Community requires Courage

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” John 10:14

I’m the kind of person who just gets life done. If there’s a more efficient way to get things done, I’m on it. Never make more than one trip if you can carry all the bags at once. I will cut off circulation in my arms lining the bags up to both shoulders. I go on and on like this until life breaks – We weren’t designed to live life on our own, to get life done by ourselves. We were made for community.

I love the image of the shepherd wrapping the lamb with the broken leg around his shoulders. The view from up here is bigger. I can see further into the distance and onto my little, once efficiently self-managed world below. There is a sweet sharing of the same air, cadence of breath and heartbeat. I can’t hide my tears. You feel every weeping contraction on your neck. This is community. This is the inescapable sharing that binds hearts together. I know my Shepherd and my Shepherd knows me. How do I do this with His people?

I love people. I enjoy people from all walks of life. I love your stories. I love hearing about your struggles and journeying into the depths of your heart. I love my big beautiful community of friends. I love to dream with you. I’m quick to cry with you. I will cheer you to that finish line. I would never burden you to carry my bags, but I’m ready to carry all your bags with you. This is community, right?

“Maybe – communion can only happen when not only our strong parts are broken and given, but when our broken parts are also given. Maybe communion happens not only when we’re broken and given – but when we give each other our brokenness” writes Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way.

Maybe – I don’t know community at all.

A college friend once shared an observation that shook me to the core. She said, “Everyone always saw you as person who didn’t need other people. More people would’ve been closer to you if they thought you needed them.”

Creating community with the people I love means I must be willing to put the bags down, let you carry a few and soak up the trips back and forth between your heart and mine. It’s ok to let you hold my hurts, my shame, my disappointments, my hopes close to your neck, that place of inescapable sharing that binds hearts together.

Do I have the courage to be vulnerable this holiday season?

I’m suddenly stunned by how self-centered this question truly is.

If the Shepherd had not allowed His body to be broken for us, there would be no holiday to celebrate. There would be no Emmanuel, no God with us, no community.

How can we do community differently this Christmas?

Community, Pirouettes, and truths from Hebrews

Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

It may seem impossible to you, but there actually is a connection between the words from Hebrews above, pirouettes, and community for me.

I still have my very first pair of pointe shoes. As a dancer for 15+ years, I ended up with quite a collection, a collection that included different sizes and even different colors. Some pairs would only last a few days of Nutcracker performances before being worn out. All would be molded perfectly to my feet after hours of practice. But I only saved that very first pair because it’s the first pair that marked the milestone of accomplishing the feat of twirling on my toes.

And twirl I did. Before the pointe shoes, there had been just arabesques and grand jetés. But with the point shoes came the real fun: pirouettes. The French word pirouette literally means “to whirl about.” One pirouette is fun. But two or three, that is when the whirling really begins. There is a secret to perfecting the pirouette…

Spotting.

Without getting too technical, spotting is simply locking your eyes on one singular object and remaining fixated on it as your body turns until the very last millisecond. Then the head snaps bringing the eyes 360 degrees until the gaze locks back on the singular focus.

A singular focus. It’s needed for pirouettes; it’s even more necessary in my relationship with the Lord. The author of Hebrews directs us with the following words, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:2

But how often I fail on my own at fixing my eyes. I can know that Christ is my one focus, but I can so easily become distracted. To succeed, I need the Lord, the Holy Spirit and that’s also where community comes in.

My community “stirs me up to love and good works.” My community “encourages me,” reminding me of, “the Day drawing near.” The author of Hebrews penned these words and as I read them, I’m reminded how thankful I am for my community.

How so very thankful I am that in my life, there have been some incredible women who invested in me: The wife, mother, and youth ministry leader who shared her daily life with me as she raised her children; the sorority sister who took me under her wing as I stepped onto a college campus and into a sorority; the women at the camp I worked at during my college summers who let me make mistakes, learn from experience, and guided me as I learned what servant leadership was all about; the incredible wisdom that was shared with me from a woman who poured in weekly to me as I set out in full-time youth ministry after college, helping to shape my prayer life and my daily surrender to the Lord.

