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Remembering With Rejoicing

On October 17, 2017, Posted by , in Kathy, With No Comments

None of us were sure what October 11th would look like.

We didn’t know if it would be a day of mourning or a day of rejoicing.

It turns out that it was a little of both.

It turns out that when the year anniversary arrives of the death of someone you love and know is with Jesus, there are tears and laughter intertwined.  And I think all of us who knew and loved Kathy McDaniel were relieved to discover that.

We were relieved that in the midst of our tears, there was joy in the remembering.

I went to bed last Tuesday evening a little tentative.  I learned last year in the weeks and months leading up to and following Kathy’s death that grief does strange things to the heart that translate to the body, like it or not.  Like it or not, there were days, or even weeks, it felt like I was walking with lead bricks on my feet or had a weary sorrow pressing on my heart.  And I did not know if I would wake up the morning of the 11th with those same concrete bricks on my heart or feet.

But as I climbed into bed, the the word “Rejoice!” popped into my head, a word I had not thought of in a long time.  It was almost as if I heard Kathy herself say it.

“Rejoice!” was Kathy’s word; she wore it on a chain around her neck and signed it at the end of many of her letters.  And “Rejoice” was her word because joy was the attitude of her heart – joy and steadfast courage in the face of the enemy of cancer, an enemy that ended up taking her body, but not her heart.

And hearing her voice say “Rejoice!” as I climbed into bed was a precious reminder that Kathy Bonds McDaniel was alive and well.  Yes, we were about to climb the hurdle of the day of her death the next day, but the day of her death was also the day of her becoming.  The day of her wedding.  The day of her face to face encounter with her Heavenly Groom, Jesus, the Lover of her soul.  The battle Kathy fought so well with cancer had worked out for her an eternal weight of glory that she was in the throes of enjoying, in fact, rejoicing in, while we were missing her on this earth.

When I got up the next morning, I read from the devotional book The Songs of Jesus by Tim Keller.  The reading for the day came from Psalm 108:1-4: “My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul.  Awake, harp and lyre!  I will awaken the dawn.  I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.  For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”

The devotional from Keller said this about the psalm: “This psalm is an expression of a ‘steadfast’ heart, one with courage.  There is an aggressive joy here.  Even if it is dark, the psalmist’s song to God will bring on the dawn.”

My friends, can I tell you something?  Kathy McDaniels’s aggressive joy and steadfast heart literally brought on the dawn.  She brought on the dawn by showing all of us who watched her suffer and die, leaving behind a husband and three young children, the character of Christ in the midst of every single trial she walked through.

She brought on the dawn by modeling for us that joy and rejoicing was possible in the face of extreme affliction.

And she was bringing on the dawn the morning of October 11th, singing her song of joy and confidence with Jesus over those of us here, reminding us that joy and rejoicing is coming for us too when Jesus comes to take us home.

Were there tears throughout the day of October 11th?  Yes.  Of course.  But they were tears, in the words of Rich Mullins’ song If I Stand, “If I weep, let it be as man who is longing for his home.”  They were tears of longing for home – the home Kathy stands so fully and completely in now and the home that we get only glimpses of when the veil is pulled back for a moment and we hear her songs on the other side.

My friend, Jenny Venghaus, said it best.  As a few of us sat together last Tuesday, talking about and remembering Kathy, she said, “It’s like she left the wedding reception and got to go on the honeymoon, and we are all still here cleaning up afterwards, waiting for our turn to go too.”

Amen.

But friends, one day, for those who know King Jesus, our reception is coming too.  So until that day, we are to sing, like Kathy, with aggressive joy and steadfast hearts to awaken the dawn.  The dawn is a reminder to a dark and weary world that rejoicing is coming, the sun is rising, and glory is breaking to fill our eyes.

We ended the day at the McDaniels’ house eating ice cream sundaes with sprinkles, gummy worms, and chocolate sauce – because, after all, what is a day of rejoicing without a little ice cream at the end?

That’s just the way Kathy would have wanted it.

So “Rejoice”! The way is hard, but the joy is deep.  All you have to do is open your eyes, look for the dawn, and sing with aggressive joy.  The Son is coming.

Finding a Friend

On October 10, 2017, Posted by , in Motherhood, Surviving School, With 1 Comment

Several weeks ago was the first week of fifth grade, or middle school, for my oldest daughter, Lillian.

She got into the car quiet as a mouse when I picked her up at the end of her first day, and little by little, as the evening wore on, she began to share about the events of the day and what had made her so quiet in the car.

Turns out she felt at the end of the day like so many of us remember feeling at the end of a day of middle school – a little unnoticed, a little faded into the background, a little like an old piece on a patchwork quilt.  Part of that feeling was a result of her quiet personality, and part of that feeling was just what goes along with the territory of middle school. She faded into the background at lunch, she faded into the background in class, and overall, she ended the day feeling…alone.  Even though she was surrounded by 64 classmates.

All summer (and let’s be honest, pretty much for all their lives) I’ve been praying for that “one friend” for my daughters…all four of them.  Because let’s face it, with four girls to raise, what else does one pray about at this phase of life besides friendships, sassy backtalk, and emotional drama?

If you’re a woman, when you hear the phrase “one friend,” you know who I’m talking about.  That “one friend” who saves you a seat at her lunch table come hell or high water.  That “one friend” who chooses you in class, no matter who the new girl or the cool girl is.  That “one friend” who invites you over on a Friday night, even if the most exciting thing you are going to do is sleep on her family’s pullout couch and watch a Fred Astaire musical…again.

I had a friend like that.  And she was a best friend in every sense of the word.  She was the cool kid and let’s just say I was…not.  But she always choose me.  And next to her I always felt like my place was secure.  And if I wasn’t picked on a Friday night by anyone else, it was ok, because I knew I would always be picked by her.

And that’s who I’ve been praying for for my girls.  And if we are honest, I think a lot of mommas pray that for their girls.  Because for some reason, we think our daughters can endure and weather anything as long as they have that “one friend.”

So last week when I began to pray my “one friend” prayer for my daughters once again, the Lord quietly responded with a simple statement in my heart: “You might be praying the wrong prayer.”

And immediately the words of Ephesians 3:17-19 came to mind: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Pause.

Apparently, being filled up with all the fullness of God, being rooted and grounded in His unchanging love, experiencing the height and depth, the length and width of a crucified Christ has nothing to do with having that “one friend.”

This was news to my heart.  Not to my head – I’ve known these verses, memorized these verses, prayed these verses for years.  But this time, the scripture translated to my heart.

My prayer for my daughters does not need to be, “O God, give them just one friend.”  My prayer needs to be, “O God, no matter what happens in my daughters’ day, fill them up with all the fullness of Christ.  Let them be so rooted and grounded in Your love, that no matter what happens, the knowledge of Your love, the knowledge that You are with them and always choose them and love to be with them, trumps any knowledge of despair, fear, shame, rejection, embarrassment, or sadness they might feel.  Lord, would You please be their One Friend?”

And I am telling you, my heart flooded with peace when I prayed that prayer.  Because that way, the pressure is off people.  It’s off that “one friend” or any friend for that matter to perform in a way that communicates unconditional love and acceptance.  And that pressure is transferred to God.  And I can count on Him as a mom of four daughters to love each and every one of them through every situation.  I can count on Him to choose them every single time.  I can lean on Him to provide in their hearts what no human heart can ever provide – the rooting and grounding nature of the unchanging nature of the love of Christ.

