September 12, 2017

A Refuge in Harvey's Wake


Before Hurricane Harvey arrived in Houston, I hadn’t paid much attention to the piece of paper that’s been hanging in my grandparents’ beach house since August 18, 1983. The paper, now faded and framed, has been kept on wood-paneled walls in their living room in Galveston, a few streets away from the Gulf of Mexico.
My brothers and I were raised in those waves, practically born with seawater in our blood and boogie boards under our arms. We never had any reason to be afraid of the water, even as our parents made us aware of the kind of rip currents that can render a strong person powerless. The ferocity of the open water was simply not on our radar; it was represented only in the brown and white photographs my grandparents had framed above their television. The series of 3x5 shots showed the aftermath of Hurricane Alicia, during which tornadoes tossed aside the roof of the house as though it were made of cardboard.
My grandparents rebuilt the beach house after Alicia, and they made repairs after Allison and Rita and Ike. On their walls, the prayer of one guest has remained through the decades, preserved in calligraphy ink. The handwritten dedication is signed by its author, dated in remembrance of Alicia’s destruction. It begins:
We gave it back to you, dear Lord,
  the Source from which it came
  knowing that You also guard
  the seas, the wind, the rain . . .

Harvey Arrives

Growing up on the Gulf Coast, my favorite glimpses of the Creator always came when the sun began to set, when there was just enough light to wander through the fields of wildflowers lining the path to the water. In the moment when dusk turned to darkness, my friends and I would pass around flashlights and point them at hermit crabs hurrying across the sand, scrambling out of holes, and scurrying to find new homes.
I thought about the hermit crabs the night that Hurricane Harvey arrived in Texas. My roommate had come home with waffle fries and bags filled with flashlights and candles, several sacrilegiously painted with the face of Jesus on the glass. We watched the news as Rockport and Corpus Christi were slammed with winds as the hurricane made landfall. It was the first night I heard helicopters flying overhead, their spotlights illuminating the paths of people running for shelter.
Twelve hours later, my roommate and I were the ones receiving messages warning us that water was rising and that we needed to pack bags and prepare to evacuate. As our local meteorologist looked into the camera and said, “Lord, have mercy,” my roommate and I prayed together, surrendering our hearts to the God who reigns sovereignly over the wind and waves.
Then we picked up what was left on the floor and unplugged all electronics and propped up our couch on cans of coconut milk. Water entered our home, and we ran through hallways, sloshing brown water into bedrooms, throwing every towel and sheet and blanket we owned at the baseboards. When we knew it was useless to continue wringing out water, we sat down on dirty floors muddied with debris and begged God to stop the rain. We rejoiced when, days later, He did.

God’s Goodness in the Bayou City

When my street drained to the point that we could safely open the door without water coming in, I pulled yellow rain boots back on and walked to Brays Bayou, one of the slow-moving, marshy rivers that weaves throughout neighborhoods near the Texas Medical Center and Rice University, not too far from downtown. The earliest storm predictions had anticipated that this bayou would overflow its banks and flood nearby homes, but on the first night, it was still startling to hear that water had risen ten feet in one hour.
As the bayou spilled over its banks into my subdivision, just enough water entered our home to force us to throw out furniture and much of our flooring. Although my roommates and I have had to find other places to stay, we are far better off than the majority of our friends, family members, and neighbors nearby, who have lost everything.
Evidence of this is out on front lawns all over the city. Sidewalks have become a wall of floorboards and insulation and sheetrock, rotting and reeking of mold; a wall of carpet and couches and dining room tables; a wall where wet teddy bears top off the trash.
Almost a week has passed, and helicopters continue to fly over the bayou. Some are still dropping baskets down in order to save people, but at this point, most are attempting to measure the amount of loss with wide-angle shots of the area. Their footage reminds me of my grandparents’ photographs. The same faded brown and white haze seems to have fallen over the city; from above, all that can be seen is water.
As reporters conduct interviews on the ground, the stories pour onto land already saturated with grief. For some time, I sat and watched one interviewer give a live TV broadcast while standing on a boat in the middle of the freeway. As he pulled people to safety, he gave them the opportunity to share their experiences. He talked to a six-year-old girl who had seen her home destroyed, but she was quick to tell the world that she was grateful God had kept her family safe. As her dad picked her up and put her feet on dry ground, the interviewer bowed his head and turned away, not wanting his audience to see the tears that were dripping into the water as he whispered, “God is good.”
News updates continue to be shared in a compressed way: a series of calamities coming one after the other. The reporting style has made me think of the opening chapter of Job. The worst news of Job’s life is narrated in rapid succession, summarized in a few short verses. It’s as though the camera stays focused on the news desk, delivering the devastating facts before finally turning to Job to see how it registers with him. In 1:20, Job responds. He stands up, tears his robe, and shaves his head. He falls to the ground and worships.

