In 1998 my family and I visited Mt. Saint Helen’s for a day hike through the blast zone. Although it had been eighteen years since the massive eruption, the landscape still felt dead. Tens of thousands of trees were laying down in eery order, having been blown down all in the same direction from the blast. The primary color of the landscape was still an ashen grey. On May 18, 1980 the volcano had let loose its fury in one of the most destructive eruptions in recorded history and eighteen years later the landscape still lay dormant from the traumatic event.
My boyfriend, who would become my husband, joined us for the adventure. We all chatted cheerfully as we made our way to the trail head. The bright sun lit up the incredibly blue sky while we made our way along a ridge where we could look down toward Spirit Lake. As we talked and walked I kept looking across the dramatic landscape marveling at the contrast between the vivid blue sky and the grey hillsides which were covered in dead trees lying side by side.
Eventually, I looked down. Here and there scattered along the trail and among the fallen trees were small green shrubs crowned with a spattering of tiny white flowers. There was essentially nothing else growing. These resilient flowers seemed to be the first plants to fight their way through the layers of ash. From everything I saw around me that day, these flowers were the first sign of life in all the vast acres of death.
My mother informed me that the flowers were called Pearly Everlasting and I was instantly captivated. Later I would learn that this marvelous little plant gets its resiliency from two primary qualities: it can handle exposure to extreme temperatures and it’s method of propagation works well in difficult environments.
I’m a sucker for symbolism so, of course, wherever I see Pearly Everlasting growing, I am instantly reminded of the picture of hope and strength it represents to me. I want to be resilient. I want to herald new hope after whatever devastation life may bring. I want to be able to resist “extreme temperatures” and to spread life where there otherwise may be be acres of death. As sentimental as it may sound, Pearly Everlasting still inspires me twenty years later.
In an effort to live with the qualities of this marvelous little flower, I found a road map to resiliency in Romans chapter five. Verses three through five read like a building crescendo. Pauls says we “glory in our sufferings” because “suffering produces perseverance.” The Message translation calls it “passionate patience.” From there we gain “character” and character somehow produces hope. And our hope won’t disappoint us because “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts.”
When I read that passage I want to stand up and shout and “Amen” and yet I found myself trying to navigate the chasm between suffering and perseverance. I can tell when trouble hits, but sometimes I feel blinded by it and can’t seem to make my way to tenacity.
The key to forging the chasm from suffering to perseverance is tucked into the first couple verses of Romans chapter five.
By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. (Romans 5:1, MSG)
The key to having passionate patience in suffering is faith. When we stubbornly hold on to the Goodness of God in the middle of whatever trial we are in, our faith-fueled tenacity forges greater character in our lives. We may be pummeled by whatever challenge life is throwing at us, but if we tether our hearts to God in determined faith, we will emerge from our suffering full of hope and the love of God. In fact, The Message translates it this way:
That patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (Romans 5:3-5, MSG)
The Holy Spirit fills us to overflowing with the love of God when we cling to our faith through the duration of our suffering.
Recently our extended family enjoyed a vacation in central Oregon. The beautiful, arid landscape is scattered with Ponderosa Pine trees in the foreground and majestic mountains in the distant background.
One evening eleven of us, ranging in age from eleven to seventy-five, made our way through a casual round of twilight golf. The heat of the day was receding as we drove our golf carts around the lush green course. With laughter ringing out during rounds of “best ball” and second tries, I began to notice here and there where the long grass met the neatly manicured fairway were bright little bunches of Pearly Everlasting.
At a moment when the only suffering I was experiencing was the mild menace of mosquitos, God gave me a reminder of the kind of woman I want to be. I want to be passionately patient in the middle of suffering. I want to be resilient and strong. I want to herald hope and the love of God in the places of devastation. I want to spread life where most people can only see acres of death. I want to hold strong to my faith and experience everything God wants to generously pour out through His Holy Spirit.
I will never forget those cheerful clusters of life in that vast, ashen landscape from our hike at Mt. Saint Helens so long ago. That tough little flower will always inspire me to be resilient.
What About You?
What part of God’s creation inspires you in your faith? Tell me about it in the comments section below.