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.

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

My sister Judi in 2001

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” – Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 11:29 (The Message)

I’d been teaching full time and writing part time for a local newspaper for years. With the youngest in college and the older two on their own, now was the time to pursue my dreams.

While teaching was my passion, I wasn’t finding fulfillment in covering school board and county commissioners meetings and election results. And while I loved the camaraderie of the newsroom staff, getting up early Saturday mornings to drive 45 minutes in all kinds of weather to type obituaries wasn’t getting me any closer to my writing goals.

Of course I ignored the signs of dissatisfaction and pushed on. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Then a post-operative blood clot took the life of my only sister just when we were getting close again. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. She was only 55.

I shivered on the love seat for days, in shock.

These things change you. Change the way you think about things. Change the way you live.

Change—it’s foisted on all of us. Whether we welcome it or not.

The key to surviving it is to look to God, knowing He has a plan and purpose for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139:16), knowing He takes the rough draft of the chapters of our lives and revises them so they shine (Romans 8:28) and lead to the ending He has planned. And knowing that if we follow our Shepherd, we will arrive at that ending without burning ourselves out.

But I hadn’t been stopping long enough to listen to God.

My sister’s death was a wakeup call—to pause in my headlong rush to fulfill my dreams and be all things to all people, and determine where I was truly headed.

Davis Bunn, in his 40-day devotional The Turning, writes, “When we read, we give no notice to the spaces between the words. And yet those pauses are vital. Without them, there is nothing but a senseless jumble. With them, thoughts are unique, words are clear, ideas fashioned, lives transformed. So it is with the brief pauses we make to stop and listen. Our thoughts and actions take on new clarity.”

And so it was for me. If I were to die suddenly in my mid-fifties, I thought, would I have realized my dreams? Within a week, I resigned from the newspaper job.

I still get too busy, lose focus, and drift away from God’s path for me. It’s refreshing to pause, still the clamor of life, rest and recharge spent batteries.

“Are you tired? Worn out?” Jesus says. “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28–29, The Message).

I’m a slow learner, Lord. I have to force myself to slow down. Sometimes my body, mind, and spirit are just too exhausted to push on. Remind me often to pause to reflect, rest, and recharge. Amen.

Read and reflect on Psalm 23.

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