Gratitude in the Midst of Loss

Date Posted: 11/28/2017

In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he writes these well-known words: "Rejoice in the Lord always." (Phil. 4:4, emphasis added.) And try as we might to follow Paul's admonition, there are times when it is just plain hard. There are times, in other words, when tragedy strikes, natural disasters occur, death lands on our doorstep or disease and heartache abound.

Is it possible, even amid tragedy and loss, to find something to rejoice about? Is it possible to give thanks for the thing that happened?

For Christians, our God is one who came to Earth and put on flesh. That means the God we worship knows what it's like to experience pain, suffering, grief and loss (and, we hasten to add, the joy of resurrection!).
Stories abound of people who have overcome great obstacles to find meaning and purpose in their lives. Helen Keller communicated with the world even though she was deaf, blind and mute. Bill Gates' first business failed. Stephen King's first novel was rejected 30 times. Oprah Winfrey gave birth to a child when she was 14; the boy soon died.

Hurricane

The Rev. Hannah Terry knows a thing or two about loss. As one of the pastors at Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, she has literally been through the floodwaters of pain and suffering.

In August, Hurricane Harvey came for a visit. Terry's church is in the southwest side of Houston. While the church did not receive any major damage, the surrounding neighborhood did.

"About 50 people canoed or kayaked to the church during the storm," Terry said, "including our senior pastor and his family, and they live a block and a half from the church."

Homes around the church flooded with between 8 and 18 inches of water, Terry said. The church quickly became a "makeshift shelter," she said, until official shelters opened. They called themselves a "wait station," she said, until large vehicles – including tanks – could come through the flooded streets and rescue people.

The images of Houston after Harvey are sadly familiar. The recovery is going to take years. Still, Terry finds reasons to smile.

"We're very grateful for the help," Terry said. The church recently had a team of volunteers from Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, she said, "and they were awesome. Even in the midst of our tragedy, we were able to offer the gift of hospitality to them."

Terry is also grateful that God's abundance has been very clear through the whole ordeal. Not some random incidents, she said; it's been quite specific. One example stands out.

Several undocumented families live in the church's neighborhood. At one point, a few families came to the church asking for food. However, the church didn't have any. It had cleaning supplies and flood buckets and diapers, but no food.

"We said to them, ‘We're really sorry, but ...'" Terry said. However, while the families were still in the church, gathering what they could, within three to five minutes of when they first arrived, a truck arrived filled with food.

"People started bringing in bags and bags of exactly what they had asked for," Terry said. "Particularly in the first few weeks, it was loaves and fishes; it was manna from heaven."
From six Muslim youth from Sugarland, Texas, who came to help muck out an elderly church member's home, to people from St. Mark's, St. Paul's and St. Peter's United Methodist churches, people have "magically" appeared just at the right time, Terry said.

"Even when you're trying to figure out how to fly the broken plane ... you're still in the air. We crashed, but somehow, we got back up in the air," Terry said, "God's provisions were so apparent. It was interfaith. It was intergeneration. It was so beautiful to watch."

Terry is convinced this was God's Holy Spirit at work. Or, in more United Methodist terms, "prevenient grace."

And speaking of the church, Terry is perhaps most grateful for one more thing: the connection.

"I am so, so grateful for all the United Methodist congregations that have helped," she said. "We could not have done this without them. Connectionalism really is a beautiful part of being (United) Methodist and how we can actually carry that identity as Christ's body."

See Original Story from Interpreter Magazine