When I was about eight, we went through a few dry years. One summer especially, it was declared an official drought…and I hated it. I live in the mountains of West Virginia, and those mountains are used to being green. Being rural, we had a well. Drought for us meant being very careful with and anxious over our water tables, being watchful of any sparks or fires, and praying God would send rain.
I was too young to know or care much about the bigger concerns. What I knew was that the lush green grass I loved running through barefoot was dry, brown, and pokey. Running barefoot through it held no appeal. What I knew was that our neighbors liked to burn trash, and fire was already terrifying to me after a rather large one consumed the hillside next to our house on my sixth birthday. What I knew was that this was NOT how my world was supposed to be.
I remember praying every night–every night–with all the earnestness of an eight-year-old that God would make the grass green again. I didn’t actually pray for rain. I prayed for green. Because that was what I saw. That was what I hated–the brown grass. And I knew God could make it green again…even without rain, right? Every night I would pray, and every morning, I would run out to the dining room window and look out, eager to see my miracle.
Every morning, I looked out that window and saw the same brown, scratchy, crunchy, hated grass.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t give up praying. I didn’t get angry. I just huffed a breath and thought, “Maybe tomorrow morning. I’ll just keep praying.”
Those memories have stuck with me for more than thirty years. Why? I think, looking back on it now, it’s not really because the drought itself scarred me for life or anything. It wasn’t because I realize, looking back, that I should have been praying for rain instead of green. I think that time has stuck with me, because Little Roseanna knew something Grown-Up Roseanna needs to remember.
We need to keep praying. Day in and day out. Disappointed or fulfilled. No matter how dry our souls feel. No matter how barren things look. Every day we’re left with a “no” or a “not yet,” we need to say, “Maybe tomorrow then. I’ll keep praying.”
As I ponder those days, I also remember something else.
I remember my phobia-level fear–terror–of fire. It was a real thing. In this day and age, I can imagine parents taking their kids to a counselor to talk through it. Because every night when I went to bed, I would tie my favorite teddy bear’s scarf around my wrist, so that if fire came and I had to jump out my window, I wouldn’t leave him behind. I would line up a few favorite things beside that same window, so I could grab them on my way out. I gathered all the matches I could find and soaked them in water, thinking they’d be destroyed forever and save me the worry of anyone making even the smallest fire in my house. Christmas Eve candlelight service? I was a wreck. I thought my long hair was sure to catch on fire and I wouldn’t hold my own candle.
Still, my neighbors, parents of my best friend, had a fire barrel. They would burn their trash rather than pay to have it picked up, and this…was…TERRIFYING to me. Especially because in that year of drought, one day the burning barrel blew over.
Fire. Fire was spreading through that dry kindling that used to be grass, and we were outside playing and saw it happen. Cue all the screaming. The rushing this way and that, having no idea what to do. My friend and I searched wildly for her father, certain the whole world was about to go up in flames…when he came sauntering calmly over with the hose and doused it in about three seconds. He’d been watching all along. He was prepared.
Then, in the next week or two, I noticed something strange.
The patch of grass that had burned grew back…green. I was startled. Amazed. In wonder. Surely that one dousing with the hose hadn’t accomplished that green, had it? Was it the single soaking of water or the fact that the dead grass was burned away?
I had no idea. But it taught me something I never would have anticipated.
Sometimes it takes destruction to bring new life. Sometimes my worst fears have to be realized in order to get the thing I long for.
After that, my best friend and I would joke about how we just needed to do controlled burns of all the grass to bring it back to life–a little match here, then a bucket of water to follow. We’d chase each other around the yard, pretending we were lighting and then quenching restorative flames.
Maybe, just maybe, that was when I started to heal from that phobia. Because of a drought that wouldn’t go away no matter how much I prayed.
I was remembering all of this because the last few weeks have been hot and dry here in the West Virginia mountains–not at all unusual for the last weeks of summer. The grass began to brown, and it would crunch under my feet when I walked through the yard. As it always does, that sound, that feel took me right back to that horrible summer of drought. Then we had a day of rain. One day, one good storm…and I walked outside the next day, and that crunchy grass was soft again. Green had overtaken the brown. Life had been restored.
One storm. One good soaking rain. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
I know many people in the country are suffering from severe drought right now of the natural variety–I have a lot of friends in Texas who are desperate for rain. How many more are suffering, all over the country and the world, from spiritual drought? How many get up every morning, hoping to feel life and hope only to be met with the same brown, crackling, prickly world?
I get it. I’ve been there, both spiritually and physically. But be encouraged, friends, by Little Roseanna and her insights. Keep praying–pray for relief, pray for healing for the root cause, pray for it all. But also know that sometimes, those droughts are there to heal us in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes, being stripped bare, down to the nub, parched of everything we thought we needed, we’re finally able to dig out the roots of fear, of bitterness, of shame, of regret, of hate. Sometimes we need those droughts so that the cleansing fire can get rid of the chaff and healing–life-giving, pure, clean, flowing healing–can finally do its work.
Droughts don’t last forever. Neither do floods. Life is always cyclical, with highs and lows, the dry and the soggy, the too-much and the not-enough. Faith doesn’t change any of that…it changes us and how we see it. It teaches us to see not the lack, but the opportunity. It teaches us to trust in our good and faithful Father, who is always watching, even when we don’t see Him there.
I will never like the feel of crunchy grass under my feet. But I will forever be grateful for what God taught me about Himself through my drought.