As I write this, the people of Florida face the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Ian. The damage was relatively mild in Orlando, where I live, with some flooding, wind damage, and power outages. In other parts of Florida, though, the damage was horrendous. So many have lost everything they owned, to say nothing about injuries and the loss of lives. It is a time of great lament and sorrow.
Along with believers all over the country, I’m praying for those who have lost so much.
Hurricane Ian also brings back a whole lot of memories. While living in Miami years ago, we went through Hurricane Andrew. At that time, it was one of the greatest natural disasters the country had ever faced. Several of us at Key Life—the ministry where I serve—were scared spitless during the hurricane, fearing for our lives. We lost our homes. And the newly constructed Key Life building’s lobby, with glass on both sides, blew away. (Beforehand, we planned an “open house” the Monday after Andrew. Friends said that lent new meaning to “open house.”)
So, I can somewhat identify with those in our state who face very dark circumstances. I’ve been there, done that, and have the T-shirt. They will survive, eventually rebuild, and return to a normal life. Right now, they aren’t so sure, but they will. I felt exactly the same after Hurricane Andrew, but our lives are better now in some ways than they were before Andrew. Even if it doesn’t feel like it now, this, too, shall pass.
When I look back to those days after Hurricane Andrew, I remember the contractor who stole some $50,000 from our insurance, our “almost” bankruptcy, a thief who stole my car, our period of homelessness, and looking ahead to a very dark future. (And to make matters worse, my mother died during that same period of time.)
But my most poignant memory stands out: the morning after the hurricane. It was a time of great laughter and joy (believe it or not). All the many Christians in our neighborhood met one another in the street between our destroyed houses. Of course, we were relieved. (Winston Churchill said that there was nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result.) But we were also laughing at one of our atheist neighbors . . . who had prayed all night. We decided that before something like that ever happened again, we would make sure that our neighbors heard the Gospel.
And then we had a party.
It was absolutely incredible. We took all the frozen food from our dead refrigerators, fired up the grills, and got together for a real feast. We celebrated our survival with joy. And even more than that, we celebrated God’s faithfulness, knowing he was good and good all the time, and we belonged to him.
I just read Pastor Jeramie Rinne’s letter to his Sanibel Community Church congregation following Hurricane Ian. Sanibel was, by far, one of the hardest hit areas in Florida. He described the horrible devastation they all faced, and then he “preached” one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard (read) on God’s faithfulness. Rinne wrote that letter from a mall in another Florida city where he had become a “Sanibel refugee.” He joined others as they watched the hurricane’s devastation on a television screen. A store employee approached Rinne and said, “I have to ask . . .” The employee asked the pastor how he could be so calm and nonchalant after losing everything. Pastor Rinne wrote that he started to explain that he was a Christian and a pastor, but before he could finish, the employee’s face lit up, and he said, “Of course! You have God. I got it! It all makes sense.” Then he walked away, smiling.
He got it!
For those who belong to God, joy and sorrow make sense.
Laughter and Lament: The Radical Freedom of Joy & Sorrow
Steve Brown shares that speaking honestly about the ways we have been hurt and the ways we have hurt others opens the door to the joy of God’s presence even as we grieve. Instead of pretending that everything is fine, going to God with all of our laments fills us with the freedom and joy of knowing his love and forgiveness. This is the surprising message of freedom that Christians have to share with a world where pain is almost always cursed and laughter is almost always cynical.