Where was God? This is a question we often hear when something bad happens. It implies that if something horrible happens, there must not be a God because otherwise He would have prevented this terrible thing. The common response from a person of faith is, “God never promised to prevent bad things from happening. He promised to be with us at all times.” True but incomplete. What exactly does that mean that He is with us during that terrible time?
A couple of days ago, I visited the 9/11 memorial in New York City. Close to 3,000 people died that day. Was God there with them? If so, what did He do?
Of course, it is impossible to know exactly how each person experiences God in those times. If we look at the life of the human Jesus we can get an idea of what it means for Jesus to be present in tragedy and heartbreak. In the worst moment of Jesus’ life, in fact the worst moment in the history of the world, past and future, this innocent man hung on the cross, betrayed, abandoned, and forsaken. As He suffered unspeakable torture, slowly dying a horrific death, Jesus looked out on the people who put Him there and…prayed. Prayed to His father to forgive the perpetrators of the most heinous crime that will ever be committed. Next, He promised salvation to the justly convicted criminal hanging next to Him. He certainly could have used His power and authority to smite the perpetrators and come down from the cross. Instead, knowing in that horrible moment how the story will end, Jesus prayed and Jesus loved.
On April 16, 2007, my younger son, Hunter was a freshman at Virginia Tech. Early that morning, a student named Cho murdered 32 students and faculty. When Hunter returned home, he was in shock and despair. I was focused entirely on being his mother, not even praying or thinking about the victims. At some point that week after the tragedy, I received a vision from the Lord. I could see 3 students lying on the classroom floor in pools of blood. I knew they were in great pain and terrified. Suddenly, Jesus walked into the room. He walked up to each student, held out his hand and said, “Come with me.” At that moment, I knew the pain and terror were replaced with the peace that passes all understanding. He loved them. When Hunter returned to school, while praying at the makeshift memorial, he also had a vision. “Mom, I saw Cho in heaven surrounded by the victims. They were telling him they love him and they forgive him. Mom, if they can forgive him, so can I.” Jesus forgave Cho and, through His great love, so did Cho’s victims.
As I toured the 9/11 museum, 4 things made an indelible impact. First, as you
walk down a ramp to get to the museum, deep underground, you see a nondescript, rather ugly, concrete wall on the left. It was odd since every other part of the museum was beautifully designed and finished. I learned that it was the original retaining wall from one of the towers–the wall that holds back the Hudson River. If that wall had been breached, the tragedy would have been so much worse as lower Manhattan would have been instantly flooded. I can see an army of angels holding that wall in place during the explosions that incinerated the building and fire so hot it melted the steel. God protected the people in Lower Manhattan.
I also believe that the Lord continues reveal His presence to us in the aftermath of the tragedies.
Take the Ground Zero Cross. In the midst of all the debris, on September 13, a worker discovered a cross, perfectly proportioned, made of I beams, from the prefabricated materials used to build the towers. Recovery workers prayed there and left messages there. The presence of God must have been powerfully felt by them as they were surrounded by death and destruction.
Many saw the crossed metal as a Christian cross and felt its survival was symbolic. Fr. Jordan spoke over it and declared it to be a “symbol of hope… a symbol of faith… a symbol of healing”.One minister at the site says that when a family of a man who died in the attacks came to the cross shrine and left personal effects there, “It was as if the cross took in the grief and loss. I never felt Jesus more.” Wikipedia
The next item I saw took my breath away. A New Testament was seared into a
molten piece of steel. It was open to Matthew 5 which includes the verses:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” and “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Matt. 5:4,38,39.
Surely, the Lord is speaking to us through this one page, made of flimsy paper, out of the entire Bible that survived the hellfire and brimstone of 9/11.
Finally, I listened to a recording by the brother of the pilot, Captain Burlingame, whose plane crashed into the Pentagon. All that was recovered was his passport and the prayer card he carried in his wallet. The plastic laminated prayer card, from his mother’s funeral, survived the explosion as the jet, used as a bomb exploded. It too had the verse from Matthew 5:4 — “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” His sister said, “It also has a poem that says ‘I did not die. Do not go to my grave,'” she said. “We took that as a message from my Mother: ‘It’s okay. I got him.'”
