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.

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 6.27.41 AM

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 6.27.18 AM

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

#WhatADoctorLooksLike

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-9-40-28-am

167 reactions. 109 comments. 109 comments! It’s quite a response for a woman’s mid-day, quick Facebook post at work.

She could have referenced an experience from a college class she teaches. Or what it was like to be the speaker at a Breast Cancer Awareness Tea. Or treating patients here in St. Louis. Or how she goes about mentoring medical students. Or her recent submission for the medical column of a local paper. Or her fairly recent, annual medical missions trip to Malawi.

But no. Dr. Hooks-Anderson didn’t pause to tell her Facebook friends about good news. Instead, she wrote:

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-4-55-34-pm

Dr. Hooks-Anderson is African American. And despite all she has accomplished and how much she is respected, this was still her reality on Tuesday.

What do you say? No, really — what do you say when you’re white?

I first met Denise when she and her husband applied to our school for their daughter. The Director of Admissions at the time, I asked to hear their story of why they wanted to send their little girl to our community. I should have asked them why they trusted us to educate and care for their daughter.

When I read Denise’s post on Tuesday, I wasn’t yet aware of the Delta story. But I’m aware now as I’ve viewed countless #WhatADoctorLooksLike posts swirling around social media. I hope more swirl around and take the world by storm…

rain

…Because when it rains, we pay attention. When it storms, we pause and plan before going about our normal routines. We’re more prone to contemplation when the world shields itself from torrents and the weather has halted our plans. We’re less distracted. We’re more focused.

Sometimes we think a little too much, but maybe that’s not a bad thing in this case. For eventually in our pausing and contemplation, we realize it’s not so much about what we think about bias and stereotyping but how our thoughts materialize into behavior.

What do we find when we pause and bravely engage in self-reflection? What is there to discover when we examine our own hearts?  What makes us assume something about a person before introducing ourselves?

Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am.
    Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain.
Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me,
    and guide me down Your path forever. Psalm 139:23-24

While intentional steps are needed to move forward in combating our bias, it’s worth pausing and figuring out what got us here. What’s your story? What were you not told in childhood textbooks? What images were missing in articles you read throughout high school and college? Sometimes what’s missing from the narrative imprints our hearts as much as the noise.

Self-exploration and deep digging and discovery are uncomfortable. But growth is always preceded by discomfort.

We’re a culture that wants to say and do something. Maybe our doing is listening as God reads our hearts back to us. We’ll cringe. We’ll deny. We’ll make excuses and point to those who are “worse” than us. But eventually, soaked with God’s grace and tenderness, we’ll shake our heads in shame and boldly surrender to the truth.

 Like a devoted gardener, I will pour sweet water on parched land,
        streams on hard-packed ground;
 I will pour My spirit on your children and grandchildren—
        and let My blessing flow to your descendants.
And they will sprout among the grasses, grow vibrant and tall

        like the willow trees lining a riverbank.
One will call out: “I belong to the Eternal.” Isaiah 44:3-5

He comes every time. The Devoted Gardner comes and restores and then invites us to join Him in the restoring. He transforms the storm we once feared into cisterns of self-discovery and streams of humility. He pours out His Spirit and grows us up into change-agents whose love is a reflection of His own love for mankind.

Might we say, “I belong to the Lord” and have people believe us.

So what does a doctor look like? One of them looks like this:

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-1-04-01-pm


photo source | mario calvo

Choosing Substance: Going Global (Day 11)

worship

After I heard about these who would be sealed, I looked and saw a huge crowd of people, which no one could even begin to count, representing every nation and tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Revelation 7:9

A person of substance is a global citizen. She knows there’s a world beyond her own backyard.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in my own story that I forget I’m a mere line in a novel that’s much, much bigger. Have you been there?

I mean, trust me, you have significance. You are known, and cherished, and loved, but you are one of billions. And with over 7 billion people come a myriad of cultures and worldviews and perspectives.

There’s comfort in knowing how big the world is. Last summer I drove through beauty and stood at the edge of greatness and remembered how small I was. In a good way. It’s freeing to know how teeny tiny your drama is… you don’t feel quite as captive to it.

