Devastation or Beauty:  Where Does Your Mind Dwell?

As some of you know, my town was hit by Michael, a strong category 4 hurricane, (wind speed just 2 mph less than a category 5) in October. It’s been just over 2 months and devastation is still seen everywhere. Many businesses are still not reopened, and many of those will never reopen leaving many people jobless. Long lines and completely filled parking lots plague the few department and grocery stores that have opened. Contractors and their workers’ vehicles flood the streets so making a quick trip anywhere is no longer possible. Blue tarped roofs are seen everywhere as well as downed and broken trees, debris piles taller than the cars driving past them, and a multitude of damaged buildings. Some areas of town are still without electricity and internet. Many people who lost their homes either had to move away or are living in tents because there is no housing left. Schools have to share facilities since many schools were completely destroyed. There is not one building, one lot, or one person in our town untouched. Instead of concentrating on Christmas, many are exhausted from navigating insurance and contractor paperwork while trying to avoid the many scams that pop up in situations like this, jumping through FEMA hoops, or trying to find a job they can walk to since their cars were damaged along with their homes. Very few Christmas lights can be seen, and parents are desperately trying to seek ways to get some presents to their children. The more fortunate ones compete for the toys still available at Walmart, but many more don’t have the finances and have to stand in lines for many hours to get a chance to pick out some donated toys. Even worse, a good number of people have had to resort to begging strangers for help because they don’t have the transportation or health to even get to the toy distribution sites.

On the other hand…

After most volunteers and relief agencies have left, we are still being surprised with truck loads of toys, blankets, jackets, and other supplies arriving from people living in other towns near and far. More than a few Facebook groups have been created solely for the purpose of providing help to those who need it from insurance and contractor concerns to housing and shopping question. Quite a few people both local and distant have formed networks to ensure every legitimate need is taken care of to the best of their ability. Some people have opened their yards/land to house displaced people living in tents providing them safety, meals and hot showers. Many new friendships have been created and neighbors are watching out for each other now that fences no longer separate them. And the beauty of God’s creation can still be seen from the dazzling night sky (much clearer now since we have fewer street and commercial lights) and the breathtaking sunrises/sunsets (less trees = more view of the sky) to the delicate blooming flowers and the gorgeous beaches.

As I think about the people I’ve met and the people whose Facebook posts I’ve read, I wonder why so many are depressed and angry while many others are hopeful and encouraging. I don’t think in this case the answer can be found solely in their relationship or lack of relationship with God. It’s true that for many Christians, their faith is giving them the strength to keep moving forward. Yet I know just as many strong Christians who are depressed and hurting as non-Christians who are positive and optimistic. No, I think in this situation the answer might lie more in their heads than in their hearts. Where do their minds dwell? The devastation all around that is real and not going away any time soon? Or the beauty that is also real and not going away? Each is just as valid as the other. Yet for some reason it’s way easier to dwell in the devastation than to see past it to the beauty.

Maybe when we pray for people in devastated areas – not just here in Panama City but throughout the world – we could add a short sentence before our amen. It may not seem like much, but it might just make all the difference.

“Father, open their eyes to the beauty that is still around them.”

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Devastated pavilion surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation at St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, FL, taken on 12/24/18 by Linda Schnepel

 

 

 

Life is Like a Beach, section 5: Sky

The following is part of a book I would like to publish someday. It’s too long to blog as one post so I’m breaking it up section by section.  Each section can be read as a stand-alone, and hopefully my analogies will provide food for thought as well as encouragement to keep on going no matter where you find yourself in life.  I’ve added links  at the end to the previous sections to make them easier to find should you want to read them. Oh, and all photos were taken by me and are untouched other than cropping when necessary. God’s creation is so awesome just the way it is!

Sky

I love looking at the sky when I’m at the beach. It seems no two days are the same. From bright blue with ever changing clouds…

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to gray overcast…

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to stormy with a chance of a rainbow,

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each day’s sky has its own fascination. Even distant storms! And those sunrises and sunsets are too beautiful for words!

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Life is the same way. No two days are exactly the same, even if they are similar. And no matter how our day is going, we can find beauty in it if we try. Though I have to say that it’s much easier on some days than others. In any case, to see the beauty, it helps to look up, up to the God who made it all.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Ecclesiastes 3:11

Previous sections:

Section 1: The Path

Section 2: Red Flags

Section 3: Water

Section 4: Waves

Bella, part 4 – Questions

They sat on the pier like they had done the last time. At first they were silent, drinking in the beauty that surrounded them.  The reflection of the sun danced on the blue water of the lake. Birds sang to each other, and a cool soft breeze wafted past them from time to time.

