“I was 5 years old when Mount Saint Helens erupted in Washington state . . .”
The line from a stranger’s post that had been shared by one of my friends caught my attention while I was scrolling through all the political articles, toilet paper memes, and natural disaster reports that have been peppering, or rather bombarding, my social media feeds lately.
Maybe it was the glimmer of hope that someone else had survived a catastrophe. Maybe it was my recent anxious obsession with natural disasters after experiencing my first earthquake in Utah this week. But I stopped to read the post, and I was glad that I did.
The post, by Camiah Eastwood Mingorance, explained how she and her neighbors had to leave church early on May 18, 1980, when the volcano erupted. She remembers walking out the chapel doors that Sunday into pitch-dark and ash-filled air. “In just two hours, the world had changed, while I was singing ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,’” she shares.
As Mingorance describes her family’s treacherous drive home and the fear, stress, and loss that those in the community felt, I was impressed by the positive message that came from it.
“Nearly 40 years later, the explosion of Mount Saint Helens is this cool little blip in history, but to the people I lived with in Central/Eastern Washington, it was a nightmare,” she writes. “While some crops were destroyed, we also discovered that where the ash fell in smaller amounts, it actually brought great nutrients to the soil and also provided a layer of protection that kept moisture in the soil. Crops actually did well!"
As I have been facing the fear and anxiety of pandemic precautions and an earthquake all in one week, this post reminded me that this is not the first time people in the world have faced and overcome hard, scary things by exercising faith. It also reminded me of a video that is currently highlighted on ChurchofJesusChrist.org, which has stuck with me ever since my husband shared with me during our first “home church” a couple of weeks ago.
“You Can’t Close My Heart” is a video from the Church history website in 2016. It talks about a time in 1989 when the Church was closed in Ghana by government officials who had negative perceptions about the Church. I was touched and amazed by the faith of the Saints who shared memories of how they found ways to worship from home and grow their testimonies despite intense opposition and threat of imprisonment. They used their challenges to continue sharing positive messages about the Church and supported each other, sometimes from a distance.
Even reading Saints Vol. 2: No Unhallowed Hand (part 3, chapter 26, page 382), I was surprised to find that members of the early Church faced not just one, but multiple devastating grasshopper infestations among all the other physical and political difficulties they were already dealing with by moving to the Salt Lake Valley.
Through all of these stories, I have been reminded of how the Lord is with us in hard times, and if we allow our hearts to turn to Him, we can find profound moments of peace amidst the chaos. All I have to do is take a walk outside to remember that despite the shortages, illness, fear, stress, and shifting work and home expectations, spring is still coming. Flowers are blooming. General conference is still happening next week. Easter will be here soon. I still have access to my scriptures, conference talks, uplifting music, and all kinds of resources to fill my self-isolation with peace and build a relationship with my Father in Heaven.
As Mingorance concludes in her post, “Sometimes the ash of a disaster can offer some unexpected blessings, but we have to be ready and willing to till it into our soil.”