I’m a muddy mix of post-Harvey feelings. I bet you are, too.
I’m grateful my neighborhood was spared the worst so we can be out there helping our city. I’m heartbroken over other’s losses. I’m also worried about my friends facing down Hurricane Irma, but I’m not sure how to help them. I want to know how long it’s going to take for us to recover, to feel normal again.
Longer than I’d like, I’m sure.
It’s not just the physical recovery either. I had two recent experiences that showed me the emotional toll of a disaster, even for people who didn’t lose their homes. Sunday night I awoke from a disturbing nightmare about flooding. I won’t recount the details. Too many people around me lived the real thing while our family stayed high and dry. Then, 2AM Wednesday, a short-lived thunderstorm rolled into Houston. I bolted up, crying out, “What’s happening?!” I’ve heard from other friends who reacted similarly, some taking shelter in closets in case of more tornadoes, and all of us worrying about other people.
And we are the ones who lost nothing in the physical sense. I can’t fathom the trauma of people who lost homes, cars, jobs, or family. What is abundantly clear, however, is that all of us need grace and time to heal.
We saw blue sky peek through around 6pm yesterday for the first time in days, and I think our whole city cheered. Even as harrowing rescue efforts continued and shelters filled, we had a moment of hope and a chance to smile at something. We needed that bit of sunshine so much.
The whole Texas coast is going to need hopeful moments to help us push through the Harvey and Houston flood disasters, but we’re also going to need help. Some, like our family, have been spared the worst of it, and we are profoundly grateful. We now have an opportunity to help others, and we are being joined by so many of you from all over the world who want to help, too. It’s encouraging.
However, I’ve noticed that not all types of “helping” are encouraging or even useful—I’ll list a few actions later that are extremely needed, but first, here are three things that we could use your help in stopping:
Outside armchair quarterbacking and social media “outrage” over whether things are being done the way you would’ve done them. There will be time for analysis, but please calm the heck down for a few more days. In fact, why don’t you set up the equivalent of a swear jar on your kitchen counter—you remember the swear jar, don’t you? You deposit a dollar every time you cuss? This week, every time you feel like lighting up social media with your five-point critique of how we’re handling evacuations, etc, why don’t you put five bucks in the jar and then donate that money at the end of the week? We’ll thank you for your generosity, and we’ll all be in a better frame of mind to discuss what could be improved after the worst has passed.
Spreading unverified “helpful” information. There is a load of bad information and rumors being circulated about immigrants being harassed for papers at shelters (totally false), bogus phone numbers to call for help, and even sighting of sharks swimming down the freeway. Please take a second. Check the local news and emergency response officials before you send it out. I guarantee that if you have time to retweet something, you have time to do a quick Google search to verify it.
Bagging up old, ratty clothes or expired food to donate. If you live close enough to donate physical goods, then absolutely, go through your house or head to the store for specifically requested items. I’ve seen and sorted the things that end up at donation drops, and I’m not sure what some folks were thinking. How can I put this delicately? Nobody needs skid-marked underwear, sweat-stained pillows, or cans of frosting that expired last year. Those are called trash, not donations. Even items in good condition may be more of a hindrance than a help right now. Agencies and shelters are very specific about what they need so that they can best care for the people they serve, and they usually post this information. Right after a disaster, displaced families do not need bulky stuffed animals, books, furniture, or even a whole lot of clothes. Showing up at shelters to drop off such things creates more work for volunteers and a storage nightmare. Hold onto non-requested items for later as people start to rebuild. Instead, grab the list of items requested and get to work.
OK, enough of that. We are thankful that you are motivated to care and to help, so here are three things we need you to start doing if you haven’t already:
Dig into your wallets and donate to those that are doing the hard work. At minimum, give to an organization like Samaritan’s Purse who brings trained teams into hard-hit areas. If you want more tangibility to your gift—to see your dollars in action so to speak—text your friends in the region and ask them who they recommend. For instance, here are some of my favorite groups that actively serve our community 365 days a year and are being stretched to the limit by this disaster: bridgingfortomorrow.org, Houstonfoodbank.org, missionofyahweh.org, generationone.net, Faithbridge.org
Prepare for the long haul. Things like Harvey and the Houston flood provide opportunities for you to help for weeks, months, and years to come. Begin to check with your church about how you can be prepared to help when it’s time for restoration. This may even be your chance to step out and lead a team! Have your pastor or missions coordinator reach out to their Texas counterparts to let them know you will be ready. Check with organizations like Samaritan’s Purse. There may be some immediate opportunities, but never underestimate the usefulness of building a well-prepared, well-trained team that is willing to partner over the long term with groups that are already in place.
Minister to people’s spiritual needs. Pray! And not just a hurried whisper to the heavens or a repost of a beautifully written prayer. While those are important, your friends in the area would love for you to reach out and ask specifically what you can pray with them about that day. Be willing to listen to those going through this disaster. They need to talk to someone who will patiently listen without offering a million suggestions or nice “reminders” about how they should be more grateful for what they didn’t lose. There will be time to help people gain perspective, but unless they have the freedom to process grief and confusion, that next step will be delayed.
I am grateful for the outpouring of love, support, and hard work I’m seeing all around me. Good-hearted people everywhere are simply rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. (I especially love when I see a news crew put down their microphones and actually help people into boats. Remember, if the news team can arrive there, then just off camera, there are a dozen first-responders and volunteers working really hard.) Pray for the folks on the front line as well as those they are helping. And thank you for caring about Texas. God bless you.
