The bus exploded. The rim of the left, rear tire flew off while we were speeding down the highway. First I heard the pop. And then I smelled smoke.
The bus driver pulled over. He didn’t know it was on fire, but he had felt something. We evacuated quickly, and everyone got off safely. We tried to put out the flames, but they grew too rapidly. A loud explosion ripped through the air, and sent most of us running farther down the highway.
We watched at a distance as the flames consumed the entire bus. We were crying and praying together with shaking voices.
People lost laptops, cell phones, and licenses. It was ironic. We were heading home after spending a week on a Katrina Relief Urban Plunge. Now we all felt so much closer to the people we had just finished serving.
That week, we had taken tours through neighborhoods that had been wiped out by the floods. In some cases, people were still not living in these areas. An astonishing number of houses had to be gutted. They were hollow shells of the comforting spaces they were meant to be. Others had to be demolished. I’ll never forget the sight of it; doorsteps that led up to nothing but slabs of concrete, the cramped FEMA trailers, and in contrast – the joy of the people we met.
Hurricane Katrina…how many years ago was that? Are they still hurting? It was the familiar theme in all our conversations. The repeated word was: Forgotten.
We were there four years after the hurricane and the sentiment in Louisiana was the same. Weren’t we supposed to be healed by now? The television stations and newspapers that vowed to stay with the tragedy had gradually dropped it.
They thanked us for our presence. They said they felt the rest of the nation had forgotten them but we were proof – that they had not been forgotten.
Now it’s been six years since Hurricane Katrina, and Louisiana is still recovering. Not to mention all the other states and countries that have been hurt by natural disasters.
On a personal level, how often do we feel this way? It’s easy to look at the damage in our lives and think, “This should be fixed by now.” Sometimes our brokenness is caused by external, uncontrollable forces, like the weather, or the economy. Sometimes it is the result of our own choices. When it lasts a long time, our hope is strained. It is often replaced by shame, a deep, overwhelming acknowledgement of guilt. “How long will this last?”
Christmas is not an easy time for those with things heavy upon their hearts. Depression is rampant during the holiday season, because people are reminded of the hope they simply don’t have.
Job is the common Biblical reference, the “go to” phrase” for when you are feeling forgotten by God. And for good reason. Job loses everything. Even his friends turn on him and say things like, “Are you sure you didn’t do something to cause this? Anything you’d like to admit here, Job?”
Advent is a time of waiting
Advent was not a carefree time for Mary and Joseph. Mary could have been subject to stoning if Joseph hadn’t had the courage to listen to an angel. The journey to Bethlehem must have been not only physically tiring, but emotionally draining as well. We can only guess at what they struggled with. They were going to raise the Messiah.
Let’s not forget about how long the Israelites had been waiting for a Messiah. Joy didn’t come right away, but it did come.
If you’re going through something this Advent season, and you feel far away from God, or like Jesus’ birth doesn’t apply in your situation, know that you are in good company. This darkness will pass. Pray for the strength to believe it. To know that God is with you in this time of waiting, and that He will bring you out of it.
God with us.
Emmanuel. God with us. He is with us in our darkness. He was born into it to bring us out of that darkness and into light. That’s what Jesus’ birth signifies.
Standing with my friends on the side of the highway, watching the flames eat steadily through the bus, that was what I felt. God with us, present in our fear.
God has not forgotten you. Wherever you are, whether you are surveying the damage, or in the midst of the storm, He knows.
Community can help. My friends and I gave hope simply by the offering of our presence. Huddled together beside that bus, we gave hope to one another. Brokenness can be isolating. Don’t let it be.
Also, try and take the time this Advent season to pray for these places that have been ravaged. Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Japan, Haiti. There is a never-ending list. Adopt a few in prayer.
And know, that God always sees our struggles. He is there, and He’s doing something. He will never forget you.