Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Sweet Baton Rouge, My Baton Rouge

The now-ironic closing words from Garth Brooks's "Callin' Baton Rouge" will continue to be endearing but may elicit more than a few eye rolls as they are sung this fall at LSU football games:
Operator won't you put me on through
I gotta' send my love down to Baton Rouge
Hurry up won't you put her on the line
I gotta' talk to the girl just one more time

Callin' Baton Rouge
Sweet Baton Rouge, my Baton Rouge
Why ironic, with eye-rolling? The backstory will help:

In case you haven't heard about the recent 1000-year flood that afflicted southeastern Louisiana, read about it here and here. Over 60,000 homes flooded in a three-day time period. This map will show you just the East Baton Rouge area, though neighboring Livingston Parish suffered even more comprehensively. Neighborhoods that have never seen water were inundated, some homes taking in 5 inches and some 5 feet. And though I no longer live in my hometown, most of my family does. 

My 96-year-old great aunt lost her home and must stay with her daughter. Several cousins were flooded, a family furniture business lost a showroom, and my mother's two-year-old house took on two feet of water. She, like thousands of others, is now homeless until contractors can gut, clean, and rebuild—a process that will happen without the benefit of flood insurance to mitigate the cost, since she and so many thousands of others did not have such insurance—not living in a flood zone. 

See Photos of the #BRFlood

Amid the destruction and heartache of this ongoing disaster, grace and hope shine through—silver linings revealing God's goodness:
  • As the torrential rains fell on Friday, a friend from Dallas called Mom to ask about the level of the lake behind her home. She hadn't really thought about it until he called, so the next morning she went outside during a lull in the rain to take pictures of it. A neighbor in a nearby yard saw her and called out, encouraging her to evacuate soon. "But the lake is fine. Why the urgency?" Mom wondered. Apparently the road leading to their neighborhood was beginning to flood over, so even if the lake remained low, the streets might not, and they would be trapped in their homes.

    So Mom packed up a few essentials and her dog, then drove to my brother's house just a couple of miles away. She says she got out just in time, as the water indeed was over the road and—she later learned—authorities had closed off traffic to that area.

    If our friend in Dallas had not thought to call and inquire about her lake, she likely would not have been outside taking pictures of it. And who can predict when neighbors are outside at the same time? Coincidence? Hardly.
  • Mom, my brother and his family, and several others were forced to evacuate again as waters threatened his neighborhood the following morning. They eventually found refuge with a friend of a friend in a town west of the Mississippi River, about 40 minutes away. Five adults and three babies invaded—staying for three days, waiting on the flooding to stop and to hear about the impact on their homes. Mom says that neighbors came to that house with more food and supplies than they could ever consume.

  • Both of my brothers' homes escaped flooding, though the waters rose to within inches of their doorstep. Mom has a place to stay while her house is repaired—a luxury so many lack.

  • Stories began to spread, telling of the hundreds of locals going out to rescue stranded people by launching their private fishing boats, kayaks, pirogues, and such. The "Cajun Navy" made headlines (when the media finally got around to talking about the BR flood). Regular Joes (or Boudreaux, as Cajuns joke) just helping each other out in what became a dramatic scenario.
  • As a plan emerged to clean out and repair Mom's house, I called on friends here in Dallas to help me bring a Suburban full of packing supplies: boxes, tape, bubble wrap, etc. Within six hours of asking, my truck was loaded—some of it coming from people who didn't even know me but who responded to my friend's plea on Facebook. Such generosity! Each item I brought was used or shared with others in need. Nothing went to waste.

  • I was able to drive down with my oldest son (great for manual labor) overnight Wednesday in order to get there in time for the moving truck Thursday afternoon. A team of friends and family had already been hard at work clearing out ruined furniture and carpet. Mom's sisters, grandkids, children, in-laws, friends, friends of her children... what a picture of love! By Thursday afternoon her house was empty, ready for the demolition team. This week it's being sprayed to kill the mold. Step-by-step, she's moving forward.

During the worst of the storm and rising water, the AT&T substation flooded, causing service outages across the region. This complicated and disrupted communications between residents and their families or would-be rescuers. I couldn't reach Mom at all on the Saturday she evacuated. And though the company has extended discounts and rebates to customers in that area, they are currently everyone's favorite punching bag. So when LSU plays in a few weeks, and Garth's song tells the home crowd he's "callin' Baton Rouge," chances are that Tiger fans will suggest he use Verizon or Sprint. Badump-bing.