And that gives this momma’s heart peace.

I had to repent for the lenses I had been wearing and the expectations I had been placing on other people – fifth, third, and first grade people for that matter! – to be something to my girls no one could ever be except the Lord.  And I have been praying that prayer consistently ever since the Lord deposited it in my heart.

I don’t know what your prayers for your child or children have been over the summer or fall, and I don’t know what your expectations are when it comes to friends.  But I can tell you this, you and I both will be disappointed if we are waiting on that “one friend,” for our children, or even for ourselves.  Because what I am finding is that my daughter’s middle school feelings have the ability to pull up my own middle school feelings from years ago and make my feel like a fifth grader at a lunch table all over again.  And even as a forty-year-old, I have found myself praying that “one friend” prayer, hoping a human can deliver for me what only God can provide.

Because at some point, as an eleven-year-old or as a forty-year-old, the expectation of a “one friend” is going to fail you.  And what I am learning is that God designed it that way for a purpose.

Because how else in the world would we ever come to know and experience the love that never fails us if we could find it in a fifth grade classroom or at a forty-year-old lunch table?  And maybe that’s what the Lord wants to teach you and me and our children this school year.  Stop asking for the things that can’t help but let you down, and start asking for the one love, the one friend, that hung on a cross so that He could lift you to Himself and never let you down.  He truly is your Perfect Friend.

Some of you may have read this post last week, only to find it disappear from my blog site – I apologize for that error!  Last week’s post was meant to be Top Ten Things I Learned from a Hurricane, and this week’s post was supposed to be today’s, Finding a Friend.  I am trusting the timing on when it was read – last week or this week – was sovereignly ordained for each and every heart.  As always, thank you for being patient with me and all my technological errors!

Trusting the One Friend who never fails,

Susannah 

Top Ten Things I Learned from a Hurricane

On October 2, 2017, Posted by , in Uncategorized, With 3 Comments

It’s been five weeks since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, and we are all starting to breathe just a little bit again.  Wherever we all are – back in our own houses or still in temporary housing – some of our breaths might still be short gasps for air, but there have been a few moments of genuine exhale and learning how to live again.

But I don’t think many of us will ever live the same.  At least I hope we don’t ever live the same.  Harvey changed our city and changed us as individuals, and I wanted to take time to reflect on some of the lessons we have learned, are learning, and hopefully will continue to learn in the days and years ahead.

1.  “Before Houston can be Houston Strong, we must be Houston Humble.”

The pastor of our church, Gregg Matte, has said this phrase since his first Sunday back in the pulpit after the hurricane hit.  And he is so right.  Houston must be humble enough to hear what God is saying to us, as a city, as individuals, in the rubble before the rebuilding.  Because, as Jesus Himself said (and this is my paraphrase here), “What good is it if a person, or a city, gains the whole world, rebuilds their whole city, becomes strong by their own arms and the sweat of their own brow, yet loses their souls?(Matthew 16:26)  God alone knows how He wants to rebuild our city to save our city, so before we put one brick on top of another, we must humble our hearts before Him and genuinely ask Him what He wants to say, how He wants us to change, and what He wants us to do.

2.  When given the opportunity, the church in Houston really can become the church.

When given the opportunity, the church in Houston didn’t just read their Bibles, they did our Bibles, in the rain, in boats, in the tear outs and in the tear downs.  The stories and examples are endless, absolutely endless, but the one that gets to me the most happened at my friend Sally Henry’s house.  I’ve known Sally since I was in junior high (she was my junior high youth director at church), and her house flooded along with so many others in her neighborhood.  She had standing water in her house for nine days, so when the waters finally receded, a crew was needed to get in there quickly to get sheet rock, floors, and everything single thing she owned out to keep mold from spreading anymore than it already had.

I figured anyone who put up with me in junior high deserved a helping hand in the biggest sort of way, so Jason gathered a network of about fifteen men who descended on Sally’s house on a Friday morning.  And by Friday afternoon, all the work in Sally’s house was done.  But with the exception of my husband, Jason, not a single one of those men knew Sally personally.  They just knew she needed help.  The group included business men, construction workers, real estate brokers, Sunday school directors, ex-cons, and ex-atheletes, whose only thing in common was the love of Jesus and a desire to help someone who had lost everything in the flood.

I was standing in the driveway a couple of hours into the job and up walks a friend of ours named Ryan Bishop who heard help was needed at Sally’s house…and that Friday also happened to be Sally’s birthday.  Ryan is married to his beautiful wife, Annette, and has three precious children.  He is a fellow Sunday School teacher at our church, and we usually pass each other with paper in our hands headed to the copier on the fourth floor on a Sunday morning to make copies of our outlines for our respective classes.  But instead of holding papers, this day he was holding flowers.  “I heard it was someone’s birthday today,” he said.  “Which one of you is Sally?”  As Sally raised her hand, Ryan walked up and gave her a big hug along with a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  In the midst of all the ugliness of a house torn apart by a flood, and in a space that looked more like a war zone than a party zone, Ryan brought in a bit of beauty.  And in the sweetness of that moment, watching the church really be the church to one another, I had to keep wiping away tears running under the mask over my face.  Ryan didn’t know Sally.  Sally didn’t know Ryan.  But Ryan was willing to minister deeply and specifically to the needs of Sally’s heart, even the invisible ones, and let the church be the church in a way that was a privilege to witness.

3.  Stuff is just stuff and really isn’t all that important.  

Hurricane Harvey put all of our “stuff” into major perspective.  No one’s stuff was immune to total destruction.  Rich people, poor people, middle class people – people from all walks of life lost their stuff.  No one’s stuff was protected because of how much many they had made in the stock market or had in their bank account.  No one’s stuff was protected because of how famous or influential they where or how many degrees they had.  No one’s stuff was protected because of how good a life they had led.  Everyone’s stuff – rich, poor, white, black, Asian, Hispanic – ended up on the curb  waiting to be hauled off and taken to the trash heap.  Every time I passed another row of houses with loads of mildewed, ruined “stuff” on their lawns, it was a powerful reminder to me and to many others of Jesus’ words: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

4.  Stuff is more than just stuff and really is important.  

I know, I know.  This completely contradicts what I just wrote in point #3.  But this statement is as true as well.  Stuff is more than just stuff because it is attached to meaningful moments and significant memories in people’s lives.  And so much of the stuff that was lost cannot be replaced.  And that is oh.  So.  Hard.  Before the reality of point #3 can happen in many of our hearts,  point #4 has to be acknowledged.  Stuff that is lost has to be grieved over, and we must give ourselves the emotional space and time it requires for memories to be mourned before we can move on to the next stage of rebuilding.

5.  As much as Jesus is with us in the storm, Jesus is with us in the aftermath of the storm.  

I’ve always drawn comfort from hearing the story in the gospels about Jesus being with His disciples in the boat in the middle of the storm (see Mark 4:35-41).  But what I discovered I needed more than the assurance that Jesus was with us in the storm, was that Jesus was with us in all of the wreckage after the storm and would also help us rebuild.

