Devastation All Around

9:52 AMHeather

On April 27, 2014, a deadly tornado ravished central Arkansas. Within mere miles from the home of my sister and her family. Thankfully, I was blissfully unaware until it was all said and done and I got word from them that they were fine.

Their news was not shared by all. The stories I heard from my sister became deeply personal.  Because it just as well could have been them. Mindy shared with me the miracles and the sorrows of those people whom she knows.  Whose children go to school with her children.  Whose families go to church with their family. 

And just weeks after the tornado, we went to my niece's high school graduation and saw some of the devastation first hand.

This past Friday afternoon, I got a glimpse of more.  When I heard the story of April Smith.  She was the subject of a blog post by her best friend that went viral. 

April lost both of her sons and nearly her life when the tornado slammed into their Vilonia, Arkansas, home and blew their possessions and their normal all away.

April told her story of waking up 300 yards from her house, in a field.  Covered in mud. Body broken.  Her pants sucked off of her body from the force of the wind. And as she lifted her head, all she saw around her was devastation.

This may be you.

You have been hit head on by the storms of life. All sense of normalcy sucked away. All that you've known and all that you've worked for has been demolished.  You are broken.  You are covered in mud and when you dare to lift your head, all you see is devastation.

A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and devours...a flame blazes...behind them, a desert waste--nothing escapes the sight of them [opposing armies], nations are in anguish; every face turns pale.
Joel 2:2, 3, 6

Darkness.  Gloom. Clouds. Blackness. Burning fires. Desert waste. Anguish.  And your face is pale in fright.

So there you are.  As April Smith was, literally. 

What do you do? How do you even begin to begin anything when you are laid that bare?

April told her story. 

She said that as she lifted her head and saw devastation, still unaware of the crushing grief that she would face, she said that God met here there.  She described a profound sense of his presence. And it has been the source of strength in the days since then. 

If you have ever been in that place of utter desperation where you felt the tiniest touch of God, then you know that it is other-wordly. You know it's the stuff of goose bumps.  In fact, you will feel the goose bumps every time you recall it.  Every time you remember that moment when you sensed in your darkest pit that God was still somehow there.

I've felt it. In a rainbow that broke a day of downpours--literally and figuratively.  Hours after receiving horrible news. In the flowers that were sent to validate the loss of our first baby through miscarriage. In the song that played on the radio to soothe my soul the day before my father died. In the sharing of difficult details from a loved one facing an unexpected and shattering loss.

April Smith felt it. A sense of her Savior's presence.  Even there. Even there in the mud and the pain and the utter devastation of her entire neighborhood and her entire life.

You darling girl whom I've never met, but I know you have just endured the worst violation imaginable.  You know who you are. I pray you feel this intersection of heaven and earth in the arms of a friend who has been where you are and has survived.

You precious dear friend who is coaching your kids through an inexplicable loss of your family member.  I pray you feel it through the warm hug and reassuring words of an elderly man who wore your son's name on his bracelet to pray for him during the youth weekend. Completely unaware that his prayers were a balm to the soul of a grieving teenager.

You sweet friend from college who is wrestling with God and unsure how to move forward.  I pray you feel it through the tiniest green shoot of hope that is springing forth.

My faithful college "roommate" who is watching your sister fight a deadly disease.  I pray you feel it from the prayers and songs and encouragement around you.

There.  In the mud.  In the muck of life.  May you feel the Lord's presence seem to suddenly appear.

Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying). While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. 
Luke 9:32-36

You've been hit by a tornado. And you are stuck in devastation.

I'm praying that you can see the clouds for what else they are.

They are the presence of God whose glory is being revealed. They are the clouds enveloping you as you encounter God as never before. His glory-- the magnitude of it--is unfathomable. It is so great, in fact, that we cannot bear to see it full on. And all that we see is veiled. In the clouds of life.

So there, in the devastation, the clouds are enveloping you. I pray that you would have eyes to see that God is still there.  He is right there with you.  His ways are not ours.  His perspective is not ours. His knowledge far surpasses ours.  We see only from where we are laid prostrate, bruised and bleeding. But he is still there.  Enveloped in the clouds.  He has not left you nor has he forsaken you. The clouds seem dark and omninous.  But within them, there is still the presence of God resting on you. 

You are afraid, like Peter and his companions, as you are entering the cloud.  Surely, as April Smith saw the dark tornado cloud coming toward her.

But there, within the clouds, beyond the roar of devastation is the voice of God saying I am still here.  He asks. Will you choose to believe that I am here?

Or will you keep your eyes only on the devastation around you?

Faith is choosing to believe that God is good even when life is not.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1

You cannot see him there, with your face caked with dirt and the tears filling your eyes.

But can you ask him to give you eyes to see his presence in the clouds?  To see his glory, even there?

To help your unbelief so that you can claim this promise from your loving Father. The one he spoke to his wayward Israelites, so many years ago.

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten... you will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I AM in Israel, that I AM the Lord your God, and that there is not other; never again will my people be shamed.
Joel 2:25-27

He redeems our years of loss. He takes our aches and heals them up. The scars remain. But they tell a story of healing.  They tell a story of lying in the dirt, surrounded by devastation.

And a God whose presence is found even in the clouds.  Whose glory is so great that it is veiled to us on this side of heaven. 

A God who works wonders for us.  Who is the I AM. Breaking through our shame and our suffering with his presence.

Can you lift your head to see him there?

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