But, seriously, friends, I cannot thank enough people for their instinctive reaction to give, pray, and serve when news of the flooding hit. To Pop—for calling about the lake; to Erin, Mark, Heather, Andrew and Esteliz, Sandi, and Erin's friends for the supplies; to my hubby for holding down the fort during my trip; to Nate for serving without complaint; to Sharon, Amy and Aiden, Eileen and Mitch, Maureen, Fran, Becky, Ana, and the others I can't remember for helping pack up and clean salvageable items; to Derek, Cory, and Kevin, for jumping in to do the heavy lifting and helping take care of Mom in the interim.

Our story is just one of thousands. The need is still great—this recovery will take months for some, years for others. The scale of destruction is massive. Consider giving to worthy relief organizations or directly to someone you know who has been affected. Be sure to vet the organizations to avoid being scammed. Consider volunteering to help with clean-up and demo work—a huge need! This article contains several helpful links regarding all sorts of aid.

And don't forget the goodness of God. We are grateful to Him for his protection and provision during this time. Be a part of his work!

Lamentations 3:22–23 
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

This Day for Giving Thanks

On this Thanksgiving Day of 2015, each person has something—hopefully many things—for which to give thanks to God. We usually come to this day with a mixed bag of circumstances, some hard and some happy. For those with difficulties crowding out the joys right now, scripture provides a challenge: "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). 

This admonition isn't limited to the fourth Thursday in November, of course. "All circumstances" encompasses every day. I've enjoyed a friend's challenge to participate in a #40daysofthankfulnesschallenge recently. Ann Voskamp spearheaded a thankfulness movement a few years ago with her book, One Thousand Gifts, in which she tells how she was encouraged to write three things per day for which she was thankful... and how that habit revolutionized her life.

Scripture has much to say about being thankful. Just a few verses here to encourage you:

1 Chronicles 16:7-9

1 Chronicles 16:33-35

A couple of links to enlighten your understanding of the American day: 



And finally, the elegant words of President George Washington, in his proclamation that established the first American Thanksgiving Day:

"By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789."
Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Catastrophe is Always Personal

Last week I shared some thoughts on the Bible.org Engage blog about the recent flooding in South Carolina. How can something so far away be so personal? 
The rains from Hurricane Joaquin wreaked catastrophic damage on South Carolina and its residents earlier this week. 771 trillion cubic inches of water have fallen within its borders. That translates to 12 trillion liters, or 21 trillion 20-ounce bottles such as the ones people drink from every day.
That’s an epic amount of water to fall in about three days over just 32,000 square miles. The description “of biblical proportions” has been used by media to help viewers and readers get a sense of the scope of this disaster. But even as the floodwaters recede, the heartbreak continues and the danger increases. Homes destroyed, people killed, and dams on the brink of collapse, potentially leading to more homes and lives ruined.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Obama Greets the Pope with Scripture: How Did He Do?

The Pope visited America this week. When he welcomed the pontiff at the White House, President Obama said something that caught my ear. 

"You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and our measure as a society, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity—because we are all made in the image of God."

Obama got it almost right. If he had left out the phrase "our measure as individuals," it would have been a beautiful, biblical challenge to us all. What do I mean?

"Our measure as a society is [determined] by how well we hew to Scripture's call..." Yes, the people of God are called to serve the poor, right injustice, and promote the dignity of all. The prophets rail against Israel when they neglected this basic law of God. Indeed that nation's judgment came in part because of their refusal to obey God in the way they treated the marginalized (Isaiah 58:6-8; Micah 6:8; Matthew 25:40). This is most definitely a behavior by which a people are measured. As a group, all Christians  are called to this primary mission. We must continue to work at embodying the kingdom of God right here, right now.

BUT ... mission is different from "our measure as individuals." Far too often, we lose the distinction between the two. What we believe about this concept affects our perspective on the dignity of life, at both the beginning and the end. If life does not have inherent value, but only such value as that person's ability to work or do or add to another's betterment, then the unborn, infirm, elderly, mentally ill, and disabled all lose their value as citizens of earth. It comes down to DO=BE. What I do determines my measure as a person.

But Jesus and the cross say differently. He sacrificed his life on behalf of each human, offering forgiveness, salvation, restoration, and relationship to all who would accept his free gift. Ephesians 1:4-5: "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will..."