When Yarely, our bouncy, pouncy, flouncy, 10 year old died, God sent us the same message. As I wrote in a post the day after:
After the funeral service, we processed to the burial site. It is a cemetery on the side of a mountain in the village of San Buenaventura. Although the path was long and a bit treacherous, the view over the valley was beautiful. “Just like the view from our mountain home in Tennessee!” exclaimed Brad, Yarely’s father. Off to the left was a beautiful view of a valley with a town at the far end. It was cloudy and dark when we arrived. (Thank you Lord for holding off the torrential rains during the burial.) Led by Angel and the small guitar, we began singing a beautiful, meditative song called, “Aleluya” praising God. I looked up to see the town, just the town, illuminated, shining in the midst of the grey, cloudy mountains. As the song ended, the clouds returned. For a moment the Lord reveals, “Yarely is with me, in my Holy City.”
Where is God when bad things happen? Right there, loving the victims, holding them in His arms, inviting them into a new life. But that’s not all. He is here, with us, speaking to us, the survivors, offering us comfort and hope. The very last thing Jesus said was, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Always. Amen.
Over my life as a Christian, I have learned a lot about God. Often I realize in retrospect something He has taught me. I listen attentively to sermons to glean what I can, I seek out a deeper understanding through my own studies. I pray for discernment and understanding. However, it is rare that I am aware of being in the midst of being actively taught something by the Lord.
I recently attended the New Wineskins Mission Conference. I attended two break out sessions on healing. I believe miraculous healing through prayer can happen. In fact, I have received healing twice, once a physical healing and the other healing of a deep, long standing emotional wound. As I sat in the sessions, I decided I wanted to learn more about healing and, even perhaps, how to be an instrument of God’s healing. So, I bought 4 books on the subject. As I flew back to Honduras, I thought maybe I should start with myself. I have carpal tunnel in both my wrists and thumbs. (Side note to all you avid thumb texters…you will be here one day. As I told a doctor once, I am like a cat – clever but ineffective since I have no use of my opposable thumbs) I prayed with complete faith and belief for healing.
Here is what happened. First of all, the Lord taught me about daily bread. “Give us this day our daily bread” is not just about bread! This is something the Hondurans know very well. As Angel says, “Yesterday is gone, we don’t know if there will be a tomorrow, all we have is today. Live today as though it is your last.” Anyone in recovery understands this concept as well. “One day at a time.” Instead of waiting for a dramatic healing event, I understood the Lord was teaching me to pray for healing one day at a time. All I need is for my hands to be pain-free today. “As Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matt.6:34)So I start each day with a prayer, please heal my hands for today. Tomorrow is another day.
After several days, I realized He was teaching something else. Throughout each day I will have moments when I realized my hands don’t hurt. I say a quick prayer of thanks. Occasionally, my thumb or my wrist will start hurting, sometimes in the middle of the night. I say a quick prayer asking for healing. Within a minute or two the pain subsides. I was pondering this and reflected on the time He healed me physically. I had a bad case of tendonitis in both Achilles tendons. I could hardly walk. I had a huge knot on each tendon. I had just started my ministry here and worried it would severely impact my ability to fulfill my responsibilities. Two orthopedic doctors had examined them and both had said there was nothing to be done. One day, I met an extraordinarily spiritual woman. Suzy introduced her as Sister Lupita, a prophet. I asked her to pray for my ankles, which she did. That afternoon, the knots were gone and I was painfree. It was a miracle! Dr. Jim, one of the orthopedic doctors who had examined me, was amazed that my tendons were totally healed. This was over 8 years ago and I haven’t had a twinge since. I suddenly realized that I rarely think about them or what God did for me. Sometimes I will tell the story to illustrate our miraculous Lord, but mostly I just thoughtlessly enjoy healthy tendons.
This time, with my hands, the Lord didn’t give me a one and done miraculous healing. Instead He helps me one day at a time. This is my lesson – to depend on God when I have needs, to lean on Him in times of trouble, to be thankful at all times for all things, and to walk through this life hand in hand, day by day with Him.
I don’t know how my hands will feel tomorrow but today, despite hours of painting which should have left me writing in pain, today my hands don’t hurt. I talk to God all day, asking for help and thanking Him for His grace and mercy. I think I like it this way best. (By the way, I haven’t opened the books yet!) So pray with me, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread”…whatever that may be for you and take His hand today.
I have a combo team in house. Part of the team is a medical brigade and part is a construction team. Yesterday the construction team set off to a rural, mountain site to build a house in a day. We have finally gotten rain, thanks be to God, which made the dirt road leading to the site a muddy road. The truck carrying all the wood and supplies got stuck. Finally, it made it to the site. The team had just started unloading when a man showed up and announced that HE, not our beneficiary, owned the tiny plot of land. We can’t settle property disputes in the moment so the team had to leave. The wood truck got stuck in the mud again and almost slid off a small ledge. So, now what? We have wood for a house and team to build it but no beneficiary. Fortunately, my assistant, Edson, is on the ball. He had already begun scoping out beneficiaries for the houses we will build in October.
