Anyone who grew up in Arkansas in the seventies or eighties probably made at least one trip to Dogpatch USA when they were a kid. Dogpatch was an amusement park which opened in 1968, and was based on the comic strip Li'l Abner. It was nestled deep in the woods of northern Arkansas and featured a number of attractions and rides. The developers believed it would rival Disneyland in popularity one day, and though it never quite achieved that status, it drew a pretty good crowd in its heyday. It featured hillbilly-themed attractions, such as Rotten Ralphie's Rick-O-Shay Rifle Range and a roller coaster called Earthquake McGoon's Brain Rattler. One fun feature was that instead of garbage cans, the park had "trash eaters" -- mechanical pigs and goats that would suck the trash right out of the visitors' hands. To a kid, it was a downright awesome place to spend the day.
Over the years, Dogpatch changed hands several times as it struggled financially. It finally closed in October of 1993. Efforts are now being made to revitalize it, but for the most part, it has lain abandoned all these years.
There's something very sad and even eerie about an abandoned amusement park ...
A place that was once known for bringing joy ... now dilapidated and overgrown with weeds and vines. A place once filled with rambunctious, laughing children ... now quiet and still. A place where fun family memories were once made ... now just a faded memory itself.
Grief can make us feel that way too.
Like time has marched on and left us behind.
Like we're being choked by weeds and brambles.
Like no one else "gets" us.
Like we've grown old before our time.
Like we'll never have joy again.
Like our opportunity to make good memories is gone forever.
Like even God has abandoned us.
And you know what? If it was up to us to do life in our own strength, these things would all be true.
But here's the promise from God's Word ...
" ... We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
On my own, I'm a jar of clay ... just like a crumbling, ramshackle attraction at a neglected theme park. But I have a treasure within me ... the power of God. And because of that power, I can be hard pressed, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; struck down, but not destroyed. And I will never, ever be abandoned.
All of the things I listed above are feelings. The truth is that God has not abandoned us, and He will give us strength for each challenge we face. There is still joy to be found, good memories to be made, and friendships with those who "get" us waiting to be developed. He won't let us be choked out by briars and nettles if we continue to seek Him. Life will never leave us behind if we remember that His mercies are new every morning.
And there's no amusement park on earth that can compare to what is awaiting us in Heaven! What a beautiful hope to cling to on those days when we may be feeling a bit forsaken.