As I write these words, Hurricane Irma is churning its ferocious path across the Caribbean waters, bearing down toward a certain Floridian landfall with recorded windspeed of more than 150 miles per hour and the potential of a predicted 20” of catastrophic rainfall. Further out in the Atlantic Ocean Hurricane Jose is gaining energy as it travels westward to destinations as of yet unknown. In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia is threatening the northeast coast of our southern neighbor, where not very far from that location Hurricane Harvey decimated the Houston and surrounding regions just two weeks ago. Just last night, the strongest earthquake in more than 100 years stealthily struck the southwestern side of Central America, causing as of yet unreportable levels of loss of life and property.
Millions of people are variously evacuating, preparing, escaping, “hunkering down”, watching, waiting, remembering, forgetting, and grieving. All of them are hurting, in one way or another, from hardships never fully anticipated but now as real as rain.
Closer to home, I’ve witnessed mission workers and volunteers, laboring hard all through the summer in all kinds of conditions, helping poor households in the Southwestern Pennsylvania area who have been suffering for a very long time from the ugly and disastrous effects of poverty. While helping with these efforts, I’ve also seen hundreds of people travel far from their homes to volunteer with the Hosanna workers in bringing much-needed help to the households who suffered from the catastrophic flooding in Richwood,West Virginia a year ago.
Still closer to my heart, I’m aware of a husband and a wife, both in their 90’s, who after living together for nearly 75 years are no longer under the same roof. The worsening of dementia has made it necessary for one to leave the other in order to receive professional care in a nursing facility, and the quiet, painful calamity of separation, loss, grief, sorrow, and loneliness threatens the coastlines of old souls. Another dear friend, beset with the uninvited changes of age and decreasing physical condition, struggles with the tension between trying to live life independently or surrendering to this painful challenge by transitioning to an assisted-living environment.
Just last week, I spoke to a man whom I have known all my life. He is about my age, has enjoyed physical health through the years, lives in his own home, and works hard to make a living. Three months ago, he found himself not feeling very well on an ordinary, seemingly routine day of his life. The next day, he mysteriously felt worse. The next morning he could not get out of bed because his legs wouldn’t move. Apparently, a very rare neurological condition attacked his system and now he is adjusting to what may very well be living out the rest of his years in a wheelchair.
All of these natural and personal disasters are tribulations that we experience in this world. No one is immune from catastrophe. There is no inoculation against loss and hardship. Hurricane Irma will be utterly impartial toward millionaires and paupers alike as she unleashes her fury upon Florida over the course of the next three days.
My dearest friend once said,“In this world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth, knew that tribulations are not possibilities, they are eventualities. Sooner or later, we all know or will know what it’s like to be lost in the storm of a hurricane, or the storms of the soul where advanced age, decreasing physical health, poverty, hardship, job loss, confusion, anger, or piled-up resentment crash upon the human heart. They all lead to the same place: tears, anguish, despair.
That’s where Hosanna comes in. We were born to help those who are crying out for God’s help, and by the grace and provision of God, we will help! We will rebuild ruined houses, we will construct new homes, we will craft handicap ramps, we will continue to go where He leads us to help those who are hurting, and we will do so, not with the hammer of anger but with the hammer of love, for that is what Jesus Christ used to “overcome” this world.
We can try to prevent catastrophe, but we are in truth powerless against it. But we can, should, and will help when hardship falls for this is the most important work in all the world: to bring hope to the hopeless, faith to the fearful, love to the forgotten.
I send you peace today, dear friend, in this world of dynamic despair. Do not be afraid. Fill your heart with love. Trust God. Forgive your adversaries. Play a beautiful song on the piano. Paint a beautiful picture. Write a beautiful letter. Pray without ceasing. Support worthwhile efforts sacrificially. And always remember these two things: The Lord is at hand, and next year’s lilies will one day bloom. Storm clouds might gather and terrible energies might collide but the power of love goes on forever.