Once again, plowing through the archives to salvage some of the written record of the last five years or so. This was was written in November of 2008, and as I look at this gathered community, I am hushed. One marriage, broken. One infant, now a healthy almost-5-year-old, one dear mother-in-law, now unable to speak and fading, fading, fading. Time is relentless.
You might think this an odd picture to publish with the title listed above. But for me, right now, on a Monday late afternoon, sitting at my desk and prayerfully holding before God so many people that I care about who are definitely in the middle of some kind of mess....this picture is a powerful reminder to me of God's faithfulness.
Faithfulness in, through, around, and right smack dab in the middle of the mess.
The date this picture was taken? November 16, 2008.
The context? Our Sunday morning worship gathering after the Tea Fire, which had swept through Santa Barbara during the immediately preceding three days. Our church building was still part of the evacuation area for that fire, an area which had begun to shrink some the night before, but which at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning still included the access roads to our property.
My husband and I had also been evacuated and had returned home late in the evening on Saturday. And 14 families in our community had seen their homes either destroyed or severely damaged from the ravenous, wind-driven flames of that terrifying time. We were all in the very heart of the most painful and frightening mess most of us could just about ever remember.
And right there - in the middle of it all - we saw remarkable signs of God's faithfulness, of God's loving presence, of God's provisional care, even in the throes of a natural disaster. We found amazing evidences of grace everywhere we looked.
No one in our church community, or in the broader neighborhood, sustained serious injury; the wonders of modern technology enabled us to stay in contact throughout the three days of electrical and wireless disruption; the church was spared and immediately useful for community communication and encouragement gatherings of all kinds; staff and lay leadership rallied to plan and pull off a worship service at an alternate site - the local country club, of all places! - and we were reminded throughout that service of God's presence, deliverance and providential care, despite the enormity of the mess.
So today, as I pray for a wide variety of painful, frightening and messy situations - I am grateful to remember God's faithfulness in the midst of a pretty big mess not all that long ago.
I'm not a fan of messes. Don't enjoy them all that much - would, of course, prefer not to have lived through most of the ones I've experienced.
But this much I know: God will meet me there, right in the middle of it.
We are not alone, sometimes despite all kinds of evidence to the contrary. So, Lord, have mercy. Have mercy in the mess. And thank you for stepping into the muck with us.