Surviving and Recovery, Hurricane Irma 9.21.17
Sunday September 10th 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall in South Florida, flooding communities, tearing apart homes and toppling century old landscape, leaving in its wake a trail of devastated hearts and suffering families. A terrifying interruption to normal life, so disruptive that for most it has created a “new-normal”. As power starts to come back on for most of the communities, we recognize it could have been even more destructive as we reflect on the damage to the Caribbean and that of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, yet in the recovery, there remains an uneasiness and a hesitation among the people, almost as if we are all asking “is it really over?”
In the aftermath of such a traumatic event where do we go, what do we do, to recover life as we knew it? It’s so easy to run on to the next thing, cut the trees down, clean the streets, maybe provide relief for others or get back to our normal jobs, that we miss what God is inviting us into. Whether you survived a hurricane or an earthquake, an abusive spouse or parent, an illness or an accident, life often makes survivors of us all. We cling to self-preservation, attempting to maintain what we have and keeping others from getting too close. Survival is how our body and mind respond when we are face to face with something that threatens our life, but what happens when our mind stays there, contemplating the worst-case-scenarios and preparing for doomsday in our hearts at every waking moment?
Some of us have coped with substances, others with food, others with entertainment or relationships, but silencing the cry of our hearts who long to find safety and rest will diminish what we are made for and ultimately keep us further from what we are longing to find…life. We long to experience real life, the kind where we know love and intimacy, peace and comfort, where we do not need to look around every corner for the danger that seeks to steal our life.
This is what God offers, a chance to find life again, to be whole again, to be safe again, but this time, in a rich and full way that only he can provide. No His Word does not promise that you will not experience another storm, in fact in John 16:33 Jesus promises trials for those who wish to follow Him. But what God does promise is His presence, His provision, and His protection.
We serve an “RE” God. Relieving, Restoring, Rebuilding, Recovering. In the aftermath, take time to sit with God, to listen, and to remember that he never left you, not in your deepest fear or your greatest tragedy. Listen to what he wants to bring to life out of the midst of darkness and death. Examine His word to find out the beautiful truth, that in brokenness comes restoration, and our God is ready to restore you to His intended purpose. We don’t simply want to make it out of this life alive, but we want to be in every moment, present with God and others and ready to share His goodness with the world. To go from surviving to thriving in this world displays to those around you what you believe in, and the power of a God who is sovereign over all.
A Life in Pieces
My mother is an amazing person. She works so hard and gives so much of herself away. I remember watching her as a child wondering how it was possible for her to give so much. After my parents divorced when I was eleven she became the primary caregiver with my father being present on and off for the next several years. She worked full time, took care of us full time, and gave her life to making sure her family was as secure as we could be. I remember days when she would sleep in the middle of the day, crashing after weeks and weeks of constant work and pressure to provide and perform.
She was not allowed to breathe, she was not allowed to fall, she was not allowed to break. Whether it was self-inflicted or her response to a harsh world and the demands of life, she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders, often times attempting to find the bright side in things, even if the bright side was that it would get better “one day”. Just keep it together, push the problems down or away, and keep trudging forward.
I’m grateful for her unbelievable sacrifice, and today I’m sad for what she had to “be” in order to feel like she succeeded. So many of us live in this world of demands, whether aware or not we have an expectation of perfection that we place on ourselves to perform for those around us. Some of us probably experienced messages growing up that we needed to be perfect to earn love or to keep it, that care was conditional based upon performance and appearance.
It’s an exhausting life and it won’t last long. Eventually, as so many in Recovery have discovered, the façade will come crashing down. And I only have to say one thing about that… Thank God that it does. Thank God that he takes the towers we have built, the walls we have constructed, and lets them fall to the floor, shattering into tiny pieces. As long as those walls of who we are and what we have built stand, we will constantly believe that we are the ones responsible for our well-being.
When our walls of pride fall they break into pieces revealing a story about ourselves. The pieces reveal the things we believe, the things we have clung too, the events in our life that have reinforced messages of perfectionism and performance based living. In Recovery, we let the walls fall, we embrace the broken pieces of a shattered life that we have built, and we bring them to God, like a child that carries pieces of a precious vase to their father and says, “it’s broken, will you fix it?”.
When we begin to admit our own brokenness, the things that make us weak, the things that make us needy, the things that we don’t have answers for, we can begin to experience the help, healing and hope that is offered only through Christ. Psalm 34:8 says “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in Spirit.” Without brokenness we will remain at a distance from God. Our brokenness is God’s invitation for healing.
