(Note: some of the images are not my own but from other friends in Houston.)
The pictures are stunning. Perhaps a kind of remarkable that we don’t like. Sometimes, thinking about the rising waters and flooded streets and burdened reservoirs and bayous of Houston, I just have few words other than oh my. I don’t know how to make meaning of it.
That’s my suburb. Surely it couldn’t be that much under water right? Stunned silence. But what about the city?
I can’t even make sense of that. So much rain and I can’t even begin to grasp the amount of water that fell. What bayou system could survive 45″ of rain or more? What city has the capability? How did it happen? The many reasons have been shared and bantered back and forth:
- Too much rain period.
- No zoning laws that safeguard green spaces for water to escape to.
- Poor development habits that have overwhelmed prairie spaces that let water sink in.
- The flat Houston city scape, which compounds the water building up and gives no help.
We know these things, but it doesn’t change the stunned silence. Wow. Oh my. Shaking heads. We feel in shock by how fast the city filled, how the rain kept coming, and how the hurricane just stalled after destroying Corpus and Rockport and Victoria. We knew it was coming, felt prepared, but not that prepared.
And the images still keep coming. Water images that reflect helplessness, like hospitals that can’t take patients in dire need or send their healthy home.
That’s what it is. Helplessness. Many in their homes were helpless as water rose and seeped through cracks, doors ajar, and every gap to destroy their homes, drown their pictures and books and furniture, and pushed them up the stairs or into an attic or on the rooftop. Helpless as they stood watching out windows while neighbors houses filled up. Helpless to stem the rising water as it forced them out of homes. Helpless as some were stuck at the hospital where I was, but only able to call loved ones who were evacuating and being flooded out or constantly anxious about what would be lost. Some were helpless as they helped others inside one place, but whose every being wanted to help those in another. Helpless because some were far from home and had no idea what the water would do. Helpless because toys were lost, homes were lost, pictures were lost, normalcy was lost, and stress and grief were gained. Some were separated from their babies and had little clue as to their husbands and babies and where they would evacuate to because how would they get there.
Helpless. When hurricanes or tsunamis or floods come, there is little more to feel but helpless. And regardless of whether your home was lost, the anxiety and dreaded worry filled almost all with grief. Regardless of a death toll, the grief is real in Texas between Corpus Christi, Houston, Beaumont, and every town in between.
This is typically where many ask about God.
This is also typically where many tell those that grieve, “They are just possessions.” Or they say things like “you have your life at least.” Perhaps “what is the worth if a man gains the whole world but forfeits his life.” Perhaps they say more atrocious things like “God will make it better” or “Don’t worry” or “Gods got a plan for this.”
I will not say that. I am a hospital chaplain who sees children sick and dying almost daily and knows not to hide grief and helplessness.
Perhaps when Jesus asks us not to hide our light under a bushel, we might not just imagine him talking about our joy. Our pain and sorrow do not need to be hidden. As challenging, as stunned, as grief stricken or angry as we are, we live that.
We live it because God speaks through those to everyone else. God doesn’t speak solely through happiness. Gods speaks in the grief of a people who wrestle, who get their nails dirty in mud, who climb in boats from their kitchen doors and shake their heads towards the heavens. God speaks in the heartache of memories lost through waterlogged photo albums and the tears of people evacuated twice over because of Hurricane Katrina or the Memorial Day floods.
In Matthew, Jesus rebukes Peter for telling him grief and ugliness would not be so. Jesus rebuked him for denying the cross of pain and grief he, and we are called to bear. No, losing your stuff is not the cross you bear. Grief and sadness and shock and heartache are. Will you see with more honest eyes? Will you pick up your cross and follow Jesus into the grief and pain and trust that God is there? Will you share your burden trusting that God will speak and that Gods love still shines? Will you lament and trust that God listens? Pick up your cross and follow me. This is not a post encouraging you to gladly accept Gods plan of losing your house, or not a post encouraging you to be minimalist or resigning yourself to lives of pain or woe. Those responses aren’t denials of self, but rather ways we keep ourselves and our eyes untouched.
Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me. Dare to experience it all and see it all with honest eyes. Did you feel the hand on your back from your friend comforting you as you tore out water logged carpet from your home? Did you deny yourself the pleasure of your own comfort and serve the broken hearted? Did you see the love in your neighbor eyes for you as you hurt losing your sons pictures or your late husbands belongings? Did you see differently? I hope I am.
When Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, one way to hear it today is that he dares us to give up our way of seeing. Where is God here in our helplessness? Where not? Did we see God in first responders? Did we see God in people on boats rescuing families from neighborhoods? Did we see God in the chaplain who hugged the nurses who were scared for their children out there? Did we see God in the prayer circles, the hugs, the outstretched hands, the church showing up to demo your home, or the loads of musty laundry the neighbor is doing for everyone? Did we see God in the tears cried or the laughter shared in friends homes while we waited out the flood? Pick up our cross and see that somehow even the grief of Jesus cross opens space to see God is still there.
Be heartbroken, grieve, be stunned into silence, and feel the sadness of the flood. Let Gods love come seeking you there in your brokenness, not just in your victories. Gods love can find you, even when you feel so broken and grief stricken. I don’t always know how, I struggle sometimes to see it, and I don’t understand sometimes, but we still are challenged to pick up the cross of trusting Gods love will go with us.
Yes, Jesus challenge to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow me means a lot of things. But this week, it means being willing to see that we are never separated from Gods love in Christ, whether in death or life, joy or grief, sorrow or relief, height or depth, baking sun or whelming flood. God is here. God is here in the hands, the feet, the ears, and the heart that surrounds us. God is here and speaking through it all. And regardless of how high the flood waters, I have to grieve and trust that God does not recede when the waters rise or rise when the waters recede. I am called to bear that cross, be heartbroken, and be still.