Saturday, December 16, 2017

Thankful Despite the Storm

By Kristen McCormick, who volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse to help Hurricane Sandy victims in New York

Stephen Langdon stood with the help of a cane in front of what was once a home, but is now a soggy, molded wooden skeleton. But he was standing in passionate gratitude for how blessed he is. It was unexpected, and yet this is how we met him. He was one of many who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, but likely one of the few who still considers themselves abundantly rich.

When Stephen was young, a bad bicycle accident damaged his internal organs, causing him chronic and life-threatening health issues. And from that time until now, he has been through countless additional hardships—from tragedies to accidents, to poor decisions to faultless misfortunes, and now to top it off, Sandy unleashing her fury on his neighborhood.

I listened to his stories while I sat on the top of his stairs, petting his cats. He had to swim down through his first floor to rescue some of them during the storm, and the others were strays he took in during the subsequent days.

Though Stephen shared with us all of his misfortunes, I never once heard them as complaints, pleas for sympathy, or cries for attention. Aside from answering our questions, his chief purpose for describing each hardship was to emphasize why he is so thankful now. Thankful that, despite his health issues, he’s alive and walking; that despite times of desperate poverty, he has a friend’s house to live in; that despite Sandy taking away his house, he still has family: four children whom he loves dearly and who love him back. And despite human limitations, he has a God who will always be there for him.

From the things he said and the way he said them, it was clear to me that Stephen does everything he can to give to others, provide for his family, and spread God’s love every day.

So Stephen may have been talking about his hardships, but he was speaking about his blessings. And I may have been listening to his words, but I was hearing only one thing—that he is a true blessing to so many people in his life.

Stephen reminded me that the ability to share God’s love is not dependent upon how much you have or how much you can do. It is dependent upon your recognition of God’s love for you personally. But as simple as this sounds, all the stuff we have in this world makes this recognition pretty difficult. Sure, God provides for us in tangible ways such as money and food, but we often forget that these gifts are given in unconditional love.

And so, for many of us, it is not until we are stripped of all our comforts and all our stuff that we come face-to-face with God’s love, and see it for the everlasting gift that it is. It has no beginning or end and is able to withstand even the most tragic and devastating circumstances.

Stephen was, to me, a beautiful illustration of the transforming power of God in a life. Once you truly feel God’s love for you, you then recognize it as a blessing. And once you recognize His blessing, you then become a blessing to others, no matter how much stuff or strength you have.

He tells his kids that “a hundred 18-wheelers cannot carry away all the love I have for you.” And this I know is true because the source of his love is not of this world, but of God.

Stephen hugged each and every one of us after we helped him that day and thanked us with tears in his eyes. Knowing he is a child of God, it doesn’t matter how many 18-wheelers will be needed to take away all that he lost to Hurricane Sandy. No matter what, Stephen Langdon will always consider himself richly blessed and will continue to pass those blessings on to those fortunate enough to meet him.