As we watched the images on television, my little one simply had no frame of reference for what she was seeing. Who could blame her? The scope and magnitude of watching people suffer the great storm was overwhelming. Images of biblical amounts of rainfall, creating massive flooding driving people from their homes and onto high ground, entire neighborhoods destroyed. In that moment, my four-year-old looking up at me with those wide open blue eyes, bringing home the question, innocent enough for her, but driving a knife deep into my chest. “Why, Daddy?”
It was 2005. We were watching Katrina wage its devastation on the city of New Orleans. Why, indeed? I understand that question, baby. I’ve asked my own Father that question many times. What could I tell her that she’d understand? That we live in a fallen world? That the consequences of the sin of mankind didn’t just break man, but broke the world, as well? That the same sin that creates pride and covetous in my heart, writ large and on a cosmic scale, creates tornadoes and hurricanes, cancer and war, drought and roaches (yes, I’m convinced- what else but a broken, distorted creation explains roaches?).
She wouldn’t understand any of that; heck, I don’t understand all of it. Not really. On one level, I know it’s a mystery, one of those many things about God that I’ll never know this side of Heaven. On another level, I recognize there’s arrogance in breaking the world through our own disobedience, and then calling on God to give an account to us for why it’s broken. So, I don’t try to explain it all to her just yet.
Instead, I point her to God in the midst of the chaos. I show her that, in the middle of this brokenness she may not be able to intellectually understand, but the wrongness of which she can viscerally feel, God’s face is all around. In the way that people risked their own lives to save others, because sacrificial love from one random person to another is not only the most powerful force in the universe, but one that defies any other cause than the image of God. In the way that gifts poured in around the country to that city, to those people, from a country, that though full of ugliness and bitter division, remains the kindest, most generous in the world in times of need.
I showed her God’s face in the lives of her church members, school friends, and neighbors, as they worked together like ants to turn the empty, brand-new UT Patriot Center into a shelter for over 100 evacuees–complete with food service, clothing depot, showers, medical clinic, cots, and security– all in the miraculous six hours it took the buses to arrive here from New Orleans. And, in the way that, through the generosity of those same people, this facility closed in 21 days, because every evacuee had been reunited with family members, or relocated in this town, with a job, housing, and a vehicle.
Over the decade since then, she’s seen the face of God as people from her community and her school returned to that city year after year to clean, reinstate, and rebuild. She learned that sacrificial love originating from the Lord isn’t impulsive, looking to make a quick impact, get out, and forget, but is relentless, for the long haul, seeking to build a relationship, and hoping for restoration.
There are no quick and easy lessons in childhood, especially nothing gleaned from the wrongs of nature and of men. But, over time, she learned what I had prayed and hoped she would, by walking with and praying her through the worst of life and showing her God’s face through quiet, courageous kindness: your courage and kindness. She learned that sin and brokenness impact everything in deep and destructive ways we cannot begin to comprehend, but can only lament. Even more importantly, she learned that God and redemption are everywhere, manifested in love that conquers death and transcends time, if we only have eyes to see.