Will you acknowledge your brokenness today? Will you invite God into the pieces of your life, the embarrassing places, the shameful places, the un-fathered and un-mothered places, the places you hate most when you see them? Look into the mirror that is the Word of God, let it reveal who you are, faults and failures, gifts and talents, and bring all of you to all of God.
Start by asking these questions…
1. What am I most ashamed of in myself?
2. What area of my life am I pretending to be proficient in?
3. What am I most afraid of people finding out about me?
Bring your answers to God, let Him speak to you in your most vulnerable place, and be amazed at what happens when he responds. Bring your answers to others, let them receive you in your most vulnerable place, and enter a depth of relationship you never knew existed. Step into your brokenness and into full life today.
An Irreplaceable Life
It was almost two years ago that we lost my wife’s grandmother. A remarkably sweet woman that lived out the role of grandmother in every classic way from baking and singing to listening and laughing, almost as if she had been waiting her whole life to fulfill the dream of loving a big family. She did it so well, and because of that, her loss left a void in the lives of her children and grandchildren that echoes in every cheesecake we taste, every little rabbit we see, and every campfire story with the family.
Nicolas Wlterstorff says in Lament for a Son, “There is a hole in the world now, in the place where he used to be there is nothing, a center like no other of memory and hope and knowledge and affection which once inhabited this earth is gone…There is nobody now who saw just what he saw, knows what he knew, remembers what he remembered, loves what he loved, a person, an irreplaceable person is gone. The world is emptier.”
We give our best attempts to soothe the soul in the absence of a loved one. “They are in a better place.” “They would have wanted us to move on.” “They lived a good life.” And yet, no matter what words we give to their life, we still miss them, they still aren’t there where they used to be, and we wish we could have them back. Why? Why is grief so confusing, why does it throw us through such a gauntlet of unending emotions? It’s exhausting, we go from thinking we will be okay to asking how all of this could happen.
Loss is a violent assault against the soul, and no matter how hard we try, it never becomes normal. Deeply engrained in all of us is the desire for death to die, for pain to disappear, to go to a place where we don’t “have to” anymore. This longing comes from a place that is God given, a center of memory that lives on through how we are made, remembering what we were made for.
The Garden of Eden is the origin of our story, and the New Heaven and Earth is our destination, both places where death and loss wasn’t and isn’t a part of the equation. We long to go home where the pain falls away and we get to be with our loved ones. We were not made for this, our souls were not made to have people ripped from their hands, yet, the payment the world owes until the day Christ returns is that of death. Until then, we need a redeemer for right now, one that can bring comfort in the loss and one that can bring hope in the pain.
Jesus Christ, our Savior, came that death would die, that disease would be crushed, and the pain of evil would cease. So today, as we live in the in-between of what our souls remember of a life we never had (In Eden, Genesis 1-2) and a life we long to live (Restoration of all things, Revelation 21) and we cling to Christ our Savior and hope who redeems us so that we may live. So that when the end comes it is merely the beginning. So that instead of death we find life, because of Christ who bore our sins in His body on the tree. (1 Peter 2:24) As we wait, look to Christ, your comforter, embrace your sadness and bring it to the mercy seat, where Christ who is acquainted with your grief and despair, sits ready to receive you. There is no need to try and make sense of it all because we live in a time that has no sense, no compass, apart from Christ and His Spirit. Bring your loss to Him, and let His Word wash over you as a healing balm and the embracing arms of grace.
Jesus Doesn’t Run Away
I remember my early days in Recovery, keeping so many thoughts and feelings to myself out of fear. At the time I didn’t realize it as such, but I kept what was happening on the inside, inside, and worked as hard as I could to present on the outside what I thought was the correct Christian behavior and thinking. I was so afraid that if I told the truth about my fears, that God would run from me, He would leave, He would be ashamed of me.
It took a lot of time and some helpful confrontations from people who loved me to help me see my self-defeating ways. As long as I kept my personal truth on the inside and never let it out, the truth of Christ would remain only what I perceived it should be, rather than having the living Christ meet my personal truth, and transform it through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What does this have to do with doubt? Well, every day we come face to face with opportunities to trust God with showing up for us, or, to rely on our life experience and our own abilities to determine what is the safest and most successful next step. Every moment we encounter that involves an unknown outcome we will experience fear, and every moment we experience fear there is an opportunity to walk in doubt or in faith. Either we trust what we see, what we know, what we have come to understand through what life has taught us, or we trust God, who has spoken through His word, and what He has promised, through faith (not sight, Hebrews 11:1).