Notice the timing: "before the creation of the world." No way for us to do anything, to earn his favor, to deserve his love. As if love can truly be earned... "But because of his great love for us,God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Grace. Unmerited favor. When we base our identity on the grace of Jesus, knowing that the God who created us deemed us worthy of his own sacrifice, our behavior will follow out of a love, a gratitude, a full sense of our value. We are valuable to God because we exist. He proved that on the cross. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph 2:8-9).

Now what? With that foundation, we can go forth to do the work He has called us to do—to right wrongs, to pursue peace, to love the unlovely. "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Awesome Friends Look Like Jesus

Have you ever wondered if you have anything special to offer? Do you feel ordinary and uninspired, an everyday Jane with no way of making a difference? Let me tell you a little story...

Monday, March 30, 2015

When Your Friends Hurt (Part Two)

The Backdrop

Please see Part One for the full story.

Within 30 minutes of hanging up with our friends' pastor, who bore the unenviable yet sacred job of conveying terrible news to several people, we had booked a one-way ticket for my husband. He also called his parents to notify them that we likely would need their help soon. We discussed what, how, and when to tell our children that their friend was gone. We went to bed but lay sleepless or restless all night.

The next morning he left for the airport before the kids awakened. I bluffed my way through the breakfast routine and dropped them off as usual, then returned home to face my next tasks: how to get to South Carolina myself. With four kids and a weekend of activities, plus school the next week, I could not just jet off at will.

But then...

The church showed up. Not just those in my local place of worship, but family and friends and colleagues who recognized our need and stepped in to help. Each one was able to help in a specific way, AND THEY DID. Not one person shrugged off.

Thank You

1. My in-laws (MIL and FIL for these purposes): We called Thursday night, knowing that the following morning my sister-in-law was scheduled to deliver her firstborn. Granny is always on call when a baby arrives. This is fact in most families, yes? But she and FIL rearranged their weekend plans to cover for our children, taking turns when necessary, cooking for a small army, overseeing homework, carpooling to football practice, attending church and Bible drill, carpooling to and from school. My FIL in particular got a first-hand look at my daily routine, as MIL eventually joined my SIL to help with the baby. For four solid days he kept up with four loud, energetic kids. We are so grateful for their care...they allowed us to focus on our friends and not worry about our kids back home.

Flying home over Dallas, TX
2. I texted my friend Erin just to share the news. She checked in with me Friday morning, and only then did it occur to me that maybe she could help. Specifically with an airline ticket, since her husband flies for a regional airline. We've done it before for more pleasant outings, but it had not even crossed my mind the previous night. So thanks to her, and her hubby, I flew out Saturday morning (direct!), then home again several days later. They also were able to get my hubby home as well. This saved us hundreds of dollars, no small gift!

3. Sometime on Friday I realized that we were supposed to teach our BFG (Sunday school) class that weekend. One quick note to Bruce Q, who with his wife, Lynn, helps direct our class, and we were covered there. Praise God he was in town, available, and willing.

4. My hubby is a junior high principal in a small town north of Dallas, TX. He called, but had to leave a message for, his superintendent shortly after we received the news. His assistant principal easily stepped in for Friday, but his "supe" eased his mind by graciously encouraging him to go, stay as needed, miss the Monday board meeting, and let his AP cover. Knowing the pressure at work was off allowed him to focus on being all there, unburdened by worries at home.

5. Emotional and prayer support: Seriously, I don't even know if I can name everyone who inquired with sensitivity, texted to say they were praying, cried with us, called to express their sadness for us--because they knew we were grieving as friends as well as grieving for friends. So thank you to all who reached out personally, and you who prayed but didn't say anything. We felt the love.

6. In South Carolina itself, we saw the local church spring into action with efficiency, grace, and affection. Two, maybe three, local churches worked together to coordinate meals, the memorial service, activities for the siblings, pastoral leadership for the parents. It was truly incredible to watch how NewSpring Church, in particular, handled the details of a large, youth-themed funeral service. Jeremy in Greenwood, we appreciate the way you loved on our people. You will make a great campus pastor!

No Gift Too Small

The Bible speaks of spiritual gifts and services within the church. In 1 Corinthians 12: 4-7 we read, "Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." 

A bit later, verse 27, "Now you [plural, as in y'all] are the body of Christ and individually members of it." 

