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

 

 

 

The Guys in the Yellow Shirts

She walked outside early that day to get a head start on the heat. There was a lot to do – way more than she or her husband was capable of doing in a day. And before long the temperature would be in the high 80’s making it even harder to work.

She looked at her yard.

 

Several large trees had been blown down, roots pulled up out of the ground leaving large holes. Other trees with broken trunks were lying across the sidewalk. A set of bare trees with broken branches were leaning towards their neighbor’s house. There were many large branches, wooden fence boards, and shingles scattered across the yard. And leaves everywhere!

She looked at her tools. One hand saw. One large pair of shears. One smaller hand shears for pruning. One wheelbarrow. A rake. And a shovel.

How in the world would these simple tools help them clear the huge mess? Sighing with resolve, she knew if she didn’t get started, the mess would only get worse as the grass grew to cover shingles and nails and other potentially dangerous things. She decided to start with the fence boards. They wouldn’t need any tools and she could drag them to the street. At least most of them. Some were still attached in large sections and would need to be cut into smaller pieces before she could move them.

As she dragged the fence pieces, her husband got the hand saw and began sawing the fallen branches into more manageable sizes, pulling them to the street and tossing them into a separate pile to cooperate with the city’s request to keep the debris sorted for easier removal later.

They worked in silence for about an hour, then her husband called to her. “Can you come help?”

“What do you need?” she called back as she stopped dragging a board to wipe the sweat from her face.

“Help me get the rest of this branch to the street.”

She carefully walked over to him, looked at the branch,

“You think we can move this?”

“I think so.”

“OK. Let’s try.”

They each got a good hand hold on the branch and began dragging it. Or at least attempted to. The branch was heavier than they thought and no matter how hard they strained, they could only move it an inch or two at a time.

“Could you use some help?” came a man’s voice from the direction of the street.

They looked up, startled, to see a man in a yellow shirt standing outside a car parked next to their growing pile of debris, smiling at them. On his shirt were the words “Helping Hands”.

“We sure could,” answered her husband. “Do you have a chain saw?”

“We have lots of chain saws.”

“We?”

“Yeah,” the man answered, pointing to a long line of cars behind his. “We’re all from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and we’re here to help.”

She stared in disbelief. There must have been at least half a dozen cars and trucks, all filled with people in yellow shirts who were jumping out, picking up a variety of tools, and heading for her yard.

They quickly got to work sawing and dragging and chopping. She watched for a little while then went inside to hide her tears but continued to watch them work from an upstairs window. She was awed at their efficiency and cheerfulness as they worked.

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After awhile she rejoined her husband in the yard.

“This is a miracle,” he told her. “This is nothing short of a real miracle.”

She nodded agreement as the leader of the group brought over a slice of a tree.

 

“We like to leave a little something to the people we help,” he said as he handed them a slice of the large uprooted oak tree that used to stand in the middle of the yard.

Tears in their eyes, she and her husband explained how they had bought this oak tree when it was tiny and half dead from a hardware store and had enjoyed watching it grow over the years. She was surprised at how much comfort holding this small slice of the tree brought her.

Within an hour, her yard was clear of all the fences, branches and tree trunks they could manage. The leader approached them again. “Sorry we couldn’t do the set of leaning trees or the broken giant pine tree. You’ll probably need to hire a licensed contractor for those,” he apologized.

“No, no, no!” they said. “You don’t need to apologize! You’ve done enough! More than enough!”

A group photo was taken, hugs were exchanged, and then just as quickly as they had arrived, the group of yellow shirted angels left to look for another family to help.

There was still a lot of work to do such as picking up the shingles, searching for nails hidden in the grass, moving landscaping rocks and potted plants away from damaged gardens, and digging up few fence posts that had survived but without all the branches to work around, it would be so much easier and faster to get it done.

Tears slipping down her face, she thanked God for His love and care. She hadn’t asked Him for help with the yard, but He knew what they needed and provided it anyway.

What an amazing group of people!

What an amazing God!

Faith is Believing God. Period.

She absently picked at a scab on her leg as she held one of her old journals and read a conversation about faith she had had with Jesus years ago.

“Jesus, this is still not too clear in my head,” her younger self had written.