Eventually she became aware of the silence between them. She wondered if he was waiting for her to speak first. Maybe he was getting bored, but sneaking a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye, she saw that he was looking around and seemed to be enjoying the peace as much as she was. She also saw something else in his face. Something like…  satisfaction? As if he was responsible for the beauty himself? No, that couldn’t be right. She must be seeing things. Nobody could create a place like this. Discover it? Yes. Nurture and care for it? Yes. But create it? No. A sly thought sneaked its way into her mind: maybe he thinks he’s God.

As if reading her thoughts, he said quietly, “God’s creation is amazing, wouldn’t you say?’

She sighed with relief. At least he’s not claiming to be God. That would be weird. Maybe even dangerous. She’d heard too many stories of the evil done by men with a god-complex. And she had no intention of becoming a victim of a cult – enslaved and intimidated into obedience.

“Something wrong?” he asked, looking at her with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Um, no. Why do you ask?”

“You sighed.”

“Oh, that.” She didn’t want to reveal her stupid suspicion so she tried to change the subject. “I love it here,” she said. “It’s heaven!”

“No, but close,” he chuckled. “Did you say you had some questions?”

“Yes, I do. Lots of them, actually.”

He laughed. “Most people do when they discover this place.”

“What exactly is this place?”

“Well, for me, it’s home. This is where my father and I live.”

“But, it doesn’t make sense. How can this place be here? We’re in a city. There’s not enough room in anyone’s yard to have all of this in it.”

“That’s true for houses and apartment buildings that were built after the city got big. But this place.” he motioned around him with his arm, “was here before the city grew. You could say the city grew around us.”

“That makes sense. But what still doesn’t make sense is how your home is so much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside.”

“It’s kind of like an illusion. You know, tricks that fool the eyes. Illusions show that you can’t always believe your eyes.”

She nodded. She still didn’t understand the physics involved but she wanted more time to think about it before asking further questions.

“So, if this house, this land, was here before the city grew, then you must have grown up here.”

“It seems I’ve always been here, that’s true.

“And was your dad born here too?”

“No, he wasn’t.”

“When did he get here, then?’

“He’s been here so long, you could say he’s been here forever!” he laughed.

This is getting me nowhere, she thought. She changed the subject.

“Your dad is a pastor. That means he must know a lot about God. And you, being his son, must know a lot about God, too. Right?

“You could say that.”

“Does God really exist or is He just something someone dreamed up to comfort people?”

“Oh, God’s real, all right. No doubt about that.” IMG_20180520_222010004

“Well, if God is real, why do so many people act like He’s not?”

“Many people don’t know that He exists.”

“I mean, people who go to church. People who say they are Christians. Why do they act like God is not real?”

 

“That’s a good questions, I…”

“How’s it going out here?” called a voice as footsteps vibrated on the pier.

Jude and Bella both turned to see Pastor Toby waving as he walked towards them.

“Wonderful,” she answered.

“We’ve been enjoying the peace of this place,” Jude said. “And Bella has some pretty deep questions.”

“Awesome! I love answering questions. But first we have a date with a fresh hot-out-of-the-oven peach cobbler! And if you know anything about peach cobbler, it’s best eaten warm!”

“Mmm… sounds delicious!” Jude said as he stood up. He held out his hand to help Bella stand. “My mouth is already watering!”

Bella tried to hide her disappointment. As good as the cobbler sounded, she would have preferred to hear Jude’s answer to her question. But she didn’t want to hurt Pastor Toby’s feelings, so she smiled and headed back to the church with them. Maybe after eating some of the cobbler, they could get back to her question. She hadn’t realized until she asked it how much she needed to have her question answered. All she knew was that the growing pressure of not knowing was driving her nuts.

 

Links to previous parts of this story:

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really, part 1

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really, part 2

Bella, part 1- Heart VS Brain

Bella, part 2 – Distractions

Bella, part 3 – Overcoming Detours

 

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really Part 2

She turned around slowly and two men with warm smiles on their faces. The older man was tall, average weight, and thinning gray hair. The other man was younger with dark hair and eyes.

“Umm..” she started to stammer not having any idea how to explain her presence.

“Can we help you?” asked the younger man.

