When You Vacation in a Town That’s Rebuilding

GulfportI felt like college students. One day before our spring break began last March, my husband asked, “Do you want to get out of town? To the beach?” Of course, I did.

Spring break has always meant creating space at home for sleeping in, extra cups of coffee, visits to new restaurants, and conversing with our kids. Sometimes it’s great to have nowhere to be for a week. But times have changed — there are new summer jobs and extra summer sports commitments and cool things like songwriting camps. And with our summer flexibility fading away, wanderlust seemed especially strong this past March.

We hit VRBO and searched for beach condos as close to St. Louis as we could find. We started with the Florida panhandle but then kept expanding our search west. When it was all said and done, we chose a cute, dog-friendly place in a town we had never heard of along the Gulf Coast — Gulfport, Mississippi. Our plan was to hang at the beach and venture over toward New Orleans. It would be our first time in Mississippi or Louisiana.

The night before we left, I went online and discovered Google Earth describes Gulfport as “… a town still recovering from Katrina…” Oh, wow. The cottage was already booked and paid for.

I thought quite a bit about hurricanes this past year. Fifth graders at my school raised money for a community ransacked by Harvey. And my brother’s job sent him to Puerto Rico to do hurricane-relief — also Harvey. These headlines always remind me of two seasons in my own life: When I was six years-old, thousands slept inside our mega-church until Hurricane David passed through Florida. And, almost twenty years later, Hurricane Bertha hit North Carolina and rolled up the coast to New Jersey on my wedding day.

But Katrina?! That was 2005… and Gulfport, Mississippi is still recovering? I’m quick to hurt for a community when it makes the headlines but my empathy sadly fades as the days progress. And with Katrina, we’re talking 13 years later. I remember we donated a mattress when someone was hauling supplies of used goods down to Louisiana. But I haven’t ached for those victims since then. I had two preschool-aged kids back in 2005, and my life was embarrassingly all about us.

As dawn broke, we drove south and settled into an adorable brick home that had been repurposed into a beach cottage. We noted the closest Starbucks and donut shops on our phones, unpacked, and walked to the beach.

Two things struck me about Gulfport: 1) Yes, Katrina’s footprints were all over, and 2) This was a working town. I’ve never vacationed at the beach while rubbing shoulders with as many locals as I did tourists. Gulfport is home to the Mississippi State Port, and its horizon is punctured with the most industrial complex ever. Rentals were sprinkled among real neighborhoods where people got up early and drove to work instead of packing up their beach bags for yet another day of play and rest. It was an experience like none other. I navigated guilt and pity and pride and privilege — all in a few days.

It’s quite fascinating to watch a community thrive and intersect with one another … especially a community that has suffered. I fell in love, really. I felt redemption pulsing through its streets and beaches and even through its coffee shop. I read numerous tourist magazines highlighting locals who rose above the odds while opening new businesses and restaurants to replace those that were destroyed.

Our first meal was artisan pizza at Tony’s Brick Oven Pizzeria, a place mentioned on the Food Network.
Tony's

Oven

Shaggy’s welcomed us the next night.

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And Coast Roast stole my heart with its industrial vibes, open air counter, and rich, deep coffee. I went there every day to order an Americano while my daughter, a bit more adventurous, tried something new each time. We saw a dog peering in from the outdoor counter with its owners sipping away. I loved this place so much I asked for a Coast Roast shirt for my birthday and asked my husband to paint our house the same color. (He said yes.)

Coast Roast Outdoors

Cocast Roast Indoors 2

Each of these restaurants’ websites told more than their business hours and menu items. Like many Gulfport establishments, their About Us pages referenced Katrina. When you’ve been hit hard, you view your story in two chapters: pre- and post-trauma. And while trials don’t define us, they impact our worldview. They deepen our understanding of ourselves, our faith, those around us — everything, really.

While we were in Gulfport, I happened to be reading Culture Making by Andy Crouch. He referenced how creatives and cultivators of culture adopt a posture of purposeful effort… how they do the painstaking work of preserving the best that those before them have done… how they dare to think and create something that’s never been thought of before… and how they steward culture, guarding what’s best in a neighborhood or field of practice. It’s a lot to navigate, really. I find it often easier to design something completely new than to rebuild what’s broken.

But restoration, it’s the heartbeat of the gospel. It’s about a God who pursues those whom sin has fractured, relentlessly drawing us near as He holds us with one hand and points back to the cross with the other. It allows us to understand — and believe — how much our Maker loves us. The gospel impacts everything — allowing us to risk, speak honestly, ask for forgiveness. It gives us the courage to redeem friendships and keep finding our voice instead of withdrawing in shame. All the while, we’re pointing back to that cross, too, with our own fingers.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, keep rejoicing and repair whatever is broken. Encourage each other, think as one, and live at peace; and God, the Author of love and peace, will remain with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11

I think of my own brokenness that needs repairing everyday. I grow weary at my constant need for restoration, and I’m sure those around me tire of my fractured state, too. I think of the communities that I intersect with — and those I avoid — and how rebuilding and restoring is in my DNA as a Christ-follower. And that call to love people and be others-centered — it’s how we help tell the story of the Author of love and peace.

