The Chaplain's Notebook


To all who mourn … God will give them beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair (Isaiah 61:3 NLT).
There are times in life when everything just falls apart. Life is not happening as planned. Life has lost its meaning and purpose. We are left in a place of confusion and hurt. Why? It may be from our own hasty decisions; we have all made them. But there are times when such events are not in our control. Accidents. Illness. Finances. And these unexpected events cause us to cry out, “Why, God?”

In November 2018, I had been a LASD chaplain in Malibu for six months. The events that were about to take place could not have been predicted. As you likely remember, the Borderline Grill shooting on November 7 in Thousand Oaks tragically took 12 innocent lives, including VCSD Sergeant Ron Helus. And within 24 hours, the Woolsey Fire was ablaze toward Malibu. Our community was threatened by a two-front assault. For chaplains and clergy, ministering to grieving families and witnesses from the shooting became coupled with the immediate needs of those afflicted by the fire.

As I drove through the canyon toward Malibu, amid fallen electrical poles, charred landscapes and the heroic efforts of rescue crews and law enforcement, I witnessed firsthand the devastation that took place. We were delivering food, water, lanterns and other supplies to those who did not evacuate. But I’d seen this before. I have lived in Southern California since 1971. Some of my earliest memories are of my father hosing down our roof, warding off the sparks from the ignited oak trees in our yard. This was one of many brush fires I would witness in my lifetime.

When the flames are extinguished, however, the effects continue. In the months that follow, when we think the worst is behind us, heavy rains often occur, threatening landslides and road closures. But then there is spring! New life blossoms from the bleakest of circumstances. For example, in March, the hillsides of Malibu were covered with magnificent emerald green grass. Spectacular yellow sunflowers were accented by purple and white wildflowers. And the most brilliant display of orange California poppies completed the tableau as if they were praising a masterful artist for His handiwork.

But I was not surprised. Why should I be? I have seen this pattern before. It is even, dare I say, predictable. God always brings beauty from ashes. God always brings the oil of joy from mourning. God always brings praise instead of despair. If we step back and watch, He is certain to impress us with fresh life and color and hope.

Are you struggling from some unfortunate circumstance or tragedy in your life? Be encouraged that God is with us through such trials. Even when our inner landscape is charred, be certain spring will come. New and vibrant colors emerge from trying times. Embrace the process the best you can, and eventually, in God’s timing, mourning and despair will be replaced with joy and praise, for God promises to bring beauty from ashes.

How can I contact a chaplain? Chaplains are available at their units of assignment, or by calling the Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) at (213) 738-3500.