I recently spoke with a friend who had fear that sharing about his current struggle and past experiences would bring judgement upon him from others. We talked about how this was a usual fear in his life, and that he had the opportunity either to build faith or doubt in his life. Trust God and what His word says (i.e. I will never leave you nor forsake you, I am with you through the waters, I go before you, behind you, and surround you as a hedge of protection…) or trust ourselves which says, “I must keep myself safe, the world will only hurt me, if I don’t fight for myself no one will, if I’m vulnerable I will be abused”.
So how do we do this? It starts with admitting what we really believe, what our heads and our hearts are saying. Then bringing our fear to Christ, trusting Him to show up. And lastly, embracing God in such a way where we place our life, the outcome of our fears, in the center of His care.
In Mark 9 there is a man who does this with Jesus, his child has been violently oppressed by spiritual forces that seek to take his life. The man looks to Jesus in hopes of finding some form of answer and askes Jesus “If you will, heal my son.” Jesus confronts the man’s doubt and tells him that anything is possible for the one who believes. In his honesty and transparency, he gives his heart to Jesus and says, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Jesus, in His compassion, brings healing upon the man’s son, and shares a lesson with his disciples… Some things, no matter how hard we believe, trust, expect a certain outcome, will not be fulfilled or make any sense outside of prayer. Prayer in our doubt leads us to trust in the one who always comes through.
If you are struggling with doubt, it’s okay. Everything we have experienced and the world around us would tell us it’s not safe to trust, to believe, because it will ultimately end up with me being hurt or disappointed. The good news? In the Gospel we already know what Christ has done. Rather than basing our trust on what might happen, we look at what has already happened in Christ, and we trust Him with our next steps. Are you willing to reach out today? Will you call out “I believe, help my unbelief!”? He is waiting to meet you there, where you are, not where you “should” be. And when you tell Him the truth, He stays, He doesn’t run away.
“Second star to the right and straight on till morning…”
My wife has the amazing opportunity to serve as a Registered Nurse at our local children’s hospital, on the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology unit. Every day she faces the realities of a lost and broken world, one where life is not fair and we are left often with more questions than answers. Yet, she continues on, because of what is born in the midst of brokenness, because of what emerges from the ashes of despair…hope. Whether it is looking into the eyes of an addict that has come to the end of their rope, at a bottom that can be described only as a personal hell, or looking into the eyes of a small child with no hair, fighting for her life to make it and her family clinging to the idea that one day she might be okay again, we are all in desperate need of hope.
Recently we attended the funeral for one of her patients, a teenage boy who fought valiantly against the disease of cancer but lost after his body did not respond to treatment. He was dearly loved and brought smiles to all of the nurses and families that were a part of the staff. His family was present and stayed with him through the end, helplessly watching his life pass on, without the ability to change or fix their circumstance. At the funeral, his father was given a chance to speak about his son, and it was one moment that will go with me for the rest of my life.
He reflected on his son’s love for the outdoors, the way he mentored others in their community, and his love for Peter Pan. With tears in his eyes, looking to the sky, he closed his reflection on his boy with these words, “Just remember, son, it’s the second star to the right and straight on till morning.” Amidst such unimaginable pain and suffering, he spoke out into the darkness of night, and with love, continued to love and father his son.
Hope is one of the most amazing qualities of human beings, the ability to continue moving, continue grieving, and still believe that life will be okay, that love still matters and that we are not alone here. Especially for the Christian, we have a hope that isn’t just wishful thinking, but a rock solid trust that begins in the promises of God and finds it’s fulfillment in the finished work of Christ.
Hebrews 6:19 says “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…” which references that our greatest need, restoration of relationship with God and His presence in our lives, has been accomplished through Christ. Jesus has entered into the place we were not able to, the holy presence of God, and satisfied all of the requirements we were demanded of by God. Our hope today is that this life isn’t the end, it is only the beginning, and we can have the eternal life that God promises through faith in Christ. It is with this belief that we can look to God and believe, one day it will be our “second star to the right and straight on to morning”, where we will meet our savior face to face, and all things will be made right.