Texas Strong

This week, organizations and individuals raising support for survivors have used the slogan “Houston Pride” to unite their fundraising efforts. I love my hometown, but I have had a hard time hashtagging “Houston Pride” because this hurricane has humbled so many of us. It has brought us to our knees before the throne of God, asking Him for grace to submit to His reign in the midst of suffering we simply do not understand.
So much devastation has already occurred, and the aftermath of a hurricane can often be more destructive than the storm itself. When demolition occurs and walls are stripped away, damp water becomes the breeding ground for mosquitoes and mold spores to spread. Buckets and buckets of bleach have been brought into the city in recent days, and clean-up efforts are currently focused on keeping dangerous mycotoxins out of the air.
But more than mold, I fear the contamination of bitterness into our atmosphere. Praise God that it has been kept at bay as the Body of Christ has poured into Houston from all over the United States. Christians have sent supplies and they have sent their people, and their presence has infused hope and joy into every part of this city.
When these precious servants return to their own hometowns, pray that we will not forget the compassion and grace God has shown us through each one of them. Pray for our hearts and for our hope, for our city to be rebuilt on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Join us in praising God, for as we have witnessed here in Houston, when the Lord is the saving refuge of the state, there is no strength like “Texas Strong.” There is no faithfulness like our God’s.
The last lines of the poem hanging in the beach house do not promise a future without storms; in the three decades since these words were penned, they have only worsened. But we who have been rescued by Christ have a shelter in the Most High, a refuge and fortress, in whom we can trust.
Though life for us may sometimes seem
A fragment torn by wind,
You, our God, have never failed
To all our needs attend.

~Patricia C. Neil; August 18, 1983
A Refuge in Harvey's Wake was originally published on ReviveOurHearts.com. 

March 8, 2017

a day with women who know true freedom


In Luke 13, Jesus is teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. A woman is there, bent over, physically unable to straighten herself; she has been suffering for eighteen years. Jesus sees her and calls for her, and she steps forward, staring at the floor, feeling the eyes of the crowd on her body. Standing in front of Jesus, she strains to look up at Him. He says to her, “You are freed from your disability.” You are freed.

She begins to praise God, pausing as Jesus asks the ruler of the synagogue, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v. 16). The woman will not forget these words. Jesus is defending her dignity in a place where women traditionally have been shunned; He is showing the leaders His power, showing her His care. He is declaring her to be a daughter of Abraham, an heir according to promise, part of the family of God. Precious woman, welcome to the sisterhood.

We are the women Christ sets free: women born into a broken world, into aching bodies with bitter hearts, with minds bent on our own way; women who come to Christ with desires so crooked, we could never straighten ourselves. We stand because of Him. We stand amazed by Him. We stand aligned with Him.


A Day Without a Woman

Today, March 8, many communities will be impacted by “A Day Without a Woman,” a protest organized by the same grassroots group behind January’s Global Women’s March. For twenty-four hours, women will disappear across the country and wait for the world to notice. They will refrain from work and abstain from buying items online or in stores. By removing themselves from the economy, women will demand the world acknowledge their significance.

Some people will be drawn to this event to protest the marginalization of disabled women, misogyny, domestic abuse, racism, and other incredibly important issues. However, as Christian women, we need to understand that if we stand with this strike, our actions will affirm the movement’s Unity Principles, especially the founders’ unbiblical views of gender, marriage, and reproduction. Since these views clearly contradict Scripture, we cannot stand for them.


Women Christ Set Free

The organizers of “A Day Without a Woman” proclaim, “We must free ourselves and our society. . . . ” But we are women who have found true freedom in Christ—women given life through His strength.

We are women who were dead in our sin, who have been resurrected by God’s power, who have become heirs of the crucified King. He who did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped gave up His rights so we could be righteous. He laid down His life in love.

We are women God created in His image, designed with dignity and value, who cling to the work of the gospel. Although the world does not always view the worth of women, we seek to reflect the respect and mercy we received at the cross, “esteeming others as better than ourselves, seeking to build them up,” embracing the beauty of grace.

We are women who uphold the Creator-God’s design of humanity, who see God’s concept of “male and female” as part of His magnificent, purposeful plan. We are women who maintain marriage to be “sacred and binding,” between one man and one woman, and we celebrate and support it as such. We are women who see the worth God has given human life, how precious it is in all stages and seasons, so we work to protect it “from the point of conception until rightful death.”