Shaking her head, she looked past them to the door. Seeing her look, the older man chuckled.  “No need to worry, We won’t hurt you.” He walked over to her with his hand outstretched. “Hi. I’m the Pastor here. You can call me Toby. This here is my son, Jude. We’re actually glad you’re here.”

“Um… sorry for intruding. I just needed a place to hide.”

“You won’t find a safer place. Would you like to take a walk with us? We were just heading out to the lake.”

Lake? Here, in the city? Confused, she followed them down the hallway. They passed  several closed doors before Toby opened the one at the end of the hall.

“No way!” she thought as she saw what was on the other side of that door.

It opened into a large garden full of colorful blooming flowers, luscious green grass, and mighty fruit-bearing trees of every kind. A dirt path wound its way through the garden exiting at the far end. And in the distance, she could see the blue glint of water. Where in the world was she?

Toby and Jude chatted as they walked, trying to draw her in by asking her questions. They asked about her job and family as well as her concerns, cares, and dreams. Not wanting to reveal the sadness inside her – being a preacher and preacher’s son, they would be sure to try to “fix” her – she covered her feelings by answering flippantly. They didn’t seem to notice her tone, and were intensely interested in everything she said and even seem to care about everything that concerned her.

They arrived at the lake and climbed out onto a pier that jutted out over the water. IMG_20180504_145142154Sitting down, they were all quiet as they drank in the peaceful beauty of the place. Bella began relaxing as the peace soaked into her wounded soul. She had never experience as much love and acceptance from anyone as she was feeling from Toby and Jude.

After a long while, Toby turned to Bella and said, “Why don’t you tell me all about it. Just start at the beginning.”

Still covering her feelings, she continued to be flippant. “What beginning? When I was born beginning?”

Toby looked at Bella for a long minute, then said quietly, “Start at Disneyworld.”

Bella paled. Trembling, she asked, “How did you know about Disneyworld?”

“It’s my job, my gift.”

“My sisters were molested in Disneyworld. I might have been too because I was there. I can’t remember. All I know is something isn’t right inside me.”

She tried to listen to Toby as he began talking but her feelings were overwhelming her and she couldn’t hear anything but fear and doubt and condemnation. Eventually Toby’s words began to get through to her as he spoke louder and louder. When they were loud enough to drown out all her thoughts, she caught his eye and said, “OK, I can hear you. You’re preaching!”

He smiled and said, “Yes, I tend to do that.”

“I think we should leave now,” she said, wanting to avoid any more discussion.

“Sure, if you want to.” They stood up.

“I’m glad I chose to hide in your church,” she said as they walked back towards the church. “This is a good place.”

“I’m glad you accepted my invitation,” he answered. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine. I need to go.” As much as she loved being there, she was also uncomfortable. If he knew about Disneyworld, how much more did he know?

“As you will. But just know that you’re welcome back anytime. We’ll always be  here.”

They escorted her through the house and back into the foyer. Reluctantly she waved goodbye and went out the front door. She didn’t know why she was drawn to this place that both refreshed and terrified her. But she knew one day she’d be back.  And when she did, she knew Toby and Jude would be waiting for her with open arms.

 

This story, based on a dream I had years ago, is designed as an allegory. Here are a few analogies you can find in it.

The sidewalk was crowded with people – most going about their business, some feeling lost, and a few trying to connect with other people. Life is crowded with people also. Most are going about their business, not really paying attention to those around them. Some people feel lost in this world. And a few people try to connect with others to share God’s love.

Bella was surrounded by people and ended up getting hurt but chose to be in denial about how serious it was. We live in a world surrounded by people and will eventually get hurt. Many of us also tend to live in denial of the pain we have rather than allow someone else close enough to help us. At least I know I do.

The church was bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside, and contained a beautiful garden and lake. The spiritual world, heaven, is much bigger and more beautiful than it appears to those on the outside.

Bella found refuge in the home of Toby and Jude. We find refuge in God the Father and Jesus the Son.

Toby and Jude were intensely interested in everything Bella said, and cared about all her concerns.  God is intensely interested in us and cares about everything we care about.

Toby knew about the pain Bella felt deep in her soul, regardless of how flippant she tried to sound. God knows the pain deep inside us no matter what we do to try to cover it.

Even though Toby and Jude wanted Bella to stay, she was free to come and go as she pleased. We have the same freedom in God. He desires us to stay with Him all the time, but won’t force us.

 

Now your turn. Does this story relate to your life in any way? What are some other analogies you can see?