If you’re reading this today, and you’re of the dominant race represented in your community, you understand how easy it is to forget this. Until we believe we’re looking at society and headlines and relationships and our faith and even God through cultural lenses, our world stays very, very small. Even our view of the Gospel is impacted by our cultural perspective. How easy it is to intertwine our cultural norms and Christianity, weaving together our comforts and our faith.

But God is bigger than culture and customs. He’s more significant than what our corner of the world values. He’s larger than our way of doing church. Thank goodness.

He descended into the mess to reconcile us to Himself… He came for those who are bound by oppression and poverty and those enslaved to consumerism. He came for those who can’t find food for today and for those who are on another diet. He came for beggars and workaholics. He came for those who don’t have shoes and for fashionistas. He really did. He came for us all.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my True Love gave to me an awareness of how big His world is… how big He is… and how worthy He is of worship.

I know you’re busy. I know you’re doing last-minute Christmas preparations — there’s shopping, cooking, cleaning, and wrapping (and more wrapping!). But give yourself just a couple of minutes of solitude and reminded yourself how small you are. And how big He is.

…*That hath made heaven and earth of naught,
And with his blood mankind hath bought…


photo source | Avel Chuklanov

*song excerpt | The First Noel

Choosing Substance: Thirst (Day 6)

thirsty

   Like a devoted gardener, I will pour sweet water on parched land,
        streams on hard-packed ground;
    I will pour My spirit on your children and grandchildren—
        and let My blessing flow to your descendants.
    And they will sprout among the grasses, grow vibrant and tall…
    One will call out: “I belong to the Eternal.”
    …Yet others will write “Property of the Eternal” on their hands. Isaiah 44:3-5 

That ancient land is mine, for I live in a culture that thirsts, too. Educated, but not satiated. Full of knowledge, but desperately thirsty.There’s no shame in thirst.

Our world, the endless library, crowds our thoughts with volumes and e-books, webinars and experts. We run to it all, for we we want to know. “Tell me all this matters. Promise me there’s purpose to it all. Teach me how to stay untouched by the very pain that drives me to seek.”Have you been there? Are you there this advent season?

A person of substance is unashamedly thirsty.

The quest to comprehend is endless. The more we find, the more we don’t know. The more we discover, the more we see our ignorance.

Cynicism sneaks in and whispers doubt. And out of fear, or maybe just exhaustion, we choose the desert. The parched, the impenetrable, is often more bearable than the fertile truth. Even the searching and the longing and the humbling thirst — it’s sometimes all easier than His flood of grace.

But wholeness is born out of my moments of dying, out of my surrender. And His truth blooms on a weary, withered soul, and I live despite the storm of deception throughout my land, my culture. Throughout my own thoughts.

A person of substance is thirsty. She uncovers her ache, looks her longing in the eye, and runs to the Source that can quench her forever.

I swim in His endless, raging ocean of grace and thrust my hand upward. As He carved me on the palm of His hand, I too, etched Him on mine. “Property of the Eternal” is my forever mark. Forever.

And Isaiah, that prophet who promised sweet water on a parched land and the unleashing of His Spirit on my children and the assurance of being known — that same Isaiah seemed to touch the depth of everyone’s doubt. The naturalist, the philosopher, the realist, the dreamer — he spoke to us all:

“Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams, a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift. And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great. The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders. His name? His name we’ll know in many ways— He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Are you wandering in the desert of your heart this Christmas? The very Source of the stream will pursue, washing you away in His mercy time and time again.

On the sixth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the humility to admit my thirst and the courage to quench it.

…He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found…


Choosing Substance

  • Read Isaiah 44:1-8
  • In verse 6 God proclaims, “There is no God except for Me.” To what gods of culture have you been running to quench your thirst?
  • Read verse 8 again. What promises has God made that you’ve seen revealed? How has He been your Wonderful Counselor, your Giver of Wisdom, this past year? When was He the “ever-present never failing” in 2015? What has the Master of Wholeness redeemed in your life?
  • Deepen your definition of what it means to choose substance. What is He revealing to you?

photo source | David Marcu