Church is not a building. It’s a beautiful body of believers that stand together in circumstances, both good and bad. It’s a commitment to loving one another the way Christ loved us. It’s sacrifice. It’s compassion. It’s the most amazing and beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced. And from the deepest place of my heart, I say a big thank you for all of you who have reached out to us and showed us what love looks like. Love is practical. Sometimes it’s tangible. And being on the receiving end is humbling.
As many of you know, we had a major sewage backup last Friday that filled our entire basement with inches of sewage water. But the storm that we’re in actually started before then. I’m not exactly sure when it officially changed from sunny to stormy, but I know it’s been awhile. I’m not exaggerating when I say we have experienced one immensely stressful situation after another for months. There are a few things that I don’t feel comfortable sharing publicly. But know that they have challenged every ounce of what we believe and hope for. And after being challenged over and over and over in every way I can imagine, I was proud to say that we were walking through these storms hand in hand, trusting God…that was until last Friday.
I have never really cared about having “stuff.” I think we might be the last people on earth without smart phones or a tablet of some sort. We do not have flat screen televisions. All of our clothes come from resale. And most of our furniture and things are hand me downs. We rather fill our home with children who laugh (and cry), grow (and eat), and play (and break things). There are those moments of intense jealousy when I’m at someone’s house that is beautifully decorated, spacious, and seemingly perfect. Just keeping it real. But truly, I am content most of the time.
That is why last Friday came as a surprise. All of a sudden, losing my children’s playroom, my home office, my home schooling storage and library, my laundry room area, and a lot of our things in storage, really shook me. And then I felt so much shame. It’s just stuff, after all. But that wasn’t all. It wasn’t just the stuff. It was the immense amount of work ahead of us. We already feel like time is short. We already have 2 major house projects, one of which is a result of another home fiasco. We had 1200 square feet of living space to start with in this home, plus that precious basement, and now we’re reduced to no basement, and one bedroom off limits, plus 4 active kids with one on the way in 20 weeks. The salvageable items line our walls in every free space in our home. Our kids have the living room and a small area in their bedroom to play. This is what is shaking me. My house is completely a wreck, and it’s overwhelming.And just when we think we are making progress, there is a setback.
We’re looking at weeks and weeks of clean up and repair before we can even start putting our home back together. If this were all we had to deal with right now, it’d be enough. But it’s not. It’s just the latest. Somehow I think we’ve evolved to deal with and expect stress. But it’s not easy.
Life is hard, but God is good. So cliché, right? I literally chanted that this weekend. But in that chanting, here’s what I learned. He is good, which means He is not bad. And if He is not bad, then all the bad we live through isn’t Him. It’s not. Let me tell you, from the time I was a little girl, I’ve lived through a heck of a lot of bad. I’ve never been one to shake my fist at God. Even in the fall, when we lost our precious baby #5, I was hurt, upset, angry…but not with God. This was the first time in a long time, possibly ever, where I literally said out loud “What did I do wrong? Where did we miss you? Why are you not rescuing us?” But He was. He is. It is true He allows us to walk through bad things, but He does not cause them. He has no place in them. He only desires our good, not our bad. Why? Because He is good. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. And if this is so, He doesn’t work the bad in. How counterproductive, then, is it for us to shake our fists, yell up at heaven, or separate ourselves? He wants to partner with us always, in every moment.
Now, to be clear, despite this fabulous epiphany that I’m sure you all have had and I’m just late to class, I have had some VERY human moments in the last week. I’ve cried, I’ve snapped at my kiddos, and I’ve doubted so very much. I’ve literally had to overcome despair on a daily, if not hourly, basis. And I don’t use the word despair lightly. It’s hard to be knocked down by wave after ominous wave and not feel alone, even betrayed. And those feelings pull out some very human moments and reactions.
I was driving to the store to buy even more garbage bags on Saturday, and all of the sudden the story of Elijah on the mountain popped in my head. As soon as I had a moment, I quickly re-read it. It’s found in I Kings 19 and worth a re-read. Elijah ended up running away, fearing for his life, and hiding in a cave. He just wanted the Lord to take his life. He literally uttered “I have had enough, Lord,” in verse 4, the very thing I was uttering when this story invaded my conscious thought. If you’re familiar with the story you know that God told Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain because He was about to pass by. In verses 11-13, we find this well-known part of the story:
“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I always took this passage to mean that God’s voice doesn’t have to be mighty and powerful, but we are to be quiet before Him to hear that gentle whisper. I always took it to be a lesson to be still before the Lord. I’m reading it differently now. One thing Elijah had going for him was familiarity with His maker and His ways. You see, Elijah was done. He was throwing in the towel. He had retreated and given up. But God wasn’t done with Him. Calling Him out to the mountain, God was waiting for Him to respond to His voice. But Elijah’s response required him to drown out all the noise. The wind that shattered the solid rock before Him was just a distraction. God was not in the wind. The earthquake that literally shook Elijah as he firmly stood waiting for the Lord was not mistaken as a punishment or a redirection or an answer to a prayer to end his life. And no, God was not in the fire that raged after the other waves of destruction had invaded Elijah’s territory. How long was he standing there I wonder? Does it matter? After having been called out on a mountaintop with a promise to hear the voice of God, only to experience the elements betraying everything you can see around you, I don’t think it would take long to get discouraged and feel betrayed. But Elijah waited, knowing God isn’t bad. He is good. And He wouldn’t call us to the mountaintop to leave us disappointed.
Elijah had to wait through the wind, through the earth shaking, through the blazing heat of a fire to hear a whisper.
So, here we are, standing on our mountaintop. We’ve been blown by the wind. We’ve been shaken by the earth. We’re feeling the fire. And we’re waiting for the whisper.
And in waiting for that whisper, we have seen an amazing outpouring of love and support by so many around us. In just a few days, we have received enough financially to clean and repair our basement. We have been well fed, which is great because all the air movers in our basement literally have rendered our kitchen appliances useless, causing a blown fuse with even use of our toaster! We have people donating toys to my kids who have lost their playroom full of toys. Old friends, new friends, and many I don’t even know are reaching out to us. And though it’s “just” a basement flood, to us, it’s a mountaintop moment. We’ve been standing up here awhile and are growing weary. And the sacrifice and kindness of so many people who love the Lord and are being obedient to His whispers are sustaining us.
Thank you to everyone who have sustained us. We do not take one meal, one toy, one dollar lightly, knowing how much sacrifice each one is. Though we are weary, our hearts our full of encouragement. This is the church. It’s beautiful.