And then the rich community I have today. Friends who love me, challenge me, pray for me and with me, and who consistently point me right back to the Lord. In a month when there’s a significant focus on gratitude, I am so very thankful for the community I’ve been blessed with that helps me with my “spotting”, with my focus on the Lord.

*Sacred Story is honored to have Ranelle Woolrich as a guest contributor this month. Ranelle grew up in Oklahoma, but having been born in Texas and raised by parents who were Texans, has always called herself a Texan. After graduating from the University of Kansas, she went on staff with a discipleship youth ministry in Missouri. In 2004, she returned to her roots in Houston and spent the next ten years teaching in both middle school and elementary schools and serving in school administration. In 2013, she joined the staff of Grace Bible Church in Houston as the Women’s Discipleship Director

Koinonia Texting

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Recently I’ve been reading a book called “Body Life” by Pastor Ray Stedman. It talks about koinonia – the Christian fellowship enjoyed by believers especially as they utilize the gifts God has given them. It got me thinking about an example of koinonia fellowship I’ve been benefitting from in my life lately.

In our increasingly technology-based world, personal relationships can suffer. We tend to become more isolated when we’re hurting and maybe retreat inside ourselves, not wanting to share. At least that’s what I’ve seen can happen in my own life.

I’m privileged to be a part of a group of women who meet once a month to encourage and support one another through fellowship, love and prayers. We are all involved in ministry of one kind or another which can be draining (as well as encouraging)! What’s so wonderful about this group is that we can share how we’re REALLY feeling without fear of judgment. Beyond our monthly meetings we have begun a text group which has become invaluable to every one of us.

For instance, one Sunday afternoon our family came home from church to find a flood under the addition to our home. After praying with my husband to find the leak, I reached out to my group of friends in a text asking them to pray as well. Not long after God answered those prayers and we found the leak; saving us hundreds if not thousands of dollars!

Other requests from the group have included prayers for a struggling marriage, favor for a new job, wisdom and strength for difficult work situations, how to best help their kids – whatever the person may be struggling with at the time. I love that as soon as we send out the request we can instantly know that our sisters are joining in prayer on our behalf right at that very moment. We can feel the love being sent our way.

We are also quick to share praises – thanking God for answered prayer and reminding each other that He is good no matter what our circumstances may look like. I was amazed to receive a text from one of my friends at just the right time; I was going through a difficult situation and wasn’t sure what to do next. In the text she assured me that God saw me, heard me and loved me even though I hadn’t sent out a prayer request to anyone! She’d had a dream the night before and felt compelled to reach out and encourage me.

This kind of community has been so inspiring to me. It reminds me that as believers in Christ we are all united by the same Spirit. How truly reassuring and comforting to know that the Lord has provided for us in this way; through the koinonia fellowship of believers.

*Sacred Story is honored to have Amy Allen as a guest contributor this month. Amy is a wife, Mom of two sweet girls, author, graphic designer, speaker, and founder of the REAL Conference. Amy openly wrote her sacred story Once Upon A Time of a redeemed marriage after infidelity, prostitutes, and alcoholism tore it apart. She is passionate about sharing the hope she has found in Jesus and the truth of God’s Word.

 

Transformative Community for Boys with Absent Fathers

“You are the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:14

In October, I celebrated the power of community to transform the lives of boys with absent fathers at the 25th Anniversary: Forgiveness Nashville at “The Shack” presented by The Family Foundation Fund. In the early 90’s Onnie Kirk, founder of the Family Foundation Fund knew that he must do something to address the demise of the family in the African-American community, so the Family Foundation Fund was birthed to nurture boys with absent fathers into successful, Christ-centered manhood and to inspire and equip them to be fathers that impact the destiny of future generations.

