What Happened When...I Found Beauty in the Desert by Carolyn Oakes

Deserts...We don’t choose them but if we look closely, we can see the beauty in the deserts of life. It is encouraging that the Lord our God goes before us, preparing the way for us and displaying His faithfulness and glory, even in the barrenness.

     I was unaware when I wrote the following words in my journal, early on the morning of September 3rd, that the Lord would provide an immediate opportunity to put them into practice:

·    “How interesting, Lord, that this (Psalm 63) takes place while David was in the desert of Judah.  Let me see you clearly, magnify you consistently, and love you whole-heartedly in the desert and well as on the mountaintop. You are the King of kings and the Lord of lords. You are my God!”

·   “Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your law.” (Psalm 119:)

     Later that day, at Starbucks, I received a call from my husband, Scott, who was on his way downtown to a cardiologist. He had gone to his doctor for increased “heartburn.”  The next morning after more tests, we were told that my “healthy, strong” husband had five blocked valves and he would not be allowed to leave the hospital until he had open-heart surgery.  The left main artery, appropriately called the widow maker, was 90% blocked. We were stunned.  He had always been so healthy and fit.  The next several weeks began a journey in which our amazing God provided consistent evidence of His faithfulness, affirmation of His presence, and comfort in His community.

The Beauty of God’s Faithfulness:

     When meeting with our surgeon a few days later, we discovered that not only did the Lord provide an excellent surgeon, who is a believer, but Dr. Chris Komanapalli is also a fellow Valley Church member!  His reputation, his skill, and his humor quickly put us at ease.  His expert skills were needed during the surgery when Scott’s heart stopped and Dr. K had to perform CPR to resuscitate him.

     We had consistent reminders of God’s care at the hospital, everywhere we went. Several friends from our life group work at Methodist and checked on us daily, attending to our every need.  We had nurses on our floor whose family members had been on mission trips with us.  Another friend in hospital administration gave us a card to provide complementary food and drink at the hospital during our stay and yes, it did include the hospital Starbucks-Praise the Lord! We had many of our pastors visit us a few times to pray and encourage our hearts. 

     It occurred to me one morning, how many prayers the Lord had answered since we had been in the hospital.  Even things that were not related to health were being answered as we walked through this time. At times, we were not aware of our own needs, but the Lord provided for us.

      It was wonderful to see our teen and young adult children stepping up to comfort and encourage each other and us.  Our oldest son came in early the morning of surgery and read Scripture over Scott and was there for me when Scott was struggling in pain in Critical Care.  All four were there to hug each other when he was not doing well. 

The Beauty of God’s Presence:

“ God is our refuge and strength; an ever present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:10

     This verse has been precious to us in the past.  I wrote it on the large chalkboard in our kitchen, claiming the Lord’s help in our desert of unknowns. 

     Each day, the Lord was so kind and tender to provide just the comfort that I needed through His Word.  Zephaniah tells us that He delights in us and sings over us.  I was filled with gratitude each morning to wake up with a song of praise in my heart and in my mind even before I opened the Word. 

     I was deeply encouraged by Paul’s reminder in Romans 8 that Jesus and the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf before the Father.  (Romans 8:26-27, 34)  The reassuring promises of His Word were a tremendous comfort to our sometimes fearful hearts.  We knew that no matter what the outcome was, He would carry us, love us, and be with us.

The Beauty of Community:

·   Journal entry- “1 Samuel 23:16 Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.  The power of community and encouragement.  “en-courage”- to pour courage into another; to give someone hope and courage.”

     One of the most remarkable provisions of God in our journey was the beauty of community.  We saw the body of Christ work together on our behalf like I never could have imagined.  So many times, I was left speechless and overwhelmed by God’s goodness through these amazing people we get to call friends and brothers/sisters-in-Christ.

     When our kids found out about Scott’s serious and unexpected heart condition, we were strengthened by the Lord’s goodness through the body of Christ.  God provided Nathan with three godly mentors at his football game to encourage his heart and let them know they were there for him. Sara and Ashley both had several dear friends from Valley Church scoop them up in hugs and love, allowing them to cry on their shoulders, when they were alarmed and uncertain the night that they found out. Jordan, who ministered to us by reading Scripture and praying over Scott, also had godly friends pouring into and praying for him.

     Before surgery, Scott, who embraces a good time, had a constant party at the hospital, with dear friends and family, from Valley Church, Des Moines Christian School and our community bringing prayers, fellowship, laughter, sneaking in milkshakes, pizza, and joy-overflowing. 

     We asked the Lord to use us to display His glory at the hospital. It was astounding to see how many times He did this and in many ways.  One that stands out was when friends and students from our mission trips, and small group friends showed up the night before surgery.  They circled around us and read Scripture over Scott. Then we sang “Lord I need you.” As the words of what has become one of my favorite worship songs flooded the hall of North 3 at Methodist Hospital, I realized that our prayers were being answered.  So many of the staff later commented on the constant visitors and the joy and peace that they saw on all of our faces, which is uncommon on their floor. We had many opportunities to speak with others at the hospital about the Lord.  What a mighty God we serve, that in our weaknesses, He is strong. He truly does cause all things to work together for good. (2 Corinthians 12:9; Romans 8:28)

     The day of surgery, we were flooded with God’s peace that surpasses all understanding and the confidence that He is in control over all.  Once again, we had several dear friends show up with prayers, lattes, verses of encouragement...and more prayers and lattes.  I had people come up to me in the waiting room and ask about our group. It was a true testimony of the beautiful, winsome body of Christ. 

     After several hours in surgery and a few hours in critical care, Scott had to go back into emergency surgery because of complications. At 10 O’clock at night, I was shocked to come out into the waiting room and find several dear friends from our life group and one of our pastors there.  They waited with me and prayed with me until after midnight, when Scott was once again in recovery.  John Glad closed our evening in prayer with, “Lord, we were going to praise you no matter the outcome but we thank you for answering our prayers and that Scott is okay.”  So true!  What a gift it is to have people who love us and speak truth into our lives.

     My husband is recovering well now.  As his scars begin to fade a bit, the lessons that the Lord has taught us do not.  He is faithful and we can absolutely trust Him in each and every situation.  The body of Christ is a fantastic testimony of God’s love to a dark world that is desperate for light and truth.  God’s beauty is in every desert.  Even when we are blinded by fear or pain, the beauty of God is there because He is there, walking with us, carrying us.

The Beauty of God in you:

Ladies, what desert journey are you on now? 

He is with you.

The Lord created us for relationships and community.

Are you a part of a community? 

Do you have friends who remind you of God’s goodness and faithfulness?

Take the plunge. Remove the mask.  Enjoy the authentic community that the Lord has provided for you at Valley Church. 

What steps is God asking you to take? 

Is there a Bible study He wants you to join? 

A life group He wants you to try out? 

A ministry in which He wants you to serve? 

A friend he wants you to take out for coffee and go the next level?

Don’t hesitate.  Let’s ask him together to teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom and experience his beauty together.  We can walk together as sisters in Christ, through the breathtaking beauty of the mountaintops and the often-camouflaged beauty of the desert.

Psalm 90:12, 14 “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

Carolyn is a secondary Bible teacher at Des Moines Christian School and a Walk Thru the Bible instructor. She and her husband, Scott, are the parents of four teenagers/young adults and have been members of Valley Church for over seventeen years.  She enjoys taking mission trips, reading, spending time with family and friends, going on long walks, drinking coffee, and eating Mexican food