Thursday, September 29, 2005

When I am weak, He is strong

(Jesus) My strength comes into its own in your weakness...(Paul) Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size - abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (The Message)

I got to live this experience out in a strange way last night.

Most Wednesday nights, I have the opportunity to go out with a group of fellow believers and minister to the homeless of Jackson. It is always interesting and never the same experience. Some nights we have moments of intense ministry one-on-one with people we meet and other nights we end up seeing a lot of people but don't get much time to minister to individuals. Sometimes there is a healthy mix of ministry opportunities.

Last night was one of those...we saw a lot of people but had some moments of intense one-on-one ministry in the midst of the crowds.

I wasn't necessarily feeling like a "super-Christian" know - ready to charge into hell with a water-pistol, but I was excited about meeting people and having the opportunity to share Christ with them. We had already been to a couple of our "hotspots" and were at our last stop of the evening. I was talking with this guy, who was a little on the confrontational side. He said it was his birthday. We had already given him some food and a t-shirt, but he wanted another one. I was trying to figure out how to talk with the guy, so I told him I would get him another shirt. We were just about out of all our supplies, but I knew there were some small t-shirts left. It wouldn't have fit him, but I was going to give him one anyway. So I asked him to wait and turned to head back to the van, when all of a sudden I find myself plunging towards the gravel/concrete sidewalk, hands first. I busted my tail so bad....and tore up the palms of my hands.

The only thing really hurt was my pride. Well, that's not palms hurt, too - especially when I washed them off with cold water and then doused them with some anti-bacterial handwash. Yikes!

But the coolest thing happened. This guy I was talking to, Patrick, came running over and tried to help me up. Then he offered the t-shirt we had given him for me to wipe my hands on. I told him I was ok (and I was except for my bloody palms) and we began to talk. God used my moment of weakness to soften this guy's heart so that I could talk to him about God. It started when he told me "You have to be careful out here - it's dangerous and hard!" We talked about the scars he had from his life on the streets and I began to share Christ with him. In my mind, I was thinking about the placement of the scars on my palms and the scars Christ has on his palms. I wanted to relay to Patrick that there is One who knows all about scars, but the conversation didn't go that way. I did get to pray with Patrick and I just knew that God was planting seeds in his heart. I told him I wanted to see him in Heaven when this world was all said and done. He agreed. I told him not to wait too long to do things God's way - none of us are promised tomorrow.

It was a neat experience. I'm always amazed at how God uses everything to speak to us - if we just listen. I want to hear all He is speaking to me. More importantly, if it takes me having moments of weakness for someone else to see God's strength, I'm willing to pay the price.

The funny thing was this - as I was "cleaning" my hands (as best as one can without running water and peroxide) some of the guys on my team were standing there with me. When I put the anti-bacterial handwash on my palms, one of them mentioned something about "suffering for the Gospel's sake" and "counting it all joy". I wanted to complain about the pain in my hands, but as I looked at my palms, enduring the burning pain of alcohol in my open wounds, I was reminded of what my Savior suffered on the cross for me. At that moment, I was filled with a sense of joy I cannot explain and the pain faded away into nothingness. My suffering was/is nothing...but the fact that God could use an embarrassing moment and my pain to reach someone else was overwhelming. Still is.

But that's why when I am weak...He is strong.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Idle words

"And I tell you this, that you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak." - Matthew 12:36

I knew it would happen again. Just about the time I feel like I have accomplished something in my walk with God, He shows me another area that needs working on. I guess He does it to keep me from being too proud and caught up in my own accomplishments.

My mouth has always been a problem for me. Growing up, my dad has told me more than once that my mouth was going to get me in trouble. He's been right more than I care to admit. I thought that I had outgrown that problem and along with the experience of a few years under my belt, had gotten to a place where I didn't speak out of turn. How silly of me to think such a thing.

I've realized I still struggle with wanting to be "right" or being able to comment on every topic that comes up. I foolishly believe I know things. I may have some knowledge about things, but more often than not, my knowledge is totally one-sided and doesn't encompass the whole picture. I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't completely learned the principles of James 1:19 -
My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

My quick responses are just idle words and often result in someone being hurt. I'm learning that even if a response is required for something, there is nothing wrong with waiting to make sure my answer is in line with God's heart. I need to practice this more.

I hate it when God shows me how "wrong" I am. But I'm glad He does - it shows how much He loves me and that He considers me His child. What an awseome thing that is! Here is what His Book says about it:
Proverbs 3:11 - My child, don't ignore it when the LORD disciplines you, and don't be discouraged when he corrects you.

