Does Crisis Create Community?


Early during Ian

8:00 a.m. Thursday, September 29. The morning after Hurricane Ian ravaged the west coast of Florida where I live. I make my way through the dark interior of our small townhouse with the dim light of my phone that thankfully still has thirty percent charge left after a long day and night of texting with far off friends and family.

I pick up the damp kitchen towel resting on top of the rolled-up rug at the base of our front door. The empty silence is punctuated with intermittent gusts of rushing wind. Pulling back the rug, I push open our door against another brief squall and the pile of leaves plastered against the bottom. Sunlight and a blast of cool breeze streams into our home, refreshing after the humid, stale air and darkness of our interior. With no power, there is no air conditioner to keep homes temperate in the heat and humidity of our tropical environment.

Standing in the doorway, I survey the damage to my surroundings.

Leaves, palm fronds, and chunks of foot long bark from palm trees litter the ground and neighborhood cars. Trees are stripped of leaves on one side, still full on the other, evidence of the direction the wind blew with force. I’ve heard anywhere from 70 to 155 mile per hour winds. The towering palms stand like toothpicks waving limp lettuce pieces from one side. A tree across the street is missing a limb and another dangles a branch lodged in place over a neighbor’s car. Surprisingly, very little water remains in the street where only hours ago, the raging winds danced over the flooded areas creating miniature replicas of the stormy gulf.

Most of what I see is better than I expected. After surviving Irma five years ago this month, and hearing the predictions in the past twenty-four hours, I thought we might fare worse. Later in the day, I would learn that some friends did far worse. Their home was destroyed and flooded with waist deep water, and their cars swept away by storm surge. Unbelievably heartbreaking, especially by comparison.

After taking in the scene around me, I noticed something I hadn’t expected. Down the street, an older man shoveling debris into a pile. A young couple walking a baby in their stroller. Two women chatting, another walking her dog.

My next-door neighbor popped out. “Good morning. How are you doing?” she asked. We exchanged descriptions of how we spent the very long night and what little news we heard of the damage. She informed me that part of the Sanibel bridge collapsed. We compared notes. No power. Check. Still have water for now. Check. She had no cell service, but I did. Another passing neighbor, overhearing our conversation, asked my provider and if she could use my phone to let her parents know that she was okay. “Of course!” Isn’t that what neighbors do?

We returned to our cleaning up. More people ventured outside to walk through the neighborhood or sweep up debris. Brendan and another man rinsed off our cars, checking for signs of damage. I left the door open to allow the breeze to cool the house. Some folks began taking down the metal shutters covering most of our windows. One neighbor who had given us some missing hardware rushed over to hand me some bills folded up, insisting that she wouldn’t take the payment we’d given her the previous day. “When I have enough for me, I will gladly share the surplus.”

Later in the day, after many conversations, we heard from our other next-door neighbor that her sister, a nurse, was trapped in the flooded hospital near Fort Myers Beach. She had returned from caring for her elderly parents in Port Charlotte whose boat ended up in their neighbor’s yard. As she began setting up a generator and barbeque, she offered to let us plug into her power source to keep our refrigerator running.

As Brendan and I sat down together to eat a few hours later, I could still hear bits of conversations floating through our open front door. That was when it struck me.

This is how we get through a crisis.

Community. Sharing stories, helping each other, and comparing notes is processing the trauma. Each person deals with it in their own way: walking, riding, talking, cleaning, or giving.

It’s how God made us.

God always has been in community. “Let us make man in our image.” One God, a triune connection creating others like them to multiply.

His instructions for us are based on community. Unity with him. Abide, remain, nothing apart from him. Love one another. Don’t steal or murder or covet another person’s spouse. He puts the orphan in family and admonishes us to take care of widows. Bear one another’s burdens. Pray for each other. Lay hands on each other and greet with a holy kiss.

Community.

We were never meant to live life alone.

I think this is why people rally together when crisis hits. 9-1-1 brought the city together. School shootings draw support from all over. It’s why Go Fund Me works, and people have rushed here and to other disaster affected areas to offer help to strangers.

It’s also why I love our church. After Hurricane Irma, we donned bright orange t-shirts and set out to help our devastated communities. Unexpectedly, we became known as “The Orange Army.” In the past five years, we’ve made it a point to welcome everyone into our church, but we also intentionally go outside the building to serve our city on a monthly and in some cases weekly basis.

“Church” in the days after Jesus was crucified and rose again was about being together. Joining resources, sharing stories of being with Jesus, and helping those in need. It never was intended as a place of judgment, religious isolation, and exclusivity.

It seems that God reminds us of this with every crisis.

