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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Blessed in the Shadows

Blessings do not always come in good packages. When thinking of blessings in my life, the ones which stand out are not those inspiring gratitude but those which put me in the shadows. These life-shattering events could not be described as blessings at the time, yet without their occurrence I would not know God as I do today.

Some years ago God allowed my life to be covered by the shadow of a painful divorce and a life-threatening illness. Thoughts came that I would be consumed by the darkness. I cried out for relief, begged God to fix the problems, to send a little light my way, but shadows continued to loom, building upon each other until it seemed I faced a black wall.

I collapsed into the arms of God, someone who had always been in my life but up to this point, never had to BE my life. Now He was all I had; all else had been stripped away. The spiritual principle of the all-sufficiency of God was now being put to the test.  After each day of facing what seemed to be insurmountable challenges, I would cast myself on God again, thankful that he had preserved me through another day. More than preserving, He had walked with me each moment, revealing Himself to me in a new way.

When I abandoned myself to God in my brokenness, experiencing all the pain all the way to the bottom, there my feet touched ground and my desire for God was discovered, where all else had been removed, giving Him room to respond with His desire for me. This meant giving Him all my dreams for this world; not that they were bad dreams or that some may be realized or not, but their allure was lessened by the larger dream of my desire for God and His for me.
There came a time when I could say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” (Job 13:15) Therein lies the most precious blessing. I would rather truly know God in the shadows of adversity than be cold in the light of day without Him. Against the black backdrop of my trials God spread the jeweled facets of His character before me. The contrast of light on darkness made them sparkle all the more and I was drawn irresistibly into His love.

God said that He may give us bread of adversity and water of affliction, but He who teaches us will no longer keep Himself out of sight, but with our own eyes we will see Him. (Is.30:20) He reveals Himself in the shadows; a mysterious paradox which can be likened to how a blind person knows someone by feeling the shape of their face. We cannot see God, especially in the shadows of adversity, yet if we reach out in the dark His dear face is there for us to touch, and we will know Him. I could not see God in the shadows of my affliction, yet when I reached out in the dark, there He was. The things learned in the shadows about God and His character…His love, His faithfulness, His strength, His provision…I would not trade for a lifetime of ease.

There came an epiphany when I learned what it meant “to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.” (Phil.3:10) After a nurse in the hospital chemotherapy unit had painfully pierced the back of my already bruised hand, I lay back, exhausted and sick, while the toxic chemicals dripped into my veins. At a low point in this cancer journey, I silently prayed for strength to go on. The sun beamed through the window behind me, casting a shadow of the I.V. pole across my blanketed knees. It formed a slender cross, reminding me of Christ’s pain as He hung there, His hands pierced much more brutally than mine. I was brought to peace by identifying in this small way with my Savior. His sufferings were much greater, “but for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.” (Heb.12:2) Could I not carry my small cross, even consider it joy to face such a trial because my Lord Jesus had gone before me? I was blessed by the warmth of the sun illuminating a spiritual truth I needed to learn on a heart level.

We who are blessed by the Father need to look for His blessings not only in the light He shines on us, but also in the shadows of trials and tragedies. Romans 5 tells why. “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who He has given us.”

I look forward with hope to the day when all shadows will flee and I will stand in the full light of my Lord’s eternal blessings.