The end of November marks six months we’ve been in Houston. Our kids haven’t completed a grade yet, we’re still looking for a house, and I’m laboring to match names and faces at church. But sometimes it feels like we’ve been here ten years.
No one could’ve predicted the well-known events that have unfolded in our first months on the ground. But I’m glad God’s called us here. Here are ten things I’m thankful for.
1. Our 50 flooded families
I still see them at church. They’re still coming, singing, serving, even while they’re suffering. We haven’t done for them nearly what we’d like. There’s no way we could. But still, they endure in faith. Monday morning I attended a funeral. There’s Cynthia Wagner, her home flooded and her belongings either destroyed or boxed up, serving at the reception. Multiply that picture times fifty, and that’s our people. These saints are the salt of the earth.
2. The muck-out crews
For weeks on end, an exhausted crew threw themselves into the homes of their fellow church members and other friends and neighbors to clean and gut flooded homes. Some homes had held stagnant water for two weeks by the time crews could get started. Battling mold, heat, swollen floorboards, kitchen cabinets, endless drywall, bacteria-infested waters, and dozens of other discomforting dynamics, these crews didn’t just give their time and energy. They gave themselves. I’ll never forget it, nor will those they helped.
3. The generous church of Jesus Christ
The list keeps growing. In the wake of Harvey, churches across the nation pitched in and gave, like a nationwide Pentecost movement: “All who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). We haven’t even launched a concentrated fundraiser yet, but when we do, I’m sure there will be many more. Why? Because we’re all one body, and Christ is our head. Paul knew: “And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). If 2017 taught us anything, it taught us that the Philippian spirit is alive and well throughout our fellow churches: “It was kind of you to share my trouble” (4:14).
4. Devan and her friends
Devan is a young girl from Compass Bible Church in Aliso Viejo, California. Her pastor sent me the note she wrote:
Dear Compass Church, I had a birthday party yesterday. I asked everyone to bring a money donation instead of a gift for me. I am very proud to say 11 of my friends and me raised $120 to give to Houston Hurricane Relief.
I have a picture of Devan and her 11 friends at their mermaid birthday party where they raised $120 cash for Houstonians in need. There’s no scale to weigh what this means to us. Like the little Jewish girl who introduced Naaman to Elisha, Devan will always be special to BridgePoint Bible Church.
5. Cindi Gundersen
Cindi has been a rock in the sea and a shelter in the storm. Far more times than I can number, I’ve found a warm fortress in her love and strength. Next month we’ll celebrate fifteen years of marriage. “She’s always been there for me,” though a brittle cliché, somehow says it all when I think of her. I’m truly not sure where I’d be without her. She’s walked with the Lord, loved our kids, and served our church, with no permanent home and our worldly possessions mostly stored away on the other side of town. Through the hurricane, she personally led a small team managing a spreadsheet that grew to 350 names as she connected tangible needs with tangible resources. She doesn’t complain, and when it rains, her soul stays dry. Proverbs 31:25 prophesied about Cindi Gundersen: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” She is God’s rock who upholds our family. That’s why she’s right here, at number five—the dead center of my gratitude.
6. The BridgePoint elders
The elders on our Administrative Board have navigated tremendously stressful times. Following eighteen long months of unsettledness and transition before I arrived, these men have stayed the course and kept the faith in this devastating opening chapter. Some were flooded themselves. Others have had family or friends living with them for months. While still working their jobs and taking care of their families, they’ve toiled voluntarily for our church. They’ve seen hard things, heard hard stories, stared at hard facts, made hard decisions, done hard labor, and kept soft hearts. I love these men, and I’m thankful for them.
7. Tom Douthit
Tom Douthit has been at BridgePoint for three decades. He was our Senior Pastor for 18 years. He stepped down in January 2016 and stayed on as an associate pastor, believing BridgePoint needed new leadership. He’s done nothing but welcome me, serve me, and help me, while loving, shepherding, and serving our church. I’m almost twenty years his junior, now leading his precious flock who knows his voice so well, and he’s not just letting me lead, he’s helping me lead. Everyone told me he’d be uniquely helpful. He’s everything they said, and more.
8. Our senior saints
Where is the life of a church? In its senior saints. I love college students. I love seeing families with young children. I love the singles who jump in to serve with all their might. I love the middle-aged influencers in the prime of their careers, ready to invest. But the senior saints keep us stable, give us perspective, pray without ceasing, give sacrificially, and humble themselves to follow younger leaders. Their stories are beautiful, and their hearts rich with faith, hope, and love. Their warmth has been so welcoming, and I hope that decades from now my own soul will be as soft as theirs.
9. My college and seminary professors
I started my first post-Harvey sermon by joking, “I learned a lot of things in seminary, but . . .” I trailed off amidst spreading laughter, because everyone knew where I was going. No class could’ve prepared me for a flooded church building and congregation. But the joke was totally one-sided. In truth, I knew as I prepared that sermon, and I’ve seen in the months since, that Bible college and seminary and a PhD program have been crucial for leading a church through a hurricane. The well was dug deep. I know the Bible’s story. I can exegete a text. I see so many patterns in how God works. Yes, there’s so much more to learn, and just like the next person, I often find myself crying, “Save us, Lord—we’re perishing!” Yet I know that the winds and the waves still know his voice. I know this because it’s the story the Bible tells, and good and godly men—in person and in print—have taken me through its story time and again. Your education matters, not because you know what’s coming, but because you don’t.
10. The written word
I don’t know how I would survive without words. The act of putting thoughts together on a digital or paper page—I can’t imagine living without this lifeline. The written word is a precious thing—reading, writing, crafting, editing, sharing, expressing. Writing has so often been a release valve for me, clarifying confusion, praying anxieties heavenward, beautifying murky thoughts, providing psalmic sanity amidst psalmic pain.
I thank God that he’s revealed himself and his Son in an infallible written Word, and that he’s shared with us the gift of writing ourselves. So if we must live in an Ecclesiastes world, then I plan to follow the Preacher’s footsteps, spending my life writing out the storm.