Hebrews 12:6 - For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes those he accepts as his children.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Quick response

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father. - Colossians 3:12-17

I've never been so aware of how important it is to make sure I am dealing correctly with people who may not agree with me or who have offended me in some ridiculous way. (When compared to the offenses my Savior endured, I can't help but see all my reasons for being offended as ridiculous.) I recently had the privilege to be offended by someone. They reacted to something I did in a totally inapprorpriate manner (in my opinion), but there I was, faced with the choice of how I was going to respond to them.

My first desire was to tell this person exactly what I thought about their behavior and even their character, but far too often, I have let "Christy" determine the path - and most times with dire results - so I asked God to show me His heart and how I should respond in this situation. It was in a manner totally foreign to my first inclination.

It scares me to think that my response to others will in some way impact God's response to me. Have you read Matthew 6 lately? Verses 14-15 say: "If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." Yikes! God doesn't play when it comes to Christians dealing with others - whether they are believers or non-believers. We are held to a higher standard - to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).

I only hope that God is pleased with my response. He knows that my heart's desire is to reflect His love to others and that the things I do will point directly to Him.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The things you don't see...

Today I went and spent four hours at our local coliseum, volunteering for a carnival that had been organized for the benefit of the displaced citizens now calling the coliseum "home". There are about 1,200 people living there - almost all of them from the New Orleans area.

The one thing that aggravates me with the news these days, is their refusal to focus or even mention the good that happens in times like this. Of course, it is necessary to report the bad so that something can be done to stop it and keep it from happening again, but even the really bad stuff isn't reported in the mainstream media. You have to go to sources like Scoopster News to hear all of what's going on.

So I was determined to listen closely and observe the good things that are happening in the midst of this sort of disaster. I was not disappointed.

Our group was there to present a puppet show to entertain anyone who would stop long enough to listen. We did some "oldies" tunes (along with more modern tunes) with new lyrics that share the Gospel...i.e., "Return to Sender" now sung "Return to Jesus", "Don't Worry, Be Happy" now sung "Don't Worry, Trust Jesus", "Everybody Dance Now" sung as "Everybody Praise Now". These are a few of the many songs we did. We had a blast! We had four teams, alternating 15 minute shows.

In addition to our tent, there were other tents with activities for the kids and those huge inflatable slides and jumping rings. They had a temporary basketball court set up for the guys to play ball and in one corner of the lot, a tent was set up with chairs for people to sit in and enjoy the live music. Free sno-cones were available for everyone, too.

There was always a constant flow of people walking by, and frequently, the kids would congregate under the tent to listen to one of the shows. The rest of the team members who weren't presenting a show, were free to walk around and interact with those enjoying their afternoon - or trying to. You could see the pain and uncertainty behind the eyes of some of the adults walking around. No home to call their own, no assurance for the future, no knowledge of what is to come - those kinds of things would weigh heavy on anyone. One lady was walking by, eating a sno-cone and just kind of roaming from activity to activity. I walked up to her, threw my arms around her and told her, "You look like you could use a hug!" She smiled and choked back tears. I began to ask her how she was doing, was she getting everything she needed and was her family all well and accounted for. She just was so thankful that she was good, her family was good and all the volunteers at the shelter were doing a great job of helping out. It's just an unimaginably difficult thing.

But, it is amazing to me the resiliency of children. They were able to let loose and have a good time running around, playing on the inflatable slides, getting their faces painted and just enjoying life. They will talk to anyone, too! I met this one kid who was as cute as he could be. He was 5 years old, and I couldn't understand his name. He is rather tall for his age, too. There was a guy there who was making balloon art and had made this kid a swordbelt and sword. The kid was so proud of it. He wanted to slide down the slide, so I helped him take his sword off and promised I'd hold it for him. When he came back, shoes in hand, I thought I was going to break down on the spot. His poor little toes were all sticking out through huge holes in his socks. While I turned around to get a grip on myself, he managed to get his shoes on...although on the wrong feet! I leaned down and helped him change his shoes around and pulled his socks so his toes weren't sticking through his socks. He didn't seem to care that his socks had holes! Ahh...the innocence of childhood. I wanted to get a picture of him, but he disappeared before I could.

Later on, there was this little girl who parked herself right in front of the puppet stage. She was so cute!!!! She caught my attention because she was bouncing to the music. She had her sno-cone cup in her hands and was just bouncing up and down to the beat of the music. Adorable! There was a young lady standing nearby, so I asked if that was her child. It wasn't. The lady was a volunteer, and they didn't know who the little girl's mother was. I was shocked! I looked back at the little girl and before I knew it, she walked over to me and raised her arms in the universal signal to "pick me up!" She was so sweet! I guess they found her mother, because the next time I went to look for her, she was gone.

