To Grow Again

There’s not a lot to be said about this picture. I enjoy capturing pretty images of the sky, but really I just love how the cows add to the vibe of this Midwestern sunset!

In reflecting on the past year, I have come to a realization. Man, oh, man. I was in a forest fire. Last year was the most difficult time I had ever had to endure. The year was complete with broken relationships, a death in the family, countless health issues, financial burdens, and traumatic experiences galore. All in all, the spiritual warfare was evident and tangible. I say all this not to evoke pity or sorrow from you, but to truly illustrate how the year, in a vague sense, was an inferno of trials. By giving a brief rundown of these things, I guess I am painting fire in a bad light. Of course, the word “fire” does not typically connote pleasant images or ideas, but forest fires can actually be healthy for the environment that they savagely consume.

Often times, prescribed forest fires are necessary for the growth of an ecosystem. In order to manage the vegetation and invasive species in a given area, a prescribed burning is a good solution to encourage the regrowth of native species. Most ecosystems are fire-dependent; they need the natural rehabilitation that only a fire can bring. What comes after the burning and destruction, though, is restoration. That is what I think happened to my life in 2018. God prescribed a fire for my own good. It was time to restore my habitat and get the invasive species out. Maybe he is doing that now with some of you. Maybe he already has.

I think I tried to suppress the fire, at first. I saw a little flame begin, and immediately I tried to put it out. Isn’t that a justifiable response? Eventually, though, the fire grew and reminded me that it was never something I could fully control on my own. No amount of my “water” or “smothering the flames” was going to stop the prescribed burn in my life. My forest had to be set ablaze only to be restored to its original state again. I think amidst the time of burning, it is natural to only see the all-consuming disaster in front of us. I think it is okay to mourn the destruction. I think it is normal to have a foggy mindset when the fire subsides and the smoke is left lingering. And now, I see that this was/is all necessary to reveal a graceful opportunity to grow again.

After the fire, what do we have remaining? Almost nothing, at first. It seems that no thing will be able to thrive in a place that has been incinerated and left to pick up the ashes. How can a beautiful restoration take place when smoke still hovers over the charred stumps of trees? Gradually, though, a lichen begins to sprout. Then mosses begin to take shape on a rock. Soon enough, smaller shrubs and trees begin to bloom. Grass forms from the fertile soil underneath. Animals begin to return to the once deserted land. A fully functioning ecosystem slowly develops after the initial stages of succession.

Since the fire has recently ceded, I will care for the still-damaged environment. Though there is life again, it does not take away from the fact that there has been loss, too. The fire’s ruin still remains, but God restores and works everything to the good of those who love him. I will be cautious to avoid sparks of temptation, divisiveness, or sin, so as to not invoke another fire. Instead, I will bring water and nutrients of love, honor, and faith to encourage the young saplings that are taking root in the recuperating ground.

Most of all, I will rejoice for the opportunity to grow again! I will give thanks for the one who restores and brings beauty from the ashes − life from certain death.

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

Isaiah 61:1-3

61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

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