So, collectively, believers comprise the body of Christ, which we more commonly call the church. Individually, each of us has a specific role to play, empowered and enabled by the Lord himself. It can look "spiritual," as in teaching, helping, administrating, and all that. And it can look practical, too, as in babysitting, cooking, sitting with, listening, praying, carpooling, mowing, arranging flights, creating videos, playing "bouncer" to visitors ...

No gift is too small. Each one contributes to the need. Each one is a blessing. Each one shows love. If each one of us will respond with our particular gift or ability, the church will show the world what true love really is.

"Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things... So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor 13: 7,13)

Friday, March 27, 2015

When Your Friends Hurt (Part One)

This week the story in Luke 5, in which the friends of the paralyzed man got creative when he needed to see Jesus, speaks to me. No, it shouts at me. "This is your life! Today you are one of the friends. One day you will be the cripple." 

The Paralytic's Friends

The scene shows friends carrying a paralyzed man on his stretcher to the house where Jesus is teaching. Realizing the doorway was blocked and the room too crowded to push through, they refusing to take no for an answer. They climbed up to the flat roof and cut a hole in it so they could lower their friend into Jesus' presence. Owner and crowd be damned, they were going to get that man within reach of the Healer (Luke 5:18-20).

I like those friends. I want to be like that. I don't really want to be the paralyzed guy, but sometimes crap happens, and we are crippled by what life throws at us. Simple math, however, tells us that we will more often be supporting someone else in their trials.

"Our" couple

To paraphrase Shrek, relationships are like onions -- they  have layers. Strangers, acquaintances, friends, family, friends-like-family. Each kind meets a need in one's life and can be a blessing.

When my hubby and I first met, his best friend was married to a girl I worked with. A year later we married, and they had already morphed into "our" couple--unique friends that every new couple needs. Not his, not hers, but "ours." And then they moved away. Like, back to the East Coast where their family lived.

The nerve.

What I thought was terrible (and it was!) caused us to be intentional. We all had other important friends in our lives, but we didn't want this one to fade away. Since we couldn't see each other often, we began vacationing together annually.

As the children came along--four for them, four for us--they became special to one another as well. We send birthday and Christmas boxes to each other. For 17 years, we have driven or flown a thousand miles to share summer vacations, special events, and difficult seasons with one another. We once left our kids with various grandparents and went on a cruise to celebrate my and my hubby's 10th anniversary (see photo). Just 10 days ago we confirmed our upcoming visit to see them in June. They qualify as "friends-like-family" standard after all these years.

So last week when their pastor called to tell us that their oldest son had died that night, we moved heaven and earth to get to them. The only question was "How fast can we get there?"

Carrying the Mat

When my stepfather died years ago, many friends hurt on my behalf. Sometimes you just can't drop everything and travel like that, so you reach out at other times and in other ways. A few friends were able to attend the service, and I remember that feeling of gratitude that someone was there for me. In a tangible way they helped carry me.

This week it was our turn. We were privileged to be allowed in, to be invited to come close. I think we maybe held up one corner of "the mat" together, by just showing up.

Did we fix anything? Ha. As if that were even possible. All we could really do was be there. Such an inadequate feeling. But it's comforting to know that Jesus thought it fitting when his friend Lazarus died. He wept with Mary and Martha.

We listened and cried and prayed. We are still doing that. We loved that boy, too. My husband did laundry one day (did it even occur to me? Again I say Ha!). We kept them company, provided a diversion. I think we were just safe people for them.

Eventually we had to return home to our family, our regular responsibilities. But they are well loved, with others continuing to hold them up. Limited by distance, we text them (or their local friends to coordinate goodies, share concerns, etc), call (or leave voice mail), and pray (constantly). They know their Healer loves them and is even now working to comfort and heal.

The Village

We were not able to fly cross-country within hours of the news without considerable help. We needed our own support system.

In part two, I'll share more about those who enabled us to go.

Two Final Thoughts

First, if ever or whenever someone dear to you comes into suffering of any sort, err on the side of reaching out as opposed to doing nothing. You will know the dynamics of your relationship and what's appropriate. But don't let fear cause you to step back when they desperately need friends to step in.

Second, and on a lighter note, I want to ask you about your friendships. If you are married, do you have an "our" couple -- friends that you did not inherit from your spouse? How have you managed long-distance friendships? Share your creative solutions to the challenge to maintaining long-term friendships.

And a request: please pray for our friends. Even if you read this blog post randomly a year or more from now, they'll still need your prayers.