Fire scorched 3,100 acres of my favorite playground last fall. Despite its name, Mount Diablo State Park is a sacred place to me (Diablo means “devil” in Spanish). It is the place my family hiked when I was a child, the place my husband proposed to me in my 20’s and the place where I’ve ridden miles on dirt trails in adulthood. So when I heard there was a wildfire, I fretted that Rock City, Pine Canyon, Wall Point, and my other favorite places would be ruined.
On my first bike ride the week after the fire, I was relieved that it had been contained to the eastern side of the mountain. The main evidence that I could see was a swath of blackened hillside above the Curry Point Trail Head. It looked charred and barren- like a post-apocalyptic war zone.
Despite California’s drought, late spring rains have finally turned our hills green. This week as I rode, the blackened portion of the mountain stood in sharp contrast to the lush grasses growing around the burn zone. It turns out that the fire created a banner year for wildflowers. With the dense chaparral being consumed by flames, seeds are finally getting the sunlight they need to grow. One blue and lavender bloom called a Kellogg’s has been spotted for the first time in eighty-one years. The fire was a catalyst for new growth: “Vast stretches of mountain that resembled a bomb site just weeks ago now are coming to life.” (“Life Renewed Amid the Ash” by Denis Cuff; Contra Costa Times 4/29/14)
God uses nature as a visual aide for our spiritual lives. The difficulties we experience can be like wildfires that bring destruction but ultimately allow God’s beauty and grace to rise from the ashes. Hard things happen: health problems, financial crises, divorce, job loss, wayward children, broken relationships, loneliness, depression, and the loss of loved ones. However, these are the very things God also uses to reveal Himself to us in new ways. They can become part of His redemptive plan when we trust Him instead of turning away in bitterness.
“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, 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.” (Isaiah 61:1-4)
After a decade of wildfires in my life, God has been blessing me with a season of wildflowers blooming. I’m enjoying the ways He is developing my potential and using the gifts He’s given me to bless others and display His splendor. The difficulties I faced in the past and continue to experience draw me closer to Him and cause me to cling to His word. My roots of faith and trust grow deep in the charred soil of hardships.
Last week I went mountain biking with a close friend after she’d been unable to ride for three months. An injury at work created a season of difficulty in her life. Being back out on the trail together was a gift and we reveled in it together—grateful for our health, the beauty of our surroundings and the blessing of our friendship.
During the ride I was intent on finding a wildflower that grows only on our mountain called the Mount Diablo Fairy Lantern. I’d read they were out in full force after the fire, but was disappointed that I couldn’t find any on our ride.
The next day, I got a text message from my friend with a picture attached: “Is this the flower you were looking for?”
She’d found the Fairy Lantern! It had been beside the trail right where we’d stopped the day before– I just hadn’t noticed it. On her second ride her eyes were scanning for it, trusting that it had to be there somewhere. She kept searching until she found it. Like my friend, we need to be searching for the ways God is working in our lives in hard times. It’s not always obvious, but once we’re seeking Him, He’ll reveal Himself. Many times it’s not in the way we expect. So often God has something to show us in the midst of our hardships but we fail to see it because we’re too focused on our problems instead.
Maybe you find yourself in the middle of a firestorm right now. Perhaps you’re standing in the charred remains of your life wondering what good could possibly come from such a hard season. Or maybe your life is blooming with beautiful wildflowers right now. No matter what season you find yourself in, God is worthy of our praise. He is the One who binds our broken hearts, who frees us from the bondage of sin, who brings light into the darkness, and who brings beauty from our ashes.
Click on the link below to hear “Broken Hallelujah” by The Afters. It’s an inspiring reminder that God deserves our praise in seasons of wildfires and seasons of wildflowers.
Do you have a “beauty from ashes” story? Take a moment to share it in a comment to encourage others.