The results from the past 25 years speak to the success of the program. Here are the results: 100% of the program alumni have completed high school and continue their education in college or a technical school, or joined the armed forces or gone to work full-time. None of the Family Foundation Fund Alumni have experienced the juvenile system, and none have become teenage fathers. Fatherless boys represent 85% of youth incarcerated, 75% of children in Chemical Abuse Centers, 80% of rapists, 63% of teen suicides. Boys born to teen mothers are more than 2 1/2 times more likely to father a child between ages 14- 26.

I must say, Wm. Paul Young, the author of The Shack and the featured speaker of the evening was so warm, personal, and full of wisdom and Biblical truth. He spoke so clearly defining the Trinity which is hard to understand, and many had questions about his view concerning the Godhead. Deeply Trinitarian, he explained that God has always existed as three persons, yet One with no diminishment of personhood of each member of the Trinity. The book is fiction, and he made God, a black woman stemming from how God used a black woman to change the course of his life. Remember God is a Spirit, and God embodies all the characteristics of masculinity and femininity. God can use a black woman, burning bush, etc. to reveal Himself and that does not mean that God is a black woman or a burning bush (we so often confuse all of that). Learning to forgive was pivotal in him experiencing the community of the Godhead, one God consisting of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Forgiveness is not dependent on a person changing, but it does change you. Just because you forgive someone does not mean that you experience reconciliation with that person. It takes a long time to rebuild trust and that trust might or might not be restored. The volunteers, mentors, staff of the Family Foundation Fund, mentees’ families surround the boys with a community of love and support to heal past pain and unforgiveness and to nurture, inspire, and equip them to become men who live out the gospel in their families and communities. Love grounded in the gospel releases the shackles of unforgiveness and frees us from the lie that we are alone opening our eyes to the love of God and community of faith. Forgiveness frees you to love God and others and to receive that love that we all long for- the sacrificial and unconditional love of a Holy God.

-Mary Carmen

Hurricanes Make Community Happen

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  And all the believers met together in Image result for acts 2 46one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.   Acts 2:42-47

When Hurricane Harvey barreled through Houston, I thought, “yes the rain will pound the city and the wind will kick up. . . but we’ve got this.” Since the Houston area was not in the immediate path of the storm and my history of riding out hurricanes proved that they didn’t hit as hard as predicted I didn’t get too worried.

My theory proved wrong. I live on the 5th floor of a mid-rise which is located within feet of the bayou. As the bayou waters rose we were surrounded by a lake of water and unable to leave our complex. While facing the threat of rising water, the residents in the complex “bonded.”

We met each other in the lobby and out the doors while looking at the street in front of our building which had become immersed in water. We combined food to share a meal together and we enjoyed a game night. We talked about the damage as we walked up the stairs since the elevators no longer worked. We welcomed people from the surrounding area who were evacuating their homes due to high waters.

Because we lost running water on the second day of the hurricane we also talked about how to conserve water and flush toilets with water from the pool. When I became hungry for “chips” because my pantry was slowly becoming empty, I bartered with another neighbor for an exchange. After 5 days into the “seclusion” we confronted the reality that the flood waters were not receding and most of us joined the plan to evacuate by boat.

Upon reaching the evacuation “drop off,” I bid my new friends good bye, and truly felt sad to not be together anymore. And yet I was glad to get off of the “island” and enjoy a hot shower. I think about the experience of sharing in weathering Harvey with my neighbors and the Biblical experience of community as described in Acts 2.

  • During the hurricane we shared a common goal: to survive Harvey and have our basic needs met. The believers in Acts shared the common goal of connection to the Lord Jesus, the spread of His message, and the desire to have basic needs met.
  • The threat of flooding and being out of control in our living environment drew us to each other emotionally. The threat of the misunderstanding and suspicion by society toward the new organism which would be later known as the Body of Christ propelled the believers in Acts 2 to find solace in being together.
  • Generosity and sacrifice flourished during the hurricane days when we shared meals and felt comforted by each other’s presence. The early church in Acts 2 shared their resources and made sure each other was cared for.

