You've Got a Friend
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid;"
John 14:27 (N1V)
A few weeks back the Atlanta area was so inundated with rain that locals are referring to it as "The 500 Year Flood." I lived in Florida for fifteen years, a state too familiar with street- drenching storms, and I've never witnessed downpours like these in my life. Creeks, rivers, streams... all bodies of water large and small rose up and took over the city within a matter of hours, destroying homes, schools, churches, businesses, and lives. My family was blessed to have remained untouched; our only participation was to watch the disaster as it was reported on television.
Most of the victims who were interviewed, while in stunned shock, expressed their faith in God and gratitude that they and their loved ones were safe and sound, and they felt confident they would recover. They ended their interviews by saying they were on their way to stay with family and/or friends. However, a handful of individuals kept repeating, "I don't have anyone. I have nowhere to go." Now, I am not minimizing death reports, physical injuries, and loss of properties in any way, but this sentiment of "I don't have anyone. I have nowhere to go." was to me just as tragic.
On September 11, 2001 my husband and I lived in upper Manhattan. His office was on the sixty-sixth floor of Two World Trade. He was scheduled for meetings at another location that day. As a result, our family was spared agonizing hours of not knowing where he was or if he were still alive. During the immediate aftermath of this devastating disaster, my husband spent his days, as well as most of each night, locating coworkers, contacting employees' families and loved ones, and attending memorial services of those who'd lost their lives. I watched the news as my familiar world changed, alone in our apartment at the top of a very tall building. All of a sudden rny "view" wasn't attractive as it had been when we first moved in. Other than my husband, I wasn't close to anyone in New York. We'd kept our home in Atlanta since this move would be a temporary assignment, making my friends and family far away in miles. But through erratic phone service and internet connection, I received constant reminders of their support and prayers as I sat stationed in our apartment. Their voicemails and notes really made a difference.
Perhaps what I remember most from that Tuesday morning is that during those first hours, I felt numb. My mind could not wrap itself around what was happening and process the events into any coherent reasoning: I was witnessing but not absorbing what I was seeing. As the hours passed into days, I found myself glued to the television screen waiting for "the other shoe to drop." It was as if I were in some hypnotic state, unable to physically remove myself from the sofa. I know that sounds melodramatic now, but at the time the feeling was most genuine. Knowing I had a steadfast support group of individuals praying for me, no matter how far away they were, was comforting. But most important, I remember that I was not afraid.
While the initial terror strikes were taking place, I was in a constant state of prayer for the safety of my loved ones and our country, and strength for those living out the nightmare firsthand. I kept up an out loud and continuous conversation with God as if He were sitting next to me. Let me repeat: I was not afraid. A tide of peace washed over and enveloped me. I've read countless stories about how people have remained calm in the presence of danger and garnered the courage to persevere. It's absolutely true. I can't remember a time that I've felt God's presence so intimately. This feeling of God's comfort is what made me feel the personal tragedy for those who on the day of the Atlanta flood cried, "I don't have anyone. I have nowhere to go."
As it turned out, these storm victims did have places to go. Atlanta and its surrounding areas set up shelters; churches, the Red Cross, and many smaller groups came together to provide safe places, food, and other necessities. These efforts are ongoing. Our church has collected money for the victims' immediate concerns, but it is also organizing teams for the time when hands will be needed to help rebuild communities and lives; however, no matter how much is given in time, talents, and materials, only God can fulfill the lonely spirit.
Fortunately, September 11 has been my closest experience with a catastrophic event, but even then I was only an observer. I can't imagine living through those uncertain weeks without God. God loves each of us more than we can possibly ever understand, and yet we are not promised a life free of tragedy, worry, or pain. Why? Because this is earth, not heaven. What God does promise is that if we accept Jesus Christ as His Son, we will always have the strength to face whatever may happen and be comforted while we endure the results.
As a child, one of my first memories from Sunday school was a painting of Jesus sitting on a large rock with His arms outstretched. Smiling children flocked around Him on all sides. I also remember going into the sanctuary afterwards for "big church" and singing the hymn, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." I like to link these two memories: their blended image of being able to come to Christ and leave my problems behind buoys up joy beyond measure. It means I will never have to say, "I don't have anyone. I have nowhere to go."
'Let the little children come to me,
and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'"
Matthew 19:14 (NIV)