[Author’s note: This post was inspired by the featured photo of Manchac Swamp in Frenier, LA taken by Kathy Ballon, which was the winner in our Facebook photo contest.]
There I was sitting around a dinner table in South Africa with four of my colleagues trying to explain the show “Swamp People“. While a lot of American television makes its way to the South African airwaves, somehow “Swamp People” is not one of them and none of my colleagues had ever heard of it before. After 5 minutes I had all of them in that place of side-splitting, tear-inducing laughter at my description of this show that my dear husband, a Louisiana native, watches faithfully every week.
I think it was the title “Swamp People” that really did them in. I mean after-all, that title does conjure up images of slimy, scary bog monsters that come to life and roam the shore instilling fear in everyone who lives nearby. Of course, if you are familiar with the show you know it’s actually about the men and women who make their living hunting alligator — a unique sub-culture of modern Louisiana who live off the bayou and eat food like turtle soup, alligator gumbo, and boiled crawfish. They catch alligators using giant hooks baited with rotting chicken and every episode I am sure someone is going to get eaten by an angry gator. They have a very distinct accent that is as thick as their red beans and rice and use words rooted in their French-Acadian history that the rest of the U.S. population have never heard uttered. I often joke to my husband that people from the bayous of Louisiana are the only ones that speak English but still need subtitles so people can understand what they’re saying. (And lest anyone think I’m too unkind, let me set the record straight that my childhood roots include living in a mobile home in West Virginia, so believe me I get plenty of ribbing for that.)
While I like to kid and tease my husband mercilessly about the show and the kinship he feels for these alligator hunters, I know that the show is successful because those of us who didn’t grow up in that lifestyle are in awe of the bravery and brass of these people that hang out in the swamp all day. The swamp that is full of alligators, snakes, snapping turtles, giant rodents called nutria, mosquitoes and other creatures I would prefer not to spend any length of time with. The fact is, even if you don’t immediately think of a scary B-horror movie creature, when you think of the swamp you probably don’t think of a place you’d like to oh, let’s say, vacation.
But, I have been to Louisiana and toured the swamps. The truth is the swamps are also places of serene beauty where there are more shades of green than even Pantone could imagine. Where Spanish moss dangles from 200 year-old cypress trees and floating bouquets of water lilies greet you as you float down the still, quiet canals. This photo below was taken at Manchac Swamp in Frenier, LA by my mother-in-law. It’s simply stunning. Nothing about this picture says scary-death-trap to me!
And this is how much of life is. We have certain places, situations, or even words that we identify as intimidating, scary, dangerous, lonely, painful or despairing. But when we look at them in a different light we are often surprised by the hope, beauty, joy, comfort, and blessing they turn out to be. My husband and I found ourselves in one such situation earlier this year when he unexpectedly lost his job.
It’s a word that conjures up all kinds of unpleasant visions and is ripe with worry. Even though my husband had been unhappy at his job, the unplanned departure left us uncertain of what the future would hold. As much as we tried to stay positive and trust that the Lord would provide, as the days moved into weeks, and then into months, our faith was tested and concern evolved into uneasiness, which evolved into distress. Yet, God was with us at every step of the way. We were provided for — both financially and spiritually. Friends and family rallied around us. My husband was able to use this time to give back, volunteering in our community, to spend time with our kids as they finished the school-year, and to support me as I finished my graduate school capstone. Even in the midst of the fear and stress, we saw the beauty of these gifts.
My husband ended up finding a job in his field, near our home, working for a great company. He absolutely loves this job! He is respected and appreciated by coworkers and has opportunities for education and career advancement he didn’t have at his last job. He will tell you, without hesitation, that losing his prior job was the best thing that could have happened to him.
For as much as unemployment can be a place of discouragement, loneliness, and anxiety, it can also be a place of fresh-starts, opportunity, and hope. Because there is nothing we have to face in this world that is bigger than God. Nothing that He won’t use for our good. When we think we are in the dark, dangerous swamps of life, God can reveal to us the beauty and serenity of His purpose for our lives.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
What are the swamps of your life? Where have you seen beauty and blessing instead of fear and danger?