“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it seem to you like nothing? But now be strong”…declares the Lord. “Be strong…. For I am with you…. And My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”Haggai 2:3-5
You might wonder why a small organization dedicated to growing faith and bringing encouragement to those struggling might want to talk about trauma? Encouraging, it turns out, is often a part of building or even the rebuilding of something that once was. When we are encouraging others, we are building up faith; when we are building faith, it frequently comes through strengthening others. And when faith falters, encouragement and support are the brickwork that restores it firmness and resolve.
Many years ago, we met a woman from New Orleans a year after Katrina barreled through Louisiana leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. While her home survived the flood waters because it was on the upper floors of a high-rise building, her belongings did not survive the looters who came in weeks later destroying everything they could in search of hidden money and goods. She had been referred to us by a program who had a family that needed help with Thanksgiving and Christmas.
This gal had long loved Christ and humbly served in His Name much of her life, but at her lowest, she lost sight of Him in the midst of the storm that ravaged her life. That “storm” went well past Katrina’s arrival and departure. After boarding a bus with nothing but her loved ones, she found herself in Detroit trying to make her way in an unfamiliar land with little resources and great uncertainty as to what the future held. Her hope had been wearing then; her faith was clearly struggling.
That Christmas morning, she called. She tenderly shared that she had been at her wits end. She described how she had loved God and always felt near to Him. At first, in the hours and weeks after Katrina exited Louisiana, she was able to hold out hope and faith, but as the days grew longer and harder, she became concerned that maybe, somehow, God had forgotten her. Fear crept in as the confusion and heartache seemed unending. She cried out to Him repeatedly wondering if He even knew where she was anymore, or how devastated the storm had left them. Over a year later of unimaginable stress and change, she felt overwhelmed by her doubts and trapped by her fear. Shortly thereafter, packages arrived at her apartment full of food for Thanksgiving, with more arriving on Christmas along with presents and clothes. That very Christmas morning, she understood that God was telling her that He knew right where she was, and that message–via our hands and feet–restored her hope and faith. She spoke with excitement and renewal; her exact words were that her “faith had been restored.” She was not able to wait until the following day to call; she needed me to know that through our kind hearts and willing hands, she had received the message that she was not forgotten nor forsaken.
It was a conversation that deeply humbled me. Though it was early on Christmas morning, and a complete surprise, her call had come at the perfect time. I, myself, was struggling with the nay-sayers in my life who did not feel that FBF was necessary or needed. The work we had been doing, the deliveries we had been making, were scoffed at and trivialized by others on the periphery of our lives and dismissed as if serving God (and others) was an unnecessary hobby that was inherently selfish. The needs of others, they lamented, were not really needs at all, but rather poor choices that deserved the consequences of barren trees and tables. Their words had gotten the best of me, in part because I was not expecting them, and I spent Christmas Eve that year pondering if I had been mistaken in some way. Her kind phone call was God’s answer to me about the fears and doubts others had tried to saddle me with. Her call quickly cleared their weighty words and judgment from my conscience, as her needs were deeper than I had known. Our connection, her world and mine, both needed each other though we did not know that. Together, through kindness and support, God encouraged each of us that we, with His help and very Presence, could do what He was asking–we could walk where He had led.
Understand that life usually contains those who complain, demand, take, dismiss, deny, doubt, manipulate, and do nothing more than what benefits them. It will likely be those same type of nay-sayers who will say that there is nothing to be gained by sharing information about trauma, but friends, that is where His Words leads us when we serve Him and others. He takes us to the poor (and the word, poverty involves more than financial means), the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, those trapped in darkness (yep, that’s different from being blind), the sick, the needy, those mourning, those feeling overwhelming despair, those in prison (again, that word is more expansive than most realize). The list is long and extensive, as our world really has a never-ending need for His hope. Hence, FBF’s newest outreach–writing about Scripture that can teach us God’s perspective on hurt while also looking at the trauma information that our world is learning, so that we can live out caring with more understanding and tenderness.
