Posted in Family, fear, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Life from Ashes

The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

It was a night that will not be forgotten.  For many years, my family has visited the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, area for vacation. It has not been an every year deal but occasionally.  We love the trails and the mountains and, of course, all the places to eat.  In some ways it is like a county fair because fair food and rides are everywhere.  Several years ago we began joining my daughter and son-in-law with the grandkids in the fall…usually in November.  In a word, it is fun.

In 2016 something happened that changed that area forever.  A fire started by human hands near Chimney Tops on November 28th of that year quickly spread through the dry, tinder forests.  The results were catastrophic and have been cited as the worst natural disaster in Tennessee history.  Before it was all said and done, 14 people lost their lives, 2,460 buildings were destroyed, and 17,900 acres were burned.  We watched on the news as it happened but also saw from a distance some of the devastation years later when we visited.  There was safety in that, on television and from a distance, but what happens when the tragedy gets more personal?

This year we once again returned to the Gatlinburg area.  Rebecca, my daughter, always makes the reservation, and she did again this time.  As we were driving to the cabin, we passed through an area that had obviously been damaged by the wildfire.  Judy made the comment that according to the GPS we were not too far from our cabin.  We could look up on the ridge and see many cabins far above the valley floor.  What we could not see was a lot of trees.  Apparently, the fire had destroyed them.

As we made our turn on the road that would lead to our cabin, it soon became apparent that we would see the power of the fire from the night up close.  The higher we climbed, the more we saw.  There were trees scarred by the flames and only the foundations remaining where cabins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars had once stood.  Some cabins had been rebuilt, some were being rebuilt, and some, well, stood as silent witnesses of destruction.  It was harsh, it was sad, it was awakening.  Suddenly the memories of what I saw on the news four years ago came to life like the dry bones Ezekiel saw in the Bible.

After an almost two mile trip up the mountain, we came to our cabin.  There it stood, looking strangely new in one of Gatlinburg’s esteemed older rental areas.  It was indeed new because it, like almost every house in the area, had been destroyed by the fire that week.  In front of the house was a twenty foot section of tree that, while not alive, still sends a message.  Carved into the massive trunk were the words “Smoky Strong.”  I’m sure the tree was alive and well the night the fire swept the mountain, but even today it sends a message…we are not done.

All around the area were signs of destruction…of what used to be.  But wait…don’t miss this.  Also all around the area were signs of new life, of renewal, of rebirth.  New trees are replacing those lost, new homes are replacing the damaged, and foundations will one day bear a new building.  The pain and suffering of that night is being replaced by the hope of the future.  I think we all can learn a lesson from Gatlinburg.  It was about eight months ago that a fire of sorts began to sweep our nation.  Its name was COVID, and its flames were the flames of fear. The question is what will we do with this hot mess?  That is a question we have been asking for months.

I’m sure many have come to the conclusion that life will never be the same, and that is probably true.  But why do we have to assume that this also means it won’t be better?  Why do we have to assume that our best days are behind us?  I know this.  God is still God, and the last time I checked, He has not given up control to His enemy the Devil, or fear, or COVID.  Moses, speaking for God, said, “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” You see, He still reigns ,and as long as that is true then the best is yet to come. The.Best.Is.Yet.To.Come.

I’m sure the house that once stood here was beautiful in its own rights.  I never saw it, but I sit in its successor, and it is beautiful.  I stand on the deck and have a clear view of the mountains and the valley below—a view that may have been obscured by the trees of the old normalcy.  Perhaps the ability to see clearer is a gift.  Perhaps the ability to trust God deeper during these days is a gift from our Heavenly Father.  No, as I have said before, COVID is not good, but God can and will bring good from it.  For some of us, that means a deeper trust in Him. For some, it means a clearer view of what really matters in life.  For some, it will be the realization that it is good to have a Dearest Daddy we can rest in—knowing He’s got this. 

*Chimney Tops 2 Fire. Incident Management Team photo

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

All That Glitters…

I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content.” Philippians 4:12a

I woke up to find my neighbor’s yard covered with gold.  I am an early riser.  Well, actually, I am a crazy, early riser.  Normally, my bladder and I decide it is about time to get up at around 4:30…am.  If you want to see what a quiet world looks like…try it at 4:30 in the morning.  These days the sun isn’t even up yet.  He won’t make his appearance for another couple of hours.  I usually get up, make some coffee in my magic Keurig machine, watch the weather, and have some God time. Predictable…just the way I like it.

Part of that routine is to take a peek out one of the windows to see if the sun is peeking above the horizon.  Naturally that means looking to the East.  Saturday morning I did exactly that.  As I looked out the window, I noticed that my neighbor’s yard was covered with gold.  I couldn’t believe it.  What made this even more unusual was the fact that my neighbor at the end of our alley had struck it rich too.  This was incredible.  And, if that wasn’t enough, when I was walking a few days earlier, one of my friend’s hit the jackpot.  Gold was everywhere.  Now you might think that I was jealous…but I wasn’t—not this time. You see, their yards had been “papered” as in with toilet paper. It wasn’t pretty.

Now you are wondering, “I’m just a bit confused.” You said their yards were covered with gold. That doesn’t sound like gold to me.”  Well, you’ve got a point there.  But let’s step back just a few months ago.  COVID was all the rage.  People were doing all kinds of strange things.  When you went to the grocery store there were certain things, things that you would expect, out of stock.   Hand sanitizer was a pipe dream.  Bleach wipes were the things of legend.  Certain food items were long gone from the shelves.  It was a shoppers nightmare.  But there was one thing that topped them all.  Toilet paper.

