When I asked Frank Freed about losing his right arm at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, he eventually concluded that it was one of the best things that had ever happened to him. He hated living with an artificial hand, he admitted. But then he used words like spiritual growth, wisdom, depth, and sensitivity to describe the benefits he had realized.
Another WWII veteran, Joe Pardini, had his right arm nearly shot off on the sands of Iwo Jima, one of the most bitter battlegrounds in the Pacific. Reflecting on that terrifying event, he came to the same bottom line as Freed had. The Purple Heart he earned was only a small part of how he grew and matured through what had happened to him.
The reason for this, I strongly believe, is because God is especially present with us in the process of healing, restoring, and recovery in the tragic circumstances of our lives.
In 1989 a ferocious hurricane swept through the Caribbean Islands, resulting in the total destruction of the Caribbean National Forest. Thick with centuries-old trees, the wooded island was literally blown clean. The magnificent trees were all destroyed.
Then something happened. Flowers began growing where the trees had once stood. The forest had been so thick that nothing had grown beneath the trees. But now beautiful flowers—some never seen before—were coming to life. Those flowers were a gracious gift given to grieving forest-lovers by a loving God.
Such flowers spring up in many places after loss and tragedy.
In the center of a neighborhood park in Enterprise, Alabama, stands a monument to a damaging pest: the boll weevil.
Decades ago in the southern United States, cotton was planted every spring with high hopes for an abundant crop. In timely fashion the seeds germinated; plants popped up and began to thrive. And every year, the boll weevil moved in, causing heavy damage to the crops.
Eventually the cotton growers decided to make a change. They diversified, planting other crops along with the cotton. The boll weevil had awakened them to other possibilities that ended up making their lives more secure and profitable.
In such crises and dilemmas we see a loving, wise God at work. We see the Lord Jesus bringing healing, growth, and goodness out of heartbreaking circumstances.
There are many inspiring symbols of this principle. The Royal Palace in Tehran features one of the most beautiful mosaics in the world. Originally enormous sheets of mirror were going to be placed on the walls. But the mirrors arrived from Paris broken. Horrified, the contractor ordered the shattered pieces to be thrown out and informed the architect of the disaster. The architect, however, ordered all the broken pieces to be collected and smashed into smaller pieces. These tiny sparkling pieces were glued to the walls, creating an effect beautiful beyond what had been planned.
God can reshape our broken lives into something worthwhile, valuable, and beautiful. The apostle Paul hinted at this truth in Romans: “[S]uffering produces perseverance . . . character . . . hope” (5:3, 4). Those three valuable qualities can flow out of tragedy through the Spirit of God.
Disasters happen. Destruction is part of life. But the way people grow, survive, and even blossom after being smashed is evidence of the loving power and presence of God. The Lord Jesus is there for the healing. And our care and kindness is part of his love.