For over 16 years, we have been trying to simply live out Isaiah 61:1-3.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor.Isaiah 61:1
In this Katrina story, I had naively thought the “good news” we were sharing was that their Christmas was going to be one to celebrate and enjoy–that God had not forgotten them and had moved many hearts to remind them of His love and faithfulness during hard times. A worthy message. When I say naïve, it is because so often we want to simply “drop” off that which joyfully lifts another’s heavy heart without actually stopping and looking at the brokenness that has weighed it down in the first place. It would be like dropping off some money onto the gentleman who laid in the road in the Good Samaritan’s path, rather than stopping and tending the wounds that caused him to be stuck laying on the ground.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…Isaiah 61:1
It was dark where this woman was, but not in the physical world where she resided. The city had provided them with an apartment; organizations were trying to help where they could. Rather, it was a spiritual and emotional darkness that had heavily descended onto her world; a direct result of what she had and was still enduring. She felt alone, unseen, burdened and troubled. Responsible for souls who had boarded that bus with her; frightened by the continuous stream of unknowns that appeared at every bend. Exhausted by trying to figure out how to survive while needing to learn new ways and new paths for her future. Her heart was still invisibly bleeding, and her faith was struggling to regain its ground as doubt sought to overcome its very existence. She needed someone to see her; to listen, to hear, and to want to understand. Someone who would not judge her in her delicate time of need. She needed emotional and spiritual support as well as physical and provisional help.
You see, a hurricane with power unlike most in recent history devastated one of our large cities and moved thousands from the only homes they had known. Does that sound at all familiar in today’s headlines? (There are so many reasons and events in the world around us that are begging for us to understand how trauma will impact lives.) Looking back, trauma was written all over her story and her spirit; long before we knew much about it. When we dropped off Easter baskets that following spring, I met her in person for the first time. She was waiting for me with pictures in hand as she asked me to sit next to her. She wanted me to see the devastation to her apartment caused by other human beings and not the storm. She needed me to understand that being in need was new to her; that she had a very good life before. She longed for me to hear how hard it was to evacuate and leave everything she loved and had known. She wanted compassion for what it was like to be in a city where no one knows your name, your history or even seemed to notice your pain. Her pictures still hold a special place in my mind. The trauma she lived through she needed to share, and quite frankly, years later, I still need to think about her, from time to time, to remember why God has us doing what He does. To see that those beginning moments were steps towards what we do and know today.
Now, for those of you who have watching from behind your screens or in visits to help build baskets, set up events, drop off things to be shared, sort through items–please hit the repeat button on this kind of story for each of the last sixteen years. It is why you see databases go up, our newsletters list needs, the stories we share to inspire people to know they can do good, and the posts we share about what we are doing. We have seen and listened to many traumas. Can you now see why God has us, FBF, bringing encouragement to others? Because they have hit a rough spot in life.
While there are many different stories in descriptions and circumstances, they all stem from a wound–something scary, unsettling, painful, shocking, or life altering/ending–that has caused an injury or hurt to the body, mind or soul. Heaven knows that trauma does not require hurricanes to exist; hurt, injury and wounds are all that are necessary to create a traumatic moment or moments. Life’s hard spots are where trauma can and does develop. And much of what we do involves bringing hope and support to those tough moments and the aftermath that follows.
We have walked with trembling and bewildered souls for some time now, at varying points in their trauma processing, and we know that there are more out there than the ones we can reach. Trauma is not limited to catastrophe; in fact, it does not always heal in a chronological order like we would expect. Souls can walk a long time after an event is “over” before ever allowing others to see or know of their wounds. It is why it is so helpful to know a bit more about how trauma works, how our bodies are designed, how God would like us to be when we are with a wounded soul, and what He offers us when our own souls, minds and bodies are wounded. This understanding is at the heart of bringing encouragement and hope; it can make all the difference between dropping off only what is “needed” in a physical sense and tenderly providing comfort, inspiration and reassurance to the aid of a healing soul.
We know that not everyone will want or see this information as helpful and that is okay. Not everyone who comes to take part in a FBF event takes away the same thing. One may need a basket; another may desperately need the enjoyment and satisfaction of building one to help another. Another soul may long to ease someone’s burdens and, in the end, discover that their load has been lightened just by helping. Someone may need clothes or to give clothes, and yet find themselves leaving better clothed with support, encouragement and love from souls that genuinely care. All along God has guided us in the principal of not worrying about the numbers we may reach, but rather that we trust Him that there are others out there that need to be reached with what He nudges us to give. We pray that, in today’s world and for the days ahead, others will benefit from what we have learned (and will continue to learn) in the arena of tending wounds and encouraging faith. That is our simple hope and goal for this written outreach.
Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites, who showed good understanding of the service of the Lord.”2 Chronicles 30:22