Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Joplin, part 1

I don't even know where to begin...

It was Sunday night, May 22nd, and our High School ministry at church, Collide, had just ended. I overheard my boss/friend, Cody Walker, talking to 2 other leaders about how he hadn't yet heard from his mom. I asked what was going on, and he said that there had been a huge tornado in Joplin, MO and they hadn't heard from his mom or brother. The next hour or so had to be traumatic for Cody & his wife Rachael as they frantically texted and called everyone they knew in Joplin (where they're both from) to make any contact they could with their families.

I started to check Twitter & Facebook from my phone, and from all of the friends I have in Joplin through CIY or Ozark Christian College or at churches there, I was seeing comments like "I'm OK" or posts on friends' walls saying "So glad you're OK" and so on... I heard "Chick-fil-A is gone" and I heard "supposedly it was an F5" and "half of Joplin is flattened." This wasn't the kind of tornado I'd expected at all. This was bigger.

Obviously, you all know that by now after seeing the news, and the world is well aware that this was something bigger than anyone ever expected. No one expected it to happen in Joplin, MO, let alone anywhere.

That night, someone finally got a hold of Cody's mom, and though she had been pulled out of her flattened house, she was ok. His brother got access to facebook long enough from the Stained Glass Theater where he was (also flattened) and wrote on Cody's wall "Tell mom I'm ok." No one knew what kind of miracle this was until later on.

Pictures, video footage, and the news drew me in and I couldn't pull myself away that night. Over the next couple days I tried to pull myself from having my eyes glued to the TV to having my knees glued to the floor in prayer. I know I'm not able to do much, but I can pray, and I knew I could find some other way to simply help.

I had almost moved to Joplin several years ago after a job offer from CIY that I happened to turn down. I can't imagine if I'd been living there. Honestly, I wasn't impressed with the city of Joplin when I visited (this has changed now...more to come on this later), but there are a lot of great people there. Everyone I know who works at CIY (Christ In Youth) is good people. Those I've met from Ozark Christian College are good people.

All of them - faith-filled, Jesus-loving Kingdom workers who seek to change the world. That's what I knew of Joplin before the tornado.

That hasn't changed.

I had to do something last week to help. I felt like I couldn't NOT do anything. The Spirit was tugging on me to act, and I just didn't know what to do but what many other churches knew to do: 1) Pray, 2) Collect donations for people in need, and 3) Go there. I was willing to drive a big truck down there if that's what it took, because I knew it was something God was calling me to do for His glory.

So I asked some of the leaders at my church if I could help. Oddly, at the exact same time I sent a facebook message to our campus pastor to ask if I could do something, he was sending me a message asking if I'd consider brainstorming ways we could help. The next day I found some resources via facebook (social media has been an INCREDIBLE help to those in Joplin - communicating needs to one another and to the world), and found a list of items that were needed. After we made plans, changed them, thought they were set, and then changed them about 17 more times, the plan was this: we'd rent a big truck, ask people in the area to donate supplies on the list, and drive it down there. So that's what we did.

I take no credit and no glory. I'm just thankful I got to do something. I knew I HAD to do something. The Church (big C) had to do something. I put the word out...again, on Facebook. And people responded. Items started coming in, slowly on Tuesday, a few more on Wednesday, and then an overload on Thursday.

My good friend Crista Williford, who teaches at North Oldham High School just outside of Louisville, asked students to fill backpacks with supplies, and there was an overwhelming response from teenagers who may or may not even be believers.

Three guys who work at Humana collected about $350 from the people in their office, and over their lunch hour they went to Wal-Mart to buy all kinds of things (including feminine products - impressive, guys!) to donate.

A high school student went around to his neighborhood and collected whatever his neighbors were willing/able to give.

Countless people gave what money they had in cash or gift cards directed to Cody's mom to help her rebuild and fill her home with needs in the future.

It was overwhelming to see the response that people had shown, but this is what I know: in times of need, communities come together. And in times of despair, God is still good. So are His people.

With so many vivid images still in my mind from the 2 days I got to spend in Joplin, I'm still processing what to say about my time there, but I'm hoping God will give me the words. He allowed me to go, and I think it's His story to share how He's at work in Joplin and in me.

