It was Sunday morning on August 27, 2017. It was 20 hours after Harvey made landfall and 42 inches of floodwater now filled my home.
Frantically, and foolishly, my wife and I waded through the murky waters to save anything we could—pictures, furniture, clothing, knick-knacks, and memories. Our possessions bobbed in the waters from the wake that our bodies created as we moved through the house.
When I entered into our living room, I noticed a small wooden cross resting on top of the muddy water. In that moment, time slowed down as I anxiously rushed to save the cross. It was a prayer cross given to us by our congregation in Athens, Texas. The cross was handmade by a dear friend so that we could carry it with us over the years and be reminded of God’s ever-present faithfulness. The memories of Athens and all our friends flooded my mind as I saw the cross and reached down to pick up the cross.
I held it tight as tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t let it go, I wouldn’t. I was afraid, and I didn’t know if there anything else we could save in our home.
Two months later, my wife and I are still rebuilding from the storm, but the cross goes with me every day. The once smooth, blue ponderosa pine prayer cross now has a rougher texture and water rings along the edges. Those little bumps and bruises are vivid reminders of Harvey, but they hardly devalue the meaning of the cross.
Instead, the added character of the cross tells a story. It tells the story of our beloved church family in Athens. It tells the story of generous neighbors who offered refuge during the storm. It tells the story of the family who took two very wet people (and their dog and cat) into a warm and loving home for several weeks after the flood. It tells the story of our St. Paul's congregation whose heart and kindness for their community was stronger than a hurricane’s might. In addition to these stories, our cross carries our prayers--from our most painful tears to our brightest hopes.
As I was holding the cross in prayer, it occurred to me that there are so many others at St. Paul’s who have been through similar hardships and would find comfort from a prayer cross of their own. Prayer is an important practice of the Christian life because it sustains, shapes, forms, and leads us closer to God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Prayer is one way God restores the image of God within us because it allows us to tell our stories to God and to be reminded of the story that God tells to us.
From that moment, I organized a meeting with the Congregational Care team to share my story about the cross and have their blessing to make a very important phone call. I phoned my friend from Athens to ask if he would send two dozen prayer crosses to use whenever someone has a stint in the hospital or enters into hospice care. The goal of these crosses is to bring comfort and hope to all who hold them and that--through their prayers--they would remember the story of God’s grace and love for us.
As the crosses make their way into our St. Paul’s family, the Congregational Care team hopes that when a person no longer needs their prayer cross that they would simply return it to St. Paul’s so that it may be passed on to another person. Our vision for these crosses is that as they are passed along, they will carry each person’s prayers, tears, and hopes and bring healing to countless others along the way.
If you happen to receive one of these crosses, I hope that you will use it in prayer. I hope that it will help you tell your story and that you will be reminded of God’s story of hope and healing.