This past week, cable television, weather apps, and social media outlets have provided countless images of the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas. I’ve seen photos of children rescued from second story windows, a large handicapped man loaded from a boat to a van by a team of four able-bodied men, and people wading through hip deep water, carrying precious possession in a single plastic tote. Friends tell of not being able to use their toilets because of an overloaded sewerage system, destroyed kitchen counters from roof leaks, the smell of rotting food from a refrigerator disconnected from life-giving electricity, and the prospect of cleaning mold from days of high humidity.
Then there are those are those who have lost it all—all that they have worked for years to accumulate—wiped out in one massive storm.
It makes me think of the story I heard about George Boldt.
George Charles Boldt, proprietor of the famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, and hotel magnate, amassed a fortune of millions by providing the best accommodations money could buy for the rich and famous of the late 19th century. He decided to build a castle on Heart Island in the 1,000 Island region of upstate New York as a present for his wife. He spared no expense in this six-story, 120-room castle-like structure.
See more about the Boldt Castle here.
Boldt’s wife, Louise, died suddenly and, out of his extreme grief, Boldt abandoned the project. For 73 years, the castle fell into ruin until the Thousand Island Bridge Authority acquired the property and spent $15 million dollars to renovate and create a tourist attraction commemorating the wealth of America’s Golden Era.
Then there was R.J. Reynolds
Bodlt’s tragic story reminds me of R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco tycoon of the early 20th century. Fifteen years after Boldt’s abandoned project, Reynolds finished his dream house in 1918. For years, he had lived above the factory floor of his tobacco plant. After he married a woman thirty years younger than himself, he lived in a residence in the Reynolds village while he built his dream house.
He died of pancreatic cancer six months after completing the house.
Read more about the Reynalda House here.
You might think I am going to expound upon the evils of materialism and holding too tightly to earthly treasures.
Right now would be a good time to quote the verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount about the decay of wealth, right?
Actually, I have compassion for R.J., George, and my friends in Houston, Rockport, and Beaumont, Texas. I know a little of how they feel. I haven’t suffered the extent of loss, but I know the feelings. Except for a short time in North Carolina, we’ve lived in parsonages throughout our married life. I’ve been timid about redecorating. I told myself I wasn’t good at it, I couldn’t convince my husband to spend the time or money to do it, the one time we had to paint a room, there was no end to the disagreements about color, and—the 600 pound gorilla in the mix—it wasn’t my house. Would a church board ever go for any other color than off-white in a parsonage?
After living in a house for eight years and after my two daughters had moved to college, I decided to turn a bedroom into an office and make it my own. I painted the room a pretty coral color, lined the walls with my favorite art, and added sea-foam green curtains and rugs. It was beautiful.
Less than two months later, my husband’s ministry ended.
I had to leave my beautiful office behind. I cried for days. That office represented so many other things I had to leave—a cherished dining room table that wouldn’t fit into our smaller parsonage, friends, favorite hiking trails, stores, and restaurants. I could tell myself all day long to not hold so tightly to the things of this world, but it helped only a little. The swirl of events out of my control wiped away all I held dear in that location with the force and mercilessness of a hurricane, leaving little but the longing and a tenacious faith that God had His reasons.
It wasn’t until I found a promise buried in the back of Isaiah that I realized the make-up of my desires. My feelings weren’t an obsession with possessions. They represented a longing for permanence, a need for completion. Even Solomon admitted in his book of Ecclesiastes that man is intrinsically wired to enjoy and find satisfaction in the work of his hands. Perhaps that’s why God gave the promise of rest modeled in the first chapter of Genesis and reaffirmed throughout the book of Hebrews.
My promise from Isaiah? Here it is:
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands. – Isaiah 65:21,22
The context talks about the new heaven and new earth. God understands what life is like in this temporary world. Life is too short to complete projects. Events happen, cutting short the time we thought we had to enjoy what we have so long worked for. Other people, catastrophes, circumstances, the big picture stuff bulldozes our dreams, heartlessly turning them into a pile of ruined rubble.
It’s not the stuff.
It’s the work, and the time invested. It’s being deprived of relaxing on the front porch with a glass of iced tea, to rest and savor the completion.
Houston will rebuild after Hurricane Harvey makes its exit. But the sense of loss will always remain.
Heaven will be different. We’ll have all eternity to enjoy the satisfaction of effort. I don’t know whether houses and vineyards mentioned in Isiah are literal or figurative, or whether we’ll be in the construction or farming business. I suspect the verses have as much if not more to do with the spiritual world. Regardless, we will see the results of our labors for the Lord. For all eternity, we’ll enjoy the fruits of our evangelistic and discpling efforts. We’ll see people who came to the Lord through our influence, and we’ll stand beside those we’ve trained to follow Jesus, praising the Savior together.
Someday I will experience that sweet satisfaction of the work I’ve done with the Lord’s help.
I might even find me a coral colored wall.
During the month of September, starting September 1st, I’m delighted to welcome several guest bloggers to the Grace on Parade family. I hope you find encouragement and inspiration in their posts as I have. Please honor them by clicking on the Facebook and Twitter icons and by visiting their blog sites.