Maybe crisis doesn’t create community. Maybe we are simply drawn back into community as a result of crisis. God is all about unity and coming together. Come-unity.

If anyone is interested in helping with relief efforts, I can guarantee that any supplies or funds sent through our church will go direct to families in need. You can give or find out more here: https://nextlevelchurch.com/ian/

How to Rebuild Your Life


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Corinth, Greece

Today I’m sharing an adaptation of a popular post I wrote a few years ago. It seems to have been helpful then, and I think it is relevant in new ways at this time in our nation and our individual lives.

There’s a book in the Bible about a man named Nehemiah. 

He was brokenhearted over the fact that the city of Jerusalem was in ruins, and after praying to God about it, he embarked on a mission to rebuild the walls.

I love this story for a number of reasons. 

First of all, I’m moved that someone saw devastation and cared enough to find out how he could help. I feel this way when I hear stories of people whose lives have been ruined. Maybe it was destroyed by a natural disaster, or because of another person’s selfish action, or even by their own poor choices, but whatever the reason, the ruins of someone’s life solicit a compassionate longing to help them rebuild.

I believe that’s how God feels about us.

Secondly, I love that Nehemiah took action. After he grieved for a city that lay in ruins, he asked God to help him and then set out to obtain permission, supplies and a group of people to rebuild the city even though he “was very much afraid.” The king granted him all the time and supplies he needed. Words can communicate compassion, but action shows love.

God gives us time and what we need to rebuild. He’s patient.

Next, it encourages me that Nehemiah didn’t give up, even when his group came up against so much opposition. A local official ridiculed and tormented the people, asking them what they thought they were doing. Lies were flung at them to convince them that their efforts were in vain, that their attempts were feeble and inadequate. Too much was ruined. The rubble couldn’t be reclaimed for a purpose.

I’ve heard those same lies so many times.

At one point in my life, I was exhausted from working to hold together my marriage and my family. My strength was giving out because of unresolved daily conflicts, and my determination to stay married in spite of a horribly dysfunctional situation. My children were showing the effects of living under the strain in our home. I was certain that the “rubble” was too much to wade through. Nothing seemed salvageable.

So God showed me this story about Nehemiah.

Finally, I love the story because God has a plan for rebuilding. As I studied Nehemiah’s situation, I saw some applications for my life. For me the plan looked like this:

  1. Fight for my family even if it meant doing things that seemed to tear us apart. I had to separate from my ex-husband in order to allow us to deal with issues. Pulling out of most of our activities became necessary so we could focus on our family.
  2. Concentrate on what God wanted to change in me. Allow God to heal me and leave my husband and marriage in His hands. Success for me would depend on what God did in my life.
  3. Set up a guard against the things that crept in to hurt my relationships with God and my children. For me those things were fatigue, busyness, not making time for them, and trying to figure everything out without seeking God.
  4. Put God ahead of my marriage. I had been setting my desire for the “perfect marriage” ahead of God. I compromised truth in order to keep peace. My fear caused me to push aside things God tried to tell me even when they would have helped me. I stayed in a place God had tried to release me from and didn’t ask me to stay in.
  5. Be aware of Satan’s plot to destroy us and our family. I had to choose to fight for the well-being of myself and my children even when the enemy told me to give up because it wouldn’t be worth it. Recognizing the lies of the enemy is imperative, but not always easy. We have to be so alert. Nehemiah had the people keep a weapon in one hand while they built with the other.

Rebuilding our lives can be scary.

We can’t see all that lies ahead. It’s like driving on the darkest road or in dense fog at night. Our headlights only shine far enough for us to keep moving. We drive as far as we can see, and as we drive, the path is illuminated ahead of us.

Rebuilding happens one day at a time.

We can’t look too far ahead or worry about what will come. Instead we have to trust God to provide what we need for that day. When I look ahead and start to worry about the future, God asks

Do you have what you need today? Can you believe I’ve got a good plan?

The answer is always “yes.” I always have what I need today. When the next day comes, I have what I need again. Nothing surprises God. He’s already seen all of our life and has a great plan for it. We can trust him to bring restoration to every area of our lives.

His plan rarely turns out to be what we think we need or want.

It’s actually far better. The marriage I once tried so desperately to hold together fell apart. My ex-husband went his own way, but about eight years later God brought me an incredible man – my true love and soul mate . We will celebrate our eighth anniversary in a couple of months. (Read our story.)

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My one and only love – Brendan

God continues to rebuild our lives and the lives of our seven children and nine grandchildren. We are committed to an amazing church family where we are growing and able to serve others in our community.  While we still have struggles, God is bringing such healing and joy to our daily lives. We praise him for the way he has redeemed our past and rebuilt on the ruins.

How is God rebuilding your life?