“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert,” (Isaiah 43:19).
This past week, I traveled with church members to Mariana, Florida. We were there to remove debris from homes and yards affected by Hurricane Michael in October. The rest of my family was on a Disney Princess Cruise. This seemed to work out well for everyone. I love mission trips. You get to shirk the routine and share communal life with others. We were not in rush. We enjoyed extended talks as we carted off limbs and tossed them by the roadside. So often, we skim the surface with people in our daily interactions.
We met some kind people. One of my favorite stories was helping a lady named Sarah. Hurricane Michael must have knocked over a hundred oak trees on her property. When we arrived, we realized our work would feel like a drop in the bucket. We had two small chain saws. The best we could do was to cut the smaller pieces and limbs and drag them to the side of the road for FEMA trucks to pick up.
After you chainsaw for a couple of hours, you begin to feel the futility. We caught a glimpse of the futility one must experience after a hurricane. We decided we’d take a break and speak to Sarah.
She said, “This has been the hardest time of my life. Michael tore up our property. My 92 year old husband has dementia. I spend 48 hours a day taking care of him. I can’t take care of the yard. He used to take care of the yard. He had such a pretty yard. But now look at it. He used to sit on the back porch and watch the flowers and birds. He was so proud, a vet too.”
One of our church members asked, “Do you think he would like some flowers to watch during the day?”
“I sure do,” she said.
“Well, I don’t want you to look out everyday and see all those uprooted ugly trees. It will remind you of the storm. I want you and your husband to look out each day and see something pretty.”
After a run to Lowes we returned with colorful flowers for pots. We moved the swing in the front yard and set it in the back. We spray-painted two faded flower planters a bright yellow. We dug around an oak stump and planted lantana and begonias. We relocated the bird bath to the center of our make-shift flower garden.
This imagery sticks with me. We realized we could not haul away the hundred downed trees on her property. It’s likely she’ll never have those trees hauled off. But in the midst of the devastated, drab land, we could plant something beautiful to bring them joy and color. After a hurricane, plant flowers.
In Isaiah 43, the prophet is speaking to a congregation of Jewish exiles. They were living in a devastated land and faith. The Babylonians had exiled them as a means of punishment for their sins and their disobedience to God. But Isaiah proclaims hope to them in the midst of the devastation. He promises that rivers will flow in the desert and God will make a way in the wilderness.
As I think about people like Sarah, I think about people living amongst the ruins and the devastation. We can’t remove all the devastation from people’s lives, but we can bring something beautiful and inspiring to it. It could be a kind word or a visit. We can create and bring something beautiful everyday to help people find a way in the wilderness. To help others heal, do something beautiful.
That’s the imagery of Jesus’ cross. It was a devastating, ugly piece of wood planted in the ground. From this cross, God makes a way for us. On the cross, Christ forgave our sins. After three days, God leads us to the beauty of the garden where there is an empty tomb. There is resurrection and eternal life through Jesus for you.