I think about how God designed us for community because we are always experiencing a major threat whether we realize it or not – the threat of the world snuffing out our faith and our hearts being tempted to give our affection to someone or something other than the Lord Jesus and His mission. The believers in Acts 2 made a point to share meals, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and meditating on the Word together. They saw amazing outcomes as the Holy Spirit moved in hearts and the number of believers grew daily.

You and I are wise to examine how and if we experience community with believers. I am asking you the same questions I reflect upon for my journey:

Are you aware of the vital importance of fellowshipping with believers?

Are you finding solace in the faith and prayers of Christ followers or are you looking to other coping mechanisms the world endorses?

How are you practicing generosity and sacrifice toward the Body of Christ so it grows and flourishes?

Sister, I pray you and I take a small step toward growing community in our lives this week. I am asking God to remind us of the urgency (without the threat of a natural disaster.) I thank all of you who expressed care, concern, and prayers for me and those living in my complex during Harvey. Your kindnesses lifted my heart and made me brave to face the unknowns of the storm!

~Laura

Who is Your Shepherd?

 

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want..” Psalm 23:1 KJV 

 

The first time I read this, I was so confused. “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Why would I not want The LORD to be my shepherd? It wasn’t until many years later that I ran across a better translation, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” That makes sense.

When I let the One who created me provide for me, I am not left in a state of want. He knows my needs better then I. But, today I can’t see that so clearly. I feel overwhelmed by the rising wall of tasks ahead. I keep hearing myself say, “I need more hours in the day.” How ridiculous is that? Who do I think I am?

LORD, you are my shepherd. Not I. The Great I Am is my shepherd, not i.

The conflict within me demands, “Who is your shepherd?” A boss, a mentor? Someone with more experience and authority over you? We like these shepherds because we can see them, hear them, receive specific instructions from them and receive the instant gratification of pleasing them. For a moment in time, we feel affirmed, confident and our expectations for the future are bigger and brighter than what we can see at the moment.

I am my shepherd.
We like this because we are always available to listen to ourselves and we typically like our own ideas – sometimes we are quite impressed with ourselves. When we always get it right, we avoid the shame of disappointing others and being labeled, Failure.

The LORD is my Shepherd.
His domain stretches far beyond this earth, which is why sometimes He guides us to do things that don’t make sense in this time and space. When we do them, we face judgement from earthly authorities, the shepherds we are taught to please.  But, with the LORD as my Shepherd, I don’t have to worry about it, because He is sovereign over them too. Any labels they place on me are whited out by His glorious light, any labels I have “earned” or placed on myself are consumed by His holy fire.

Who am i to tell my Shepherd what i am doing today? Who am i to dispute His direction? Who am i to overlook His guidance? Do i know where the serpent hides? Do i know how to avert his snare as i boldly traverse my path that makes most sense according to my plans?

LORD, “make me lie down in green pastures. Lead me beside the still waters. Restore my soul. Guide me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake” – especially for those who follow me, until they follow You.

“Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil. For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory Forever.”

What were my plans for today?

Who is your shepherd?

Are you willing to resolve the conflict and let Him guide you today?

In His Unfailing Love

brandi

Conflict is not a bad thing

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

We don’t have to look far to find conflict from our kitchens, classrooms, courtrooms, to newsrooms. Most conflict arises from personal biases. Our opinions fuel flames of anger and discord. What would it look like if our differing opinions emanated the warmth of compassion and respect rather than igniting discord? What if we were more concerned about a civil dialogue than being right? Conflict does not necessarily mean that anyone is right or wrong. Is there a right way to take out the trash, load the dishwasher, pack a suitcase, drive to a destination, spend your free-time, to workout, plan your meals for your family, to deal with pain and suffering, care for an aging parent, or love your spouse? We all want the best organizational and relational management practices, but even those fail us. Why do the best practices fail? If we are honest with ourselves, we prioritize being right, so even the best tools of wisdom often lie dormant in our heart’s toolbox.