We are women who have been born again, women who bend our knees on the Solid Rock, who humble ourselves in solidarity, “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Thank you, Lord, for the joy of this sisterhood.

In Luke 13, we meet a woman who, after eighteen years of suffering, has only minutes left before she is healed. When Jesus calls her, she walks toward Him, and the last painful steps she takes lead her straight to Christ. He is her finish line, her long-hoped for Healer, and we are women who walk this same way. Each step we take sends us gloriously closer to seeing our Savior face-to-face. Fully free, at last.

A Day with Women Who Know True Freedom was originally published on ReviveOurHearts.com. 

January 27, 2017

facing heartache on earth; finding hope in the heavens

My first semester as a full-time teacher, my grandfather, the rocket scientist, came to the classroom and explained the concept of propulsion systems to a group of five- to eight-year-olds. It was a presentation he had polished by teaching generations: He had taught my grandmother’s fourth graders and my mom’s fifth graders, and on that Friday, he was going to meet a few of mine.


Looking Toward the Heavens

Neither the students nor Grandpa quite knew what to expect when he entered the women’s center, the safehouse that provided refuge for these kids, their brothers and sisters, and their mothers. The students sat in a semicircle on the rug awaiting his arrival, swinging their feet against chair legs, their muddy tennis shoes hanging over a map of the world. As Grandpa sat down and held up an old poster of a space shuttle on launch day, they leaned forward to look at the mountainous billows of smoke and steam and power left behind. These students, little ones who had seen far too much in their short lifetimes, had never been exposed to anything like this. They were captivated.

As Grandpa pulled out a brightly colored balloon and began to blow it up, the students watched, wide-eyed. As soon as it was completely filled with air, Grandpa winked at me and let it fly. After it fell behind the bookshelves, we began to hunt for higher ceilings. We took the kids outside, and I found my eighty-year-old grandfather kneeling on cold concrete, picking up a kindergartner’s feet and placing them on a launch pad. The students standing in line stared at the stomp rocket then looked to the clouds, focusing their eyes on the bluest of skies. They could suddenly see beyond the security cameras and concrete walls. Here was hope, soaring toward the heavens.

Several months ago, I came across some of the artwork the students had done in response to my grandparents’ visit—several rainbow-colored solar systems, smiling astronauts in space suits, a sun that glowed in the dark. In August, a few days after I stopped by his house to show him those pictures, I received the phone call that my grandfather had gone to be with Jesus.


Why Is It So Dark?

This world had never really been his home. My grandfather had worked at NASA during the first moon walk, but over the years, he had come to see what a small step for man that was compared to the giant leap taken by the Son of God, who gave up the majesty of heaven to stand on earthly soil. My grandfather’s Hero did not place a stake in the sand and leave the planet alone, but laying down His life, He restored what sin had made a “magnificent desolation.” My grandfather never stopped thanking God for this redemption.

The morning my grandparents visited the classroom, after we passed around snapshots of the solar system, a third grader paused to study a picture of earth, its perimeter fringed with the rich black of the galaxy. His hand shot into the air, and he asked, “If the sun is in space, why is it so dark there?” Years later, I feel the weight of that question. The impact of Jesus’ entrance on the atmosphere was immeasurable on every scale, and yet, the radiant eternal hope He provided has not removed the present heartache of death.

When my health hit one of its lowest points, I lived in my grandparents’ guest room. Night after night after night, as I experienced excruciating physical pain, Grandpa knelt beside my bed, gray head bowed, humbling himself before the God of the universe. I did not know then that he was teaching me what I would need to do to endure the present darkness: to press my knees into the ground and put all of my hope in the Son.

He Rules Over It All

Before Genesis 3, before death and disappointment and domestic violence and division, before man’s disobedience caused the consequences of evil, God created the heavens and the earth. The world was good because He was good, and He did not change by the end of the third chapter. Those thin pages carry the framework of the ages.

When the Apollo 8 crew orbited the moon, their message was broadcast against the backdrop of what has been considered one of America’s most turbulent years. As the three astronauts approached the lunar sunrise, they took turns reading familiar words, and the profundity of the passage broke through the static: “In the beginning, God.”

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his faithful love toward those who fear him . . . and his righteousness to children’s children to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all (Ps. 103:11, 17–19).
Facing Heartache on Earth; Finding Hope in the Heavens was originally published on ReviveOurHearts.com.