My family and I recently went on a vacation in the mountains of Tennessee, specifically Gatlinburg. We love Gatlinburg. I often refer to it as my “happy place”. It is one of my favorite places on earth. I love the mountains, the friendly people, and the slower pace of life. My husband and I were just there last October, which is the typical time of year we go. This year we decided to go and to take our daughter for her spring break. September/October is a great time to go, but it turns out I love Tennessee in April as well. This was one of the best family vacations we have ever had. Any opportunity to bond with your teen is a great opportunity. The little moments meant the most.
As you might recall, last November this area was ravaged by fires. Many people died, many people injured, and lots of homes and businesses were destroyed. Oddly enough, much of downtown Gatlinburg was untouched, but up the mountainside you could see the destruction. As we rode the aerial tramway at Ober Gatlinburg on the 11,000 feet climb, you could see more of the areas destroyed by the fire. There were houses and many acres of forest destroyed. One employee at Ober shared that much of the wildlife had left for nearby areas, and still had not returned. While I felt saddened when I saw the fire on the news, seeing it firsthand brought thoughts of the reality of the fire for the people and animals of the area. At the same time, there was still such beauty and the magnitude of what God created apparent which made my heart full and my mind in awe. Such conflicting feelings can leave one feeling confused.
The next day we visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I suspected we would see more devastation. As I drove our family up the mountain on the winding roads, we enjoyed the views of the mountains, the rocks, and the valleys. Some of the areas were destroyed by fire, but some were untouched. One thing I found really interesting was areas that were seemingly untouched, yet were surrounded by burned trees. Not sure how that even happens. The beauty amazed me, and yet again I found myself inspired by the vastness of our God in the midst of His creation. I often find myself speechless in the presence of such beauty and massive creation. Talk about a lesson in being small in the grand scheme!
All of these experiences were enlightening and inspiring, but the greatest inspiration came as we came back down the mountain from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I started noticing on the side of the mountain many trees blackened, hollowed & burned beyond its former beauty. These same trees had exhibited so many colors and brilliance in sunlight just a few months prior. Now as I looked up the mountainside by the road, it was black and gray. As my eyes followed the burn path down the mountain side, I noticed something that gave me a catch in my spirit. At the base of all these burned trees were patches of the greenest, most lush grass I had ever seen in my life. My heart & spirit leapt at the thing God was showing me. From the ash heap, which is from where I come, there was something beautiful. God’s word says He will give you beauty for ashes. I love how He has a way of showing us His word in His creation. These ashes turned to lush grass inspired a lot of thought in the week since I have returned from the mountains.
We all know that we’re going to be left with some ashes at one time or another in our lives. The life we once lived may one day unexpectedly go up in flames. Or maybe it will be a slow burn. Either way, you will experience the ashes that are left behind. Trials are a sure thing (John 16:33). Change is a sure thing (Ecclesiastes 3, Isaiah 43:19). God’s word confirms it. So we know we’ll experience the ashes, but God promises an exchange for those ashes (Isaiah 61). He promises beauty. Yes, I know, I know. We’ve heard this a million times. Beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, praise for despair…God’s promises… However, seeing that grass in the midst of all the burned & destroyed forest spoke something deep to me. It reminded me that ashes can be used as fertilizer. Ashes promote growth. Ashes bring a new, vibrant beauty that never existed there before. As I looked at the most green (neon green), lush grass I have ever seen, I realized that without the ashes, without the devastation & destruction, this beauty would have never had the opportunity to reveal itself. The beauty unlike what I had seen before would never have had the opportunity to grow & bloom without the ashes.
So maybe you’re in a season of burning. What you have always known, expected and lived is being destroyed. Maybe you’re realizing that the ‘old life’ you lived needs to be behind you. Some things you just need to let burn. Maybe you’re going through a trial of a lifetime. You’re experiencing loss, heartbreak, emotional distress, or grief…just plain grief. I get it. You may be like me; you’re in the season after the burning. While my trip to the mountain top was beautiful, amazing, and left me feeling blessed beyond measure. I still stopped to think about what the last year of my life has been like. I’m still in the grief of losing my daddy. I’m adjusting to a life that looks a good bit different than what I expected at my age. I feel hurt & sad sometimes as I study the ashes. But God…Oh…But God…He showed me something on that mountainside! He said to me & He’s saying to you…without the trials, without the burned out forest, you will never attain the full potential of the beauty I have for you. The ashes committed to Him are fertilizer for amazing, beautiful, brilliant growth. Lush (lavishly productive, abundant) growth! Let Him use your ashes for fertilizer! Your ash is grass! And not just any grass! Neon green, thick, strong, lush grass!
Isaiah 61:3 (NKJV)
“To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”