Meanwhile, a woman in Flor named Felicity, was reeling from the day before. Her daughter had been mugged. In the middle of the night, the heavy rain was too much for her fragile, makeshift roof. It collapsed. Felicity was relieved they had survived the disaster but at a complete loss. Everything she had was gone. They literally had no roof over their heads. She does the only thing she can do. She begins to pray, beseeching the Lord to intervene, to somehow provide shelter for her and her daughter. Please, Lord, help us.
Then the wood truck and the team showed up. The team jumped out of the van and began unloading the wood. Edson explained to Felicity that, if it is OK with her (!) the team would build her house right then and there. Just a few hours later, Felicity and her daughter had a new, waterproof,strong house, built to last!
During the house blessing, Felicity shared how overwhelmed she was that the Lord had heard her prayer and answered it..immediately. Her daughter cried. The team was equally overwhelmed to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a real, bona fide miracle for this faithful woman and her daughter.
So, which was it? A mess or a miracle? The day sure started as a mess but the Lord has a way of making a mess into a miracle.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
In the US, when you hear “s/he stepped up” to accomplish something or help out, it connotes a bit of a heroic effort. One steps up in a situation where everyone else is stymied or it is a task no one wants to do or the task is outside of the person’s responsibility. It is a good thing.
I see people stepping up all the time here. Last month, the Lord showed me a little girl who desperately needed a wheelchair. On a Tuesday, I texted my friend, Kathy, my go-to person when we need a wheelchair, and asked her if she could find a child’s wheelchair and send it with the team coming the following Saturday. Within 2 hours I had a reply, “We’ve got a one!” She collected the wheelchair and then delivered it to the team, a couple of hours away, so they could bring it down. Lots of people in South Carolina stepped up to help a little girl they didn’t know.
A couple of weeks ago, a 5-year-old girl in our school in Flor told our psychologist that her step-father was abusing her and that he had also thrown her 7-month-old brother on the floor. By that afternoon, they and their 2-year-old brother were in our Children’s Home, with a caretaker hired to care for them. There were no discussions about capacity, about affordability in adding 3 children and a caretaker to the already stretched budget. The staff at the school and Children’s Home stepped up to save these children from further abuse. Edgar, 8, stepped up and took the 2 year old under his wing, teaching him how to say grace at dinnertime!
Last Friday I got a call in the late afternoon. “There is a big fire behind the church. We are evacuating all the children. Can they come to Casa LAMB?” We didn’t have a team that week and Gloria and Dulce had spent the entire week cleaning every inch of Casa LAMB, even scrubbing the wall behind the stove! When they heard the news, they stepped up. They knew that all their work would be undone in minutes, yet with big smiles, they immediately began preparing the house to receive 42 children and 8 adults. They graciously oriented the Children’s Home cooks to the kitchen and announced they would be back Saturday morning, their day off, to redo all the work they had already done.
On Saturday, I went to Mengui’s house. Mengui and his wife, Damariz, are the house parents for the adolescent boys at the Children’s Home. They built a house neighboring our property. Marvin, one of our boys, had had difficulties and is in a wonderful program called, “Teen Challenge.” Marvin and a mentor came to spend the weekend with “family.” Marvin doesn’t have any viable family – biological family. But he has a large and loving spiritual family. Mengui and Damariz hugged him and told him they are his parents now. This is not part of their job description. They stepped up and stepped in to love a child who needs it so very much. Several of the adolescent boys were there as well as Mario, our grounds supervisor. We were all there to support, encourage, and love Marvin. We celebrated the changes in Marvin that he has prayed for and wept with him as he told us of his new, deeper relationship with Jesus.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
While I was there, I noticed a big cart in Mengui’s living room. “What is that?” It is a bicycle with a food cart attached to it. Mengui and Damariz have started a neighborhood worship community in their home. Many of the members are single mothers who have no work. (Unemployment in Honduras is 50+%) The Lord told Mengui to help them. So, he took out a loan to buy this contraption and they are preparing to start a business together cooking and selling Chinese food! Damariz is a cook at the Children’s Home so is very experienced in cooking in large quantities. They both have the reputation of being excellent cooks! They, the women, and Carlos, one of our boys who has graduated from the program, will run the business. Carlos, also unable to find work, dreams of being a chef.
Carlos, future chef!