My wife and I recently took a trip of a lifetime together to Australia so that she could be in her best friend’s wedding. It was a beautiful trip on all fronts but one…the travel. We had our suitcases packed, our carry-ons overflowing, wearing a couple of extra layers to make it all on the plane. 3 flights and 28 hours was a long time. When we arrived to the first airport to check our bags, we played the classic game called, "What can we take out of her bag to put into mine". Men, you all know what I’m talking about, and ladies, you do too even though you’re pretending to be confused right now… “Okay, if we stick the hairdryer in your shoe and put my 3 coats in your side pocket we should make the weight!” Her suitcase is like the Narnia closet; I have no idea where this stuff keeps coming from.
As I thought about it, even with the difficult travel, there was no question I would carry some of her luggage until we landed and made it where we needed to go. I wasn’t going to say, “Sorry babe, you’re out of luck, hopefully you can keep up and I’ll see you when we get there!” And this is our great opportunity. Marriage is one of the most unique ways to display the steadfast love and kindness of God by carrying the burden of the other. Marriage is God’s design, it’s His plan, His institution that whoever enters it would grow into a deeper maturity in Christ as a result of being in that relationship. A part of this design is that we would love and serve one another by carrying each other’s burdens and brokenness.
To come alongside, to love and to cherish, by holding one another up through the power of Christ by saying, I can carry that with you. Now, we don’t carry the person, that is the job of Christ. It would have looked pretty silly if Amanda asked me to carry her jacket and I threw her over my shoulder and said “I got this!” Though it would be somewhat romantic and comical to me, and most definitely embarrassingly traumatic for her, I would grow weary and exhausted eventually because I am not made to carry her. God, however, is our strength, he carries us. (Psalm 28:9)
But, as Christ demonstrated by carrying his cross for us (John 19:17), and ultimately our cross for us (Isaiah 58:6), we have been given a picture of how to carry the burden of our spouse. To see their suffering, to hear their cry, to come to them with Christ, and to help them carry their pain as we go to Jesus together. This is a great call and responsibility, to share in one another’s brokenness, and to lift up each other’s arms as Aaron did for Moses until God’s people were victorious in Rephidim (Exodus 17:12).
Galatians 6:2 says we are to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Husbands and wives, look at your spouse today and ask them, “How can I help you bear your burdens?” And ask them, “Will you help me carry this burden?” Carry the burden of brokenness together, and so fulfill Christ's call.
Made for Relationship
One of my favorite movies to this day is Castaway with Tom Hanks. It’s a great story of survival, a man who is lost at sea after a terrible plane crash and finds himself isolated on an island without hope or anyone else to share in his loss and loneliness. At his most frustrated point, the main character lashes out in anger about his plight, and from his deep cry emerges my favorite character in the movie… Wilson. I love Wilson because of what he represents. The main character’s personification of the volleyball is his expression of a deep need he has within, his need for relationship, to be connected, to be known. Rather than ending his life on the island, rather than entering into the dark cave of isolation, the character emerges with hope and someone to share it with.
Now that is of course a silly example of what a friend is, what relationship looks like, but it illustrates a deep truth about how God has created us… to be in relationship with Him, others, and ourselves. Every human being has been created to be connected, and it is when we begin to lose that connection that the darkness of our vices, addictions, and habits begin to hold tighter and tighter. When our loneliness calls out for relationship, we either reach out or we act out. We reach out to God or another person to be comforted, to laugh, or to cry. We cry out believing our cry will be met by the presence of another. Or, we choose to silence the cry with a temporary fulfillment like food, pornography, alcohol, or shopping. We run fast and far from our need to be in relationship by covering our pain, but the roots of how we are made are deep, and no amount of covering will make the need go away.
So then, we go to God to know what we were made for. We look at His word and see first that it is not good that man should be alone (Gen 2:18). Then we see that the cost of sin is isolation, being cast out from the presence of our greatest relational need, God (Gen 3:23). Because of sin, our intimacy with God and others was severed, but because of Jesus we have been given the opportunity to be brought back into real relationship (John 1:10-13). If we receive the offer of relationship from Jesus the longing we have is satisfied in Him no matter what our circumstances (Phil 4:11-13). Finally, it is through Christ that we can have real relationship with others where transformation and mission come alive (Acts 2:42-47).
Are you willing to come out of hiding, out of your cave, off your island, and be known in relationship with God and others?
Who can you share your desire for community with this week?