And He was.  Jesus was with us in the wreckage in every house we entered, in every labor of love given for the sake of another, and in every empathetic tear shed and hug given.

My daughter Mia Grace helped me understand this point more than anyone else.

The girls and I took lunch over to a friend’s house that had flooded and we stayed for a while watching a crew rip out her floors.  For the last fifteen years that I have known her, I have always loved going to my friend’s house because every nook and cranny speaks of the warmth and beauty of her creativity and attention to detail.  And one of my favorite creative details of her house is the statue of Jesus that normally stands guard by her front door greeting every guest, reminding everyone of the presence of Immanuel within.

As I set up lunch on my friend’s kitchen counter, I looked outside and saw her statue of Jesus leaning up against her chain link fence, resting among the wreckage of the storm.  Mia Grace was standing beside the statue with a look of awe on her face, and she slowly leaned over and gave Him a kiss.  It was a much needed reminder that Jesus was there, with us, with us in the wreckage, with us in the details after the storm as much as He was with us in the terror of the storm.  Perhaps we would have to look for Him and find Him in different or unusual places, like leaning up against a chain link fence when we would normally expect Him by the front door, but He was there, with us, helping us, loving us, every step of the way.

 

6.  Survivor’s guilt is a very real thing.

Those of us who escaped from our homes flooding had to deal with the guilt that came from being spared.  It took days and even weeks to get over the feelings of awkward embarrassment and even guilt when talking to someone whose house did flood.  And through the process of learning how to deal with survivor’s guilt, I found that the only real remedy was recognizing that the gift of margin and time given to me by my house not flooding was there to give to those whose houses did.  And instead of focusing on the guilt, I learned to focus on the grace – the grace that God allowed those of us who had hands to help to truly be a source of help and comfort to those who were in need.

 

7.  Road rage is real.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the traffic jams that followed Harvey were as stressful as the hurricane itself.  Sitting in the car for three hours to go six miles is enough to make you lose your mind.  The only silver lining I found was that I got to know the other people in the car with me REALLY WELL.  They know things about me that I am pretty sure Jason doesn’t even know. Things like when I get stressed, I start to pick my toe nails…and then throw them out the car window.  Gross, I know.  But what else are you going to do with three hours in a car going at the pace of a snail?!?

8.  Don’t pick up a cat in the pouring rain and try to put it in a boat.  Just.  Don’t.  Do it.

This point has to be my personal favorite.  Some of our friends, Jason and Tiffany Melton and their four beautiful children, had to evacuate from their neighborhood because of the rising waters.  Once Jason got his family to safety, he went back into his neighborhood to help others and ended up in the fight of his life with a cat.  What he didn’t realize until later was that his whole experience was caught on his phone camera…

IMG_7372

As a reward for his feat of bravery by trying to hold onto and save the darn cat, Jason was bitten five times on the hand by the cat and was given the gift of…staph.

So again, I make the point…don’t pick up a cat in the pouring rain and try to put it in a boat.  Just.  Don’t.  Do it.  Let it go.

9.  Dudes were made for hurricanes.  

I am not trying to be a sexist here; I’m just trying to make the point that my husband came alive in a different way than I did in the midst of a full on storm.

Over the course of just two short weeks, Jason got to do more “dude-like” things than in the previous forty-five years of his life.  He (along with many other men in our community) waded in chest deep water and put person after person into boats.

He wound up taking 9-1-1 calls with the Drug Enforcement Agency who was here from Florida while singing, “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you…” in his head the entire time.

He got to drive a monster truck through flooded streets to shuttle people back and forth to their homes.

And instead of sitting behind a desk or looking for real estate sites in the car, he got to swing a crow bar, rip out flooring, tear out sheet rock, fill and re-fill wheelbarrows, and sweat to his
heart’s content.  It made going back to work three weeks after the hurricane feel more than a little mundane.  I fully expected to get a call from him his first week back saying, “Babe, I’m headed to Florida to join the DEA.”

Like I said, dudes were made for hurricanes.

10.  For there to be a Red Sea Road, there must be also be a Red Sea.  

A week before Hurricane Harvey hit, I was reading the passage in Isaiah 11 that says,

“And the Lord will utterly destroy
    the tongue of the Sea of Egypt,
and will wave his hand over the River
    with his scorching breath,
and strike it into seven channels,
    and he will lead people across in sandals.
And there will be a highway from Assyria
    for the remnant that remains of his people,
as there was for Israel
    when they came up from the land of Egypt.” (Isaiah 11:15-16)

In the book of Exodus, when the Israelites fled from the Egyptians, Pharaoh and his army pursued them on chariots and horses to try to bring them back to Egypt as slaves (Exodus 14).  The Israelites walked as far as they could on their own two feet, and then hit the barrier of the Red Sea.  Addressing his people’s panic as they watched Pharaoh’s chariots come closer and closer, Moses said, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14).

Under God’s command, as Moses’ lifted his staff and stretched out his hand over the Red Sea, the waters parted, and the Israelites crossed to the other side on dry land.  Once the Israelites had passed through to safety on the Red Sea Road, the waters came crashing down on Pharaoh and his army, and the horses and chariots went tumbling into the sea.

This passage in Isaiah 11 is remembering the Red Sea Road of deliverance God made for His people and is looking ahead to a “greater, worldwide Exodus” when Isaiah foresees the sea itself being dried up and God gathering once and for all all of His people to Himself (Alec Motyer, Isaiah By the Day).

In my journal, I wrote this about Isaiah 11:15-16: “To have a Red Sea Road, you must have a Red Sea barrier.  You must be backed into a corner with an enemy breathing down your neck and no way forward.  You have to experience the pain of the press to know the healing and wonder of redemption.  I forget that so much of the time.  I want the miracles of the Red Sea road without the pain and press of the Red Sea barriers.”

God used that passage to prepare my heart for the hurricane ahead, for so much of the time, I cry out to God to show me His power, to show me His deliverance, and to make a way through the Red Sea, forgetting all the while that means I must be backed into a corner with absolutely no way forward but Him.

In the last few weeks, Exodus 14 and Isaiah 11 have given me confidence and courage to believe that when we find ourselves in the pain and press of needing deliverance with absolutely no human way forward, no money in our bank account, no funds to cover the costs, no more energy to manage the needs, no resources to fight the fight, then, and only then, is when we see God’s hand of deliverance lifted high over our lives, over our needs, over our city, and He parts the waters, and makes a way with a Red Sea road.

The Red Sea barrier of Hurricane Harvey was terrible and took us all to a place of needing deliverance in ways most of us have never experienced before.  But it also gave us the privilege of seeing God’s hand part the waters around us and make Red Sea roads for His people in ways we would have never seen without the hurricane.

Hurricane Harvey taught all of us in Houston so many things that matter; I just hope that they are things that remain.  Things that help us to refocus and reorganize our priorities, our pocketbooks, our to-do lists and agendas for each and every day.  And I hope that it helps us remember that for every Red Sea barrier that blocks our way forward in the future, we have a Deliverer who promises to make a Red Sea road for His people every single time, no matter the size of the sea.

True Treasure

On September 18, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, Hurricane Harvey, With 10 Comments

By outside measures, Brooke and Randy Keeney look like deceptively ordinary people.

