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.

River Taught

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I came to this place to cry into the water. Sitting on a rock by the river’s edge, my tears joined the swiftly moving current and were lost, just like me. Lost under the power of a man I called my husband who was really the imposer of my pain. If I had known love would hurt this much I would have run the other way, but it was too late. The other stronger love for my children made me stay. But sometimes it all became too much so I ran here, to this verdant bower of dripping leaves hanging heavy from arching trees over raw, clean mountain water dashing over rocks. It’s roar thrummed in my chest, drowning out my sobs. A fine mist swirling up from the river cooled my tear-hot cheeks.

I could throw myself in and sink like the stone of my heart, but my children needed me. I couldn’t leave them to him. Besides, I couldn’t betray God who gave me my life, by taking it myself. Even though He seemed to have forgotten about me. Even though I was angry at Him. Even though another voice in my head sometimes questioned His existence.

But He showed up anyway, especially here where He called to me in every molecule of this teeming place. I felt Him arching up under my hand laid along a spine of rock. He chortled and boomed in the river’s voice, invigorating my senses with icy spray. Every moss and fern and bush and tree shook Him in my face. I started out running from Him, yet here I was again, full circle from where I began, face to face. I had no words for the pain. He didn’t need words. He soothed and rocked my soul in this primal place.

Close by, a fledgling arbutus tree’s few slender branches trembled over the swiftly moving water and I wondered how it survived so perilously close to the edge. I traced the amber-hued trunk back to where it sprang from between the rocks; saw how each tiny root wrapped itself around rocks and sent shoots down crevasses, holding on tightly. It needed to be near the roaring water which seemed to threaten it’s existence, in order to survive. I could identify with that arbutus tree, at least to the outer branches tossed and soaked by the mighty waters thundering past. But did I have the tenacity to cling to the rock? What if the waters rose higher? What if I slipped and lost my hold?

Then I remembered this. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you.”  (Isa.43:2, 4  NIV)

The God who brought to life this lush, riparian paradise was also the God who would help me navigate all the rapids and dangerous currents I had yet to face. My emotional pain suffered in a difficult marriage did not negate His existence. No matter how my branches may be shaken, He was still the Rock I needed to cling to. That’s all I knew for now, and it was enough. I dipped my hand in the cold, frothing water to feel its power surging around my fingers, a life-giving current moving to the sea.

(This life lesson was learned many years ago. God has since brought me to calm waters in a happy second marriage orchestrated by Him.)