Violent riots. Hateful rhetoric. Eclipse. Hurricanes. Forest fires. Earthquakes. Were we not living the reality, none of us would have believed all these events could have happened in the last six short weeks. America alone has and continues to suffer devastation in three of the four corners of our precious country. And the beautiful world around us suffers even more destruction. That would be enough for many of us. But in the midst of it all, Houston, my city, our city, has taken a huge blow. Even those whose home or business wasn’t personally damaged, are experiencing the trauma of living in an area where so many were. Each person knows someone who has experienced loss. The first question to friends and strangers is often, “How is your home? Did you flood?”
Driving through the streets of Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey there is a frequent shift in sights ~ from business-as-usual to what resembles scenes from a war zone. There is no making light of this. The impact of seeing such devastation and police presence is pure shock. Curbs are piled high with sheet rock, carpet, furniture and every personal possession to be imagined. Buildings are vacant, as if hurriedly left in the middle of the night – furniture overturned, books, papers and personal items strewn about by powerful, rising water. Several parts of the city remain submerged, patrolled by local and national law enforcement present in boats, helicopters, squad cars, and humvees. Many live with an ever increasing knowledge of levees, mold, insurance adjusters, “mucking out”, respiration masks and FEMA. Whether in Houston or elsewhere, it is clear that the damage is real. And long lasting.
In the midst of it all, life continues. Loved ones die. Layoffs happen. Cancer diagnoses are given. Relationships end. Even those who have been unscathed, experience the reality of survivors guilt. The pain and suffering can feel overwhelming.
Lest you think this post is simply another news story cataloging the destruction, let us ask the questions, “What good is there? What do I do when it feels overwhelming? Where is God? Where do I go??”
Oh, the good. He brings the good in spades. Look around. What do you see in the midst of the chaos? What do you hear?
When I think back to the week of August 15th and the state of my social media sites, I am reminded of the conflict, criticism and anger. No one was spared. The judgment and guilt flowed freely. It was clearly brother against brother across the country. And yet, four short weeks later and what fills my feed? Stories of heroism, sacrifice and love. Hope for a hurting country.
Thousands have poured into Southeast Texas from far away places. Millions of dollars have been donated by people, companies and sports teams across the land. Businesses have stepped forward to offer aid and grace. People. People have come forth in boats and trucks, donned masks and gloves to rescue the people and restore the homes of strangers. The freeways are full of emergency vehicles set to keep the peace, recovery vehicles to restore property and buses and vans filled with strangers to do the work. Name a license plate and I’ve seen it. Every day I am amazed by the generosity of strangers. That they would leave their homes, travel across the country, wade through the infested waters and enter mold-filled homes to help another human being is inspiring. And humbling. This is the good.
These stories are manifestations of the scriptures. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” Matthew 22:36-40 tells us, “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” We see them come to life in technicolor. Look for examples around you.
But what about when it’s not enough? Do you find yourself asking, “What do I do when there is too much? How can I possibly handle it?”
Houston and many other places have experienced a significant trauma. The widespread destruction, the sheer number of people impacted, the suddenness, the experience of being IN it and the fact that support systems have also been affected make it even more difficult to overcome. Difficult, but not impossible. Jesus himself told us, “…in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) We are promised in Deuteronomy 31:8, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” To the Israelites, Isaiah said, “…the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 52:12) Take heart, dear ones!!
The scriptures are full of promises just like these!! He sees our suffering and weeps with us. He longs to comfort us in the midst of the pain, as He stands in front of, behind and next to us throughout it all. (See Zechariah 2:5) Paul writes in Philippians, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” And yet, we can do very little on our own. Certainly not in the wake of such trauma and heartache. Where is God? With us. Always. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Rest, dear ones.
And in the midst of the struggle, He gives us good gifts. These are some that you can embrace:
1. Grief – “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:1, 4) The Lord gives us the gift of grief. The ability to feel deeply the losses we experience, so that we may know the value of this life. So that we may turn to Him for our comfort. Jesus experienced this. He knows the suffering and is a balm to our souls. Let yourself grieve the loss – however big or small. It is a natural human emotion, given to us by Him for expression. Don’t bottle it up or brush it aside.
2. Community – Think again of all the examples of community coming together. Be inspired by the brotherly love that is growing day by day in the midst of tragedies. There is an old song that keeps playing through my mind, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they will know we are Christians by our love…” We have an opportunity to show the love of Christ to friends and strangers. To love as He first loved us. If you have need, ask for help. Give others the opportunity to be His hands and feet to you. If you have enough, offer to others. We each have special skills to share. And yet there are tasks that don’t require any skill at all. Find a place to serve. Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes another will himself be refreshed.” Go, and be refreshed.
3. Self Care – “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16) Jesus knew that he must have time alone with his Father – to be refreshed and re-centered in the midst of this earthly life. And we, in our humanity, must do the same. We must take time to rest, recharge and refill so that we can then love and serve others. So, sleep, eat, laugh, take brain breaks, move your body, pray, meditate and refresh your soul. Fill your pitcher, so that you then have something to pour into the cups of those you serve. For, if you don’t HAVE anything to give, you don’t have ANYTHING to give.
4. Connection – We are created for connection. The Lord gave Eve to Adam because he saw it was not good for him to be alone. (See Genesis 2:18) Throughout the scriptures we see the power of family and friendship. David had Jonathan, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were together in the fire, Jesus had 12 disciples and three in his closest circle. We are created for community and connection. In times of despair and anxiety, it is crucial that we reach out to those we love. We must make our needs known AND we must anticipate the needs of others. Love goes both ways. Think of two people you can call this week to check on or offer love to or pray for and with. You won’t regret making the time for this connection.
There are so many gifts. Look for them in your life and share them with others.
And in the meantime, notice what is happening… each day brings changes. Babies are born. Treatment is finished. Weddings are celebrated. Roads open. Power is restored. Homes are accessible. Trash is collected. Businesses reopen. The weather cools. Yes. Change happens. Restoration begins. Healing comes. This is the circle of life. We see it before us and we are hopeful. We begin to believe that maybe things won’t always be as they are. Maybe it will be okay again. Whatever your loss, whatever your anxiety or worry, whatever your pain, remember that He sees you. He is with you. He will never leave you. Go to Him.
Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 1 are full of these assurances. Spend some time there this week.
What are your favorite scripture verses to remember when life is hard? What do you do to cope with difficult feelings and circumstances?