They have four kids and live in a quiet neighborhood on the West side of Houston. Randy works for an oil and natural gas company and Brooke is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

But when the flood waters rose and their home went under, Brooke and Randy Keeney showed just how extraordinary they really are.  I can’t even write that sentence without crying.  Because if you look at the picture at the top of the blog, while standing in their water-logged living room, every square inch of their house soaking wet, Randy holds in his hands a picture of a verse that says, “And He shall be the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:6) and Brooke holds a plaque that says, “Choose Joy.”

And for all the world and their submerged neighborhood to see, they have walked out that verse with quiet humility and patient trust in the Lord.

They walked it out as they waded onto their street with three kayaks and a paddle boat and for three straight days, salvaged all that they could from their home.

They walked it out as they consistently spoke kindly and respectfully to one another in the tenseness of ripping out flooring and sheet rock and deciding what possessions to keep and what to throw away.

They walked it out as neither one of them uttered a word of complaint or self-pity or despair in the two days I was with them in the moldy dampness of their home.

In fact, the words I heard them speak most often were, “Thank you.  Thank you for being here.  Thank you for helping us.”

That, my friends, is extraordinary.  Because let me tell you something: speaking kindly to your spouse when every single square inch of your floor, your carpet, and your sheet rock is being pulled out from the aftermath of a storm, speaking kindly to your spouse when every article of clothing, every damp book, every single piece of furniture, scrap of paper, photo book, and memory that represents your lives is in black trash bags all around you to either be taken to the curb, taken to the car, or floated over to a neighbor’s dry house for storage is not normal.  It requires supernatural intervention.

And the radical dependence that Randy and Brooke showed on that supernatural grace that was not born in the moments of a flood or water filling their house.  It was born in the months and days and moments preceding the flood, when quietly, persistently, consistently, they chose to make the fear of the Lord the stability of their days and the bedrock of their home.  So when the hurricane hit and the flood waters rose, although their floors crumbled, their faith did not simply because their foundation was securely attached to the only floor that cannot fail – the saving, faithful character of Jesus Christ.

The Saturday before the hurricane, Brooke and I met for lunch and ate chips, salsa, and fajita grilled chicken (the best kind of lunch) while catching up and sharing stories about our summer.  Brooke shared how disappointed she was at the beginning of the summer that their family was not going anywhere on a vacation.  They chose to stay home and brave the summer heat in Houston to focus on establishing rhythm and routine with their four children and in their own lives before the school year started.

Spending a whole summer in Houston is not an easy feat, out-of-state and out-of-country friends.  It requires lots of Sonic ice, air conditioning, and two showers a day to simply clean off all the sweat. And Houston heat means you are either inside or in a pool.  Outside on the concrete is simply not an option.  There is no telling your kids, “Go outside and play.  You are driving me crazy.”  They are either inside with you or outside in a pool in a bathing suit with you.  And inside with you can feel really cramped really quickly.

But Brooke used her summer to…are you ready for this…pray.  

She used her summer months to attach herself securely to God in the daily rhythm of prayer for herself, her husband, her children, her community, and her world.  Prayer was the essence of her summer. and she spent that Saturday lunch testifying to me how much prayer had not only changed her life but the entire climate of her home.  She was so thankful those months had been spent not in packing and unpacking and vacationing…but in praying…to prepare for the school year ahead.

Or a hurricane.

Little did Brooke (or anyone) know that the hours she had spent in prayer were laying up a treasure for her that could not be taken.  A treasure she would need to draw on and from in the coming months as her family was displaced and her world turned upside down.  She had day in and day out faithfully chosen “the one thing that was necessary…and could not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42).  And she chose well.

David Platt says this about prayer: “Prayer won’t just change your prayer life; prayer will change your life.”  And Brooke’s choice is living proof of that statement.  

We all have so many choices to make on a day in and day out basis.  And we all have so many things we could do with our resources and our time.  Good things.  But when it comes down to it, like Jesus told Martha in Luke 10:42, only one thing is really necessary.  And like Brooke, the time that you and I choose to spend at Jesus’ feet, connecting to Him through prayer, praise, repentance, supplication, and surrender, is the only time that will bear lasting, eternal fruit in our lives and in the lives of those around us, and prepare us for the seasons and storms ahead in ways that scratching things off of our to-do lists and responding to emails and taking vacations never can do.

Today, this week, this season, choose the one thing.  Put all your other things down; they can wait.  I promise.  And like Brooke, choose the one that cannot be taken from you, even when the flood waters rise.

Brooke and Randy Keeney are not perfect people.  But they are praying people.  Extraordinary people.   Because they have made their treasure God rather than their comfort, or the things in their house, or the things of this world.

The rest of the verse Randy is holding in the picture says this: “And He shall be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is his treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).

That pretty much sums up the lives of Randy and Brooke.  Underneath the water-logged pieces of wood in their home was not despair or grief or a torn foundation; underneath was a secure foundation of salvation, wisdom, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord.  And that, my friends, is the ultimate treasure.  It just took a hurricane and a summer of prayer to pull up the floorboards and see what really was beneath.

How to Mourn Our Losses

On September 11, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 6 Comments

I don’t know about those of you who live in Houston, but for me, this last week after the hurricane was harder, in many ways, than the week of the hurricane itself.  Roads were jammed with traffic, and trying to navigate around town to get to friends who needed help, houses that had flooded, or even trying to do normal things like dropping my daughter off at preschool or going to get tap shoes for a ballet class took hours.  Hours.  

Hearing the continual drone of choppers flying overhead and wailing sirens of emergency vehicles, while seeing the trash piles and flood debris that lines almost every street, has left tension in my neck and all through my shoulders.  Navigating in our city is like navigating a war zone, and every attempt to get out on the road is one more reminder that “normal” does not exist anymore, at least for a very long time.

Just like the sheet rock and flooring so many of us have had a hand in ripping out this week, “normal” has been ripped out of our city, our day-to-day lives and routines, our priorities, and our to-do lists and left to sit out on the curb, waiting for dump trucks to come carry it away.  And confronting all the realities of the “abnormal” has left us frayed around the edges and feeling heavy and pressed down.  Seeing the realities of friends’ homes that are utterly destroyed, all of the possessions they hold dear in this life piled high on the curb, water logged, mildewed, and molded has taken its toll on our bodies and souls.

As a city, I think we are grieving the loss of “normal.”  We are grieving the loss of land and homes and streets and people the way we have always known them to be.  And we are grieving and frustrated with our own weakness and the limitations of our own strength and ability to be strong and sufficient in normal, day-to-day tasks, as well as in the aftermath of a storm.

And maybe, perhaps, we are grieving the loss of God as we have always known Him to be, at least in regards to our city and hometown – stable, reliable, protective, shielding us from disaster, the winds, and the storm.  National or international disasters always happened out there, but not here.  Not in our hometown, our churches, our schools, and our neighborhoods.

Yesterday I delivered some clothes to a family whose home flooded and realized I was very close to the neighborhood where I grew up.  Mom and Dad moved about five years ago, but for almost thirty years,they lived in a beautiful and restful neighborhood called Memorial Glen.  Their house backed up to Terry Hershey Park and Buffalo Bayou, so during the storm, we heard that their street flooded, but we did not know the extent of the damage.