Deep Inside a Flower

“There’s something very beautiful deep inside you,” her boyfriend told her.

“No, there isn’t,” she responded.

“Yes, there is. I can see God pouring His love all over you, watering you as if you were a flower. Only you can’t feel it.”

On the surface, she had come to know God’s love and presence, and to a degree could accept that, but deep down was a whole different story. She could feel the darkness that she believed was down there, and was afraid to find out that she was right.

“No,” she shook her head. “There’s nothing good in me.”

“I don’t believe that. I see you as a bud, closed up tightly around great beauty. And I see God slowly and gently opening your petals, one by one.”

Fear rose up in her. What if He really was doing that? What if He gets to the center of her IMG_20180416_204207978being and finds only darkness there? Maybe even evil. And demons.

“What if I’m afraid?”

“It’s OK. God knows that. And He will go only as fast as you are able. He won’t force you.”

“Maybe, but I can’t take the chance.” She really, really didn’t want to find out she had demons.  She had heard of plenty of people who had had demons cast out of them. She shuddered just thinking about it. What would that be like, having a demon cast out? Maybe like having a nasty worm in your stomach pulled out through your mouth. She had seen a video of that once. Or like having leprosy on the inside that would gross out anyone who saw it. She’d rather hide her darkness than subject others to it. Her petals would have to remain closed.

Later, they talked about it some more. She took in his words, hoping he was right, but knowing that he wasn’t.

The next night, they attended a prayer meeting together. She listened in amazement as the speaker for the night spoke about… she could hardly believe it… how God opens His people little by little, to reveal the beauty that is inside them.

No way, she thought. That has to be more than a coincidence. She got excited thinking that maybe… but no. That was true for other people but not for her. She knew there was nothing but darkness inside her. She could feel it.

The next night, she had an unexpected visit from a friend. This friend handed her a vase with a magnolia bud and a red rose in it. She thanked her friend and had a nice visit, but she didn’t think much about the flowers.

Until the next day.

The magnolia bud had opened during the night – and the flower was absolutely beautiful! Somehow she knew beyond a doubt that this flower was from the Lord. She could feel His love and presence and knew that He was doing something deep within her. As she yielded to Him, she began looking forward to finding out what that something was.

It would take years for her petals to fully open. But when they did, she found out she had been wrong all along. Instead of darkness, she found Light. Instead of evil and demons needing to be cast out, she found His great love for her. She realized  her fear had been lying to her all those years.

“There’s something very beautiful deep inside you,” her boyfriend, now husband, had told her those many years ago. Now she finally knew that it was true. There WAS something beautiful deep inside her. And that something was called Jesus.

Field of Flowers

She once again closed her eyes to spend some time with her Lord, and found herself in a field of flowers. She seemed to be as a small child, sometimes holding His hand, sometimes dancing around Him, as they walked.

“Look at all these beautiful flowers!” she said to Him.

“They are beautiful, aren’t they?” he responded as He looked at her.

There were so many different kinds and colors, she couldn’t help but laugh in amazement. She began picking some here, and some there, gathering as great a variety as she could manage to hold. When her hands were full, she offered them to Jesus. He smiled as He took them.

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In a twinkling of an eye, He took her to the throne room where He handed the flowers to the Father, then, just as quickly, they were back in the field.

“Look at the flowers,” He told her. “Look how they are all growing beautifully for the glory of the Father.”

She looked at them, then grew sad.

“What’s wrong?” He asked her.

“These are growing beautifully, just like You said. But the ones I picked are not growing anymore. I ruined them.”

“No, child,” He said gently. “You didn’t ruin anything. Even the flowers you picked were given to the Father. It’s all for His glory – whether growing or picked.”

He continued. “Be like the flowers.  Be the beautiful you He made you to be. Enjoy life, praising and loving Him, relaxing in His care, and sharing your beauty with everyone.’

“That’s easy to do, when I’m in a place as wonderful as this field. But what if someone picks me? What if they take me away from the peace and joy of this field?”  She was thinking about all the demands the people in her life place on her.

“Don’t resist them. Give yourself joyfully. And just like those flowers, you, too, will be given to the Father for His glory.”

She thought she understood. At least here, in this place, it made sense. She wasn’t so sure it would feel the same when she put it into practice.

“Will You help me?” she asked Him. “When people make their demands and take me from where I want to be, will You help me remember the flowers?”

“Of course.”

He took her hand, and they continued their walk through the field of flowers.