I just started re-reading Parker J. Palmer’s classic, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life. By page 5, I remembered why I loved this book so much the first time, and why I was led to pick it up again. He writes:
“On July 4, 1999, a twenty minute maelstrom of hurricane-force winds took down twenty million trees across the Boundary Waters. A month later, when I made my annual pilgrimage up north, I was heartbroken by the ruin and wondered whether I wanted to return. And yet on each visit since, I have been astonished to see how nature uses devastation to stimulate new growth, slowly but persistently healing her own wounds. Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, yours, ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.”
Devastation as a seedbed for new life. Wow.
Looking back on my own life, I know, deep down, that this is true.
My father’s untimely death, at the age of 48, brought my family much devastation and grief. And yet, God used the turmoil in my spirit to plant seeds of faith—seeds that the Spirit then watered and showered with the sunshine of the newly acquired discipline of meditation, so that they might grow and produce fruit. One of the greatest losses of my life turned into one of my greatest joys.
My youngest son’s autism and cognitive disabilities: there was a time when I thought this was going to break me, emotionally and physically. But God planted seed after seed of hope and trust and unconditional love in my uprooted and grieving spirit. Again, the Spirit watered and nurtured and weeded—through meditation, spiritual friends, and worship—and abundant fruit has been harvested: His Name is Joel: Searching for God in a Son’s Disability; A Place Called Acceptance: Ministry with Families of Children with Disabilities; Autism & Alleluias; countless articles, and a speaking ministry. One of the hardest challenges life has thrown my way turned into the realization of a dream of being a writer, as well as inspiring others to find God in the midst of disability.
Becoming a speaker. This may not, at first glance, seem to fit under the “devastation” category, but believe me, there was a time that it did. When I first began to accept speaking engagements, twelve years ago with the publication of His Name is Joel, I began having panic attacks. Thankfully, between a good friend who teaches public speaking at the college level, and a sister-in-law who was well versed in it, I had much guidance, counsel and encouragement. Even so, for ten years, I found it excruciatingly difficult to get up in front of a crowd to speak. Many times I returned home from events feeling like a failure and wrestling with God over this call. But God won every wrestling match, and I continued on. Today, I enjoy traveling across the country to share the lessons Joel has taught me in unconditional love, faith, trust, and joy. Seeds planted long ago managed to flower throughout years of questioning, anxiety, and extreme personal discomfort.
This present time of transition—Joel’s move away from home, my brother’s death and my mother’s dementia, Matt moving home and Justin and Elizabeth moving far away, getting ready to move from Cincinnati to Oxford, Cloudland awaiting with whatever ministry God has in store for us there, the move from non-fiction to fiction—as difficult and challenging as this in-between time is, I know, without a doubt, that God is at work deep beneath it all. I can envision dormant seeds, planted long ago, unfolding and unfurling in the dark; breaking the ground in their quest for the sun; fruit hanging ripe and ready for harvest.
“Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, yours, ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.”
Can I use devastation as a seedbed for new life?
All I need do is look back, rehearse and remember, then turn to face the future with open hands and an expectant heart.