So after my delivery, I slowly drove the familiar route to my parent’s house, a route I have driven a thousand times lined with quiet houses graced with big, front lawns and overarching green trees.  But instead of the familiar peace and quiet, I was confronted with devastation.  Their whole neighborhood had flooded.  Every single street, every single house, was lined with rubble.  Trash piled so high you could barely navigate the streets.  Homeowners and neighbors and friends of neighbors were out in full force, equipped with masks and rubber boots, sledge hammers and shovels and wheelbarrows, doing the work of demolition.

As I wove my way through the streets, I parked at the end of my parents’ street and walked slowly down to their house amidst piles of wood, furniture, sheet rock, and insulation.  I stood in front of the house that had been a shelter for me and so many for so many years and just started to cry.  The bayou had crept in and flooded everything in the one story house, killing the yard and grass my dad kept such good care of for thirty years, destroying the interior of a house my mom had made a home in every sense of the word.  I am still crying as I type.

I know that stuff is just stuff.  I know that and believe that with all my heart.  But I also know in the aftermath of this hurricane that stuff is more than just stuff.  And it’s ok to grieve it.  It is ok to grieve over the devastation of land we have all loved.  It is ok to weep under the weight of the trash heaps that line the streets and driveways of the homes that hold the most cherished memories of our lives.  It is ok.

And I don’t know about you, but that is where I am.  In the weeping.  In the mourning and loss and grief of missing “normal”, the tangible things and places that have held our memories, and the God we thought of as “safe.”

The passage of Scripture that has lingered in my heart and mind this week and given me courage and insight when I have needed it is Hosea 6:1-3.

Come, let us return to the Lord.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.

I have known God to tear up specific circumstances in my life, or even specific people, but I have never known Him to tear up my city.

But here we are.  Torn.  Wounded.  Weary.  Waiting.  In need of healing.  In need of grace.

But just as I have been reminded in the past, when He tore me apart with two miscarriages and then gave me Lillian.  When He tore me apart with Lillian’s diagnosis of cysts on her lungs in utero and then healed her at the last hour.  When He tore me (and many) apart with Kathy’s death from cancer last fall and chose to heal her by taking her Home.  He will come to heal us.  His coming to us is as certain as the dawn.

And our job, as a city, as victims of the flood and responders to the flood, is to press on to know the Lord in certain expectation of His coming.

Our job is not to press on to know the in’s and out’s of FEMA, or the best route to get our kids to school in the headache that will be here Monday morning, or the best way to help our homes, help our friends, and help our trash disappear and our city rebuild.  Our job is to press in to know the Lord.  To call on Him…in confident expectation that He will answer.  To earnestly look for Him in the renewing strength of His Word each day and then in the ways He responds to us throughout the day.  To be aware of the touch of His Hands and His summons to us to come to Him, “all who are weary and heavy-laden,” and to allow Him to give us rest (Matthew 11:28).  To be aware of not shouldering any burden that is too heavy for us to bear and to let Him do the carrying instead.  To walk only where He tells us to walk each day (since each day shold so many places we could go right now), trusting He will direct and guide our steps (Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 23:3).

God tears us…but only to heal us, restoring our souls.

God wounds us…but only to bind us, bringing us the comfort we so desperately need.

God allows destruction to touch us..but only to rebuild us into the people He has created us to be.

As you grieve your losses this week, know that we, as a city, are grieving right along with you.  You are not alone.

And as you press in to knowing God this week, giving precedence to the only thing that will truly put you, your family, your home, and your city back together, know that you are not alone.  We are pressing in to Him together, knowing His coming in the days, weeks, and months ahead is as certain as the dawn.

Let us be a people who mourn, and then press in together.

 

The Worst Week and the Best Week

On September 5, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 7 Comments

Last week was the worst week and the best week all at the same time.

It was the worst week because 100,000 homes in Houston were flooded by the waters of Hurricane Harvey.  It was the worst week because 72,000 people had to be rescued by boat, kayak, canoe, helicopter, or whatever way was possible over the rising waters. It was the worst week because 150 schools and 700 churches flooded, roads were washed out, and driving cars around this city is like navigating through a war zone.  It was the worst week because after the rains stopped, the waters rose from the release of waters from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, and thousands of additional homes flooded, many of them homes of families we know and love. It was the worst week because although Houston was under blue and sunny skies from Wednesday on, four feet of water stood and still stand in many people’s homes, making the salvaging of any of their possessions or memories in precious photographs, wedding and baby albums, or family heirlooms practically impossible.  It was the worst week.

But it was also the best week.  As the rains fell, the church rose, and the people of God went out into the storm to do their Bible, not just read their Bible, and the stories of courage and faith were staggering.  It was the best week because while it was hard to understand why God continued to allow the rains to fall, we also saw Him answer prayers so specifically and amazingly it was hard to keep record of them all.  It was the best week because the mercy of God was felt in specific and tangible ways that many of us had never experienced before. It was the best week because those of us who were left by the hurricane with dry homes were given the absolute joy of coming alongside those who needed rescue and relief.  It was a joy that surpassed any outing, vacation, gift, or gathering I have ever experienced.  It was the joy of comforting others with the comfort we ourselves have received through the gospel of Christ.  And for those who lost everything, it was the best week in that it forced them to cry out to God for a parting of the Red Sea, for Him to make a way where there seemed to be no way…and to stand back and watch as He moved.

One of those Red Sea moments for me happened last Wednesday when I sent out a post asking people to fast and pray on our city’s behalf.  Margaret Austin, a dear friend who lives in Clemson, South Carolina and a guest blogger on this site, answered that plea and called to pray with me while she sat in carpool line at her son’s school.

She wept tears with me, specifically asking God to allow my husband and the other men in his family to lead people to the Lord in decisions for salvation.  She asked for people to see this flood as a need for their67 souls to be made right with Him, and I wept right along with her.

The next day after our time of prayer and fasting, Jason spent the day with a group from his office in a neighborhood of our city known as Meyerland.  They met at an address where they knew help was needed and began ripping out sheet rock and tearing up floors.  The longer they worked, the more men showed up to help, and soon houses up and down the block had hands and hearts loving on and serving them well.  Jason and a few other men ended up in the home of an elderly woman named Roberta.  Roberta is in her 80’s and was all alone in her house with the exception of her caretaker.  Roberta shuffled out in her house shoes and asked how much it would cost for the men to tear out her sheet rock and flooring.  “Roberta,” Jason said, “I can give you the best price in the city – it’s free.”  And Roberta started to weep.

As they sat on the side of her bed in a home she had lived in for decades, Jason said, “Roberta, you are going to blink, and your home is going to be restored.  You are going to have new sheet rock, new paint, and new floors before you know it.  But none of this matters unless you are certain in your relationship with Jesus Christ and know where you are going to spend eternity.  It is eternity with Him that matters and counts.  Roberta, do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”

“I think so,” Roberta said, through tears.

“It’s not good enough to just think so, Roberta.  You can know so.  You can have certainty of relationship with Him right now.  Would you like to pray together and ask Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of your heart and home?”

At her “Yes,” Jason and Roberta prayed right there, and Roberta’s home was not only secured from the floods that day, more importantly, her life was secured through relationship with Christ.

