Lately, I have found that writing out my feelings helps me to express some of the complex emotions that I experience. Having served on my first complete day at the Oklahoma City area tornadoes, I am left with those very same complex emotions!
As we drove through many affected and destroyed neighborhoods, I noticed a few common elements around the houses. One of those common elements was chairs! There were chairs of every size and type! People were seating outside of their homes and sometimes even in the middle of a room that no longer existed! There were chairs!
These empty chairs struck me profoundly in two ways. The first way makes my eyes well up and my knees want to fold into prayer. The second way lifts my spirit and gives me strength. Let me tell you about both of them!
During the musical, Les Misérables, Marius Pontmercy returns to the ABC Café and remembers his lost friends. He sings the heart-breaking song, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. | There’s a pain goes on and on. | Empty chairs at empty tables | Now my friends are dead and gone.
While driving through the neighborhoods, I was struck by the fact that people will not be sitting in these chairs at these tables in those houses (or any houses) for a long time! The people in this area will experience a long clean-up period. And, there may be some members of these families that will not be eating with their families ever again. There were lives lost during this storm, and for some people there will be “a pain” that “goes on and on.” Glory to God for He is our Deliverer and Healer!
The second thing that the empty chair reminds me of in this time is related to a story that was shared with me by my fellow servant, Captain Charles “Chas” Engel from Delaware. Chas told me a story of serving in another disaster in another part of the country. He was finishing a hard day and felt very overwhelmed. He received a call from some of his teammates. They wanted him to come out to dinner. His first reaction was to refuse, but they persuaded him. Due to the wonder of GPS technology, he got lost several times and almost gave up the opportunity. He persevered and eventually arrived at the restaurant. When he got there, he walked up to the table and his teammates had a spot set aside for him. Don’t miss this! They did not move over to make room. They already had a spot for him! He said and I agree that it made him think of the words of Christ,”
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:3 NIV).
When The Salvation Army arrives in disaster area, we have “prepared a place” for all of the people who were affected and for all of the people serving the affected people.
The empty chairs represent loss but also represents the service to OTHERS!
Soli Deo Gloria!