La Jolla Canyon was more than just a great hike today. It was a 4-hour parable, and I honestly didn’t see it coming.
I had been there once before, on a wet day last March. The weather made others stay home, so I had the trail to myself. Coastal breezes pushed the misty rain delightfully into my face. I walked in the clouds, tried unsuccessfully to keep the mud from caking on my boots, and even drank rainwater from a flower – a first-time experience that still makes me smile when I think about it. La Jolla Canyon ranks as one of my all-time favorite worship walks.
What a difference a few months can make. Five weeks after my hike, a wildfire swept through Point Mugu State Park. Today, the canyon looks nothing like the place that made such an impact on me. Ashes still cover the ground. Leafless blackened branches reach into the sky. The lush, colorful countryside has been replaced by a monotonous gray moonscape.
As I walked along the familiar but now-unfamiliar trail, I was reminded how easy it is for our souls to dry up in response to other kinds of wildfires, and for our lives to resemble the current version of La Jolla Canyon.
Sometimes the fires are of our own making. Unwise and thoughtless words can burn us and those around us (James 3:6). Unchecked lust can lead us to make decisions in a moment that we regret for the rest of our lives. A prideful heart creates a selfish mindset that drives others away, and forces God to actively oppose our agenda (1 Peter 5:5). We set fires of which we are the victims.
Sometimes our lives are swept by fires that were set by others. She decides that she no longer wants to be married – at least not to you. A friend turns out to be unworthy of the title. He spends hours with the images on his computer, staring at women with whom you could never compete. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, the beauty of our lives can be burned away and replaced by a moonscape that we don’t even recognize.
Other times, the fire comes without anyone setting it. Your singleness makes no sense to anyone, including you – especially you. The long-anticipated goal of a pleasant retirement crumbles under the unexpected burden of a health crisis. Your desire to have a child is frustrated month after month. The gap between dream and reality can be disillusioning, and all the more when we can’t find anyone to blame.
All of these wildfires can do to our lives what the fire did to La Jolla Canyon – burn away the beauty, take away the shade, and leave dust in its place.
But the parable doesn’t stop there, because La Jolla Canyon didn’t stop there. In just twelve weeks since the fire, color has begun to creep back into the picture. Green leaves are pushing up through the ashes, flowers are blooming in the cracked earth, and the restoration of the countryside has begun. It’s a small beginning, but it is a beginning.
The fire won’t have the last word.
The same can be true of us, because our God is bigger than the fires in our lives. That’s why the people of Israel could sing this song on the way to Jerusalem: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations ‘The Lord has done great things for them’” (Psalm 126:1-2).
God makes it possible, even when life is reduced to ashes, to once again laugh and shout for joy. I need to remember that. Maybe you do too. As a regular reminder, I’m planning to hike La Jolla Canyon several times in the next few months, documenting its change from desolation to beauty. I can’t wait to see it in the Fall after the rains begin, and in Spring, covered once more in wildflowers. Maybe I’ll even be able to drink from one again.
That’s my plan to remember that I walk with a God who brings life after the fire.
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