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Beauty on the Other Side

by Catherine McNiel 

In your everlasting arms, All the pieces of my life

From beginning to the end I can trust you

- Chris Tomlin, “Sovereign”

When I turned the family car towards our destination, I was met with a panorama of dark, angry sky. Heading towards a family dinner, we were about to drive directly into a thunderstorm. Within seconds I could see the trees ahead begin to bend, and a moment later we were hit by the tumult. For forty minutes we drove through the torrent, sheltered (but only just) from the thunder, lightning, wind, rain, and hail. We arrived at the restaurant wet and frightened, but unscathed. 

Hours later we retraced our path, heading home. This time instead of being engulfed we were following the storm - the sky above us was clear but before us we could see the billowing darkness in all its height and glory. From the vantage point of safety, this previously frightening and threatening storm was gorgeous, breathtaking. Every minute forks of spectacular lightning dashed across the sky. It was better than the most elaborate fireworks display. 

We were literally a captive audience, for just as our path had led us directly through the center, it was now leading us directly behind the storm. My children, husband, and I watched spellbound for the entire drive.

Our first and second highway encounters with this late-summer storm were like night and day - the first was terrifying and dangerous, the second gorgeous and breathtaking. Of course, the tempest itself and its impact was the same but our vantage point was different, so our perception was different. And as I reflected on this I realized that God was teaching me, once more, through a storm. 

As creatures, we necessarily chafe at pain and discomfort. Some are small and easily forgotten, like being hungry too long after an accidently skipped meal. Others leave scars that will linger for the rest of our lives - tragedy, abuse, loss.  Big or small, are sure to encounter suffering in life; big or small, we fight against the pain it brings.

Rarely, rarely, we have a chance to step back far enough and see that in the midst of the storm, God was doing something that was also beautiful, awesome, breathtaking. Sometimes it is our darkest hours, our deepest wounds, that in the end produce the sweetest fruit. As I look back on my life I can see without a doubt that it was those times of greatest struggle and deepest pain that God has used to create those things in me that most align with his Spirit, that taught me how to find the deepest oceans of peace, the fullest rivers of joy.

How can this be? The storms themselves are terrible. The forty minutes we spent driving through the downpour carried real danger; there was reason to be afraid, and there was damage that was done.  But it is every bit as true that the same destructive force of nature showed us her gorgeous display when we had passed through to the other side.

Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to the creative and redemptive work of God in our daily lives. She is striving to see beauty, learning to expand her perspective, and praying to keep her eyes and heart open. Connect with her at www.catherinemcniel.com.