In the Wake of the Storm

img_2323At some point that evening I went from being exhilarated by the fierce summer storm raging outside, to fleeing in fear to the only windowless room in our home. I huddled with my husband in the dark while the wind roared and shook the house as if it were too close to a speeding freight train. Finally sensing a lessening in the storm’s clamor, we cautiously crept out to witness the utter chaos left in the wake of its violent tantrums. Broken tree limbs and debris littered the lawn, but worse was the uprooted cottonwood tree stretched like a slain giant across our crumpled fence into the yard behind, barely missing the neighbor’s house.

In the following days as we cleaned up the wreckage from the storm, I mourned the loss of the cottonwood tree. On hot summer days we used to rest in our lawn chairs under its cool shade, lulled by the lyric rustle of its leaves in the breeze. It had been a green sanctuary to myriads of birds which we enjoyed watching splash in our nearby birdbath. Our grandchildren once climbed the lower branches, safe in its woody embrace. Now an ugly stump was all that remained, and empty space where once a friendly giant stood.

My husband took a more pragmatic view of the loss of the tree. He saw how its absence allowed more sunlight to reach his vegetable garden, especially the rows closest to the fence which always did poorly for lack of light. We observed carrots and parsnips gradually flourish with more sunlight to strengthen them.

In her book, “Roots & Sky”, author Christie Purifoy writes, “God does not erase our losses, those empty places in our lives, but He does something almost more miraculous. He fills the loss with a sign of His presence.” Losing a tree cannot compare to losing a loved one, or a marriage or a part of who you are, but for me it was a picture of how loss opens up room for a new work of God.

There was a time in my life when I lost everything I had ever feared losing; my marriage, financial security, health and family unity. In the midst of these devastating losses, I could not imagine a future when all would be made new, even better than before. But God could. “His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of.” (Eph. 3:20 TLB)

God takes loss and turns it into abundance. In the ashes of my pain, I discovered the abundance of God’s love, His perfect character and His always faithful promises. When life left me hollowed out, He filled the space with His own presence. As I discovered, this is God’s specialty, giving beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (Isa. 61:3 NKJV)

In the equation of loss becoming abundance, He uniquely illustrates for each of us His supreme renewal project, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV) He was speaking of Himself as the Seed, abused, crucified, buried in a dark tomb. Then the Seed came bursting forth alive, His resurrection beginning a great harvest of souls for God’s kingdom. Death gave way to life. Decay became deliverance.

A mighty tree once stood in my yard where now there is just a weathered stump. However new light floods a healthy garden where many seeds now flourish in abundance. In our memory’s landscape, the scar of a loss does not need to be a place of pain forever. It may be remembered, even mourned, but more significantly, it is a landmark telling where God met us and how He brought restoration and renewal out of the darkest places of our world.

Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Dusting Angels

Willow-tree-angels-demdaco-willow-tree-angels-willow-angels-1I pick up each angel figurine and run my dusting cloth gently over their wire wings and unpainted faces. Before putting them back I study every one, my heart remembering when they were given and why. An angel embracing a child commemorates the first anniversary of my mother’s death. Holding a single rose, an angel with upswept hair speaks of my husband’s love. There are angels holding a book, a cat, a bird and a golden ball, representing different aspects of my life. Two angels have praying hands, given by recipients of my prayers. A little boy angel holds a balloon aloft which says “hope”, gifted during a cancer journey when hope was hard to come by.

Why do these angel figurines, representing significant times and people, evoke poignancy, melancholy, even sadness? I think it has to do with the way I love. I truly give my heart away to those who call up love in me. So when life inevitably changes, a piece of my heart is left behind in those circumstances. Even when those I love are still in my life, relationships change and I find myself longing for how it used to be. The fact that nothing stays as it is creates a hollowness in my soul, a restlessness stirring up yearning sighs from deep within.

Slow to remember how to respond to this vague longing, I drift through my day, not able to settle on anything useful. When I finally open a well-thumbed book beside my chair and read, the hollow places gradually fill up with precious words about One who is able to satisfy my longing for perfection and permanence.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

These words tell me of the One who offers Himself as the perfect soul food so I will never go hungry, and the perfect spirit drink so I will never thirst. I keep reading to fill up with His promises to never leave me or forsake me, to be the same yesterday, today and forever, to prepare a place for me with Him in heaven. In these pages I find the Person who completes all my heart’s unfinished business. Jesus occupies my inner space so if there are hollows or lack, it is because I have taken my eyes off Him. I can’t afford to do that so I read on.

When I finally put my Bible down, my eye catches the upturned face of one of the little angels on the shelf. I can almost imagine her shaking her head at me for taking so long to figure how to assuage my longing. Life relationships and circumstances will always be fluid, shifting from intimacy to distance, from love to loss. I am grateful for people who have enriched my life, even for a short time, and for those who are committed to walk the rest of the way with me if they can. I’ve given them a piece of my heart which may well be trampled on or lost. I understand that. But the rest, peace and permanence found in Jesus Christ is the only completely reliable truth for my life now and forever. I hope it won’t take me until my angels are dusty again to remember where perfection lies.

Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.  – Augustine of Hippo, “The Confessions of Saint Augustine”