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

Choosing Substance: Surrender (Day 9)

bridge

My intentions are not always yours,
        and I do not go about things as you do.
     My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you,
        just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth. Isaiah 55:8-9

A woman of substance rests in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty even when she doesn’t understand. Especially when she doesn’t understand.

She steps on the path of faith — even though it’s unknown. For faith is not seeing what’s at the end. Faith is knowing Who is at the end.

She doesn’t have to know because she doesn’t have to control. She smashed that idol of control long ago. And even though it still whispers to her when she’s scared, and even though she may temporarily weaken and heed it’s ugly advice — she no longer bows down to it. No, her life and relationships and worldview are no longer slaves to it.

She doesn’t have to understand those around her, for her eyes are fixed on the One who created them all. Because she knows the Source, she doesn’t get all tangled up in the unraveling fragments here on earth. She heeds Peter’s dare and chooses sympathy and compassion and humility. She pays back the bad with a blessing. She pays back the hurt and the insult with more grace. (I Peter 3:8-9)

She doesn’t have to know what the future holds. Her spirit of peace and strength and calm transcends the uncomfortable mysteries because she knows the Author of her story.  She breathes deep, accepting her role as character instead of writer. She doesn’t fight for rank. Instead, she clings to the cross, the dying to self, on those days when Satan woos her to value this world instead of what she knows to be true. (Luke 9:23)

My intentions are not always yours…
     For as rain and snow can’t go back once they’ve fallen,
        but soak into the ground
    And nourish the plants that grow…
     So it is when I declare something.
        My word will go out and not return to Me empty…
        it will accomplish what I determined. Isaiah 55:8,10-11

Atypical weather patterns, warmer-than-normal December afternoons — it’s what we’re seeing out our window in Saint Louis these days. If you’re used to snow, or used to hoping for snow at Christmas, rain is an unwelcome replacement.

But whether you see the Artist blanketing the earth with snow, or you see Him choosing a gray palette and rain, both the pristine and the gray soak into the ground and nourish. His words, whether they’re what we want to hear or not, whether they’re tender whispers or shouts of strength, whether they’re promises that we happen to value here on earth or they’re mysteries we won’t understand until Heaven — His words will never return empty to Him. All of His words will accomplish what He determined.

Yes, a woman of substance rests in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty especially when she doesn’t understand.

On the ninth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the courage to trust.

…He rules the world with truth and grace*…


Choosing Substance

  • Read again Isaiah 55:8-11.
  • What circumstance is clashing with your desire to “have faith”?
  • Do you fight the tendency to define faith as “everything works out the way we want it to”? Where did this worldview or doctrine come from?
  • Ask God to reveal how He has changed you, transformed you, sanctified you by not giving you what you want. How has He “renewed” your inner self?
  • How are you defining a Person of Substance?

photo source | Aaron Wilson
*song excerpt | Joy to the World

Choosing Substance: Identity (Day 4)

Advent 4b identity

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35, 39 niv

A person of substance recognizes the all-too-often pull toward an identity crisis. She sees her insecurities deep and is truthful about them. Those who choose substance — especially at Christmastime — are not defined by what they own.

She was made in God’s image, so she unashamedly craves beauty. But tangible blessings and temporary pleasures don’t give her meaningShe’s brave enough to hold her physical pleasures with open hands, for they were not hers to begin with.

As simple as this all sounds, it’s easier sometimes to have an eternal perspective or sit in our sadness than to keep our head in the game when others admire our physical blessings — our homes, our cars, our fashion sense, you fill in the blank.

We have this broken way of seeing others’ worth based on what they can accumulate in this world. We have this broken way of seeing ourselves. We mask it by an admiration of hard work or an artistic eye, but do you ever live to impress those you’ll never talk to? Or crave approval from value systems shallow? Does honesty uncover a striving to impress those you’ve never even met?

A person of substance — she finds her identity in what Christ did for her on the cross. 

We rank ourselves high, and we rank ourselves low, but might we carry that insecurity back to Christ this season and throw our feelings of unworthiness in the shadow of the Cross?

Absolutely nothing will separate us from the love of Christ — our shallow longings, our tendency to forget, our lack of perspective, our materialism — nothing will separate us from the love of Christ and the identity His work on the Cross gives us.