I think most of us would agree that it is not for a lack of wisdom and resources in our country that we fail so poorly in handling conflict. Who shouts the loudest or creates the most social buzz for their viewpoint does not necessarily win. Having a respectful and civil dialogue with those of differing viewpoints does not mean that you agree with them. Respect and civility in conflict does not equal agreement concerning an issue. Can we not agree to disagree respectfully? We have lost the respect and gracious generosity of trying to understand another’s perspective and fighting for common ground rather than winning.

Jesus erred on the side of gracious generosity in Mark 6. After he and his disciples had just fed the 5000 thousand, they leave on a boat to rest, but not much rest for them as fear of death due to a storm overtakes the disciples. Upon arriving in Gennesaret, they were met by a large crowd of people, many carrying their sick loved ones and others hoping to touch Jesus to be healed. In the large crowds for the feeding of the 5000 and in Gennesaret, Jesus never mentions the motives of those who came. I am sure that some did not have the purest motives. Maybe some who came to the feeding of the 5000 were skeptical of Jesus and did not believe Him or just wanted to be healed but had no intention of changing their life.

Out of compassion, he taught the crowds and instructed the disciples to feed the 5000. In both situations the Bible does not illuminate the motives of the people; therefore, we can surmise that Jesus did not decide who to give to based on their motives instead erred on the side of generosity. We can apply this lesson to our conflicts in this way: focus less on making sure your points are understood but seek more to understand others by meeting their need. Don’t become easily angered when others do not understand your viewpoint. Many in those crowds did not understand what Jesus was teaching or who He was, but that did not change how He treated them. Jesus treated all with the same respect and compassion. Often people do not take the time to understand your full story, so err on the side of gracious generosity even when you are misunderstood. Jesus was constantly misunderstood, so take comfort when you are misunderstood. Lastly, do not miss this: prioritize time in a quiet space and rest to be filled up, so that you will have the spiritual fuel and wisdom to respond with gracious generosity and civility to conflict.

– Mary Carmen

No One Lives Outside The Floodplain

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Mat 6:20-21 NIV

It’s 6:00am on September 21, 2017, a category 5 hurricane has reduced Puerto Rico to 3rd world conditions, Floridians are still making their way back home to hurricane-torn land, and here in Houston we are recovering from Hurricane Harvey. We will be for years to come. Over 145,000 homes cannot be rebuilt overnight. Only 20% had flood insurance. Why? Because they were in locations that had never flooded. They were “outside the floodplain.” None of us live outside the floodplain.

Do you live too far inland to be concerned about hurricanes? My weather app now also shows earthquakes. In Mexico City, they are still uncovering those who were buried alive by a 7.1 magnitude quake. If this isn’t enough, we have the growing threat of nuclear attack by N. Korea. It feels like we are walking through scary chapters of a history book, not yet written. But, it is.

“What is a mystery to us is history to God” -author unknown. And, He’s been telling us his story and preparing our hearts for heaven from the beginning of time -author known. Will these disasters shake us in to listening?

There’s a reason Jesus instructed us to “store up treasures in heaven”. It’s because he warned us that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Mat 24:35

After every disaster, the focus becomes rebuilding. And, we should. But is it possible that this time we have the courage to rebuilt with eternal perspective? Is it really necessary to make everything exactly like it was, or bigger, or better? Are there things that we will let wash away, leaving us with less distraction on earth and more attention on what lasts forever?

What will you let wash away?

What are you trying to recover?

Of what eternal significance is it?

Tell us your Harvey story.

In His Unfailing Love,
brandi

Abuse in the Bible

“No, my brother!” She (Tamar) cried. “Don’t’ be foolish! Don’t do this to me! Such wicked things aren’t done in Israel.”  2 Samuel 13:12

The Bible is a book of reality as it portrays the brokenness in the world without attempting to “cover up” the potential damage one person can inflict on another. Sadly the pain includes abuse which has horrible effects on all who suffer whether mentally, emotionally, and/or physically. 2 Samuel 13 portrays a tragic scene where David’s son Absalom rapes his half-sister Tamar; the remainder of the chapter reveals the subsequent implosion on the family structure.

