Last Sunday, which seems like a month ago, my pastoral prayer for our church focused on the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. (Posted on August 27 as “Prayer for Times of Storm.”) My concern was real but still came from a safe distance. At the time my step-son and his family who live in a suburb on the North East side of Houston were still dry. The speed at which that situation changed over the next 24 hours made Harvey’s flooding waters very personal and real.
By Monday morning the street in their small neighborhood was flooded. By afternoon the water was lapping at their front and back doors. They moved as many of their possessions upstairs as they could and were still hopeful they could ride it out without too much damage. Within a few hours that hope was washed away in the dirty water rapidly covering their floors and flooding their garage where one car that they could not get out was trapped.
When a rescue truck came down their street in late afternoon the situation was so urgent that they fled with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs. We were kept abreast of their situation with texts and videos all during the day. The only thing worse would have been not to know what was happening. The good news is they are safe. The fact that my step-son and his wife had separated earlier this summer became an ironic blessing because he is living in a rented house which thank God is on higher ground and out of Harvey’s reach. That house has become their refuge.
Living through this frightening disaster vicariously through them and knowing that thousands are in much worse shape has been exhausting emotionally for us. The sense of helplessness that there was nothing we could do to help them was somewhat alleviated by the outpouring of love and prayers from our church, friends and family. Social media was a blessing in feeling surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
The thousands or millions of people facing an unbelievable recovery is still overwhelming. Most, like our kids, do not have flood insurance and have lost most of their earthly possessions. The opportunities for all Americans to show what we’re made of and prove that we are indeed our sisters and brothers keepers are huge.
These are times that make or break one’s faith.
Here’s some of what I prayed on Sunday:
“When the storms of life are threatening to overwhelm us Lord, draw us to the life-saving power of your holy word. Whatever imagery works for us – be it a good shepherd, a mighty fortress, a rock of ages or that still small voice that we hear when we pause long enough to listen. Remind us again, gracious God, that you are our rock and redeemer, you are the one who speaks to the raging storms in nature, or in conflicted relationships, or within our own hearts and says, “peace be still.” Remind us again what ultimate trust and faith looks like in the form of our Lord sleeping in the boat on the stormy Sea of Galilee.
When the storms of life are raging, stand by us Lord. Empower us to face each day of life, each new challenge not because we know the future but because we know you hold the future now as you always have and always will.” Little did I know how very true those words were.
The need for faith and peace that passes understanding has been very personal for my wife and me in the last four days. In addition to our hearts breaking for our kids and others in Houston, we’ve had other pressing concerns that have left me at times feeling like a ping pong ball being bounced from one crisis to the next. My 95 year-old father is in failing health and had to be moved from assisted living to skilled nursing last week, and that transition which has robbed him of the last shred of independence has been very difficult for him, my sister, and for the nurses and staff at his retirement community. And on Saturday, my 99 year-old mother-in-law was not her normal alert and perky self when Diana went to visit her. Her condition has not improved and today she was admitted to the hospital.
I have not felt so battered by life since Holy Week of 1993. On Palm Sunday of that year my mother had emergency brain surgery for the cancer that been diagnosed only 3 days earlier. On Wednesday of that week my mother-in-law from my first marriage died and was buried on Good Friday. It was both the hardest and best Holy Week of my ministry as we experienced our own passion and felt the power of resurrection in the lives of two wonderful women.
They say (whoever “they” are) that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I believe that, but I like the way St. Paul says it a little better, and his words are part of what sustains us and gives us blessed assurance for weeks like this one. Paul puts it this way, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
May it be so for you and me and everyone in need of faith for these difficult times.