And a radical miracle unfolds as I understand, again and again, who I am in Christ. As I recognize my brokenness vast and see an even bigger cross, restoration occurs even within my human relationships. Only through the lens of my own brokenness can I view others with grace. Only as I cling to the cross can I respect people simply because they, too, were made in God’s image… simply because His sacrifice saves them, too. Period.

Just a few decades after Christ, Paul wrote to the people of Colossae: Since you have been raised with the Anointed One, the Liberating King, set your mind on heaven above. The Anointed is there, seated at God’s right hand. Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone. Colossians 3:1-3

We stand in a desperate mess. Go deep this Christmas in your relationships. There’s a heart underneath every amazing outfit. There’s a story of brokenness hungering for redemption in every home.

On the fourth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me discernment to navigate the culture of today… the grace to love others well… the discipline to stop comparing.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.


Choosing Substance

  • What shallow longings are nagging you this advent season?
  • Reflect on your patterns. What triggers you into material insecurity? Who are you influenced by?
  • Read Colossians 3:1-3 and verses 12-15, too.
  • Who do you need to see through the eyes of Christ this Christmas?

photo source | Prodigal Pottery

You Are God’s Letter

cpletters

It’s my story, but I know it’s yours, too.

For centuries, we’ve been grasping, desperate to make sense of it all, to understand, to know purpose. To heal and mend the unraveling. Even those not perpetually chased by self-reflection feel the hunger to reconcile the drama every now and then.

The genres of mystery and conflict keep invading our stories, allowing regret to keep raising its voice. There’s such potential for us engage in real dialogue — to challenge, to encourage, to convict, to comfort — but we stay quiet. The pull to stay tucked away in our neat envelopes is woefully strong.

“You are our letter,” Paul writes, “every word burned onto our hearts to be read by everyone. You are the living letter of the Anointed One, the Liberating King, nurtured by us and inscribed, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God—a letter too passionate to be chiseled onto stone tablets, but emblazoned upon the human heart.” 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

Today we have volumes upon volumes written on modern-day tablets of stone — books, blogs, e-books, articles, and more. But there’s more, Paul wrote to those in Corinth hungering for something beyond this world.  You are a letter written on the human heart. Emblazoned, actually.

Ah, Corinth… that Grecian city in love with intellectual conversation, athletic competition, and sexual liberties.  The wisdom of man, over-training our bodies, human trafficking — well, they were actually enslaved by their own freedoms. The culture of Corinth sounds familiar.

Stop hiding, Paul dared his readers.

You are God’s letter written to a modern world deep in pain.  You’re a rescue message of sorts, so radical in its simplicity it’s hard to accept.

You’re more than ink. You’re written by the very Spirit of God.  What might our lives look like if we viewed ourselves this way?

The message from the divine Author is for everyone — your friend who is angry at God, your daughter’s ice skating instructor, your neighbor hiding himself in his work, yourself.

Many times I keep that envelope barely undone, available only to the bold and curious who dare to open it a bit.  And there are days upon days I seal myself up — protected, risking nothing, keeping the truth hidden inside.

But He calls me to more. He beckons to risk and read His message over and over, aloud to others. For where there’s suffering, there’s traces of healing. Where there’s regret, there’s redemption.

A letter “burned upon our hearts to be read by everyone.” Who were you written for today?

How to Stop Building the Wall

stonewall

It was a tiny blow to the heart – and I do mean tiny.  I can see it now in hindsight, but not so much then.

I pondered and reflected – too much – causing the offense to grow in my mind until I was overwhelmed in its shadow.  I scorned the injustice of it all, not realizing I was dancing out of reality. 

“Let the first stone be thrown by the one among you who has not sinned.” The words of my Redeemer jolted ancient religious leaders, causing religion to quietly turn away.  But I, I picked up enough stones to hurl them into the form of a wall around my heart, vowing to never let it be broken again.

He took my thoughts and transformed my self-protecting efforts into a looking glass.  Oh, the dreaded mirror into one’s own heart.  And with every wounding comment I relived in my mind, He revealed words from my own silent heart – words no one hears yet boast the same ugliness.

Why does forgiveness feel like a loss of control?

And today – with every grasp toward a stone – He tenderly reminds me I’m holding my own sin.  My Enemy lures me to keep building, but my Maker whispers, “Lay it down”.

And though I long to build upon a wall started years ago, He points me toward the doorway again, toward the escape He created centuries ago with his broken body.

stonewallwithdoor