The date was April 14, 1994. I had only been at the office for about an hour when I received a call from a neighbor. “You need to come home quickly. Your residence is on fire!” We jumped in the car and sped home to asses the situation. We couldn’t get close because of the number of fire engines on the scene. We got out of the car and ran toward what was once our home. I was devastated to see that there was nothing left but smoldering timbers and a burnt out shell. We were left with nothing except the clothes we were wearing.
I’ll never forget the feeling of loss when the fire crews escorted us back to the scene to see if there was anything we could salvage under their close supervision for our safety. “Things”, as people suggest, can be replaced. But photos of the kids in various stages of their lives, parties, family heirlooms passed down, one-of-a-kind keepsakes-all gone in an instant. Thirty five years of history and collections reduced to ashes. Grateful to be alive, of course, but the loss was real and the mourning genuine.
This week as we witnessed the destruction of Hurricane Harvey and the flooding that is still wreaking havoc, my heart goes out to the victims because I know exactly how they feel and the challenges they face financially and emotionally as they begin the slow process of rebuilding. Some of these victims were already displaced by Hurricane Katrina. It does my heart good to see how the Texas community has already come together to offer shelter, aide and whatever assistance is necessary to assure the best possible outcome to the neighbors they have never before met. In a world of social media wars and disingenuous outrage over issues of little significance in comparison, the things that matter most quickly rise to the surface when such tragedies occur. Our thoughts and prayers will be for the people of South Texas as they begin the rebuilding process.
However, burnt timbers and flooded homes are not the only signs of a devastating loss. For some, life may have seemed to be going fairly smooth when suddenly everything they held dear was stripped away and they are left sitting in a pile of rubble no less devastating as the aftermath of a powerful natural disaster. Through the death of loved ones, broken relationships, divorce and other emotional tragedies, one can find themselves sifting through the rubble trying to find anything they can salvage from life as they knew it. The stress and psychological effect can be paralyzing, the will to move on temporarily nonexistent and the realization of the losses traumatic.
I would offer up that it may in fact be easier to replace shelter and bedding and clothing than it is to replace the overwhelming loss of the infrastructure that makes up one’s life and the broken hearts that are left with no real consolation. Time may heal all wounds, but how much time is always the question, as is the real level of recovery expected. It is in these times of loss that God’s grace is the only remedy and hope one can cling to without being disappointed or let down. God is close to the brokenhearted and collects our tears as His gems. Only those who have suffered the loss of everything they own can fully relate to the sense of loss others in similar situations experience. And only those who have lost all they hold precious and dear can fully appreciate the feeling of hopelessness as they somehow try to muster the strength and courage to regroup, rebuild and recover.
The best source of hope we all have in dire circumstances can be found in scripture. They may for some ring a bit hollow at first, but through repetition and eventual adaptation, they become our strength:
From Job 5, “He sets on high all who are lowly and lifts those who mourn to safety”
From Isaiah 41, “Don’t be afraid for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed for I am still your God. I will strengthen and help you and hold you in the palm of my mighty right hand”
From Matthew 11, “Come to me, all of you who are weary with heavy burdens (and broken hearts), and I will give you relief.”
However devastating our losses may be, whether material or emotional, our Father is not oblivious. There is noting hidden from His view, nothing that catches Him off guard and nothing too big for Him to resolve. I tell myself this everyday-I have to. May it be so for you as well.