Saturday, June 8, 2013

Swing low, sweet chariot- For Oklahoma.

As we drove straight on the 40, I dove into Blue Like Jazz like it was the sweet candy apple that got me lost in Disneyworld. I suppose this deserves an explanation: you see, the candy apple I was given in the world of wonder was so delicious that I simply couldn’t peel my eyes away from it. I walked amidst the sea of faces and stared at nothing but the round ball of caramel coated goodness. So enamored I was, that when my family turned left, I continued to trek forward, until the temporary satisfaction left my belly and I looked up to find no familiar face. I remember that fear greatly, but I also remember how great the apple. In any case, Donald Miller’s narrative hit my soul in this way. 
Reading about faith that comes alive when we choose to allow God to help us write our life stories, made the drive that much sweeter. 
I have felt the weight of stagnation in recent months, 
so it was nice to be trekking forward. 
We left in faith, without an official call for our spot to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse, but we continued to move in faith. We got the call as we drove through Texas several hours later; we set our course and God ordered our steps. 
We drove that 16 hours not knowing what was ahead, but knowing whatever it was, it wouldn't leave us the same.

An eerie feeling came upon me as we arrived in Moore, and began to drive the roads that had recently become all too familiar to this E-5 tornado.
"Wait, was this massive pile of debris once a neighborhood? 
Is that even possible?" 
 Thoughts raced quickly as my eyes scanned the piles and piles of what used to be homes, and playgrounds, and trees. 
"God is Good," I read upon a big piece of wood that topped one of the massive debris piles.

It was a short drive through a small section of Moore to reach Emmaus Baptist Church where we were set to retrieve our order and mission from Samaritan’s Purse. In arriving, we were greeted by a fun and alive bunch of SP leaders. I felt eager to begin our work, eager to find out if I was actually just dreaming all of this.

There’s just something about faith community, that something being the image of God. The following morning, to see people gathered from all over the country to be a light in what had become a very dark place, was breathtaking. I pictured the night sky, and what it would be without the light of the stars and the moon- and I realized all the more that God really does know what He’s doing. We met our team, gathered equipment, prayed over the day, and left unknowing once more of the encounters we would face.

As we made our way into the most devastated area of town, it was like getting front row tickets to walk the set of a film; either Twister, or Saving Private Ryan. Just destruction. I knew very quickly that a tornado shows no partiality. Our hearts wrenched to see the magnitude of the loss.

I suddenly recalled the Lord's voice from a familiar loss that Luke spoke of in his Gospel: 
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no. .. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty than the others living in Jeruselum? I tell you, no!” (Luke 13:2-5)
Jesus then goes on to point them to themselves. To ask them if they have repented, almost as to stand before the inescapable death that faces us all and to say, 
"Don’t worry so much about them, what about you? Where is your heart? Have you chosen to live for what is greater?"

I had been wanting a good cup of coffee ever since our departure, having no luck thus far on the trip. So when my friend and teammate, Jaclyn, called me into the little house for a cup of coffee, I happily accepted. Our teams had been working outside of these houses, picking up debris, sweeping, raking, helping in any way possible to put back together a puzzle without many of the pieces. I peaked over as another volunteer had come across a piece of paper which held a contract between a mom and her son. His chores were listed and he consented with a signature - blown for what could have been hundreds of miles. I watched as it was placed in a pile with many pictures that were also found and scattered from tree, to dirt, to pavement, to grass. I felt like I was peeking in on peoples lives, their houses had been turned inside out, literally. 

“Yes! Come on in!” A sweet southern voice trailed from inside of the living room of house #120. “Yes, my granddaughter bought me one of them Kuerig machines and I have no idea how to use it, but she’s here- Lynette can you show this young lady that machine! Yes, please have some coffee."
We had been given an update that this woman was disabled and unable to do much these days. We also heard that she missed having company more often, she loved company. 
"Ya’ll are miracle workers you know, just showin up here out of no where.” As she spoke I looked around at her home, thankful it was still standing. Many pictures and plaques lined her walls, most of which pointed to someone much bigger than herself. My eyes would flash to words like “faith” “My Lord” “His Greatness” “All things being made new.” A simple plaque in the kitchen read: “Martha don’t live here, and that’s a good thing.” I remember Jesus talking about two beloved women who both longed to serve, but one chose the better way of service, by simply sitting at his feet.

And having this same attitude, Jaclyn and I sat for hours at the feet of of this beautiful 79-year-old woman, as she shared her life with us. It was true, both types of work needed to be done this day, a physical labor of love to serve the inflicted, but also a listening ear. Her story is for another time, bringing both rolling laughter and welled tears. To picture this frail woman, huddled in her closet, as she prayed to the Lord for protection. 
"It's just like they say it is, ya know. Sounds like a freight train coming right for you. Real loud whistling and rumbling; and as soon as it came it was dark, and then it was gone. God sure kept me alive, and now here ya'll are! I hope it's not a sin to be sayin' this, but I'm sort of happy for that tornado, just to be able to sit here with you."
 I knew now we had come to this place, if not for more than for the divine meeting with Shirley. 

As we gathered for the close of our day, enjoying time together in the church, eating dinner and sharing stories and testimonies of God’s faithfulness throughout our encounters, I knew there were so many other divine appointments that came from this storm. We went to bed to wake for another day of, well, only God knew what. 

On Sunday we walked the streets in the part of town that stained our memory with homelessness, only a different picture of homelessness now filled my mind. Each “X” that marked what was left at each property that afternoon, helped me to recollect on how little we should hold onto in this life. Including our very life. 

"All people are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever."(1Peter1:24,25)

We met Bruce, who said that prayer came easy, as he held onto his banister for dear life with his motorcycle helmet to protect him when the winds tore almost every other house on his street to pieces. 
And then there was the school.
Just next door to Bruce's home was the land that once housed many students of Plaza Towers Elementary. To look at the remains was unlike anything I have seen with my eyes. 
"Where is it?" Is all my mind could think. 
"I can't." Is all I could mutter. "I just can't." 
"I just can't believe it."

As I sit here in Starbucks recalling the trip, I hear Johnny Cash playing above my head. I remembered this most famous man, not for his familiar "Walk the Line," although it's simply a song hard to not sing along to. Rather, I remembered hearing the hymns that I knew he would both sing and write. As I searched my computer to find some of them, I heard  "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." I searched to find the original history behind this well acquainted tune, and i am shocked upon what I find.

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was written by Wallis Willis.. near the County seat of Hugo, Oklahoma sometime before 1862. He was inspired by the Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah's being taken to heaven by a chariot (2 Kings 2:11)... Oklahoma State Senator, Judy Eason McIntyre proposed a bill nominating "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as the Oklahoma State official gospel song in 2011.. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed the bill into law on May 5, 2011 ...
 making the song the official Oklahoma State Gospel Song.

The words ringing now more beautifully than before, 
I listened carefully to the lyrics. 
I closed my eyes and pictured a line of people holding hands together, staring at the dark funnel hovering before them, smiling. The dark cloud had turned into a band of angels, and suddenly they knew that what was to come, would be far greater
 than anything left behind.

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see

Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.

Sometimes I'm up, and sometimes I'm down,
(Coming for to carry me home)
But still my soul feels heavenly bound.
(Coming for to carry me home)

The brightest day that I can say,
(Coming for to carry me home)
When Jesus washed my sins away.
(Coming for to carry me home)
If I get there before you do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
I'll cut a hole and pull you through.
(Coming for to carry me home)

If you get there before I do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
Tell all my friends I'm coming too.
(Coming for to carry me home).

No comments:

Post a Comment