What wasn’t too clear? As she was about to turn back a page or two in the journal, she stopped just in time. Her finger was covered in blood! Great, she thought as she put down her journal and picked up a nearby napkin to place over the blood oozing out from the freshly opened wound where she had removed the scab. Holding the napkin in place with one hand, she picked up the journal with the other hand and continued searching for what had not been clear.

Her younger self had been writing about faith and had referenced Hebrews 11:1-6.

She knew that Heb 11:1 started with, “Now faith is…” but couldn’t remember exactly what came next. Something about things not seen.  Feeling that it was important to know the rest, she picked up her phone and opened the Bible app. Suddenly, out of the blue, her nose began dripping.

“What now,” she thought as she removed the napkin from her leg and tore off a clean portion. She shifted uncomfortably on the couch as she blew her nose. Trying to see without her contacts, which she had not yet put in that morning, resulted in an awkward position as she had to hold both the journal and her phone close to her face. And her dog had decided to camp out on her legs restricting even more movement. She tossed the napkin into the small trash can she kept by the couch. Dabbing at her leg with the rest of the napkin revealed that the bleeding had stopped. Good. She threw the rest of the napkin into the trash can and picked up her phone, but before she could start reading, she noticed a growing pain in her left hip and on the left side of her neck. “Oh no,” she thought as she put the phone back down. “It’s like something doesn’t want me to read this.” She pushed the dog off her legs and completely re-positioned herself.

Once comfortable, she picked up the journal and reached for her phone. Again her nose began dripping. “Where is this coming from?” she wondered, exasperation creeping into her thoughts. “I don’t have a cold, no allergies, and I haven’t been crying. So what’s the deal?”

After blowing her nose again, she reached for a notebook and a pen to record Heb 11:1 – but somehow she managed to grab the wrong side of the pen and got ink on her hand. Staring at it in unbelief, she thought, “OK, this is getting crazy.” Determined now to read what she was being distracted from, she picked up her phone, found Heb 11, and began reading.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

She read the following verses about the creation of the world, Abel and Cain, and Enoch. Then she got to verse 6: “and without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”

Was that what her younger self was confused about? Why? It seemed straightforward enough. She put her phone down and picked up the old journal.

“Jesus, this is still not too clear in my head. Please explain it more clearly.”

“Faith is knowing My Father knows best and that He’s in control. And that He can and will do what He says. Faith is not questioning but accepting…”

She thought about how God had been teaching her about believing Him for over a year. Really deep down with no reservations believing Him no matter how things look to her. It was easy to believe Him when everything was going well. But did she still believe Him when things looked as bad as they did now weeks after the category 4 hurricane had ripped through her town? Did she still believe He even existed when everywhere she looked she saw devastation and hurting people and needs that far exceeded her income?

Yes, she did believe. And she chose, moment by moment, to keep believing each time fear, worry, stress, or complaints tried to rise up in her. Although God understood these things, He was not pleased with them because they were evidence of a lack of faith. If she gave in to fear and worry, she would be saying that she didn’t really REALLY believe God was taking care of her. Maybe even that she had no confidence in His ability or desire to take care of her. And if she began to complain, she would be saying she wasn’t happy with His care and didn’t want to accept what He had chosen to allow in her life – like He wasn’t really in charge of everything after all. Instead, as she chose to believe God loved her, was in control of everything, and was taking care of her, she found peace replacing all those stressful emotions. Bottom line? Faith means believing God. And acting like it.

So THAT’s why all the distractions. Someone didn’t want her faith affirmed with a message that was as much for her today as it had been for her all those years ago. Today, when so much of her life seemed to be controlled by someone and something else, she knew He loved her enough to use an old journal to confirm to her that He IS in control and that He IS taking care of her like He had promised. Not only taking care of her basic needs, but also surprising her from time to time with amazing rewards – just because He said He would. Knowing this, she knew she no longer had to focus on her own needs but was free to seek ways to help other people with their needs.

Now that’s faith in action.

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

(NOTE: I did draw a picture to go with this blog, but weird stuff continues to happen that prevents me from getting it from my phone camera to here. Like how I’ve been able to transfer pictures from my phone to my computer using hot spot but can no longer do so as of yesterday when internet was restored on my computer. And yet when I try to use internet, it tells me there’s no connection. And how my phone can get on Facebook just fine, but tells me I have no internet access when I try to get on WordPress so I can’t add the drawing directly from my phone to my blog. But one day, hopefully soon, I WILL get this figured out and be able to add my own drawing!)