A letter to my mom

Dear Mama,

You sounded worried when you called. You had seen the pictures on the evening news, pictures of a city under water, and you didn’t know if we had just moved to a new house only to watch it disappear in a flood.

You sounded worried and I was happy to assure you that we were all OK. I didn’t have time to chat, though, as we usually do. We were still trying to get updates about all our members and their families, about friends and neighbors, while working long hours to get the water out of the church basement and fellowship hall.

Imagine how many mothers were worried – the ones with small children to take care of, who had to leave their homes just to keep them safe, and the ones living in another part of town, or out of town, who kept trying to call and the phones didn’t work.

Charlie and Sylvia just had their first child back in March, and their home, their first home, had five feet of water in it – that’s more than one-and-a-half meter. They lost everything, furniture, clothes, car, guitars, everything, even the pictures from their wedding and from the trip they took last year on their first anniversary. They weren’t at home when the waters rose, and when they were finally able to get to their house, they were shocked, but opening the front door, they found their dog alive and well, sitting on its favorite spot on the soggy, muddy couch, and they were just happy to see it.

Juan and Lauren had just moved to Nashville from New Jersey to make a fresh start. They lived in a trailer, rent to own, and they worked hard to save some money; they want to get married in June. When the water began to rise, they only had seconds to grab their dog and the cat and get in the car. They escaped with nothing but the clothes on their backs – everything else, gone.

There are hundreds, thousands of stories like these, stories of belongings buried in mud and memories washed away, stories of escape and loss, and stories of death. There was this elderly couple on their way to church early on Sunday morning in Belle Meade. Perhaps they didn’t realize how deep the water was on the road, and how treacherous the current. They tried and managed to get out of the car, but they didn’t have the strength to make it to higher ground; they both drowned. The one comfort I find in that story is that they died together – that’s what I would want, I think, if I had a choice. Losing a spouse is hard enough, but being the surviving spouse in such tragic circumstances seems unbearable to me.

And there’s another story, one that will be told for years. It’s a story with hundreds and thousands of chapters. It’s the story of this wonderful city and the people who call it home. It’s the story of bass boats and canoes turned into rescue vessels, of neighbors carrying neighbors on their backs across roads turned into rivers, of strangers risking their lives to pull strangers from cars trapped in the current. It’s the story of families opening their homes so their neighbors could spend the night in safety and enjoy the small comforts of a hot meal shared around a table. It’s the story of women, men, and children helping their neighbors carry their belongings to the curb, and rip out wet carpet, sheet rock, and insulation.

Dear Mama, you taught us that it’s hard to tell what exactly the church is, but that we would love being part of it when it happens. I can tell you, church has been happening in Nashville big time these past few days. The gospel wasn’t preached from pulpits (and God knows, there are plenty of pulpits in Nashville), but embodied in places of need.

I can almost see you sitting at the dining room table, reading this and nodding. We can talk all we want, but the gospel needs hands and feet to be known. Hands with gloves, hands holding shovels and hammers, hands giving a cup of cold lemonade and a sandwich to tired workers, arms hugging the brokenhearted, feet wading through water and mud, faces unafraid to cry and smile.

Dear Mama, I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother, but I know what it means to me to have you as mine. You have taught your children well. You have taught us that life flourishes when we share it, and that God desires for all life to flourish.

Nashville is on the Cumberland River, and the river is a stream of blessing for the city. In just three days, though, after rains that broke every record, the river and its many tributaries, every creek, brook, and ditch, flooded and brought devastation and suffering to our community.  

The Cumberland has crested, the waters are receding, and in many places the destruction is only now becoming visible. But there is another river flowing through this city. It is a mighty river, deep and wide, its waters clear as crystal, its currents gentle and still: it’s a river of compassion and generosity, a river of neighborliness and of healing mercy, a river inspiring service, prayers, and new songs. May its waters continue to rise, and may it wash the muddy places and heal the broken hearts. God is in the midst of the city.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Love, thomas