Devastation: Wildfires. Rioting. Looting. Floods. One terrible thing after another seems to be happening nowadays. Some just unpleasant, but some have leveled people’s lives. They’ve lost everything but the clothes on their backs. How does anyone, writers included, move forward after losing everything? Come join us to find out.
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In a community just seven miles from where Karen lives, it looks like a nuclear bomb went off—that’s the scope of devastation on the town. There’s nothing left. People have their lives, and that’s a lot, but everything else is gone. In the wake of all the destruction from wildfires in the Northwest, where many folks have lost everything, how do they even begin to start over?
As terrible as that is, this isn’t the first time people have had their lives turned upside down. It’s happened all throughout history.
In 1900 a tropical cyclone hit Galveston, leaving between 8,000 and 12,000 dead. Galveston rebuilt and its beaches are considered one of the most desirable vacation spots in the US today.
In 1931 floods devastated China, leaving 4 million dead. Those left behind rebuilt and recovered. In 1951, a flood in Manchuria left 4,800 dead and thousands more displaced.
And you all remember September 11, 2001, when the most deadly terrorist attack in history left 2,977 people dead, including hundreds of firefighters and policemen and emergency personnel. But New York rebuilt.
In November of 2019, the Corona virus hit, devastating much of our world. In our own county, over 200,000 are dead, damaging our economy and so much more.
Then came the tragic death of George Floyd, and the ensuing rioting, looting, and murders.
The hits just keep coming, like the wildfires we just had in Oregon. Leaving us reeling and wondering so many things…
“Why did my house survive when so many others’ homes are nothing but ashes.”
“How can I go forward when I don’t have anything left?”
“What has happened to my country?”
“What do we do now?”
Karen went to God’s Word and found the greatest solace in Psalm 27:
The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.
Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path…I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
The word wait doesn’t mean just sit on your hands and wait for God to deal with it all. The sense is more “to expect,” “to await,” “to hope in or hope for.” There’s even an eagerness implied: God is our hope and He will be working on our behalf.
As Karen was thinking about what to share with you all in this podcast, that verse sent her looking for something else: stories of people who have come back from devastation. So here are a few of the stories she found. Our prayer is that they will encourage and bless you in whatever you face today.
Frederick Douglass was born in Maryland, where it was the custom to take children born in slavery away from their mothers. Frederick was separated from his mother at a very early age. When he was twelve, though, his master’s wife started teaching him. That is, until the master made it clear this was not to continue. Undaunted, Frederick learned to read and write in secret.
When Frederick was bought by yet another master, he started teaching slaves from his and other plantations. When his activities were discovered, he was severely beaten. Finally, he was able to escape the plantation, and started attending abolitionist meetings. Before long, he was giving speeches that moved and changed the hearts of the listeners. His powerful speeches drew huge crowds and helped end the practice of slavery.
In one of his writings, Frederick Douglass had this to say about facing devastation: “It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor of the acclaimed French “Elle” magazine. He was known for being charming and flamboyant. Then, in December 1995, a massive stroke left him deep in a coma. When he awoke twenty days later, he was fully aware, fully himself, but the only thing he could move was his left eyelid. He had “locked-in syndrome.” His brain was fine, but his body was completely incapacitated. Except for that eyebrow.
Bauby refused to give up. He communicated by blinking his eye for the number of a letter in the alphabet: one blink, a, two, b, and so on. Eventually, he not only was able to communicate with his family, but he dictated an entire book about his life and the experience of being trapped in his own body. His book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, was made into an award winning movie. Karen watched it one day by chance, and wept and cheered as she watched.
Proverbs 3:21-26 gives us this wisdom about despair in disaster:
My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.
This isn’t saying we won’t see devastation or disaster, but it’s promising that we won’t face it on our own. God is at our side and will keep us safe. He will keep us from getting snared in anger and despair, in a spirit of bitterness and futility. His promises in the light will stand solid in the darkness. All we have to do is hold fast to Him and His truth.
Wilma Rudolph had a lot to overcome before she turned four years old: double pneumonia, scarlet fever, and then, at 4 years old, polio left her with infantile paralysis. The small girl had to wear a brace on her left leg. But even at that tender age, she refused to be defeated and learned to walk normally again.
While in high school, she competed in the 1956 Summer Olympic Games and brought home a bronze medal in the 400-meter relay. Four years later, at the 1960 Olympics, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.