Why all this stepping up? Because we follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Because Jesus calls us to step up when we see people in need. But the real reason is because we are family. And that is a very good thing.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. – Galatians 6:10
The other day I was walking across the campus at the Children’s Home on an absolutely gorgeous day. The cloudless sky was a bright, deep blue. It was warm with a gentle breeze, causing the pine trees to dance lightly with the sky. The air was sweet with the scent of pine needles. I thought, “this must be what heaven is like.” I was reminded of a joke told by one of my clergy friends. He would say, “If you don’t like the smell of incense, you won’t like heaven!” As I walked along I thought, I bet the incense in heaven is not clouds of smoke billowing out of a censer like at church. Instead, I imagine it is like the pine straw, occasionally wafting up its sweet aroma as a surprise grace note to passersby.
Today, during my devotional, I read, “From the rising of the sun to its setting my Name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense shall be offered to my Name, and a pure offering; for my Name shall be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 1:11 I doubt heaven is covered with pine straw and we don’t sacrifice animals on the altar anymore so what is this incense that we should be offering up to the Lord of hosts? Several weeks ago, for Epiphany Sunday, we planned on giving food baskets to 3 local families in thanksgiving for the gifts of the 3 kings. I was in PriceSmart buying the food when I was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit. I knew He was saying, “Yes, this is how I want the children to celebrate Epiphany.” After blessing the food during the church service, we all set off down the hill to deliver the first basket to the family at the gate. The basket started out very heavy but within a few steps, it was almost empty because many children wanted to help carry the food. We were met at the house by the gate by Kimberly, a young pregnant woman. Her face was wreathed in smiles as she accepted the basket, full of nutritious food, milk, and some cookies, for the family. We went to the second house just up the dirt road from the Children’s Home. The bigger boys took the food into the kitchen. There was no food in the house. Dona Reyna, the mom, joined us in prayer and then prayed herself, thanking God for this miracle. Although we had planned this, to her it was like manna from heaven. One minute her family has no food, suddenly they have a basketful! I think at that moment, a sweet aroma wafted up to heaven. Our offering of incense to the Lord in the form of food for His children.
In January a medical brigade came and we held a clinic in a rural church. A mother brought her severely disabled 5-year-old son. His muscles are so week and flaccid, he can’t even hold his head up. The mom carries him everywhere. The team left money to buy a stroller for him. Edson and I delivered the stroller to their home, a long walk down a treacherous dirt road. The mom was thrilled with the stroller and immediately rolled him up and down the length of the porch. Then she smiled and thanked God for the stroller. The incense of her gratitude rises to heaven and God smiles. Most of our children at the Children’s Home have sponsors, or “madrinas and padrinos” (Godparents.) Many of them have established relationships with the children and communicate with them regularly. It is a wonderful thing to see a child’s eyes light up when they hear from their madrina or padrino. It is also true that some of our children either don’t have a sponsor or don’t have any contact with their sponsor. They are all very gracious and are happy when another child receives a gift, card, or visit from their Godparents. Not long ago I asked one girl what she would like from her madrina who was coming soon. After the long wish list from her friend, Genesis (the older one,) who does not have an active madrina, looked at me and said forlornly, “I would like some skates.” Her little face pierced my heart and I determined that she would get skates. I reached out to the other girl’s madrina and asked her if she would add some skates to the list. The look of pure joy on Genesis’ face when we presented her the skates was priceless! Sweet, sweet aroma! Later on that afternoon, we saw many other children helping her learn to skate and learning to skate themselves as she happily shared her new skates (and the only skates at the Children’s Home!) with anyone who wanted to try. The generosity that comes so naturally to the children must lift up billows of incense! (Oh, and now Genesis has her own madrina! Love sends more incense heavenward…)
Our latest team, another medical brigade, went to Col. Emanuel, an impoverished village behind the city dump. We saw a young man and his little brother. We learned that 22 year old, Raul, is head of household for his 4 siblings. His 4 yr. old brother, Sem, had a serious case of asthma. Dr. Ann brought them into the pharmacy to nebulize Sem. Raul was so sweet, so loving, so dear. Sem was adorable. Sem sat on Raul’s lap and they sang little praise songs during his treatment. I learned that Raul lost his job several months ago. “How do you buy food?” I asked. Raul shrugged and said, “We trust in God.” We gave him all of our leftover food and some money. At first he refused the money but we insisted. He was so very thankful. Raul embodies grace as he cares for his siblings and puts all his trust in God. Daily incense offered up to his faithful Savior.
There is a Spanish praise song that I love dearly. It is titled, Perfume a Tus Pies. (Perfume at Your Feet.) The lyrics lead up to “I want my life to be like perfume at your feet.” I believe the incense we lift up, becoming perfume at the feet of the Lord, is the way we live our lives. It is our actions of love and gratitude, trust and hope, that is the pure offering that makes His name great among all nations.