Beyond the Loss

. . . a crown of beauty instead of ashes . . . –Isaiah 61:3 NIV 

At 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted in a violent blast that blew out the north side of the mountain. Everything within eight miles—man, beast, and vegetation—met with instant death and destruction. Shock waves leveled everything within their path, including centuries-old trees, for another 19 miles. Beyond that, the trees that remained were nothing more than standing matchsticks, seared of leaves and life.

Fifty-seven people lost their lives in what was the most destructive volcanic eruption in U.S. history. Miles of roads and railroad tracks were destroyed. Ash spewed 12 miles high, then mushroomed out, eventually dumping an estimated 500 million tons in 11 states and five Canadian provinces.

The blast, and the accompanying earthquake, altered the landscape and forever changed the ecosystem.

In July Dean and I visited the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. We toured the museum, viewed displays and read placards, listened to an energetic ranger give an animated talk, and sat through a jaw-dropping video that captured the lateral blast.

We stood, awestruck, as we gazed at what was once, at 4,400 feet above sea level, the fifth highest peak in the state of Washington.

Today the north face of Mount St. Helens, which lost 1,300 feet in elevation in the blast, is one gigantic crater, the area around it a moonscape, gray and lifeless. Sun-bleached tree trunks are strewn over the ash-dotted hillsides surrounding the volcano.

But the place is anything but dead.

Prairie lupine and other wildflowers bob their colorful petals above the green meadow grass. We watched elk graze in the North Fork Toutle River Valley, where patches of trees are making a comeback.

Nothing has been planted, at least not intentionally. After the initial cleanup following the eruption, the area was left to nature. Within a month, avalanche lilies poked their heads through ash deposits 10 miles away.

One of the documentaries we viewed was titled, “Eternal cycle of destruction and renewal.”

“Where humans see catastrophe,” the narrator said, “nature sees opportunity.”

How true. The more I learn about the eruption and how the area is naturally recovering, the more I am in awe of nature—and the One who created it.

Out of destruction came new life—not the same as before, but life nevertheless. Plants grew that couldn’t have thrived in the shadow of the forest. The nutrients in the volcanic ash allowed different species of plants to grow. A new kind of beauty emerged from and because of the ashes.

As I gazed at the prairie lupine in the meadows and the splashes of red, orange, yellow, and white swaying in the summer breeze on nature’s palette, a phrase from Isaiah came to mind: “a crown of beauty for ashes.”

There are times our lives are rocked to the core. Our very foundations are shaken. That with which we’re familiar—comfortingly familiar—is blasted away. A gaping, colorless void replaces the mount where our dreams once reached for the sky.

The landscape of our lives is forever changed. Fallout obscures our vision, clogs our breathing, snuffs out our hopes. We will never be the same.

But all is not lost. For out the ashes will come new life. Out of destruction renewal.

For where we see catastrophe, God sees opportunity—to stretch us, transform us, change our direction, grow our faith, give us a life we could never have imagined before. A life resplendent with new color, new dreams, new hope.

If God so cared about nature that He placed seeds of renewal in what appears to be total destruction, will He not care for you?

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus says in Matthew 10:29–31. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows.”

Thank You that what I view as the end is not the end, O Lord, but really a new beginning. Amen.

Read and meditate on Psalm 46

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

My Bucket List

Image by Renee Gaudet from Pixabay

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

One year I decided to compile a bucket list.

On it I put hiking, kayaking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding in the Colorado Rockies, spending a month in Alaska and visiting the Canadian Rockies. Perhaps I should add “getting and staying in shape.”

I was hesitant at first to list anything. Unlike the two characters in the movie, I don’t have a billionaire to fund the fulfillment of the list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket. So phrases such as “we can’t afford it” and “be realistic” kept popping up.

We humans can come up with all kinds of reasons our deepest desires and wildest dreams won’t or can’t be fulfilled. So we plod on, not allowing ourselves to hope or dream because we don’t want to deal with disappointment. Or we make a bucket list of “safe” things—those that don’t border on impossible.

I had to push the hope-sucking words out of my mind with another phrase: “If money were no object …” and set my mind free to dream.

When I got brave enough to write my dreams down, I began to see the possibilities—how they can be fulfilled. I began to hope and dream again like I did when I was much younger.

What is life without dreams? Without hope?

In 626 B.C. God’s people thought they were without hope, too. Sent into exile for persistent willful disobedience, they were given these words: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

The next 70 years weren’t going to be pretty. Babylon would be a far cry from the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey God had helped their ancestors to conquer. But don’t give up hope, He told them.

Hope—what we need to get us through our Babylon times, what we need to get us through life even when it isn’t tough.

There may be those who say this verse isn’t for us today—that it was meant only for God’s people at that time. There may be those who say this verse has been so overused, it’s become cliché.

But these 29 words say so much—and I believe they are for us today, too, for “the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

 “For I know the plans I have for you” —God has a plan for your life, a purpose for you.

“…to prosper you and not to harm you.”— Although life includes pain, God’s purpose is not to harm but to help you to grow. God’s plan for you is good.

“…to give you hope.” Life without hope is like soda without the fizz, like a long, dark night with no sign of morning. Hope comes from God, so ask Him for it.

“…to give you…a future.” God has a future planned for you, but He reveals it one day—one moment—one step—at a time.

Plans, hope, a future—Isn’t that what a bucket list is all about? It gives us hope that someday our dreams may come true.

So go ahead—let yourself dream again. Make up your bucket list. Then give it to God and watch your hope begin to grow.

Teach me to dream again, Lord. I’ve forgotten how. Amen.

Read and reflect on Psalm 139.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.