The days seem to blend together now. Like discernible raindrops slurred into murky floodwaters, the calendar itself has lost its shape. Repeatedly over the past couple weeks, I’ve heard Houstonians confuse the days, just like the rain confused creeks and bayous and reservoirs with streets and neighborhoods and homes.
Harvey, and now Irma, are slowly fading from the news cycles. They each had their fifteen minutes of fame. But here on the ground, far below the headlines, the long slog has just begun. If you’re wondering how it’s going and how you can help, here’s how.
1. It’s hard.
I’m just one guy, and I can’t represent everyone’s experiences. But everything I’m seeing and experiencing is telling me that we’re moving together through stages of grief. The hard part is, we’re also moving together through stages of a marathon. So we’re grieving while running. And we started the marathon with a sprint.
As a Christian and a pastor, I want to communicate hope. But I also know this: Christian theology, wrongly done, overrules our broken humanity. We’re not allowed to struggle, because struggling seems sub-christian. We’re not allowed to be raw, because our faith is supposed to be refined. We’re not allowed to tell others the burdens we carry, because so often they haven’t told us theirs. We tell ourselves these things, and we listen to ourselves tell ourselves these things, and in our telling and our listening, we lie and we believe lies.
But Christian theology, rightly done, sings a psalmic tune. This tune somehow blends sovereignty and suffering, his energy and our exhaustion, the compassion of God amidst the catastrophes we face. The psalms aren’t beautiful because they’re easy. They’re beautiful because they highlight the truths of a coming kingdom against the backdrop of a fallen world. We believe in this coming kingdom, and our coming king. But here’s the simple truth about Houston and BridgePoint right now: It’s really hard.
It’s hard to see a list of 50+ families who are flooded or displaced. It’s hard to hear about families who recently lost loved ones now losing the material memories of those loved ones. It’s hard to hear that a husband and father in your congregation is struggling to grip things because he’s been spending days in his home ripping out cabinets and floors. It’s hard to see ministries discontinued because their infrastructure or volunteer base has been decimated.
It’s hard to watch Christians in other states rip on celebrities doing fundraisers for hurricane relief when those of us on the ground are just thankful for anyone who’s doing anything. It’s hard when you don’t even know the names of many of the people you’re supposed to be pastoring. It’s hard to see people who just had you over for dinner crammed into little apartments because their homes are gone. It’s hard to watch people take a job they hate because they just lost a job they loved. It’s hard to watch young people’s weddings get postponed because their venue was flooded. It’s hard to be overrun with crisis responsibilities when you were already understaffed. It’s hard to see the tears, and to know those public tears are nothing like the private ones. It’s hard to know it’s far from over even though it feels like it’s been so long already.
It’s hard to watch your church struggle to get enough volunteers to help each other, not because people don’t want to help, but because there are so many jobs. It’s hard to hear from faraway strangers who want to help but need a detailed plan before they’ll send a team to do jobs that are impossible to plan. It’s hard to be exhausted and face the impossible choice between the bodily wisdom of rest and the sacrificial service of love. It’s hard to watch tensions rise between good Christians when complicated, rushed, expensive decisions have to be made. And it’s hard to know that many readers won’t know how to respond to this paragraph because it sounds too bleak or unspiritual, and doesn’t fit the plasticky “faith and joy” requirement they’ve scripted for people in hard times.
It’s not that these challenges are insurmountable. It’s not that we don’t anticipate God to work. It’s not that we have no faith and joy. It’s just hard, and refusing to say it’s hard eventually just makes it harder.
2. We’re hopeful.
Even though it’s really hard—maybe because it’s really hard—we’re still hopeful. The songs we sang before, we’re singing still. The promises we believed before, we’re believing still. The God in whom we trusted is still our trust, and even when the loss or the grief or the sheer exhaustion leaves us feeling hollow, his voice still echoes within.
Last Sunday, for the second week in a row, we worshiped in the evening at another church’s building. As we stood singing, Oh, no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm, a couple whose house was devastated walked in. They walked right up to the front, stood in front of the projector screens, and joined in singing. Like they were closer to these truths than ever before.
Like this couple, we remain hopeful. We’re hopeful because we know our God, and we’re hopeful because we already see him at work.
We see home after home mucked out and demoed by a happy, weary, tenacious company of volunteers led by a heroic single woman giving every moment of her day to organize them. We see a ragtag group of men and women forming a bucket brigade to pass putrid belongings out of a moldy home. We see a dozen volunteers fellowshipping over chicken pot pie next to a heaping pile of garbage. We see emails from pastors of small inner city churches who’ve raised $400 for us, and emails from pastors of large suburban churches who’ve raised $30,000 for us, and both emails are equally humbling and hope-giving. We see weary leaders having hard discussions with grace and unity. We see a 75-year-old elder trudging through the bacteria-infested water in the mold-infested home of a fellow elder, all with a smile in his eyes (you can’t see his masked face) and a happy zip in his step.
We see a whirl of godly women constantly monitoring a 350-entry spreadsheet and matching people in need with people offering to help. We see texts from faraway friends who are still praying and haven’t forgotten. We see exhausted youth leaders working twelve-hour days, doing clean-up until they fall into bed, and still organizing trampoline parties on the weekend so our teenagers can get out and see each other and release some energy. We see weary members still flocking to church to hear God’s Word and sing God’s truth and encourage God’s people.
We’re seeing God do remarkable things, things that wouldn’t have happened without his storm blowing through town. And even though we don’t have time to record everything for posterity (like we wish we could), we know that so many of these memories will stick with us like a heap of stones at the edge of some Israelite tribal allotment. They’ll stack up together, and together they’ll sing, “Through every danger, toil, and snare, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
3. We need help.
But the challenge of sharing our hope is that we don’t want people to presume that it’s not hard. Sometimes, in a subtle way, when people are really struggling, we listeners silently long for a note of hope to slip from their lips, to rescue us from the awkwardness of helplessness, or to release us from the obligation to help.
If that’s how you hear these notes of hope, please don’t. The fact that the saints here are keeping the faith and pressing on and hoping in the Lord isn’t a sign that we need any less help.
The problem with news-cycle compassion is that once the cycle dies out, like a hurricane slowly spinning itself into nothingness after making landfall, the real needs start hitting the fan—and they last a long time.
To state it baldly, we still need lots and lots of money to rebuild fully, and to help our members rebuild. You can text BRIDGEPOINT to 41444 and donate through your phone right now if you want. Or you can give online by visiting bridgepointbible.org/give. Or you can help us spread the word on social media by sharing about both of these options.
We’re also still hoping at least one short-term team comes—we’ve needed them desperately—to give our weary crews a break. Many have said they wanted to, but we haven’t seen one yet, and that’s tough to swallow. Just use the “Contact” tab on the site here and send me an email, as long as you’re ready to get on the road quickly.
Finally, we still want to serve our neighbors (which we’ve frankly been unable to do in any organized way), which will require our friends to lend their hands from afar. The opportunity seems like it’s passing us by, and this may be the Lord’s way of humbling us, but we still believe there’s an open door here, if we can only get some outside hands to help us so that we don’t overpromise and underdeliver when we put the word out.
It’s strange to have received so much prayer and giving and support already, and to have seen such an outpouring of service from your own church body already, and to continue to need so much. I suppose we’re being reminded that we’re simply needy people.
Perhaps the next article I write will strike a more palatable chord for those always looking for a positive spin. But in our current collective state of exhaustion and burnout, all I can really say is that it’s hard, we’re hopeful, and we need help.