For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-10
Amusement Park: Haunted House, Third Room – Things
Suddenly a jarring startled Amalia into full wakefulness as the car crashed through a door and entered another bright room. Whereas the other room had been large and filled with people, this room was smaller and filled with all her favorite things. Amalia stared around her with awe.
The walls were covered with a great variety of colorful fabrics. From soft greens and blues to vibrant purples and reds, in all sorts of patterns and textures, the fabrics seem to call out to her. Amalia reached out as if to touch the soft, fuzzy fleece closest to her, while eyeing the shiny silk of another piece.
She wanted to stop, to enjoy these fabrics, but then she noticed the rocks scattered around. Rocks of every size, shape, and color. Shiny rocks with golden specks. Flat rocks just begging to be painted with fun pictures and inspiring words. On small tables here and there were sets of paint pens in fun colors. Some of the tables also held containers of paint and a wide assortment of brushes. Amalia’s excitement grew. She wanted to get out of the car and run to the nearest table. She wanted to create masterpieces, and to share them with other people.
But before she could move, she noticed a patch of freshly dug earth and crates of new plants, a few spades, a shovel, and garden gloves. Forget the gloves – she wanted to plunge her hands deep into that soft dirt, and to enjoy the rich, earthy aroma as she planted the young plants. She imagined the contentment she always felt gazing at the beauty of a newly laid garden. Surely they could stop here long enough to plant some flowers.
But again, before she could jump out of the car, she saw computers and keyboards and notebooks and pens. And, oh, lots of colored pencils, all freshly sharpened! Her fingers itched to touch them, to transfer her thoughts and dreams to paper. She wanted to use them to help people who were struggling, to encourage them to keep moving just as she kept moving.
She lifted her foot over the edge of the car, ready to jump out. She was so busy looking and anticipating all the things that she wanted to do, that she didn’t notice that her sense of peace had disappeared, along with all the soft words that had filled her heart. In its place grew a sense of busyness as she planned out what she would do once out of the car. The busyness grew until she was so preoccupied with it that she thought of nothing else. It wasn’t long before she was thinking in terms of everything being ‘hers’: her tools, her inspiration, her work, her plans, her life.
The voice managed to break through her thoughts, and she hesitated. Jesus? Jesus was here, somewhere. He said He would be. And all of the things in this room were good things. She was even going to help people with them. Surely He would approve of her stopping here for a while. She again moved to jump out of the car.
Her brain struggled between the enticing things that pulled at her and the quiet voice of Her Friend. She knew she would have to choose one over the other. There was no way she could focus on both. Yet the call of all those fascinating things seemed to overshadow the quiet voice she had grown to know so well.
She closed her eyes, willing herself to shift her focus. Slowly she let go of her thoughts – thoughts full of all her plans and desires – and focused on the voice still calling her name.
“Amalia… Amy, my Beloved… this room is filled with the many things you love and that keep you busy. They are all good things. But you can easily get so absorbed in them that you forget I am here.”
Amalia nodded. “Yes, I can see how that happened. My focus shifted from the comfortable companionship we had had in the darkness to the world of pleasure around me. I kind of did forget You. I knew You were still around, but You were no longer the focus of my life.”
She opened her eyes and turned to look at Jesus. “Is it wrong, then, to do these things?”
“No, definitely not. They are all important, if done at the right times and for the right reasons. I actually want you to do them. I plant that desire in you, and gift you with the abilities to do them. Just don’t run off when you see something catches your attention. Bring Me with you. I will keep you balanced so that they don’t consume you. And I can bless your work to become more powerful and to achieve greater results than you could do on your own.”
Amalia nodded again. “Forgive me for trying to run off. Help me to stay focused on you no matter how crazy or interesting life gets around me.”
“That’s one reason I asked you to hold My hand. It keeps us connected.”
“Oh, that’s right. As long as I’m holding Your hand, I can enjoy what’s around me. I might not always be able to hear You over the pull of these things, but I can always feel Your hand.”
Jesus nodded at her. “I can always hear you, though. Even when you only think it.
He continued to talk to her about the different things He wanted her to enjoy as they crossed the room. The comfortable companionship they had shared earlier returned as she dreamed of the possibilities He was suggesting, all the time keeping full awareness of His hand in the forefront of her thoughts.
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.”