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September 11, 2017

How to Mourn Our Losses

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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.