I just want to say, for all the bad press the Superdome is getting, good things are happening at the Mississippi Coliseum. I got the chance to walk around inside and although the conditions aren't what anyone would choose for themselves, they are not bad. The restrooms are nice - no overflowing refuse in there and no bad smells! And the coliseum floor, where hundreds of mattresses and cots are laid out like a small village, was neat and orderly. I noticed several people sweeping and cleaning. For all the bad press of New Orleans, Jackson, MS has opened it's arms wide to those who fled here for safety. The number of people who are volunteering to help is incredible too. I overheard one of the Red Cross officials telling people that they were no longer accepting walk-up volunteers. They had so many now, and were requiring people to go through the Red Cross training class to become a certified Red Cross volunteer.

People helping people. That's the real story. Little things like making sure a mother has diapers for her kids or providing an afternoon's entertainment to bring joy to people - those are the things that make horrible circumstances like this bearable. The human spirit cannot be quenched and although there are thugs, thieves and murderers on the loose everywhere, the overwhelming majority of people care for their fellow man.

These are the kinds of things you don't see....and that I wanted to share with you.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina...the aftermath - Part 2

So there I was at my friend's house, planning to just settle in for the long haul and try to get gas when things calmed down a bit. It wasn't long before my mom called me. They had gone to church, and on the way, they saw where one of the largest gas stations around had evidently received a load of gas. Cars were already lined up. I decided to try my luck - they probably wouldn't run out of gas real soon, and the station was just close enough that I thought I could make it. So my friend and I loaded up in my car and set out for the station.

We never made it.

Yes...for the second time that day, I ran out of gas on the interstate. Fortunately this time, I was able to pull off the road AND my friend called her mother who had some gas in a gas can. So we wait on the side of the road, cars and 18-wheelers screaming past us, for my friend's mother to arrive with the gas. She gets there, we fuel up, and just as we are about to pull out, a police officer pulls in behind us. I'm sure he was checking to see if all was well. My friend jumps out to tell him what happened and he tells her that we shouldn't try for the big station we were headed too (the lines were already outrageous) but another smaller station had just opened up not 1 mile from where we were. So we load up and head back to this station.

As we pull up to the station, all the lights are out and there are about four police cars, with lights flashing, sitting in the parking lot. My first thought was, "Dear God, someone's been killed!" Fortunately, that wasn't the case. When the power came on at the station, people started rushing to get gas. In the chaos, some woman who was trying to turn her car around, hit a light pole and blew the transformer. The station had only been online for about 10 minutes when it happened. It was crazy. So we talked with the assistant manager and they said I could leave my car there over night, and then come and wait the next day for the power to come on. So that's what I did.

I arrived at the station at 7:45 am on Thursday, September 1. I was hoping that we wouldn't have to wait long, and I would be able to go to work. Ha - wishful thinking!!! It turned out to be a long day.

At first, they told us we would have to line up on the road, and not on the parking lot. So those of us who were there, did that. After a couple of hours, the police came and made everyone leave. I was able to hustle myself right back onto the station property before they taped it off. Thank God! So there we were, about 30 of us, with our cars parked behind the station in the diesel fuel area. It was like we were hiding out so that we could be first in line for the Grand Prize! You see, the police had taped off the gas station to prevent people from blocking traffic and causing a commotion on the road in front of the station. It is in a spot that could cause major traffic jams. Anyway, we were all just hunkering down to wait things out.

All of a sudden, someone in an SUV drives straight through the tape and screeches to a halt a mere 10 feet from where I was sitting. I thought the guy had lost his mind! Turns out, he was one of the managers or something, and was there to make sure the station was open for business. Mind you - the power was out and those ladies behind the counter were having to write everything down by hand. You can imagine how crazy it would get with a bunch of people wanting a warm drink! So the guy begins to pull down all the tape, and wouldn't you know it, it was like throwing chum to the sharks. People started pouring into the gas station. Those of us already in the parking lot, hauled butt to get our cars next to a pump. We were determined not to let anyone just driving up bump us out of our spot - especially since we'd been sitting there for nearly 6 hours already. I was just waiting for the cops to come and bust the guy for creating a problem. Of course that didn't happen - they had too much else to deal with.

So there we were, once again, waiting for the power to come on so we could get the gas stored below our feet. Someone finally called the power company and we found out they weren't aware of the problem (yeah, right!) and didn't have an address (another - yeah, right!) Several phone calls had been made. It was obvious that coordination between our power company and those companies in town to deal with the damage from the storm wasn't happening smoothly. The minutes and hours slowly crept by, still with no change.