When Jason came home and told me the story, I remembered Margaret’s prayer the day before.  I had never thought to ask the Lord specifically that my husband would have the opportunity to lead someone to the Lord in the aftermath of this storm.  But Margaret did.  And when she prayed, God answered.

So, I am asking you, would you continue to pray with me and for many more salvations in our city?  Salvations and rescue and relief for people’s homes, yes.  But more importantly, salvations for people’s souls in rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhood.  In white neighborhoods, African-American neighborhoods, Hispanic neighborhoods, and Asian neighborhoods.  Because that is what this flood is all about.  It’s about getting the church out into people’s neighborhoods and homes where we would have never gone before and sharing the good news of the Gospel and security from the flood we have in Jesus Christ.

At church yesterday, Jason read a story about an incident from the childhood of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of classic books like Treasure Island, spent his childhood in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 19th century. As a boy, Robert was intrigued by the work of the old lamplighters who went about with a ladder and a torch, setting the street lights ablaze for the night.

One evening, as young Robert stood watching with fascination, his parents asked him, “Robert, what in the world are you looking at out there?” With great excitement he exclaimed, “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”

Friends, there are many, many weeks ahead we have left to love, serve, and pray for the city of Houston.  Thousands of people still remain displaced.  Thousands of homes are still standing under four feet of water.  And thousands of people still need rescue from the aftermath of the storm in their home and, more importantly, their hearts.  The weeks and months ahead still have the potential to be the worst of weeks.  But they also have the potential to be the best of weeks as we stand together to punch holes in the darkness through fasting, prayer, service, boldness in our speech to testify to the God of all comfort and grace, and acts of love.

Margaret was faithful all the way from South Carolina to punch a hole in the darkness…and that hole was Roberta.  Would you continue to stand with us this week and in the weeks ahead to punch holes in the darkness as well?  They have specific names, specific faces, and specific homes, and just as He heard Margaret, He will hear your cry as well.

Please consider joining me again this Wednesday and every Wednesday hereafter for the next several months, in fasting and prayer for our city.  Please consider these requests as you pray, using Daniel 9 as your guide:

  • Pray that our city would give attention to God. Pray that we would open His Word, read what He has to say, and give attention to it in our personal lives, our church’s lives, and in the life of our city.
  • Please acknowledge our city’s sin in turning away from God and seeking our way instead of His way.  And please ask Him to use the people of the church to lead many people to decisions of repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • Acknowledge the truth of who God is in your prayer – He is gracious and compassionate, forgiving, full of mercy, and cannot forget the covenant of love He has made with us (Exodus 34:6-7). He desires all to come to repentance and none to perish but for all to come to a saving knowledge of Him through Jesus Christ our Lord (II Peter 3:9).
  • Pray and ask the Lord to see our need and hear our cries to dry up our land and specifically the areas that are still flooded from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. 
  • Pray and ask Him for rescue workers and those trying to salvage and restore their homes to be wise and safe.
  • Pray and ask the Lord to begin to help us in the process of recovery and rebuilding, and to guard against the tendency to go back to “life as usual” now that the rains have stopped. Ask Him to continue to mobilize crews of people to help, supplies and clothes and food to be provided, and for the people of God to radically and effectively show the love of God to a city in need.
  • Finally, ask for the Lord to raise up “Daniels” for the city of Houston, men and women who walk closely with God as Daniel did. People who will think and act in wisdom and humility for the rebuilding of our city and who will administer all plans and recovery efforts in justice and peace.

Helping after a Hurricane

On September 1, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 1 Comment

A couple of days ago, I stood in a neighbor’s driveway and had my very first experience in welcoming an evacuated family out of a car and onto dry land.  It was something. As the two parents and four young children spilled out of the car, there were embraces, tears all around, and stricken looks on all the adults’ faces.

Less than an hour before, this family of six waded out of their house with fast-rising waters and were paddled in a canoe down their street to a staging ground where all of their displaced neighbors were being received.  Their entire neighborhood, once a beautiful oasis on the bayou, is now a lake, or, more accurately, a fast flowing river and is only a five minute drive from the house where I grew up and where my parents lived for almost thirty years.

In the hours before evacuating, my friend spent the evening watching the waters rise to her front door, trying to keep her four sleeping children safe, and then trying to pack up in the pre-dawn hours only to have the transformers blow and her house go completely dark…in rising waters. Her husband was out in a kayak from 10pm-1:30am on a search and rescue team, looking for a friend who had gone missing under the current near their home. While they did not find him that night, miraculously, he walked out of the waters on his own the next morning.

The preceding twenty-four hours and really, the previous five days, had taken their toll on this precious family. As they got out of the car, they looked like they were emerging from a war zone, not a neighborhood close by I have known and loved my whole life. Needless to say, it was a privilege to stand there with open arms, shared tears, a hot lunch, and a listening ear.

Like many Houstonians, this experience was a new one for me. I’ve never known what it felt like to love on people who just left everything under water in just a few hours’ notice. The learning curve on how to really care, really listen, and offer to do what is really helpful instead of just what makes me feel good is steep, and I found the words from this blog post a friend sent me to be extremely accurate and helpful. I thought you might find it to be helpful too.

This is a blog, I confess, I have not read very often because it gives advice on a topic that is not something I am usually known for – fashion.  (If you don’t believe me, go back and read my blog post on how camping and not showering for days on end is my idea of a dream vacation.) But I always hear great things not only about the blog, www.cstyleblog.com, but the blogger herself, Carly Lee. She is someone I would love to one day meet over a cup of coffee and a good conversation. Other than her great sense of style and my lack of one, it seems we do have some things in common, like our faith, enjoyment of a good closet purge, and our mutual lack of ability on high school sports’ teams.

But here is what Carly shared:

My cousin sent this to me from a Facebook friend, who copied it from their friend who is now both a Katrina and Harvey survivor. If anyone knows who wrote this post, please, please, please let me know. I need to credit them! I almost didn’t post it because I couldn’t give them credit. But that seemed silly, since this post could help so many of us who find our friends flooded and want to know the best way to help.

“Here are some ideas how you can reach out to your flooded friends:

Remember they are going to feel uncomfortable being in such a position of need. It’s painful to go from being self sufficient one day to suddenly not having a pair of shoes with no car to go and buy some new ones.

Try to see a need and fill it without asking “what can I do?” Flooded mamas are exhausted and overwhelmed and it’s hard to answer that question.

If you are going to help a friend clean out their homes, here are a few items that are helpful to bring.

Cleaning/packing Supplies:
Masks- ventilator
Paper towel
Disposable gloves
Bleach
lysol/clorox wipes
Cardboard boxes
Packing tape
Sharpie
Boxcutters
Hand sanitizer
Handsoap
Mosquito repellent

Snacks:
Water bottles
Fresh fruit and veggies washed and cut up (we’ve all been eating highly processed food out of bags for days)

Ideas for questions to ask:
1. Does everyone in your family have shoes? If not, can I go pick some up? What size?
2. Do you have anyone coming to help you cut out walls? If not, can I call a few water mitigation companies to get quotes for you?
3. Do you have any laundry I can wash?
4. I have hand-me-downs from my kids, what sizes would be helpful?
5. Can I help arrange playdates for your kids?
6. Do you have any medications you would like me to call about getting replaced?
7. I’m making a trip to HEB today, please tell me 3 things I can pickup for you
8. Can I pack a school lunch for your child this week?
9. Is there anywhere I could give you a ride to?
10. I’d like to take you to pickup your rental car. Please call me when it’s available.
11. Please call me when you are ready for a ride home after you drop off your rental car.
Check in with your friend a week or two later. There is a lot of help at the beginning. After a few weeks life goes back to normal for most, but flooded families are still trying to find a new normal and may be moving into apartments or juggling car research before a big purchase, etc.”

