I hate Arizona. Maybe it’s just the idea of a waterless waste that I don’t like, the vivid memories of the void in my heart at the miles of barren, flowerless land, or maybe it’s that Arizona will always remind me of the day I left my life behind.
I’d been sick for years — most of my teenage life and probably more than we know of my childhood. Finally diagnosed with Lyme disease, I had started to recover. Then, another disease-bearing tick bit me, and more long months of treatment simply weren’t helping. Then, add another layer: mold illness. We researched treatment —- first thing, get out of the mold. Mold remediation wasn’t usually successful — for severe reactions like mine, and supposedly every porous item must be disposed. One week after discovering mold, we left home.
Arizona was our first destination. (I say first because we ended up staying in four different places over that winter.) For one long month we lived in a camper, without my father, without anyone friends, desperately ill and even more desperate for some kind of healing.
I liked the sun and the warm days sitting on our picnic bench. Even though the nights were frosty, the dry warmth allowed us to enjoy breakfast outside. I liked watching the sky over the mountain, and the curl of faraway clouds. I puzzled over a junipers twisted and gnarled though growing on even soil.
But I hated the scent of smoke swirling up from some distant fire, pungent and toxic and spelling disaster for my body. I hated the garbage from the customary backyard junkyards, the rotten vegetable perfume in every grocery store, the rusty old cars. I hated the trapped feeling of nowhere to lay down and nothing important to do. I hated the bland color of the dirt. I hated the way every building smells dead-so unlike the living smell of Minnesota. I hated feeling like an outsider. I hated that we couldn’t go to church because we reacted. I hated the way my legs ached after I walked-no soft dirt here, just malicious pebbles. I hated the sun’s nearness and how it baked my skin. I hated how green never looked quite right against the sand.
I hate Arizona.
I’ve since said that I will never return to Arizona*.
Arizona was a desert place for me, both literally and figuratively. I struggled to see any beauty. I did intentionally look for glory, but I still hate the drab place. (All due respects to those who enjoy looking at endless miles of scrub brush.)
But, looking back, the memories meld, and I don’t see only bad. I can see that Arizona was the place I learned sorrow is okay. It was okay to grieve my home and loss of a normal life (not that I’d ever truly had a normal teen’s life.) It was okay to miss the comfort of a couch and okay to tell God that I didn’t want to see scrub brushes again for the rest of my life.
I learned to trust that even things which were certainly not good would be worked out for good. I don’t believe there is any inherent good in toxic mold or Lyme disease. But I do know that God will work out my experience for my good and His glory. Maybe I don’t see it now, but I know someday the evidence of His work will show in my spirit.
I can trust in Him. I can rest in Him. And yes, I can rejoice in Him.
Sitting in Arizona, dying inside without the flowers I love, I learned the beauty of wandering in a desert. Endless miles of sandy dirty and scratchy grass remind us that when we don’t know where we’re going, we must trust God’s leading. I learned the beauty of love that can weather hot days and frozen nights. I learned that you really can wonder in the wilderness.
Before, I thought I knew how to survive difficult days. I liked to find beauty in the little things like a puddle mirroring the silver sheen of the sky.
But how do you find beauty if there is no beauty? I learned it is okay to be sad, to mourn loss, to withdraw and grieve. The endless optimism I’d preached before couldn’t help me when everything I loved was lost.
Yet eventually, we must go beyond grief and acceptance to seek beauty again**.
As I write this, we are still living in our camper. We still don’t have a house to live in, and I had to stay home from my grandparents today since I woke up ill. My circumstances haven’t changed. But I’ve changed.
I’m not focusing on the evils of my situation anymore. Staying home isn’t always fun, but at least my sister is ill too so we’re not alone. At least I can still type. At least my brain works well enough to write this.
Now it’s time to move beyond grief and past simple surrender. I’m going to wonder in the wilderness. I’m going to smile at the sun’s caresses, wink at the shadows hiding in the ash trees. I’m going to thank God again for my favorite fluffy blanket. and for the glass of tea in my hand. I’m going to be grateful that it’s okay to cry out, “How long must I wait for you, O God?” and that it’s also commanded to to trust and rejoice during grief, not because of it but in spite of it.
I’m going to wonder at the kind of God who can redeem situations far worse than this. He that placed spidery clouds to bring nourishment and blue sky to give beauty and happy sunlight to bring peace–He will ransom this trial.
I can rejoice in Him, even if my worst fears come true. I can rejoice in a loving God who will one day wipe my tears away and assure me that this suffering is gone forever.
And I can wonder in the wilderness, wonder at the God who can bring beauty to even a gnarled juniper. I will wonder at the God who remembered we need diamonds in our darkest skies. I’ll wonder at the God who saw frail little me and rescued her out of herself, so that she could sing through the sorrow. And someday, I won’t have to sing through sorrow.
I’ll just sing for pure joy.
And that’s worth wondering about.
What about you? Do you think it’s possible to move beyond grief to wonder in the wilderness? Make sure you subscribe to Wild Rose Journal to get Part Two of this series, where I talk about how to move beyond grief and wonder in the wilderness.
*I purposely left out my amazement at the beauty of the Grand Canyon for the purpose of this post. It’s fathomable that with bribes of fresh strawberries, foraging, and visits with friends, I could be convinced to return-but only to the Grand Canyon, but not to more miles of brush.
**Watch out for Part Two of Wonder In the Wilderness for more on the how of this question.