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

 

 

 

Sometimes Muddy Water is a Good Thing

 

Emotions churned inside her as she bowed before the Lord in prayer.

“Jesus, I don’t know what’s happening inside me. It’s such a mess. And I don’t even know why. Everything seems to be going well right now – job, family, health. So why all this turmoil?”

“Just a little cleaning up.”

She frowned, not understanding. How can cleaning up make her feel bad? She thought about it for a while. What exactly WAS she feeling? So many emotions all mixed up inside her. Pain and confusion from her teen years that still plagued her. Doubts that she was actually hearing from God and that it wasn’t just her imagination, and fear that she would lead others wrong as she began speaking out for Him.  Depression that seemed to cling to her no matter how hard she tried to fight it.  Very low self-esteem, more like no self-esteem.  The list seemed endless. She struggled to put a name to it.

“Muddy water.”

Muddy water?

She thought of her small garden pond. She enjoyed going outside to sit by it each day and watch the fish swim around. The pond looked beautiful – clear shiny water with green flowering plants growing in and around it. From time to time she would add a little water to compensate for the water that had evaporated.

She remembered a time she had not gone outside to the pond for several weeks. When she had finally made it there, she had been dismayed to find the water level to be as low IMG_20180510_000206722as it was. So she had taken the hose and watched as the water refilled the pond. Almost immediately the clear water had gotten cloudy as the running water churned up the dirt that had settled at the bottom.  Within minutes she could see leaves and pine straw swirling around in the very muddy water. Yuck. She decided to keep the water flowing and as the water flowed over the top, it had taken the mud, leaves and pine straw with it until all that had remained was clear clean water. Her pond was beautiful again, only this time it wasn’t hiding a bunch of dirt and debris at the bottom.

She made the connection. She might look good on the outside, but deep inside her heart,  a lot of dirt and debris had settled over time. Jesus had turned on the hose in her heart, filling her to overflowing with living water!

Amazed at the way He helped her understand, she thanked Him for the work He was doing. It might not look so good at the moment, she thought, but when He gets done, my heart will be clean and clear and truly beautiful!

The Attack… and Some Brown Leaves

Already feeling low from struggling with a decision she was finding hard to make, she was not prepared for her dad’s attack.

“Christians are all ignorant fools,” he told her. “Too stupid to use their own minds, they just follow whatever the church says. Blind faith. Stupid faith.”

“It’s not like that,” she tried to explain. But he wouldn’t listen.

“You’re no better than them. You have been brainwashed into believing God can actually love you. That He’s actually interested in your life. He is God! Creator of the universe! He doesn’t care about each tiny individual. He made the world and now it’s up to us.”

“But that’s not what Jesus said…”

“Jesus!” he interrupted her. “He may have been a good man, but he was not God. He didn’t know any more than anyone else. People just made him into something he wasn’t because they needed something to hold on to when life got tough. Jesus is nothing more than a crutch.”

“He’s more than that, dad. He is God and He is with us. I know! I met Him!”

“If you believe that, you’re no better than any of those other delusional people. If you were smart, you’d drop this fantasy and look at life as it really is.”

“What about the Bible? The Bible says that Jesus is God and..” She was cut off again.

“It was written by ignorant people trying to explain a world they didn’t understand. We know better now. Science has proven most of the bible inaccurate. It’s just a book of fairy tales…”

And on and on he went, his voice rising as his anger against Christianity grew. Eventually, he got tired of ranting and left the room. She sat there, feeling as sore and bruised as if he had actually beat her. She slowly got up and got ready for bed. She started to pray but stopped. How could she? She didn’t deserve to be with Jesus. She had not been able to defend Him, to speak up for Him, to make her dad understand. She had let Jesus down. She felt like she couldn’t have Jesus anymore – not because He didn’t want her, but because they just couldn’t be together anymore. And she wanted Him. Not just because she needed Him and without Him, she wouldn’t have life, but because she loved Him. And so she wept.

The next day was spent in misery. She felt like God was on her side concerning her belief VS her dad’s belief, but that didn’t help much. She still felt like she had let Jesus down.

That night, before entering the church hall for the weekly prayer meeting she attended, she decided to take a walk down the church yard. It was dark, and the ground was covered with brown leaves from the many trees in the yard. As she walked with her eyes down, she began talking to God, telling Him how she felt. She really didn’t feel like attending the meeting. She was in no mood to go in there and greet everyone with hugs and smiles and pretend everything was OK. So she asked God what she needed to do.

“Rejoice, and praise Me in song and with your words.”

She sighed. “OK. Fine. But it won’t be emotional.” Then she added, “Please keep me from being a wet blanket on everyone else.”

As she walked, she pictured Jesus walking next to her. As often was the case, her image seemed to take on a life of its own, and she saw Jesus act like He was feeling as down as she was and kick at the leaves.

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This made her smile. Jesus feeling down? And kicking at the leaves? She looked up at Him as she joined Him in kicking leaves, and she saw that He was smiling.

“Jesus, You are amazing! You always know just the right thing to do for me!”

And she went into the hall to greet everyone with hugs and smiles and act like everything was OK. Because it was.