Time and Transformation

We Van Meters are not Disney cruise type people. We are more at home in less luxurious settings, far from glitz and pampering, out in the open where we can enjoy each other’s geeky company in peace.

A slice of petrified wood from the museum at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

So it surprised no one when we decided that this year’s vacation would be a trip to the desert southwest. We braved high winds in Albuquerque, a dust storm in Las Cruces, NM, and snow–yes, snow–in Tucson. But Denise had time to unwind, and the boys had time to explore and experience things they’ve only read about.

And I had time to think.

The desert has sparked contemplation for centuries, especially for Christians seeking to know God more clearly than they could in the noisy, foggy, work-a-day world that most of us inhabit without question. In the open spaces, with nothing but silence and blue sky to press down on you, hearing God seems perhaps not easy, but at least more possible than it does in our cluttered normal lives.

The lessons of the desert came in glimpses. After all, I still had to spend considerable time protecting the Saguaro cacti from my inquisitive children. During the in-between times–thirty seconds here, five minutes there–I considered the expanse of time and my minuscule place in it.

That lesson came home in particular on the last day of the trip, when we hiked through Petrified Forest National Park. The “logs” in the park are the fossilized remains of Araucarioxylon arizonicum, a species of conifer from the late Triassic. These 200-ft-tall trees fell over 220 million years ago, when present-day Arizona was a lush forest not far from the equator. The trees were covered with sediment, and groundwater began the process of petrification.

Geologically speaking, the transformation from wood to fossil happens in a blink–only 100 years or less. But that’s still quite an expanse of time when you’re part of the human race, a mere mortal with only a few decades in which to figure out such deep mysteries as are within our reach. Sometimes our days seem endless. In the desert, alongside such petrified wonders, they seem all too brief.

Regardless of how we experience time, the fact is that real transformation can take years, whether we’re talking about fossilized trees or human spirits. God, it seems, is content to make changes in his creation bit by bit. For most of us who long to be made into the image of Christ, the process is far from instantaneous. God covers us with mercy, and his love moves through us, and little by little, his grace makes our lives solid and beautiful, worthy of admiration on earth and remembrance in heaven.

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