I encourage you to read the whole chapter whether you have been a victim of abuse or know someone who has or is suffering. All too often the chapters of women’s stories include abuse. Abuse takes many forms – whether verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, or spiritual and can occur as an isolated incident or ongoing behavior. On numerous occasions there is a combination of abusive encounters.

I am offering reflections and overall principles from the painful interaction between Amnon and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 to lend understanding. By no means are these meant to be exhaustive or provide a solution for a woman who finds herself in an abusive situation. If you currently are being abused, I am pleading with you to tell a trustworthy person(s) or call an abuse hotline (see Sacred Story’s “Helpful Links” for information) where you can be pointed toward help, counsel, and resources.

Tamar was Amnon’s half-sister. The relationship which was supposed to be a vessel of love and protection in her life became a great tool of damage. Abuse within relationships where love and protection are supposed to be offered results in intense feelings of shame and betrayal for the victim. Not only does the victim not receive what the relationship is designed to do but also suffers the rejection of someone whose God-given role is to be a safe person.

Amnon’s twisted thinking perverted his discernment of what it meant to “love” Tamar versus what it meant to “lust” for her through violence. Jonadab fed Ammon’s wickedness by helping him devise a plan (vss. 3-5). The abuser is deceived in his thoughts about himself, God, and others. This deception may be fed by the world system. Our spiritual enemy, the demonic realm, works through the distorted mind of abusers to wreak havoc. This doesn’t mean the abuser is absolved of his or her actions – far from it as God holds individuals responsible for their actions but instead a reminder that there is an unseen spiritual battle raging behind the scenes.

Tamar pleads with Amnon to turn from the evil consequences of rape which would make him a fool and corrupt her reputation for a future marriage among other painful outcomes. She implores him to speak with their father King David (vss.12-14). Abuse is not only a violation of the abused but also a choice on the part of the abuser to harden his or her heart which results in more damage. Tamar does not blame herself but instead clearly places the blame on her perpetrator. Amnon refuses to submit to God or seek out a godly perspective. When a woman faces abuse, the tendency is to feel like she is to blame in some way. There are no grounds for blaming herself. The abuser is sinning by refusing to submit to God and receive help and perspective from godly people.

Tamar gives Amnon the chance to deal with his wickedness in a way that promotes dignity. She tells Ammon not to send her away after the rape because it is creating harm upon harm. Within ancient culture she is asking him to salvage his wrongdoing and her reputation by seeking out a way to restore both. Instead of crying out for mercy from God and seeking forgiveness, Amnon hardens his heart and orders her removed from his sight (vss.15-18). She leaves and immediately begins grieving her losses by tearing her garment, putting ashes on herself, and crying aloud (vs. 19). Abusers will divert their self-hatred and guilt by directing more anger and hate toward the person they are abusing. Like Tamar, the healing process begins by grieving the losses incurred by the abuse. No matter what form the abuse take there are always reasons to grieve: the loss of a secure childhood, dignity, love, a dream, a relationship, trust, physical health, emotional stability, and more.

Being abused is an experience of evil that can take months and years to recover. The hopeful news for such a devastating topic is the truth of God’s Word: what the enemy intends for evil God can turn for good (Genesis 20:50), mourning will be part of getting through the pain but joy will come eventually (Psalm 30:5), God’s compassion and comfort is abundant (Psalm 103:13), God works all things together for the good of those who trust Him (Romans 8:28), He uses the pain in people’s lives to give them purpose in comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), power is available in Christ to forgive those who do inflict harm, forgiveness is available for those who have acted out by abusing (Colossians 3:13) and God’s justice will prevail in punishing evil deeds (2 Timothy 4:14).

