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New Jersey Inspiration

Marshall in New Jersey

Marshall, one of the residents at The Way, was a true inspiration to those he served during our trip to New Jersey to help with the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. He was always found in the center of the work despite his health challenges. A few years ago, Marshall had been shot and was not expected to even live. He amazingly came through, but was told he wouldn’t walk again due to the bullet that was still lodged in his spine.Yet, again overcoming the odds, he regained his ability to walk, but faced tremendous pain and swelling in his legs. He eventually had his right leg amputated at the knee.

Even with a prosthetic limb, Marshall led the way as we worked in New Jersey. You could usually find him in the middle of the debris piles with a chainsaw clearing the rubble. God’s amazing miracle was to take a man who expected to be dependent on others for his every action, and use him to serve those in desperate need.

God can be glorified through all of us.

Tom Reynolds

Marshall in New Jersey

Tragedy: A Cause for Thanksgiving?

Sandy Aftermath

One of my great family Thanksgiving traditions after moving to Huntsville was going to the Johnson’s log house in the country with all my brothers and sisters from church who were unable (or unwilling) to get with their physical families for Thanksgiving.

The Johnson’s would always gather us together in a large circle, holding hands, like the Who’s in Whoville, to share what we were grateful for this year before our prayer for the meal.  The expressions of gratitude were usually around themes such as my family, a job, health, salvation, my mommy and daddy, and the church with someone usually expressing something about a warm meal that was getting cold if we don’t hurry and pray.

But there always seemed to be something missing, something deeper and more profound that was always left unexpressed.

It was not until after going through my greatest personal tragedy – a divorce and the loss of my most precious dream of an intact family – that I started to get a deeper understanding of thankfulness.  Due to my role as a full-time minister, I also added the uncertainty of my career path and insecurity of financial stability to provide for my children in college and high school.  But it was through this valley that I discovered one of God’s greatest gifts, His presence in time of suffering, uncertainty, and loss.

Suffering thrusts us into a level of spiritual growth like warp speed sent the U.S.S. Enterprise into new, unexplored galaxies.  And for this we should be eternally grateful.  It’s only through the tunnel of suffering that we can mature into the character of God which is His greatest desire.

This being the case, what about being thankful to God for our diseases, unemployment, break up of a relationship, or loss of a parent?

As I went from house to house in Union Beach, New Jersey after the devastation from “Frankenstorm” Sandy, I entered into person after person’s unique story of pain, suffering, and loss.  I couldn’t help but pray, that they would allow God to carry them through this tragedy into the gift of significance, compassion, and grace.  Because it can be through the window of this tragedy that the realization of what really matters can come.

I prayed, to myself, that the loss they had suffered would loosen their grip on this world, so that they could grasp more tightly to the gift of God Himself.

Every loss we suffer gives us an opportunity to trust Him more, clinging to Him more tightly, and hoping in Him more fully, so that we may learn to live a little more by faith and not sight.

So let us be grateful for our sufferings that they may lighten our hold on this world that we may grasp more tightly to Him.

Tom Reynolds

Why Go?

As we arrived in New Jersey ten days after super “Frankenstorm” Sandy devastated the Northeast, I was prepared for a lot of things.  Due to the prior day’s snow and ice storm, the power was out at the church building where we were planning to stay, but we had lanterns and warm clothing well supplied. What we hadn’t planned for was the generous hospitality of the minister of the church and his wife that warmly welcomed all twelve of us into their generator-supplied home.  They offered us warm meals and hot showers after our 18 hour van drive from Huntsville.  We came to help and assist, and yet they were serving us!   What a gracious and generous family they are.

After enjoying six hours of sleep on the floor, we headed off to Union Beach to bring recovery assistance to devastated families.  We were prepared with shovels and gloves and tools to do the work of gutting water ravaged homes. What we weren’t prepared for were the horrific stories we heard of survival.  Steve shared about the torturous night that he and his four girls spent in the second story of their home as waves crashed around their house, the foundation heaving and buckling while whirlpools formed in their front yard carrying their neighbor’s entire house with all their belongings out to sea.  The next morning there was no sign that their neighbors and friends had ever lived there.  Ira shared about not being able to find his 2,000 pound industrial compressor for days until he discovered it in the chassis  of a neighbor’s vehicle upside down.  Martha shared that her son was currently at the hospital with an asthma attack due to the molds from the flooding. Plus, she had been scammed out of $4,000 by a construction company that had promised to gut her house, but after receiving the money never came back. Now in despair, she had considered suicide the night previous to our arrival to help.  She wept in our arms with tears of joy and hope as she discovered there were Christians who cared.

What I also was not ready for was to answer the question, “Why did you come?”  When people discovered we were from Alabama and had driven 18 hours one way at our own personal expense to help them, they wanted to know why.  I began answering with thoughts such as, “Well our church planned an opportunity to help and I wanted to come.”  Or “I lived in New Jersey for 8 years and identified with the people and wanted to come and help.”  Or “Others helped us during the tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011 and I wanted to pay it forward.”  But all these answers did not come close to explaining the deep sense of urging that I felt from the Lord that prompted me to go.

After a few seemingly empty explanations of why I came, God revealed to me with vivid clarity the real reason I felt compelled.  It was simple.  Because God came.  Because God comes!  “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son. . .” (John 3:16)  God meets us in our devastation, in our brokenness, in our despair and shows us compassion and love and offers hope.  God met me in the wreckage of my life and I went to New Jersey as an expression of God meeting them in theirs.

Everyone we met offered to pay us or make a contribution to our organization.  Offers we consistently refused, because we came to give not receive.  “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give. . .” (Mark 10:45).  Instead of the exchange of money, we instead exchanged addresses and shared in prayer with them both before we started working, while we worked, and when we came to completion.  Sean, as we worked on his house across from the bay, shared that he was not a religious man, but that we certainly had something he needed.  After praying with him the first day, we went back to help some more on the second day, and as the day drew to an end; it was Sean who called his brother and sister-in-law together with us all and said that it was time to pray.  And with tears welling up from his heart, he expressed life transforming gratitude to us and to the Lord.

I went because God goes.  And I was blessed to see God’s work in the lives of devastated souls.

The Paradox Of Popularity

A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.  The word literally means a conflict of expectation.  Jesus’ teaching flourished in paradox, because God’s kingdom is by nature paradoxical from our world.  He taught things like, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12) and “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  (Matthew 19:30).

I realized a paradox in our relationship experience. When I was young, I tried very hard to impress people by projecting an image of what I thought they wanted me to be that was not genuinely who I was. I thought that this would draw people to me and increase my popularity. But instead, over time, it repelled them. In disappointment with this failed strategy, I eventually came to the conclusion that I had to be pleased with me regardless of what others thought. Through my spiritual life, I discovered that my acceptance from God superseded people’s opinions. So I didn’t need their applause to be content in myself.

Paradoxically, when I finally came to this level of contentment and didn’t need people’s approval, people were far more pleased with me and attracted to me.  Today, in my contentment, people seem more drawn to the real me than they ever were to the false, projected, “popular” me.

Jesus said it best, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Matthew 16:25)