The points I found to be true and extremely helpful, I bolded. I made the mistake of asking my friend, “If you will make me a list, I will go to the grocery store for you,” and then realized I needed to say instead, “Let me come over and help you make a list, and then I will go to the grocery store for you.” Being as specific and directive as possible is really helpful when coming alongside those who are in total shock and thinking about how to save precious picture albums and irreplaceable things in their house rather than a grocery list, shoe sizes, or laundry.

So if you, like me, find yourself in new waters wanting to help those who were caught in the waters, the advice above has proved to be helpful and fruitful for a family in my own life in their time of need.

Again, I cannot say thank you for your continued prayers, support, texts, calls, encouragement and love. Keep them coming. They are a sustaining grace and tangible embrace in a time our city needs it the most.

 

Fast and Pray for Our City Together

On August 29, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 3 Comments

Friends,

I wish I could describe what it is like to be in Houston right now. Our feelings have gone from initial shock and thinking, “This isn’t happening; this isn’t really our city,” to, “This is happening; this is our city.” Over the past few days, feelings have transitioned from denial and shock, to sorrow, fear, and dread. Dread that the rains keep falling, the dams keep filling, the rivers keep overflowing, and homes keep flooding. And the thoughts that keep coming are, “What now? What next? How will our city ever recover from the rain?”

Every day in the dark hours of the morning as I listen to the rain fall on my roof, I, along with many others, lay awake, praying for specific friends, specific homes to stay dry, and for the Hand of the Lord to keep the waters at bay.

This morning I woke up with one thing on my mind – Daniel 9:1-19. Daniel 9 is a prayer the prophet Daniel prays for his city of Jerusalem, repenting for his people’s sin, while crying out for God’s great Hand of mercy to move on their behalf, not because of anything they deserve, but all because of who God is.

I’ve spent a long time this morning praying through this prayer, and what keeps arresting my attention is the phrase he uses in verse 3. As Daniel contemplates the destruction of his city Jerusalem and their needed rescue, he begins to give his attention to the Lord his God. He doesn’t give his attention to political leaders, the movers and shakers of his day. He doesn’t give his attention to local news and media. He doesn’t give his attention to well-meaning family and friends around him. He gives his attention to God: “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” 

That verse and Daniel’s prayer has gripped my heart and helped to focus my attention. It’s so easy to give my attention to the news right now, to texts and websites and emails. And it is important to give our attention to what our city’s leaders are saying. But it is more important is to give our attention to what God is saying through attitudes of humility, repentance, and fasting.

After reading and praying through Daniel 9, what I am not suggesting is that this flood and the damage and devastation to so many people’s homes and lives is directly because of sin. Righteous, good, godly people have lost everything in this flood. And people who have done evil, horrible things are sitting high and dry, myself included. It is not right to say that natural disasters are a direct cause of people’s sin. God uses suffering and disaster in the lives of righteous and unrighteous people alike to draw us to Himself and meet each of us exactly where we are. His heart is for all people to repent and be saved, not just some (see II Peter 3:9).

But when disaster strikes, it is always a good idea to turn our attention to God and put our full focus on what He says in His Word, for we know His Word to always be true and never fail. And Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9 is powerful and effective and gives those of us going through great calamity a great template for how to cry out to God.

Daniel does not pass the buck of sin and shortcomings to just certain people in his city; he claims full ownership for the sin in his city and leans wholly on God’s mercy – not because of what he or anyone else has done but only because of who God’s Word and testimony say He is – faithful, merciful, loving, forgiving, and true.

And that is what I am suggesting we do. Lean on God’s mercy. Cry out to Him to hear us, to stop the rain, to keep the waters in check, and to help us rebuild, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. And commit our hearts to turn back to Him in whatever ways each of us has followed our own way and turned a deaf ear to Him.

So…here is my request: tomorrow, Wednesday, August 30th, would you join me in fasting and praying for the city of Houston, no matter where you are, using Daniel 9 as your guide? And pass along the request for prayer to those you know who will fast and pray alongside of you.

Pick one meal or all three meals tomorrow to fast from, and use one hour of a meal time to pray. I will be praying from the lunch hour from 12-1pm, so join with me then, or please pick another hour that works for you, whatever you have going on tomorrow.

And as you pray, please pray these specific things:

  • Pray that our city would give attention to God. Pray that we would open His Word, read what He has to say, and give attention to it in our personal lives, our church’s lives, and in the life of our city.
  • If you live in the city of Houston, please repent collectively for our sin in turning away from God and seeking our way instead of His way.
  • Acknowledge the truth of who God is in your prayer – He is gracious and compassionate, forgiving, full of mercy, and cannot forget the covenant of love He has made with us (Exodus 34:6-7). He desires all to come to repentance and none to perish but for all to come to a saving knowledge of Him through Jesus Christ our Lord (II Peter 3:9).
  • Pray and ask the Lord to see our need and hear our cries to stop the rain, to dry up our land, to hold back the Addicks Dam and Reservoir from breaking, to keep the Buffalo Bayou from overrunning anymore, to keep the Brazos River and other rivers, bayous, and creeks in our area from cresting and overflowing and to stay within their banks. Pray and ask Him for many people to be saved, for homes to stay dry, and for rescue workers to be wise and safe.
  • Pray and ask the Lord to begin to help us in the process of recovery and rebuilding. Ask Him to mobilize crews of people to help, supplies and clothes and food to be provided, and for the people of God to radically and effectively show the love of God to a city in need.
  • Finally, ask for the Lord to raise up “Daniels” for the city of Houston, men and women who walk closely with God as Daniel did. People who will think and act in wisdom and humility for the rebuilding of our city and who will administer all plans and recovery efforts in justice and peace.

I cannot say enough how thankful we are for your prayers. Thank you for loving us, calling us, and seeking the face of God on our behalf. We need to hear His Voice and come together to do His will now more than ever.

Praying with You,

Susannah

King of the Flood

On August 28, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 6 Comments

My phone rang at 7am yesterday morning.  A dear friend in Georgia was calling to ask if we were ok.  If we had survived the flood.

And yes, thankfully, we have.  But many have not.  The flood waters have affected many family members and friends all over the city of Houston.

My sister-in-law’s sister spent the night in her car in a grocery store parking lot until her father could make his way through the waters in his truck and pick her up the next morning.

A family we know and love has water flooding the entire downstairs of their house.  They sent a picture of a tub of their girls’ shoes floating next to a small sofa in their mud room.  Their prayer was to ask that the “waters would not reach to the second floor.”

I received another text from a fellow school mom asking in anyone lived close to the Meyerland area of Houston and had access to a kayak or canoe.  Friends of theirs were stranded in their flooding house, the woman is pregnant with their third child, and they were on the wait list for 9-1-1 to come pick them up.