Between Monday’s eclipse and getting kids back to school, it’s already been a strange week. Now, with Hurricane Harvey bearing down on us here in Texas, we’re all throwing our schedules out the window and getting prepared.
Storm prep is a bit sobering—last year’s devastating floods are still fresh on people’s minds. However, one good thing that always happens in Houston is that people begin to focus on taking care of their families and neighbors. Grace starts to manifest itself in beautiful ways.
In my own life this week, I’ve needed a refresher on that amazing grace. What I wrote last week on forbearance and what I’ve wanted to write about forgiveness this week have been put to the test. There haven’t been any big upsets, but I’ve been an anxious, irritable mess and haven’t had a whole lot of grace for my family or myself. On top of that, every bit of sharp-tongued criticism I’ve directed at my family, every hurt feeling I’ve struggled to release—all of it has been on a replay loop in my brain. Forbearance? Forgiveness? Who can write about those when you can’t seem to extend either?
Now, a few of you other veteran parents just nodded knowingly because you are acutely aware that things get a little tense as the kids head back to school. In fact, my problem-solving husband was Googling articles on the August Blues, trying to help me gain perspective. (He was also trying to soothe me with science since I’m a sucker for good research—if nerd-speak isn’t an official love language, it should be.)
So yes, I’m aware that what I’ve been experiencing—the short temper, the frustration, and the angsty regrets over those feelings—isn’t that different from other moms in back-to-school mode, especially those who tend toward some anxiety and depression like me.
So do I dare write about things like forbearance and forgiveness? You bet I do.
This week I posted on Facebook with regards to events in Charlottesville, VA, “I pledge not to look away, not to offer the cop-out of “It’s complicated” as an excuse for doing nothing. This white supremacist garbage is straight out of hell, and we’ve got our work cut out for us as the body of Christ to unseat an ancient evil. But our Jesus will have the victory in the end.”
I truly believe we, the church, have an opportunity to respond to God’s call for unity within His body and then work shoulder-to-shoulder to fight what is ultimately a spiritual battle against racism, sexism, class-ism and any other “-ism” that’s not’s reflective of Who we serve. (If you need a starting place to understand that vision, check out Derwin Gray’s latest book The High Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World. Both he and Trillia Newbill are leaders who are speaking and writing eloquently on the topic.) With that vision in mind, I want to remind us of two tools in our tool belts, forbearance and forgiveness, that will go a long way in helping as we dismantle old mindsets and walk in Christ’s will for His earth. I’ve written a few chapters about those two things in New Woman, New Clothes, so I’ll share some excerpts this week and next.
And sisters and brothers, hold tight to Galatians 6:9 and let’s not grow weary of doing the good things Christ is calling us to do, for in due time we will reap a harvest!
Our numbers grew, time lengthened, but we were not unhappy. True, we were all a bit anxious, a bit tired, but you would have seen various ones of us continue to pop up onto our toes and crane our necks to see down the corridor, hopeful looks on our faces.
At one point I caught a blur in my peripheral vision. A boy of perhaps 10 or 12, dressed up in black slacks and a pink-hued button-down ran from the crowd and around the metal barrier to launch himself into the arms of a woman clothed in a long black dress and headscarf. The little guy was equal parts smiles and tears! I’m not ashamed to say I, too, shed a few happy tears as I watched them enveloped by a larger family near us, the boy never leaving the woman’s side.
We watched some version of that scene play out over and over in the course of an hour at the airport’s International Arrival lobby:
A gentleman with flowers awaiting his love.
A scruffy-faced backpacker arriving to scan the crowd for his parents.
A group of families cheering as our rumpled teens finally came through the corridor.
I decided this ranked second only to the maternity waiting room at the hospital for the mixture of anticipation and sudden outbursts of joy.
This summer I’ve gotten the chance to know Victoria Adams, a senior religion major at Baylor University who is interning with the youth ministry at our church. She recently shared a message with our middle school group about how God can meet us in our place of weakness and remind us that we are His beloved children. That resonated with me, too, so I’ve asked her to guest blog this week with her story.
I was born deaf.
Not the “she hears me sometimes then ignores me others” type deaf but fully and completely without hearing. My parents found this out by cupping their hands and yelling at me while I was sleeping as a baby.
As a non-gardener, I’m easily impressed with those who have a knack for all things green and growing. I wrote about childhood memories of my dad’s garden earlier this year, and though Dad’s not raising a crop of squash and pumpkins at the moment, he does tame the woods with his chainsaw until it’s an oasis of gorgeous views and peaceful trails.
Recently, though, it was my father-in-law Gerald’s backyard garden that knocked my socks off. I’ve included a video “walk-through” below.
Gerald’s project is meaningful on many levels. It’s an example of re-purposing things that others might discard — the raised beds were constructed primarily from old shipping pallets.
It’s a leafy monument to perseverance through tough times. My father-in-law has battled a serious kidney disorder for almost two years but did not let illness keep him from creating beauty.
And it’s also purposeful and beneficial, providing vegetables that help rejuvenate the body and a joyful hobby that blesses the mind and spirit.
You all know I’m itching to talk about spiritual parallels right now, but I’m going to save them for a future post. For now, enjoy your tour of Gerald’s garden with these ideas in mind: