(This week I include the song “With You Always” to accompany this blog. Please join me in praying for all those affected by Hurricane Irma)
Last week I was in Dallas at a conference when the news came that the entire state of Florida was in the bull’s eye of Hurricane Irma, which was projected to be the biggest, most monstrous hurricane of the century. This was not some academic, far-off news story for me because since June of this year Florida has been our home. In the face of Irma’s imminent threat, millions of people were evacuating the state. Roads were packed and crawling with cars. Airports were swamped with people desperately trying to flee this epic storm that had the potential to devastate all of Florida. One woman we met at the conference hadn’t heard from her sister in days. She was last known to be on an island in the Caribbean that was slammed by Irma.
At the urging of my family, I decided to fly to Minnesota on Friday to be with my wife rather than return to Florida. One of my colleagues, Paul, bravely flew back to Florida to be with his wife who was still there and to help with storm preparations for our church campus. Even with contingency plans in place, our church wisely chose to cancel all Sunday services.
To say I had mixed feelings about my decision to not return to our Florida home is an understatement. My heart ached for our friends and church in the path of this storm. Sleeplessness was mixed with thoughts and fears for people we know, with prayers for their well being repeatedly lifted in the night. The feelings of helplessness and uncertainty were inescapable. Terese and I also thought about our Florida house that held our earthly belongings and wondered if it would make it through the storm. At our request, our friends Jonathan and Betty checked our house before they evacuated the area. They took pictures of each room, unplugged devices, closed doors, and quickly did what they could to get our new home ready for the pending hurricane. We prayed and surrendered our house to God’s loving, sovereign care.
In the ensuing days in Minnesota Terese and I moved from one house to another as family members graciously allowed us to stay with them. The night Irma struck Florida my beloved mother-in-law gave us the gift of a free night in a hotel. These past days we have felt the homelessness that many people experience on a regular, ongoing basis. It has given us a new appreciation for their plight. It has felt surreal as we wondered what shape our house would be in and when it would be safe to return. Jesus also knew homelessness in his time on earth: first as a refugee in Egypt and later in his itinerant ministry all the way to the cross. Jesus put it this way:
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”
With the uncertainty we experienced Terese and I have been forced to reflect on what is really important in life. Through this time God has reminded me that we are all sojourners on this planet, awaiting the unveiling of our real home in heaven. Until then we are all, as Larry Norman once wrote, “just visiting this planet.”
Someone once asked me what one item I would take out of my home if it were burning: a picture, a book, or something else? I’m starting to think this question misses the point a little bit. The ultimate answer hinges on whether or not we have experienced God and look to Him alone when all else is taken away. If we do, then we can know the joy of the faith-filled people whose experience of God carried them through and beyond the loss of property and even life itself. If we don’t, we will mourn the loss of things that we will eventually lose anyway through time, decay, and yes, even death.
What would I take out of a burning house? My relationship with God.
What is most important to us in the days of a hurricane? God…
…and then our family, friends, church, and loved ones He has given to us as precious gifts. The other stuff can be replaced, or we can learn to live without it.
Through social media we kept in touch with friends in our area. We learned that hurricane force winds pounded against roofs and windows even as massive amounts of rain fell. At 3 a.m. Monday morning a friend emailed me that the eye of the storm was passing over our city, and asked for prayers that no tornados would form. I immediately prayed for everyone in our area.
Later yesterday we heard from our friends and church that they are okay. We thank God for His gracious care for them! The church building came through with only minor damage. We love the Lord and are grateful for His protection of this place where people gather to meet with Him.
Last night a friend of ours went to our house and reported that it looked fine from the outside. We thank God for His Abba-Father care for us, and once again commit all we are and have to Him with thanksgiving, even as we continue to seek how He would use us and what we have to honor Him and bless others.
Here’s the quick lesson I continue to learn: A person who truly worships God looks to Him alone for joy, security, and meaning. When we know that everything is temporary, we can embrace the words of the Psalmist:
“Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” Psalm 37:3-5
God bless you!