude and patience are tested. Aspirations are put on hold. And attitudes are challenged in the triple-digit heat. Summer gives us an effervescent longing for rain. And when it finally comes, rain falls like joyful tears.
By late spring when you hear the strange metallic sound of the first cicada, you know summer’s heat is here to stay. The first microseconds of their noise sounds like the buzz of a rattlesnake and jump-scares you on the trail, but then levels out to a loud and tinny whine as your rapid heartbeat slows back to normal.
You want to start a project or plant a garden or reorganize your house, but the days weigh heavy and your good intentions lay flat like a bad hair day. You understand why the animals stay hunkered in their cubby holes under scrub brush and rocks until the sun is low in the sky. If only sundown would freeze-frame and last three hours, you’d feel like yourself again and you’d do so much. But it’s over too quickly and another scorcher is on its way. Summer in the desert is a time to give yourself and others grace.
It’s funny. You’ve waited so long for this time of year as you pulled tight the sash of your robe in winter, donned two pairs of socks and still had cold toes. You dreamed of the day you wouldn’t be shivering while waiting for the fire in the wood stove to reach you. And here you are. Your dream has come true.
The bright, hot, unrelenting sun rises unapologetically like a heatwave of hard times, a trial that constricts like a rubber band around your life, the red mark deepening every day. The oven-like wind hits your face as you spot several tall, dusty whirlwinds, reminiscent of smoke from a barbeque, in the valley below. Thin columns full of dirt and debris twirling acres apart and headed your way.
Weeks of hundred-degree heat and no rain in sight bakes the land a monotonous tawny gray with a few tired looking greens from creosote, Mormon tea, and catclaw trees. As the butterflies flit in spring like colorful scraps of fabric caught in the breeze—and there they go!—you realize the flowers are gone too. The vibrant purples and blues, the yellow, orange, and claret reds have long departed. And with them, your drive and energy.
For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth. James 1:11
Like flowers in the desert, we are here on this earth for a short time. The beauty of our ambitions and successes dries up in the wind and the heat burns their glory. This same heat tests our foundation, our root depth, because like summer in the desert there is no water on the surface, there is no ease and comfort sitting at the top. And if our faith is of the shallow kind, merely skimming the surface of life, we become easily parched and produce no fruit. But where we anchor our roots makes all the difference.
Most plants show decline from the top down. Withering and yellowing and dropping their leaves. The cholla cactus seems to die out from the bottom. It is an odd thing to see up close spiny limbs growing in all directions, the top third flashy and green, but as you scan downward the limbs turn sallow then brown to a dead wood trunk. The first time I saw this I wanted to say, don’t you know? Don’t you realize death is coming for you? You are getting nothing from your roots. How many of us have lived like this? Standing there deceived into thinking we have life when our toes are anchored in the world’s belief systems.
If our hopes are rooted in the earth, we gain nothing but grief and spiritual death is inevitable. If our hopes first seek out Living water, cool and refreshing, the heat of trials and loss, tears and pain, lose their strength. We survive because Christ keeps us alive.
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17:8
Summer in the desert might seem like an inhospitable land of dried-up vegetation, stymied plans, and heat-induced lethargy. But there are those days in the mid 90s with a gentle breeze blowing and life is grand. Long daylight hours to read and write and ponder God’s blessings. Evenings swathed in glorious sunsets that no painter could possibly capture, and rare and resplendent times of rain that almost bring you to tears. Your heart is full of thanks.
Chill, why don’t you
I know you’re probably thinking if the temperature is that hot, why don’t you sit under the air-conditioner during the day and relax? Well, I live off-the-grid and that’s not an option. Whatever the outside temperature is, the inside will be close to it.
My home life is more like glorified camping. Not the full RV hook-ups, same as home just a little smaller kind of camping. No. Think leaky tent, no hot showers, cramped quarters, no laundry facilities, dirt on the floor, a closet the size of a mini fridge, and the actual fridge the size of a mini fridge kind of camping.
“I’m tired and I want to go home,” except this is home kind of camping.
And with these worse-vacation-ever conditions, I’ve also come to realize my home is not my own. I merely share it with the indigenous creatures. I’ve come across in my humble domicile:
Ants, mice, kangaroo rats, bats, one skunk (that was fun),
house and field crickets, giant gray bird grasshoppers, cockroaches,
house flies (of course, who hasn’t?), robber flies, mosquitos, paper wasps, mud dauber wasps, nocturnal reddish-brown wasps,
all manner of spiders including black widows, wolf spiders, and tarantulas,
pine sawyer beetles, click beetles, and various unnamed ones,
desert scorpions, wind scorpions,
ground snakes, king snakes, fat collared lizards and their smaller cousins,
blood-sucking Western Conenose bugs (my nemesis),
and cringe-worthy giant desert centipedes (shudder).