The good thing about this situation was that since no one could really go anywhere, all you have time to do is chat. I met some really interesting people and really had a great time in spite of the difficult circumstances.

To make a long story a bit shorter, the power truck arrived at 9 pm (after many phone calls to various people). The guy, who was obviously worn out (turns out he'd been working 14 hours), jumps out of his truck to check things out. You could feel the glimmer of hope rising among the crowd....perhaps our wait would soon be over! Everyone moved to the edge of the lot, near where the power guy was working, and the word quickly spread help tonight - he didn't have the parts and they wouldn't be in until the next day. It was like someone poked a hole in a balloon - that's how quickly everyone's hearts and spirits deflated. There would be a crew arriving in the morning to get the power up.

After having just spent 14 hours myself on that lot, the idea of a few more hours was nothing! At least we knew they were aware of the problem and would be getting on it first thing the next morning. At least I had somewhere I could go to get some sleep. There were several people who were basically stranded...they didn't even have fumes to try and get to the next station. Those guys ended up sleeping in their vehicles overnight. My friend came to get me and we surveyed everyone to make sure they were ok. Did they need any drinks, something to eat, a pillow or blanket? Most everyone said no, they were fine, but we went to her house and fixed some stuff anyway. When we came back, they were definitely grateful! We gave the guys our numbers and said to call if they needed anything or if the situation changed.

So early the next morning, one of the men called me to let me know my car was ok and the power crew wasn't there yet, but FEMA was commandeering the station and only those on the lot would be able to get gas once the power was back up. Needless to say, I hustled to get ready and was back at my car by 7:30 am. We were expecting the power company to show up around 9 or 10 am and then we'd be done and out of there!

Again, wishful thinking!

Of course, we all knew that this was just an extremely difficult situation. Everyone was very patient and understanding considering where we were, but it was also beginning to wear thin. You could tell people's nerves were on edge. Several of us kind of became an extension of the police department. Because there were cars parked at the pumps, passersby thought the station had gas. So once again, a line started to form. We had been instructed to not let anyone on the property (since FEMA was going to be using the extra fuel for emergency personnel) and so we were out at the street, directing traffic. I can tell you, people get ugly in stressful situations. I can also tell you - I fry like bacon when I get in the sun. It wasn't (and still isn't) pretty!

With tensions running high, and the temperature rising, some people began calling the power company again. I thought they were going to explode when one dispatcher said there was no work order for that location. This was especially difficult to hear because that phone call was made at about 10:30 am....LONG after they were supposed to be there to fix the transformer. So then the power company tells us they'll have someone there by 12:00. That didn't happen either. This one girl, Amy, who was calling the power company began bartering with the supervisor she managed to get on the phone. "We'll let your trucks get ahead of us in line to gas up...just PLEASE send them!!! We've been waiting for 2 days!!!!" Word got around that they would be there by 2 pm.

Wouldn't you know they'd show up at 1:45 pm! It was like someone let the cat out of the bag. All of a sudden there were about 5 huge power trucks descending upon us to fix the transformer! You should have heard the shout that went up from the crowd. All of a sudden, everyone was bursting with energy! We came up with a game plan to get everyone who had endured their share of the gas. We were going to claim our "squatter's rights!" At some point during the day, the police decided to just quit fighting the traffic and let people line up. I guess, too, FEMA found somewhere else to commandeer a station, since it was taking too long to get this one up. So when the power company got the power back on, there were probably a hundred people (if not more) lined up to get gas. That doesn't include the 100 people on the station property that had first dibbs on the gas. The line only got longer.

There were four of us who decided to stick around once we got our gas and help direct traffic so that no one would get hurt. We just wanted to help the station workers keep things in order. It was Anthony, Amy, myself and Keith. We had formed a tight little group through this ordeal, but had also managed to have some fun. It made the experience worthwhile.

To end this long tale....we were able to gas up by 3pm. I hung around until about 5pm - my skin could take no more of the sun's rays and they were about to be out of gas. I thought it might be a good time to leave! I must say - we had things running smoothly! My job was to yell out which side of the people's car the gas tank was located so that we could get them in quickly. I was so glad to have gotten gas, I guess it showed - I had more than one person tell me it was nice to see a smiling face.

