Natural disasters happen. We have no control over them. The devastation caused by them, however, often blows the door wide open for the good news. People from all over the country join outreaches like Eight Days of Hope to be messengers of light in the darkness left in the wake of natural disasters.
In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison caused major flooding in the Houston, Texas, area. Two-hundred miles away, our home, planted among rice and sugar cane fields in Louisiana’s Deep South, was fiercely overtaken by rushing muddy waters that overflowed from nearby bayous and coulees. It was a Thursday afternoon in early June.
Just weeks before, a 30-year-old woman had attended a church service. She had avoided and rejected God for more than a decade. And she seemed completely unable to embrace the words of Scripture she once longed to understand.
She was numb. She realized her heart had become like stone. Casting aside her pride, she walked down the aisle and asked the kind-eyed, white-haired pastor to pray that her heart would be softened.
(I suppose I wrote that account in third person because the woman described just didn't seem to be me. But she was.)
Then came the flood.
We were forced to find refuge in a neighboring city while we waited three days for the floodwaters to recede. The only view we had of our home during those three days was an aerial shot that was featured in local and national newspapers. (See actual photo here.)
We returned to what had previously been a peaceful country subdivision with manicured lawns and well-kept homes. My husband, our two small children, and I spent days hosing out sludge, slime, and sewer water and carrying out the material goods we had relentlessly worked to acquire over the years. Our lives were laid bare. As high as the rooftops, piles of furniture, toys, and rubbish lined the streets. What devastation! Something out of a movie – not my life! There is a reason we call natural disasters, “disasters.”
And the aftermath that followed was worse than the material loss. In a sense, Tropical Storm Allison acted as a sort of pulley that rolled back the curtain to reveal hidden realities of a propped up marriage and a hopelessly tangled life – a life absent of God.
I didn’t know at the time that God was answering my plea for a softened heart. I will spare you the details, but my life got worse after that. Considerably worse. But, pain was my teacher. Through suffering, a loving Heavenly Father drew me. In the years that followed, I came to know Christ.
While written specifically to the Jewish people, the words from Isaiah 30:18-22 spoke directly to me. I had been the obstinate one trying to satisfy myself with the things of the world, and God had been and would continue to be the gracious One.
Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.
O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher.
I will never forget God’s great kindness through it all, and I often desire the intimacy that was realized during those times of desperation.
And as I observe the work of ministries such as Eight Days of Hope that go and serve others during their hour of brokenness, where natural disaster has ripened the harvest, I am reminded that the workers are not just cutting trees and hammering nails. They are going as representatives of Christ – the One longing to be gracious.