Stay tuned...I'll share more in days to come.
And please, keep praying for the people of Joplin. There is more devastation than you can even imagine.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dirty, Rotten Hearts

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”
--Proverbs 14:30

This verse stopped me dead in my tracks tonight as I was reading through the 14th chapter of Proverbs.

Just yesterday at church, one of our teaching pastors preached a sermon about guarding the heart rather than modifying behavior, which is so often the route we choose. We’ll take care of the outside of our lives, the parts that people see, and all the while our hearts are rotting inside. Our spiritual life is decaying daily while we seem to have it all together on the outside, wrapped in a perfect little outfit with a bow on top.

He used the analogy of very large trees being knocked over by the wind. It’s common thought that a strong wind is what has the power to uproot a large, old tree, but the truth is usually that the tree has been dying and rotting from the inside for years. By the time it reaches such great decay, it doesn’t take too strong a wind to knock it down completely.

In fact, this happened in my own backyard just 2 weeks ago. There was a monstrous tree in the neighbor’s yard with 3 major branch sections. Apparently earlier in the week one giant section had fallen one direction, but I must have missed it. A few nights later that week I was watching TV when I thought I heard a gunshot or an explosion in my yard. I looked out the back door, and the second part of the tree had fallen on a transformer, causing it to blow up.

The next morning on my way out the door to work (running late, as usual) a man from the neighborhood was surveying the damage out on the sidewalk and called me over by yelling, “You better be careful!” To my knowledge, the tree hadn’t done anything that would harm me, but I went over to be friendly and see what happened. He pointed out where the tree had fallen and how it had occurred. The tree had been covered in ivy, and that ivy had sucked all the moisture out from the inside of the tree, so the tree had been dried out for a long time. Two of the large sections had already fallen, and it was only a matter of time before the third part was going to fall…and when it did—it was going to fall right on my house!

So when Kyle Idleman preached this past Sunday about the heart and how trees decay from the inside and can be blown over or swayed fairly easily, I thought about that tree in the backyard and I thought about my heart.

I’ve got a lot of junk in my heart that I don’t want other people to see. There are damaged parts in there, some areas are just ignored and covered in cobwebs, and some parts are tucked away on purpose because I’d rather not address them and make changes. Some areas are just ruined by what I’ve let into my heart, and some areas are full and healthy because of what I have allowed in.

But when I read Proverbs 14:30 tonight, I knew immediately that my own envy and bitterness and lack of peace was an area of my heart that needed to be addressed. I’ve noticed that the effects of that part of my heart’s decay have been surfacing lately, and it’s affecting my outward behavior and the way I treat other people.

I want what they have. I compare myself with others. I want to be somewhere else with my life. I never pictured myself here at this stage of life. I don’t understand why other people’s dreams have come true and mine haven’t. I’m not satisfied with parts of my life. I want more. I don’t think it’s fair when I have to make decisions on my own, and I don’t think it’s fair when it seems that everything just “always works out” for other people.

It’s dirty. The envy, the bitterness, the pride, the conflict in my heart. It’s all destroying me from the inside out, and it’s ugly. Decay isn’t pretty. Have you ever seen mold? Gross. I’d like to stay as far away from that stuff as possible, and yet I forget I’m allowing these feelings and sins fester inside and eat away at a heart that should be beating with passion for a world in much greater need than I.

Thankfully, last week the section of the neighbor’s tree that was headed for my house was cut down altogether. All that’s left is a giant stump in their backyard. And you know what the greatest part about that is? It has allowed so much more light into my backyard than I had before. When the sun shines, it shines more brightly back there & the flowers in my little garden will be able to grow more! (And at night, the streetlamps shine more light into the yard, and I’m hoping that will be enough light to keep my friend the possum far away!)

So before my own heart gets eaten completely away, I’m going to be working hard to get at the root and cut that sin away. I don’t yet know what it’s going to take to do that, and maybe it will be my own awareness and boundaries with where I let my mind wander. But I certainly don’t want my body wasting away because of the things that have sucked the life out of my heart—the very organ that gives life to the whole body. I hope that when I cut out the decay, more light will shine into my heart and out through my life.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
--Ezekiel 36:25-27