Sister, I know this is not an easy topic. My heart breaks for any of you who experiences abuse in any form. It leaves a lot of room for lamenting “why God?” and I can’t even presume to have an answer. I do find great encouragement in the stories of redemption like Deb’s Story Abused to Adored and Renee’s Story My Island Life. I also find great hope for those who are caught in the bondange of being the abuser in Jennifer’s Story Walking on Eggshells. What have you seen God do in your life or others who have been through abuse?

Laura

 

Love in the Hands and Feet of First Responders

“ ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ ” Matthew 25:44-45

From Texas, Florida, to South Asia floodwaters have ravaged homes and businesses. Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm with winds up to 130 miles per hour swept a shore on Friday, August 25th in Houston, and rapidly rising waters flooded neighborhoods and businesses districts across Houston. In 6 days, Harvey dumped 27 trillion gallons of rain on Texas and Louisiana and about 51 inches of rain in the Houston area, breaking the record from a tropical cyclone in the United States. Around 40,000 homes have been lost, and automotive damage is estimated between $2.7 and $4.9 billion. The estimated total loss is approximately $75 billion. Director of Insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, Robert Hunter said that only two of ten homeowners in Texas have flood insurance. The devastation to personal finances and neighborhoods will soar as the damage through out Houston is assessed. Now, Hurricane Irma battering Florida leaves an estimated six million people without power as of September 11, 2017. Then beginning in mid-August the most deadly floods across South Asia in 40 years leave 40 million struggling to rebuild their lives. According to UNICEF in India an estimated 31 million people have been affected. In Nepal about 1.5 million homes are no longer livable.

Millions are homeless after the past few weeks of deadly floodwaters. What is happening in our world? God might seem far from millions of people who are homeless due to these devastating floodwaters. Psalm 34:18 reminds us the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and Psalm 46:1 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” God is sovereign over Creation; therefore, He can be trusted “though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam” (Psalm 46:2-3). Because of fallen creation earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and tsunamis occur. The Sovereign God was aware of the storms that have battered down on Texas, Florida, and Asia. We will never know this side of Heaven why God did not hold back the storms. Nor will we know the countless storms which He has calmed across the seas for centuries.

How might we respond to these tragedies? Our first response is to grieve with those who grieve and respond with love by giving and helping, not with judgment. Remember Jesus tells the Jewish religious leaders that those who died in the collapse of the tower of Siloam were not greater sinners than anyone else (Luke 13:2-5). An incorrect and common belief in the ancient world was that God judged sinful people by allowing calamity to fall upon them. Self-righteous people are quick to judge. Jesus reminds them that they must all repent, or they will face a far greater death, the final judgment.

If you find yourself in survival mode, overwhelmed with the burden of rebuilding your life after a devastating event, you might not know what to pray. You might even question God’s love for you by not sparing your house from yet another hurricane, or why your neighborhood flooded rather than the one a mile away. His love never changes based on circumstances which is so hard for humans to understand. He might seem far away in our suffering, and but He is not. His presence is felt in the hands and feet of first responders. Some might say, where were you in the storm? Jesus might respond, I sent a team on a boat to rescue your family and your neighbors to help you pull out drywall from your home and gave a friend an idea to raise money to help you rebuild. What about neighbors whom you did not know who invited your family to stay with them?” First responders carry the love of Jesus in great loss and suffering.

Natural disasters remind us that life is temporary and what really matters is: people not things. Nobody buries his or her broken plasma television, cars, collectables, or furniture. Just like war, natural disasters cause us to think about eternity- Is God real? What happens when I die? During wartime, people understand that they will not live forever.

Also, natural disasters remind us of the Final Judgment coming at Jesus’s return to the Earth.

“For as lighting that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.” (Matthew 24:27-30).

Lastly, natural disasters remind us to build our lives on solid ground. Just as we seek the most hurricane proof ground during a storm, may we seek the only solid spiritual ground built on the foundation of Jesus Christ before the Final Judgment. In the meantime, build your life on Jesus and help your neighbors far and near who are suffering. Be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world.

-Mary Carmen