The Gulf Coast of Florida is a wonderful place to be in January. It’s widely known for its tropical beauty, even though the part most visitors see is a beauty that’s been carefully trimmed and manicured and arranged into botanical submission. Beautiful landscapes, colored with bougainvillea and hibiscus, give residents the kind of paradise they want. Nothing unruly or imperfect. Everything tidy and behaved. A statement to the world that paradise answers to us.
But every day I see another kind of paradise in my backyard. Our home borders a nature preserve where paradise is a messy mix of pines and other unidentified species–some tall and majestic, some gnarled and bent with stripped branches. Palms of every size and shape crowd in, looking like they could all use a good barber–beautiful on top, with plenty of dead undergrowth the trees wear like a badge of honor. Tiny purple flowers carpet the woods’ floor, fighting to avoid smothering by all the detritus stripped off the trees in winds and storms.
There have been panther sightings and an occasional water moccasin in the woods and an alligator appeared one day at the end of the block, so a walk in these particular woods is not advised. But I watch it from the safety of our screened lanai, like a voyeur watching an incredible life lesson play out before my eyes. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Survival requires resilience. Each player in this little nature drama coexists with who and what is around it. They bend in storms and stand together to survive. When the storms subside, together they begin again, because that’s the way life is. Cycles of birth and growth…hardships and growth…beauty and growth…and then death. The more they grow, the more beautiful they look in a kind of wild and exultant way that says, “Look! We’re still here! Aren’t we something!”
- Beauty is not necessarily synonymous with pretty. As the trees age, their beauty grows as each one stands firm and strong, extending themselves to protect the weakest among them. Nothing is rejected because of scars or imperfections. They’re all in this together. An exquisite diorama of a grace-filled community.
- Creation knows its place. Every time a hurricane sweeps through or a forest fire wreaks its havoc, each tree, each flower, each creature down to the tiny geckos that dart through the bramble, lives and dies on its Creator’s timetable. In the meantime, their only job is to be who or what they were created to be and bring glory to their Creator. That’s all.
We, too, are living examples of God’s handiwork. But our job in the overall scheme of creation is much more important. We are given the added privilege of not only managing his creation but of representing him in the world.
We don’t get a pass on life’s drama and pathos. The highs and lows are still there. That’s life on planet Earth. Those are the things that keep us humble and remind us we are caretakers here, not the Creator.
But because God stamped his image on our DNA and sent the Holy Spirit to be our constant advisor, he promised we can withstand the storms and losses, the injustices and disappointment. We, too, can do what we were created to do.
And when we do, we become more beautiful than even the most pampered palm trees. God spreads his arms in jubilation and brags, “Would you look at them? Aren’t they something? Those kids are my best work ever.”
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