For whatever reason, and it still remains a mystery, people began to hoard toilet paper.  It was like gold.  People were selling it on e-bay for unbelievable prices.  There were even people on the side of the road hawking their rolls of gold for ten, even fifteen times the ordinary price.  The nightly news would show people coming out of stores with rolls of the stuff.  It. Was. Crazy. Then as people realized that this probably wasn’t Armageddon, two things happened.  The rolled gold was back in stock and the price plummeted.  People that had bought tons of this stuff as an investment of sorts were stuck holding the bag. Haha…the joke…or rolls…was on them.

Now here is what is amazing.  I wake up only to discover my neighbor’s yard is covered in the very same thing that six months ago was gold.  And listen, it wasn’t the cheap stuff.  Since they weren’t home, Judy and I went over and picked up the mess…I know neighbor of the year right?  But when we did, I realized this was “Charmin Plus” or something. If toilet paper was gold this would be 24 karat and yet there it was, lying out in the yard.  Well, I guess all that glitters isn’t gold after all.

If there is one thing to take home from all of this it is the fact that if you look around you will discover pockets of hope—pockets of normalcy.  Maybe, just maybe, all this will calm down and life will be somewhat like it was back in January.  A few bumps, a few hiccups but basically a world where things are in stock and you don’t have to mask up to go out. But until then, what should we do?

That’s a great question and here are a couple of answers.  First, don’t lose hope.  If I watch too much of the evening bad news, I find myself being convinced that life as we know it is over.  I just don’t believe that is the case.  One day, one way or the other, Mr. COVID is going to pack up and leave town.  One day it will be old news.  Until then, just keep trusting…in God. One of the writers of Psalms in the Bible…someone just like you and me…wrote, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” What that means is if we are willing to delight in Him, suddenly the things we desire look a whole lot like His.  And when that happens—hope explodes!

The second thing is learn, or maybe relearn, the magic of contentment.  While our old way of doing life has taken a vacation somewhere, a chunk of it will be back.  Just like toilet paper made a comeback—so will normalcy.  Now, until that time, just sit back and be content. I like what Paul, a guy in the Bible, said, “I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content.”  What makes that incredibly valuable is that he wrote that sitting in a stinking Roman prison.  Amazing.

Well, all that glitters is indeed not gold, but all around us are golden nuggets from our Dearest Daddy.  He whispers to us that He’s still around and still in control.  Each sunrise and sunset, each new baby that bursts on the scene, each tree covered in color and glory shouts to us that we can rest in Him. Each new day is indeed a gift from Him and that is golden. Remember this…each day committed to trusting Him is a step in the right direction.  Go ahead…trust Him…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful

Funeral at Nain

I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
John 10:25-26

It was an ordinary day.  Jesus was on the move traveling from one small village to another doing what He did–making a difference.  As He was approaching Nain, a stop in the road, He ran into a funeral procession.  We recognize funeral processions by the flashing lights on the hearse followed by cars with headlights on.  He recognized it by the mourning–the funeral wail.  The closer He got, the louder it got.  It was the sound of broken hearts and lives.

In Luke 7:12, we get the details.  It says, “Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was also with her.”  What a tragedy.  A mother had lost her only son to death.  And, according to scripture, he was young. The cause isn’t listed nor does it matter.  Death comes in many forms and is no respecter of persons.  But it was her only son and he died too young. It gets worse.

Luke also shares that she is a widow.  She is facing this dark time alone.  There is no husband to share the grief–it is all hers.  And when the grieving is over she faces a very difficult world.  No source of income, no safety net, no unemployment, no social security–nothing. It’s a bad deal from top to bottom.  And then it happens.

Jesus sees the situation and orders the mourning column of brokenness to stop.  Why?  He has compassion on her.  He knows her story before He is told and He tells her, “Don’t weep.”  It could be an unkind statement akin to “hey, get over it” or “it will be better tomorrow.”  Instead it was a statement of power–the kind of power to change everything.

He walks over and touches the coffin–a big no, no in that culture but Jesus didn’t let rules stop Him from loving, from acting.  He says, “Party’s over death…you’re done.”  Ok, He really said, “young man, I tell you get up.”  And boom–just like that he did.  Now let me tell you when you are at a funeral and the dead person sits up and is alive, the funeral is over and the party begins.  Break out the fried chicken because death is done and Jesus is King.

I love this story…I really do.  I see it played out day, after day, after day.  No…not exactly like this but I, we, see God bringing spiritual dead people to life every day.  And when that happens John 10:25-26 becomes a reality.  There Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. 26. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Wow what power–what assurance. But is all hinges on the last four words, “do you believe this?” “Do we believe this?”

Ok, so these are difficult days.  You might feel like the widow of Nain.  It may feel like your world is imploding around you with all the safety nets gone.  Well, there’s One that will never leave you and His name is Jesus.  Oh, and knowing Him is a game changer. The future that matters–the eternal one–is a guaranteed better day.  In a word, it is heaven. So, as we journey these uncharted waters together remember we never have to be alone–ever.  Jesus wants us to experience His compassion and His salvation.  And listen, when Jesus shows up things change.  He is bigger than anything so rest in Him.  He’s got this.