And last time I checked, water was starting to seep through the floorboards of the lowest room in our house.  Our furniture is stacked up against the wall and overflows into the bathroom.

Stories like this abound this rainy Sunday morning in Houston.  And from what the weather reports are telling us, we still have five more days of rain to expect with five inches of rain per day.  The only place is has to go is up and in unless our drainage system starts working in unexpected ways.

But there is a strange, supernatural peace in the midst of the flood when you know the One who sits enthroned above the flood.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.”  Psalm 29:10-11

Perhaps peace seems strange if you are standing outside the flood; but inside the flood is strength and the presence of the Lord, no matter the height of the waters.

Several months ago, I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on Psalm 91, an often quoted Psalm and prayer during times of distress and danger. The sermon was excellent (find the link to it here), but one truth he shared has run over and over in my mind through the last few days and has become my prayer for my city and the people I love.

The key, Keller says (and I’m paraphrasing here), to understanding Psalm 91 is verses 14-16:

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Notice that it says God does not save us from trouble, but God saves us in trouble.  In the flood waters, not without. In the flames, not outside. In the battle, not from the battle.

And standing on top of the temple mount with Satan on the outside and a hungry stomach from a forty day fast on the outside, Jesus understood this truth best of all. For Psalm 91:11-12 is the portion of Scripture Satan quoted to Jesus during the time of his temptation:

Then the devil took [Jesus] to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God,” he said,”‘throw yourself down. For it is written:

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” 

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Matthew 4:5-7)

The ultimate temptation for Christ Himself was to twist God’s Word and make it mean something it doesn’t. It was to put God to the test, making Him prove to His people that by keeping us out of trouble, He loves us more than if He allowed us to go through it.

But that’s not what God’s Word says or means. God does allow His people to go through times of trouble when the flood waters rise.  Waters of emotional distress, spiritual distress, and physical distress. But He is with us, in the flood, in the fire, every step of the way.

And come what may, walking through the flood with the presence of God by your side is better than being on dry ground without Him. That is one thing I am confident of after forty years of living. We may not emerge from the flood without trouble; but we will emerge from flood with the tangible, powerful, shepherding presence of God with us, in the midst of trouble, every step of the way.

And that is where I find peace for myself, my city, and for my family and friends.

Thank you for praying for Houston; please continue to do so.  And please pray that many would come to know the One who is King over the flood and in the flood, King of our hearts, come what may.

 

The Search for Joy

On August 21, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 4 Comments

Summer is a time to take journeys.  Some journeys involve heading to the beach, lake, mountains, neighborhood pool, or even your own backyard.  My journey involved searching for joy.

It’s a journey I’ve been on ever since I was a little girl, as young as five years old.  To help me overcome shyness and a walk down the aisle as a flower girl in a family friend’s wedding with a smile on my face instead of my usual, somber look, my grandmother gave me a framed verse that says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).  And while I wanted to do what the words said and walk through life with a big smile on my face (which is what I thought the verse meant), sometimes smiling is easier said than done.  Especially when you are a non-smiler like me.  I tend to live in my head, tend to think and ponder and pull back rather than press in.  And the journey for joy has been rather elusive at times, no matter how hard I’ve tried to find it and wear its evidence on my face.

But a friend challenged me to joy this summer – challenged me to let it be the mark of my life and ministry rather than the worn-out facade I so often wear.  So I went on a journey looking for joy, this time looking harder than ever before.

And I didn’t find it in a smile or in the determination to be the talkative one at a dinner party or gathering of friends.  I found it, surprisingly, in suffering.

And what I mean is this – joy isn’t found by ignoring suffering or turning a blind eye to suffering.  Joy is found by acknowledging suffering – acknowledging the daily burdens we bear or the person who is hard to love, embracing the realities of the difficult circumstances or seasons we are in, and choosing to walk through the suffering with the nearness of God on one hand and the practice of gratitude on the other.  (See the excellent book Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel for helpful ways to do this.)

And that discovery was a hard one.  It took looking honestly at myself and my weaknesses and the well-meaning criticism from my friend while also being true to myself and the person God made me to be.

Because try as I might, I can’t make myself flip a switch and turn into the life of the party.  I can’t wave a wand and make myself not feel the seemingly small and insignificant nuances of relationships and circumstances around me.  I feel everything.  It’s how God made me.  But I can choose to feel and allow the nearness and therefore the goodness of God to overpower the feelings of shame, despair, fear, or anger that so often threaten to rise up and overwhelm my soul.  I can choose to press in to the faithful, covenantal, unchanging love of the Lord (Exodus 34:6-7) and allow it to help me press in to others rather than withdraw.

And in that journey through the suffering, rather than stuffing or ignoring the suffering, joy unfolds.

It’s like this – I have another friend who, when he was young, saw his dad become angry over something and punch a hole in his bedroom wall.  When his mom saw the hole, instead of dealing with her husband’s anger and addressing the issue or fixing the hole, she simply moved a picture on the wall on top of the hole to cover it up and wa-la – the problem was fixed.  But not the anger.  Or the hole it had left.  Either in the wall or in my friend’s heart.

And for a long time, I thought the journey for joy was like that – ignore the hole, ignore the anger and the shame, rage, despair, and fear that caused the hole, move a picture on top of it, put a smile on over it, and poof!  You have joy.  I thought for years that my inability to have joy came from my inability to ignore the hole.  But what God has been showing me is that joy actually comes through acknowledging the hole and paying the price to fix it.  The joy comes in the journey.

The last few days of our family journey to the mountains of Idaho this summer (and yes, Idaho has mountains and not just potatoes, much to most Texans’ surprise), Jason and I went on a four day, three night camp out.  It was my idea of a dream vacation – no showers, no makeup to put on, no hair to fix, hard uphill ascension on a trail with a pack on my back, and gorgeous views along the way.  I was talking to our wonderful guide, Sara, about what it is about me that makes a trip like this enjoyable – because, let’s face it, I’ve come to accept the fact that four days in the Idaho wilderness isn’t most women’s idea of a dream vacation. 

Sara said, “These trips aren’t for everyone.  They are for people who don’t mind some suffering and hardship along the way in the wilderness to see the views on the top.”

Her statement seemed to sum up my search for joy.  Joy isn’t in spite of suffering, nor is it in the absence of suffering.  Joy is for those who are willing to suffer and endure hardship along the way, embracing the challenges and treasuring the outcome and views along the way.  And you don’t have to like camping trips to experience what Sara said.  Your trip in the wilderness and your views of the top could very well be in your own living room with members of your very own family.  Or in your very own school.  Or workplace.

So don’t get stuck in the hole (which tends to be my problem) or move a picture on top of the hole to simply cover it up.  Press into the hole by pressing into the Only One who can fix it and whose nearness is always our good (Psalm 73:28).  And while sorrow may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning, and along the way, every single time.

Thank you for your patience with me the last few months while I took a break from blogging and focused instead on writing a new Bible study on prayer.  I had hoped to have it out to you at the beginning of the summer, but the editing process took longer than expected.  It will be ready (Lord willing) at the start of the new year and is a tool I am really excited to share.  But this fall, after a much needed rest this summer, I am back to blogging and very thankful for the joy in the journey through comes each of you.  Gratefully, Susannah