I can say with much gratitude, that although Arizona is home to more rattlesnake species than any other state in the Union, I have never had one get inside.
It takes a certain kind of warrior mentality to put up with the daily onslaught of desert fauna that creeps, slithers, flies, and scurries into my unfinished desert cabin with gaps large enough to see daylight.
If it were up to me, I would snap my fingers, and my house would be complete, elegantly decorated, and none of these pests would find a way inside. But reality is that God placed me here to grow. So, I endure. We all struggle with something, don’t we? You might not deal with gasp-inducing centipede sightings or exasperating ant invasions, but fears that scurry past your heavenly trust and familiar doubts that invade your mind at your weakest moments.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but with the temptation also make a way of escape, that he may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (emphasis mine)
I wish my way of escape was a bug-less, beautiful home (with air-conditioning!), but God knows exactly what it will take to mold my character to reflect His Son, and apparently, that’s not it.
Like extreme temperatures, pain, or grave disappointment, poverty reveals who you really are at your core. Without the niceties, the steady accumulations of what you think you need, stripped bare of the coverings of the world: security, fulfilled desires, comfort (those little pleasantries that suckle at your soul), you see what you are left with. Either a hollow, angry grappler, or one who can sit at the feet of God with nothing in your hands and smile.
The world says we should have more; God says Christ is all we need. By the world’s standards I am poor; God says where my heart is there my treasure will be (Matthew 6:20).
Waiting for rain
Summer in the Desert Southwest is known for its extremes: cold, very little rainfall, and arid heat. I laugh every time I see the postcard of the two skeletons kicking back on lawn chairs holding their drinks and the caption reads: “But it’s a dry heat.” Yep. But for me, to not be cold is almost worth (okay, yes it is) the overkill heat of this season. There’s something about being warm that opens us up like flowers joyfully waiting for gifts from above.
After a heatwave hits, a three-day stretch of 110s you thought would kill you, days in the upper 90s feel tolerable and mornings in the low 80s are surprisingly, delightfully cool. Summer’s pleasures are a brisk breeze at just the right moment caressing your damp skin, a shade cloud when you need it most, long daylight hours, stunning sunsets, and the rare and glorious downpour of a Monsoon storm.
And minutes before sundown when you’ve been inside all day, you venture outside, and behold—you’ve stepped into a painting! An interactive canvas of tan and turquoise, peach and gray, and shimmering cream outlined in pink. It’s a snow globe of wonder, the clouds a painter’s palette of brush strokes above your head. You stand and gawk, thankful for this land and your place in it.
What is it about the rain that we crave? When something is rare like rainfall in the desert (we get less than ten inches a year), you cherish it more, yearn for it often, and find the greatest delight when it comes. The dark clouds build and the distant rumble and flashes of light in the crayon sky are like the sight and sound of an ice cream truck you spotted down the street when you were a kid. You hope, hope, hope it comes trundling your way.
When life is hard, waiting for the rain is like that. You grow weary and feel like giving in to anger and complaint, and then boom! It rains. Monsoon rain pummels the desperate ground creating rivulets down your dirt driveway. It was one hundred and five degrees, now it’s seventy-three. You laugh and put on an overshirt because you’re damp and cold from dancing in the rain, the fat drops hitting your back. It’s been so long since you felt cold; you’ve forgotten what a shiver is. The cherished rain waters the land (all ten inches at once it seems!) and lands on your joyful heart as well.
The next day, jewel-like red velvet mites that have hidden themselves all year emerge from the once-dry ground happy to search for a mate and live their God-given purpose. Life is good and the cicadas twang their assent. Summer in the desert is a time to find the purposeful gems hidden in a season of heat and stretches of sameness. To accept the cactus-spine trials that get caught in the rug and inevitably find your bare feet. To build godly character and strengthen your faith.
We’ve all gone about searching, hoping for something different, something better than what we’ve got. But God has given us what we need. He hired us early and we’ve borne the burden and the heat of the day (Matthew 20:12). We will get through it—we will! Life-giving rain is coming on a shade cloud to comfort us all.
Water is life to the desert, and Christ is our gift of life raining down from heaven. He fills and fulfills to overflowing.
Abiding in the Vine,
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