Saturday, June 11, 2011

Finding God in Joplin

Mountain View

“A mountain view can literally take your breath away. Getting a clearer view of God can do the same. Here at the Warming House, you’ll find truth that will help you know and understand who God is and how He feels about you. What you find here may cause you to live your life a little differently."

What do you see in this line of letters?


Did you see “God is nowhere?” Or did you pick up on the words “God is now here?”

It’s really a matter of perspective isn’t it? Perspective is especially important when it comes to times of tragedy.

On Sunday, May 22nd at 5:41 p.m., a monstrous EF5 tornado churned its ugly way through the town of Joplin, Missouri. With 200 mph winds and ¾ of a mile in width, it tore a path of destruction 14 miles long. It was so large, victims recall being hit by one wall followed by calm in the “eye”. Soon the back wall exploded upon them slamming them once again with ferocious wind, rain, hail, and debris. Some in Joplin lost not only their homes, cars, and material possessions; they also lost family members, friends, and employment.

So where was God on May 22nd? Was He nowhere? Or was He “now here?” When hard times come, we often look for someone to blame, and God often catches the brunt of it. I have read the Bible from front to back and have committed myself to studying its pages. I can tell you with great certainty that nothing in the Bible instructs us to attempt to figure out who to blame. What the Bible does tell us over and over again, is to trust God. We can trust him because He is good, and He promises to be with us in every situation.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

The English word “compassion” comes from two Latin words pati and cum. Together; they mean “to suffer with.” God is compassionate. When He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth He made a conscious decision to be with us. In coming to earth, He chose to enter into your brokenness, your weaknesses, your uncertainty, and your pain. He is a God who goes to the hard places, and His desire is to experience life with you in all of its extremes. In the book Compassion by Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison, this is explained as solidarity –or God’s unity with us.

My husband, son, a friend from Iowa, and a friend from our hometown felt compelled to go to the victims in Joplin. Sometimes well-intentioned help can be a hindrance, so my husband, Mike, contacted a fireman friend who was on-site assisting with search and rescue. He assured Mike there were plenty of places where they could be a help, so they drove to Joplin and spent two days volunteering there.

Tanner clearing trees

The first day they cut and cleared large trees around a home that had been damaged with two guys who had driven up from southern Texas. They never saw the homeowner that day so our group had no idea whether or not they had survived the storm.

The second day they passed by the house where they had worked the day before. Mike noticed the owner digging through the rubble looking for valuables. He and our friend, Bill, from Iowa went to her, asked how she was doing, and explained they had been there the day before cutting trees. Although she had just commented that she was okay, Linda now broke down crying and told them how much she appreciated what they had done. My husband learned that she was not married and had no children. There were basically no family members to help her. She was about sixty years old and she was alone.

Mike and Bill stayed at her house to work while our friend, Jack, and our son, Tanner, worked at the home next door. After a while they all joined forces at Linda’s home to shovel insulation that had fallen when the ceiling collapsed. The extent of the damage was overwhelming and they wondered how they would ever get it all shoveled out. About that time, a family of four from Thayer, Missouri and two women from Fayetteville walked up and pitched in. Perfect timing! There was a sweet sense of community as all of them worked together for a common purpose. At the end of the day they prayed together for Linda and the survivors in Joplin.

As my husband looked across Linda’s yard and scanned the Joplin horizon, he had the disheartening feeling that they hadn’t really made much difference. Their work had barely scratched the surface.

I told my husband that there were much more important things that had been accomplished. His presence didn’t have to "fix things" in order to have value. He couldn’t ultimately change Linda’s situation, but he had made her suffering his own. He had willingly entered into her despair, her powerlessness, her darkness, her grief, and her loss. He had made himself vulnerable. He had been present with her, and it had encouraged and comforted her. That’s what she had needed at that moment in her life more than anything else.

Scripture tells us God’s presence (His Holy Spirit) lives within those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. He indwells them. His heart, His concerns, His plans, His purposes, His desires, and His presence live in and through them. The love and concern those people share with others, and the help they give, is God reaching out and caring through them. It is God demonstrating Himself to the world.

Jesus commands us to be compassionate as our Father is compassionate – to show solidarity by going where it hurts, by entering into places of pain, by sharing in fear, confusion, and anguish, by mourning with those who mourn and weeping with those who weep – by being present with one another just as God chose to be present with us.

Our exhausted group of men (Tanner, Mike, Bill, and Jack)
So where was God in the tragedy that day – and where is He today? Is He nowhere or is He now here? He is most definitely right there in Joplin through the lives of His followers who are present in that situation loving, serving, and persevering through hardship.

How might God be calling you to "suffer with" someone in Joplin or elsewhere today?

You can help Joplin tornado victims by praying, showing up, or sharing your resources. If you'd like to make a donation, here are some options:

American Red Cross (Enter zip code for Joplin - 64801)
Salvation Army (Call 1-800-SAL-ARMY or text the word JOPLIN to 80888 for a $10 donation. You can also mail a donation to Joplin Tornado Relief; The Salvation Army; 3637 Broadway; Kansas City, MO 64111.)
World Vision (Text TORNADO to 20222 for a $10 donation or call 888-56-CHILD.)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Join me by the fire for conversations about how to nurture your family and create a warm and inviting home for family and friends.

This week I’ve invited my friend, Martha, to share some home and family wisdom with us. Martha has lived in many different parts of the world. She grew up in Oklahoma then moved with her family to Bolivia at age 14. After college she met and married her husband, Jack, while visiting her parents in Saudi Arabia. Since that time, she and Jack have lived in Denver, CO; Liberal, Kansas; Dallas, Texas; Houston, Texas; and Branson, MO. Martha is a mother of two, and grandmother to four beautiful grandchildren. Hospitality is one of her strengths, and she has generously opened her home to many throughout the years. She and Jack are committed to using their home for God’s purposes. Martha is also a survivor. She has persevered through many serious health issues. I am so grateful she’s agreed to share her heart with us here. Here’s her first post:

I have a nose like a bloodhound and my husband can’t smell anything. I’m sure it has something to do with hormones!

Growing up, like all of you, I was surrounded by smells. The smell in the air before an impending rainstorm, the pungent smell of vinegar when my grandmother was canning home grown vegetables, and starch and steam melding together on ironing day. Those aromas are accompanied by clear memories. They are closely intertwined and one brings the other to mind.

I, like many of you, have burned many fragrant candles in my home. At one point my son stated he was certain the fragrance was actually imbedded in the furniture! No matter where we lived it smelled good. A home cooked meal bubbling on the stove, fresh baked cookies or a candle all contribute to the ambiance we sense when we walk into any room.

I’m glad both my children had the same experience I did and can associate certain smells with a fond memory. One of my daughter’s favorite smells is that of leather. She is an accomplished equestrian and when she smells leather she wants it accompanied with a strong dose of rolled oats, cedar shavings and saddles!!  She has great memories with horses and the exciting events that accompanied them.  Just a whiff of leather jolts those memories to life.

My sister and I were basketball players and you can imagine what smells that would involve! Although the “aroma” may not be a desired one; for me, a sweaty smelling basketball gym brings good memories. Fortunately, certain smells belong in their appropriate places.

What is the first aromatic impression of your home when someone walks through the door? Wet dog, moth balls, sour laundry or something no one can identify?!  Better that it be something pleasantly enticing that lures your friends and family further into your home.

I hope your home is filled with great aromas and great experiences. They are closely related as memories are brought to mind.