The crazy thing is this....I have never felt so hopeless in my life. This week has really challenged me spiritually. I realized just how much I still depend on myself to take care of things and God allowed me to see once again - I don't have any control. I just think I do. The overwhelming sadness of the situation in New Orleans and on our own Coast was almost more than I could bear and the knowledge that I couldn't do anything because I couldn't get anywhere really weighed heavy on me. I'm a "fixer"...I've got to be "doing" something in situations like this. And for once....there wasn't one thing I could do except sit and wait...and pray.

God is still working in my life. Of that I have no doubt. He reminded me so well that He is my source and my strength. I can't function without His presence in my life.

I wonder how many other people are being brought to the end of themselves so that God can really reveal Himself to them? I hope it is happening to thousands of people - this world will be changed when we give ourselves completely over to God and let Him accomplish His will through His time and in His way. Not an easy lesson to learn, but a very beneficial one.

I hope there are many things learned in the aftermath of Katrina.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina...the aftermath

I must say, I never thought I would experience anything like this. Let me interject, before I go any further...what I have experienced in no way compares to the experiences of thousands of people on the Gulf Coast. I know I am blessed and through all of this week, have constantly reminded myself of God's blessings in my life. I can't imagine what the people down there are going through - all I can share is my experience.

At first it seemed we (my roommate and I) would weather the storm with no ill effects besides a few branches down in the yard. We had power and cable through it all, and opened our house to the rest of my family who lost power at their homes. It was an interesting day on Tuesday - we had nine extra people at our house. In order to maintain sanity, we ended up spreading throughout the house, and all was working well.

My brother found out he was going to have to work on Wednesday, but he had less than a quarter tank of gas in his truck. We decided that I would go and wait in line for gas since we didn't know how long it would take. He didn't need to be up all night waiting in line for gas. It was chaos. One thing that has really struck me through this whole ordeal is how self-centered we are. You tell anyone here in America that they will have to do without any of their creature comforts for an undetermined amount of time, and you get to see what people are really made of. I nearly got run over by people who were forcing their cars into the line at the gas station.

While I was sitting there for an hour and a half, I was amazed at all the people who seemed to be out joy-riding. Granted, some people were probably just trying to stay cool because they were without power, but I can't tell you how many SUV's I saw with 4-8 people in them - mostly teenagers. It was ridiculous. I finally got gas, but not before finding out some bad news. My brother called me from the house to let me know the power had just gone out. 8:30 pm on Tuesday night. The next day after the hurricane came through. I was so mad! At least for a split second....I couldn't stay that way knowing all the suffering that was happening around me and further south of me. Everyone, except my youngest brother and parents, stayed at our house that night. It was still cool since we'd been running the AC all day. But the next it got hot!

Fortunately, my former roommate offered her apartment for our use. The power had come back up at her place (she stayed with us during the storm, too) and she and her sister (my current roommate) left for Illinois. So we packed up my sister-in-law, the kids, and all the coolers of food they had brought with them, along with my Mom and Dad over to stay at the apartment. I opted out, because it was a one-bedroom house and there would be 8 people there already. I decided to take my chances with the heat and stay at my house. Well, I gave up around 7pm Wednesday night. A friend had offered her home to me (their power came back up that morning) but I wasn't sure I could make it to her house.

You see, that morning, I had driven around town trying to find a gas station and get some gas. We had gotten word a gas station down the street was open, so we all left (my roommate, sister-in-law and myself) to go and get some gas. I went past one place to see what else was available, but didn't find one. I drove around for about 20 minutes, looking unsuccessfully for a gas station, and decided to turn back towards home since my car was running hot (another long and aggravating story), low on gas and I needed to get my nieces back to the house before we were stranded. I tried again later in the day, after everyone left the house, and ran out of gas on the worst part of the interstate just two miles from my house. I broke down crying and called 911. All I could say to her was, "I've run out of gas on the interstate....." while bawling my eyes out. I was scared I would get run over or shot for blocking the interstate. The dispatcher was very calm with me and asked me where I know, the usual details. Just as I got off the phone, this old man in a pick-up truck pulled up behind me, jumped out and told me he would push my car up a bit further so I could pull off the road. After he did that, (I was still bawling, by the way), he came up and put some gas in my car. I could have kissed his toothless self - even with his wife watching from the truck!!! I asked him for his name and address so I could send him some money, but he would have none of that. I just pray that God blesses him tremendously. So I cranked the car, called 911 back (got the same dispatcher amazingly enough) and went home, where I planned to stay until I KNEW gas was available.

Needless to say, I was VERY low on gas. But I decided to try going to my friend's house anyway. I was hot, tired and I still had food in my freezer that was ruining. So off I went to my friend's house. I made it there fine and settled in for the night. Or so I thought....

I'll write the rest of the story tomorrow!