Haze hides vivid colors and blurs all lines this winter. Smoke settled in the air months ago and there has been no rain to wash the air free of it. No rain. Trees stand fully robed in the brown of dead leaves. The storm that would normally shake them free of that death shroud and leave the naked bare branches stretching to the gray winter sky never swept through. There is an unspoken cry in the air, in our hearts.
The news in the last years has been filled with stories about the air board decreasing particulates and about new goals for stricter standards for pollution levels. So many agencies take credit for the last decade of cleaner air in this agriculture basin that makes up the belly of California, but God seems to want the last word lately. And I wonder if anyone is even listening.
For the last few weeks I have been reading One Thousand Gifts, and Ann Voskamp has used her ministry of words to coax from my heart a new song of gratitude. I have made my list, numbered and neat and it marches along a handful at a time as each day opens before me with a new perspective. I have found gifts in the beautiful. I have found gifts in the delightful. I have found gifts in the hospital room and doctors office. Late at night I find gifts as the house rests and my heart soars. But for one thing, I could not find a gift. I could not find thankful words for the view I see every time I drive my kids to school, or travel up the highway as my eyes are blinded by the smoky haze that taunts and torments my heart.
I could not find the beautiful in the ugly that is this valley’s air.
Today I drove home from early morning drop offs, and I cried out in my heart for cleansing. I cried out for rain to rinse the very breath I take in. I prayed aloud, a thousandth time for God to spill forth his goodness from his storehouses. Cleanse us, oh Lord. Cleanse our valley. And a fracture appeared in my perspective. A shaft of beauty shot through the ugly. I found the elusive gratitude that I can offer back to God in this hard time. I found I can thank God, in this drought ridden land, that where man’s effort to cleanse falls short, He can rinse every stain of soot away. Where man’s effort never seems enough, requiring more rules, more regulations to bring forth the standard they aspire to, God can easily bring purity that no man could achieve. So, with pen in hand I numbered a fresh line:
81. The horribly bad air that reminds me how only God knows how to make clean all things.
This afternoon, clouds rolled in. Clouds that held no rain for us. Clouds that covered the sun and intensified the shadow of the filth in the sky. My lungs burned more, coughing and sputtering.
It’s hard to give thanks when nothing changes.
My mind turned towards all those unchanging things that wall me in lately: the disintegrating marriage of a loved one that wears ragged on our hearts, the ill health that came to visit my children in early December and has made itself an unwelcome guest since, burdens on my husband’s shoulders that get heavier and heavier while those in authority just pile on more. The ugly sometimes stays ugly and I find myself struggling and wrestling to refuse the verdict that things will never change. I have too often consigned myself the victim status and whined and groaned and questioned God’s love for me and my value to him when the hard things refuse to budge.
But, I have another choice now.
Though the curse courses through these situations, if God is everywhere, can I open my eyes to find him here as well? Can I thank him for the gifts that are present in this difficulty unchanged?
Thank you, Lord, that you have exposed the lie in this marriage and drawn a broken husband to you. Thank you, Lord, that illness has given me extra time with my daughter in these last weeks. Thank you Lord, that you strengthen the weary and lift up their heads.
I am finding that the heaviness of this unchanging ugly is peeled back in the giving of thanks. My heart is opening to the giver in a way I’ve never known. As the leper was offered fullness of salvation when he returned to give thanks, so I am finding my wholeness becoming complete. And opened to me is the well of salvation that as I draw water from it, I find myself cleansed.
My weary cry turns to joy in my God, my giver of all grace.
He who brings beauty from the ugly.
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