CRI Part 2 – My Backstory

October 6, 2009

The summer of 2005 was nearing an end and I was about to make the move to Kansas City, where I would be joining full-time staff at the International House of Prayer. I had gone through the FITN internship in the two previous summers and had just spent a month of that summer in Kansas City, longing to fully join the ministry. My heart was full of joy and anticipation, finally released to join the beloved NightWatch community.

And then Hurricane Katrina hit.

I was not in an area directly impacted by the brunt of the storm. However… buses full of New Orleans evacuees soon found themselves in shelters throughout Texas. In Wylie, our National Guard Armory was opened as a shelter for a little over one hundred refugees. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my life was about to change.

I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer. Looking back, I honestly don’t know why. Perhaps it was the three summers that I had just spent in such a remarkably-set-apart time for prayer. When you nightly talk to the Lord for at least six hours in the middle of the night, your heart begins to change. I guess I always loved serving. But I didn’t really consider myself to be a remarkably compassionate person. In any case, I knew I needed to get over there.

The following three weeks of my life changed me. The impact was so profound that it has only grown in intensity over the four years that followed.

Initially, my mom and I volunteered together. I am so grateful for those memories of serving with her. What a fantastic way to spend some of my last moments with my mom before moving so far away from my parents’ house! And what valuable memories to have of my mom, whom I lost only a year and a half after those days at the shelter!

We worked the night shift at the shelter, 10 PM to 7 AM. (Eventually, I began to stay until about 9 AM to eat breakfast, at the urging of the chef, one of the shelter residents.) My mom and I were always night people. It was a natural fit for us. I believe it was our second night there when my mom became the shelter manager. And as soon as health issues prevented her from continuing to go down for such long and difficult shifts, I stepped into the role of shelter manager.

I had absolutely no experience and no clue what I was doing. I had some basic leadership and administrative skills… and a whole lot of help from the Holy Spirit.

My responsibilities and tasks were fairly simple. I delegated. I cleaned toilets. I checked residents and visitors in and out of the shelter. I answered phones and hunted for people when their family members had the great fortune of finding the shelter where their loved ones had landed. I made sure things were getting done and that information was passed on to the right people. I helped the night shift people find caffeine. I listened. Really… I mostly just sat and enjoyed conversation and games with the shelter residents, volunteers, EMTs, police officers, National Guard, and firefighters.

My most difficult daily task was to scrounge up enough volunteers to stretch over the night shift. The glory expectations of people who thought they were going to be hailed as heroes quickly faded. And the people who were still willing and eager to truly serve still needed to carry on with the responsibilities of their daily lives. After the first week, it was difficult to find enough people.

I think my most SIGNIFICANT activity was sitting outside for Cynthia’s smoking breaks. Each night, we would go outside for her last cigarette before bed. If she awakened in the middle of the night, we’d head out again. And as soon as she woke up every morning, out we would go. I simply listened and loved her. (I must admit that Cynthia’s departure was difficult for me, though I was overjoyed that she was leaving because her family had found her. She was going to be with people who knew and loved her. And they could grieve together, having lost loved ones in the disaster.)

I had never come so close to the suffering of others. I had never really been touched by pain and injustice like I was in those days. The people I sat down to listen to had suffered through things that I would not even write about here. (Among them, the horrors of the Superdome. Violence, murder, lust, and greed abounding… the natural outcome when man feels incredible pain and fear and then finds opportunity to pursue and express the wicked desires of a heart full of darkness.)

Just thinking about their stories makes my stomach turn and fills my heart with great heaviness and longing for the return of the Judge. I had never seen pain like that in someone’s eyes. I had never heard terror like that in someone’s voice.

I didn’t do anything heroic in those days. I was just there. I smiled. I served in simple ways. I listened. And somehow, that was enough. Somehow, my weak actions were powerful. Somehow, my willingness and my “yes” overcame my lack of knowledge. The Lord used my simple, weak life to impact others in a real way. And it was so easy (though painful). So natural.

And my heart was more alive than ever before. I encountered the Lord in that place of serving.

Something was very right in those days. I was depending upon the Holy Spirit and loving and serving others. I was giving of myself. Things were as they should be.

I also experienced unique grace and boldness. When things would start to pick up in the morning and it was time to make things happen, I would have these crazy waves of confidence sweep over me and nothing could get in my way or stop me from doing what needed to be done. It was actually one of the guys in the National Guard who pointed it out to me, the way I would shift into confidence mode when I needed it. I don’t think I believed him at the time, when he told me that one day that was just going to be my normal mode of existence.

My move to Kansas City was significantly delayed by my time at the shelter. On my average day, I would get home in the morning and then sleep until it was time to get up for work (evening shifts) at a maternity clothing store. And then I would head home (if there was time) to change before heading straight over to the shelter again. Not a lot of time for packing or support-raising.

My days off of work (and the two or so days that I took off from the shelter) were few. And because of my refusal to watch things fall apart due to the flakiness of other people, I had at least one occasion where I stayed up into the afternoon to take care of something for one of the residents. (Sad story. The expected ride didn’t show up. No one willing was able and no one able was willing… except for the girl who had been up all night and the WYLIE FIRE CHIEF. I’m not going to lie… I was definitely disappointed in people that day… full of anger and judgment.) In any case, I was pretty wiped out and in need of rest in the time that I did have off.

Without a doubt, though, the delay in my long-awaited move to Kansas City was absolutely worthwhile for three of the most impacting weeks of my life.

Seeds were planted within me. And there has been a growing discontent ever since. I am not satisfied to sit back and do nothing. I love my occupation (prayer). And I know it is the most valuable thing that I can do with my time. But I have hands and feet, too. I have the ability to serve people… to express love… to partner with the Lord in bringing justice and comfort to the hurting. And that longing has been stirring within me for some time.  The desire to walk out the activity that accompanies a life of fasting and prayer. It is difficult to commit yourself to participate in 24/7 prayers for justice without the Lord awakening within you a desire to participate in 24/7 WORKS of justice.

My heart has been especially heavy with this in the last two years. I have wept because of it. I have repeatedly asked the Lord about it. In fact, ummm… I think I have even accused the Lord about it a couple of times. (Sometimes my impatience questions His leadership. He handles my foolish heart well, though, and He knows how to bring correction in kindness.) A few of my friends can definitely attest to my frustration with the whole thing, with this lack in my life.

So, after years of longing for it and asking how and what and where and WHEN… I feel like I am beginning to see the thing that I have been looking for.


One comment

  1. A heart to pray and a heart to serve – IHOP/CRI.

    Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

    I am very excited for you and will be praying that this weekend answers even more of the how, what, when and where questions you have been asking. I’m looking forward to hearing all about it! : )

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