As Gulfport’s residents exercise persistence and resilience over a span of years, as they rise up stronger than before, we can’t ignore the call on our own lives to do the same. Where will we be in 13 years? Ignoring brokenness? Still stumbling over the rubble? Or building something beautiful and empowering others to do the same?


“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

12 Advent Devotionals

Advent Series

Are you feeling unsettled by the expectations and urgency of the season?

Let’s challenge each other to not detach this Christmas, but rather, go deeper.

I dug into the archives and will be posting 12 devotionals I wrote a couple years ago to help you navigate the contrast of your heart’s longing with the whirling of culture right now. Be watching your inbox daily through December 23.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. xo

Altered Ambitions: When Your Pursuits Leave You Stressed Out

 

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I wonder what I would have done back then.

Would I have heard the counter-cultural Man as He promoted turning away from ritual and embracing a repurposed heart? Laid aside the security of rules, clinging to repentance and grace? Grasped the new Gospel so tightly it changed my ambitions and my relationships?

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” He challenged.

And He’s still right here — warning against materialism and daring me to release anxiety over what others think.

And I’m still here wondering if He really can be trusted.

“Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Don’t worry about how you clothe your body… Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They do not work or weave or sew, and yet their garments are stunning

Do not consume yourselves with questions… Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need.”

He sees right through me, for I’m the one consumed with questions. I’m the one who over-thinks. I’m the one slipping into that frantic state He warns against.

To ignore my insecurities, I rank myself and those around me. I question His goodness in creating me and writing my story, and I numb my heart with what will not last. I wonder if He’ll really be my Provider for the deepest, most secret needs… Wonder if He’ll really be my Protector, shielding me from all that’s not tangible.

Have you been there?

In that frenzy, when I’m ranking and questioning and doubting, I feel the shame taunting me. I know this can’t be the plan. And then I remember them — the first people whose shame drove them into hiding and made them frantic. With trembling hands, they pieced together the very first articles of clothing to cover their darkness, the very dark He was still warning against in AD 30.

“So if your eye is well and shows you what is true, then your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is clouded or evil, then your body will be filled with evil and dark clouds. And the darkness that takes over the body of a child of God who has gone astray—that is the deepest, darkest darkness there is.”

Do you see the irony? The first item humanity created to cover our shame has become an object of worship. Am I so far removed from their utter regret that I forget I’m in the dark?

For some, yes, it’s clothing. For others of us it’s achievement… and travel… and the right body… and control… and sarcasm… and kids who make us look good… and anything that numbs us to the reality we can not face.

Will you brave the dark of your own heart?
Will you pick up your anxiety and worry and misguided pursuits?
Will you throw the mess into the shadow of the cross and wait for healing?

I promise you — He’s right there offering rescue. He’s ready to redeem the darkness in the crevices of your mind and heart that you see no way around. He’s waiting to alter your ambitions, alter your focus.

“He reached down and drew me from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay. With a gentle hand, He pulled me out to set me down safely on a warm rock; He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again.” Psalm 40:2

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ…


All unidentified scripture in this post is from Matthew 6.
Photo by Drazen Biljak on Unsplash

When You Think God Doesn’t Care: How to Recognize Deception

Deception Original

I see you — running around, doing your work, yearning to live purposefully. I see your deep, deep soul and your mind rich with knowledge. I see you clinging to truth as you remind yourself to hold on, for some days you can feel yourself drifting away.

Does He care? Does He love me? Because if God did, I wouldn’t wake up questioning if this is all worth it. I wouldn’t read about California, and Puerto Rico, and Mexico, and Florida, and Texas. I wouldn’t see my own angst and pain reflected in the eyes of the next generation. I wouldn’t feel forgotten in midlife, and millennials wouldn’t be asking, “What now?”

Yeah, I see you because you’re me.  Continue reading

When Looking Ahead Is Actually Wrong

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There have been just a few times God has spoken directly to me in almost an audible way. His voice is quiet — so quiet I hear him with my heart instead of my ears, but his words echo through my whole chest and head. In that moment, I feel seen and known, and those reoccurring feelings that I’m alone get swallowed up.

There was that time in college I was thinking (again) about a boy, and He told me, “Yes, he’s great, but I am God. Focus on me.” I still remember the sidewalk under my feet, and my dorm ahead of me, and the darkness all around because it was night. And that moment truly recalibrated my focus for the rest of my years at the university. Truth was impressed upon my heart so deeply I carried it into my marriage with a different guy and have revisited it over and over.

I’m sure some of you hear that still, small Voice whispering from time to time — that same Voice that spoke the world into existence but still articulates into your tiny life.  Continue reading