When asked how it felt to win like that, Wilma replied, “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
“Colonel Sanders,” of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, lost his father at the age of six. Because his mother had to work to support the family, Harland cooked and looked after his siblings. His life seemed to follow a normal path: he got jobs, lost jobs, got married, and they had children.
Then his son died of infected tonsils, followed quickly by losing his job. Again. Followed not long after by his wife leaving him. When Sanders was forty, he was running a service station in Kentucky and selling fried chicken. Despite its popularity, when he was sixty-five Sanders had to sell his business. All he had left was his savings and $105 per month from Social Security.
Lots of people would have given up. After all, what’s the point when you’ve lost everything? Why even try to come back. But Harlan Sanders tried. He borrowed money and sold his chicken door to door.
Eventually, in 1959, he opened a new restaurant: K.F.C. The company took off, and in 1962 Colonel Sanders sold it for 2 million dollars. When asked about his success after so many obstacles, Sanders replied, “I only had two rules: Do all you can and do it the best you can. It’s the only way you get that feeling of accomplishing something.”
The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones:
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” Ezekiel 37:1-14
God is the one who breathes life into us in the face of devastation. He creates miraculous new beginnings when there seems to be no hope. We don’t have to rely on ourselves or our own strength.
Francine Rivers and her book Redeeming Love
When Francine became a believer, she had fourteen romance books published in the general market. Those books had some pretty risque material. After becoming a believer, she didn’t want to write those type of books anymore. Everything she put down on the page after that, she says, “was total garbage.” Her agent even said she couldn’t sell any of what Francine was writing.
For three years, Francine tried to write, but couldn’t. First she was angry about it. Then she moved into acceptance, and finally, surrender. God took her to the point of giving up her career for him.
After that, she was involved in a Bible study on Hosea. It struck her that this was the love she wanted to write about. She wrote a book called Redeeming Love. Bantam, her publisher, didn’t know what to do with it because it had so much about God in it. They did go ahead and publish it, but it didn’t do very well.
Afterwards, Francine decided to come over to the Christian market. She brought a book to Tyndale, where Karen was working at the time. That book ultimately became a series: Mark of the Lion. Karen and Francine worked together on all Francine’s books through Leota’s Garden. They tried to bring Redeeming Love to Tyndale, but Dr. Taylor wasn’t comfortable with the main focus of the story. Francine had rewritten the story of Hosea to be set in California during the gold rush, and to be about a prostitute and the man God sends to redeem her.
When Karen went to be an editor at Multnomah, they acquired, with Tyndale’s approval, Redeeming Love. Francine, after finally being able to take out all the parts Bantam had wanted her to add, felt she “redeemed it.” Published in May 1997, Redeeming Love has been on the either the top 10 fiction or top 25 bestseller fiction list since it came out. It sold over 3 million copies, has been translated to 30 languages, and has been made into a major movie which will release in 2021.
We love what Francine says in this quote: “Love the Lord your God, and love one another. Love one another as He loves. Love with strength and purpose and passion and no matter what comes against you. Don’t weaken. Stand against the darkness, and love. That’s the way back into Eden. That’s the way back to life.”
There are so many ways we as writers face devastation. Times like Francine experienced, where she finally had to give up the idea of ever writing again. Times like our friend, novelist Bonnie Leon, is facing right now, with the fires destroying so much of her property.
Bonnie Leon has put pictures on Facebook of their outbuildings, their truck and Jeep, their chicken coop (yes, they lost all their laying hens), the forest around them, reduced to ashes. Yet, there in the middle of it all, their home is left standing. Untouched. She wrote a beautiful blog about all the conflicting emotions: despair, hope, gratitude, guilt.
Many of us who share God’s truth in writing face the unexpected devastations of health, finances, family, even faith. Times when we can’t see God, can’t even feel Him. When we wonder where He went and how He could have allowed this terrible thing into our lives.
There are so many things to discourage us and leave us in despair, hopeless and unable to create. If you’re in a place like that, know that you’re not alone. Many of us have been there. Are there even now.
But God is there at your side. Walking with you every step of the way. Meeting you in your deep darkness, and uplifting you. You are never alone. And you can embrace His promise in Isaiah 41 to those He loves and has called:
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
…For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it. Isaiah 41:10-13, 17-20When disaster levels our lives, or the lives of those we love, how do we, as writers, move forward? #amwriting @karenball1 #christianwriter Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
What helps you realize God’s presence and hope in the midst of difficulties and devastating events in your life?
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