I wasn’t surprised at the stirrings of life that I found there a couple of weeks ago – in fact, I’ve been returning to La Jolla regularly in order to document the restoration of this beautiful seaside canyon (you can find the first two posts in this series here and here). But I WAS surprised by the trees.
When I first saw the long line of lifeless branches stretching above my head, I thought they were dead. What could possibly survive the blistering heat of that fire? I assumed they would eventually fall into broken piles around the bases of the trees, like leftovers from a campfire.
That’s not what is happening. In fact, to paraphrase a line attributed to Mark Twain, it seems that reports of their death were greatly exaggerated.
The blackened bark is peeling away in long strips, revealing the smooth and sometimes beautiful wood underneath. The appearance of death was just that – an appearance, not the reality. These trees will live to face another wildfire, and hopefully another one after that.
They now have a new kind of beauty, beauty that was invisible until the fire burned away the surface.
The fire transformed them, but it didn’t destroy them.
It was encouraging to walk among these living reminders of God’s promises to His children. Contrary to what we often assume (and would usually prefer), He never promises to keep the wildfire away from us. We lose our jobs, fall sick, struggle to pass a class, say goodbye to people we love. We hurt, we lose, and we fail.
But He does promise to use these difficulties to burn away the surface and reveal beauty that was hidden until the wildfire swept through. That’s why Paul can say with bold confidence that “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” (Romans 5:3)
I have some flames of suffering in my life, and I’m sure you do as well. Some are smoldering, but they occasionally flare up into a frightening and seemingly unstoppable wildfire.
Isn’t it good to know that, when the fire subsides, we will find ourselves transformed but not destroyed? Isn’t it reassuring that even the trials are tools in the hand of a loving God who burns away the surface to reveal new beauty in us, beauty that is His handiwork, and which brings Him pleasure?
I’m glad to lose my bark once in a while. It’s not fun, and it’s even scary. But since I know the God who controls the fire, I am confident that I will be transformed, but not destroyed.
That matters, and I’m glad that it’s true. I hope you are too.
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