Embracing Weakness in a Season of Suffering

I hate writing songs. The reason is simple: for me, songs come from pain. I haven’t written a song lately, but I know that writing is one of the cathartic gifts God has given me. So, since I didn’t bring a guitar with me to the hospital, I’ll go with a blog post this time.

Carmen has been admitted to the hospital three times and has been to the ER three times all in the last seven weeks. We never saw it coming.

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A Brief Response to Ahmaud Arbery’s Death

As a Christian and a father to a biracial boy, what happened to Ahmaud Arbery is quite literally my worst nightmare.

I do not have all the facts. I do not know the whole story. But I do know that a man made in the image of God was outnumbered, ambushed, attacked, and murdered in a quiet neighborhood in broad daylight. To apply the title of ‘vigilante’ to his killers assumes guilt on Arbery’s behalf and circumvents the American right of due process. If the men truly believed Arbery was responsible for burglaries, the only right action would be to call the authorities, not exact a perverted (and incongruent) idea of ‘justice’ against the man. I pray that, going forward, the justice system will not continue to fail the Arbery family.

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The Power of Prayer in the Dog Days of Cancer

I really want to give Facebook a rest for a while. I’ve felt this way for a while now. Really, the only thing keeping my Facebook account active is this website (Facebook is the primary way that I publicize these updates). I feel responsible to keep my friends and family (and even many people that I do not know) up to date on my wife’s battle with breast cancer. Why? Because there are so many that have been praying for us. If you are one of those people…if you are one of those who have been praying for us…THANK YOU! Seriously, it means the world to us. Your prayers have been, I believe, a matter of life and death.

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You’re Not Superman

It’s been a while since my last post.  Sorry about that.  God has been doing some incredible things here in my ministry at North Main Baptist Church.  Allow me to recap for you what the past five months have seen:

See, I’ve always had somewhat of a Superman Complex.  This has gotten me in trouble for many, many years.  At one point, in high school, I allowed myself to become so overwhelmed by my desire to please others that I fell into depression.  In fact, it even caused me to write a song called “Superman.”  This song illustrated my failures to be everyone’s superhero and declared that I would stop trying so hard and let Jesus try on my behalf.  I learned a lot through that season, but for some reason, I periodically forget those lessons and slip back into my sinful superhero mode.  This tragic occurrence took place somewhere around a year ago, when I started trying to pull off this ministry by myself.  Bad choice.

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Smithville Tornado: Sunday Recap

Wow.  Today was incredible.  After two days of preparations, we finally held the worship service in the church parking lot under a massive tent.  I have never been to a more emotional worship service in my life.  People began pouring in about 45 minutes before the 11 AM service, all of them hugging friends and most of them wiping tears from their eyes.  Camera crews from the Associated Press, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, CNN, ABC News, the Memphis Commercial Appeal and other media outlets arrived to film our time of worship.  About ten minutes before the service, I gathered with my Dad, Todd, and the deacons of Smithville Baptist Church for prayer.  Just moments into the prayer, every man in our circle was weeping and praising God for His goodness and mercy.  We prayed prayers of thanks and adoration as well as asked God to move mightily in our midst their.  We asked that God would grant hope to the people of Smithville and that we would see the town rally around His mighty name. And we asked all of these things with the paparazzi behind our backs and over our heads snapping photo after photo.  We couldn’t have cared less…we were in the presence of the Almighty God of all comfort, praising His holy name.  What a sweet moment.

Smithville Baptist normally sees around 250 people on Sunday mornings.  This Sunday, however, was a much different story.  The tent we had rented seated 300 and many more sat in overflow seating out the back and sides of the tent as well as watched from afar atop their vehicles.  The deacons reported that between 400-500 were in attendance.  I’m convinced we saw every bit of 500 people in worship.

Todd began the service with a stirring welcome.  He opened with “I am so proud to welcome you to Smithville Baptist Church,” which was followed by a very long and raucous ovation.  He ushered in the service with a call to hope on the Resurrection power of Christ.  Then we sang hymns and worshiped together, which brings me to a caveat.  I am an unashamed proponent of contemporary and modern worship music, particularly in churches that want to present an evangelistic service.  However, I discovered today that there is an extraordinary comforting power, even for me, of singing hymns with God’s church.  As we sang Because He Lives, All in All, and How Great Thou Art, it felt like God wrapped a warm blanket around my soul.  I did not make it through a single song without reflecting on the rich and poignant lyrics and bursting into tears.  I love my modern music, but God used hymns today to draw me into His presence, and for that I am exceedingly thankful.  After the songs, my Dad stepped up to the microphone and delivered a 25 minute masterpiece of a sermon on the resurrection of Lazarus.  He proclaimed that God is a God of comfort, that He feels deeply for our losses, and that He is where we should turn in times like these.  At the end of the service, approximately 10 people came forward to give their lives to Christ.  I had the distinct privilege to counsel two women in this decision.  In all, this was an extraordinary worship service that I will never ever forget.  God is so good and so gracious!

My family in front of the devestated church building.

Pastor Dad shares an emotional moment with a man from the church before the service began.

The crowd spills out the back of the tent.

Part of the overflow crowd.

Really proud of my boy Todd Summerford for how he lifted Christ high today.

Dad bringing the Word.

After the service, we all ate lunch together, which was donated (for 500 people!) by one lovely lady from Tupelo, Mississippi.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote a lovely recap of Sunday’s service HERE.

The Associated Press wrote an article on the service that was distributed all over the nation, from Portland to Cincinnati to Atlanta HERE.

The AP’s photos of the service can be found HERE.

Smithville Tornado: Saturday Recap

Today was a busy and interesting day.  The main priority was to prepare for Sunday’s church service, which will be held at 11 AM under a huge tent in the parking lot at Smithville Baptist Church.  This will be the most important service ever held at Smithville Baptist and there are expectations of a very large crowd.  My Dad talks a little bit about the service in this article in the Washington Post.  We cleared much debris from the parking lot and removed all salvageable things from inside the building, including an oven, warmer, freezer, ice machine, TVs, and food.  The church is not a building…the church was dispersed throughout the community today, building up each other and Smithville.  Also, several of my high school friends came and helped out with the Salvation Army and stayed for dinner with my family.  It was a bittersweet kind of day.

Inhabitants were given until Monday evening to remove everything from their homes.  The demolitions will begin then.

One thing I have been amazed to discover is the positivity and wonderful attitudes of the people in Smithville.  They all could be bitter and angry, but no one is.  Everyone I’ve spoken to is just glad to be alive, happy that only 17 have died, and praising God for His grace and mercy.  Also, today I saw an outpouring of love and support from over 1,000 volunteer workers who flooded into town.  Carmen and Ashley signed up volunteers and dispatched them to sites.  One man I met was decked out in Polo gear.  He was shoveling debris out of the church parking lot when he told me, “I just couldn’t bring myself to play golf today.  My family and I had to come help out here.”  That was a particularly stirring moment for me as I watched the people of North Mississippi band together in effort to rebuild this community.

Tomorrow, I will cover and recap the church service.  Please be praying for this town tomorrow, as we are expecting a mighty move of God during the service, which will be at 11 AM CST.

This is part of what's left of the church's Fellowship Hall

Mrs. Ruth Whitehead, an elderly widow we helped yesterday, constructed this cross in her front yard.

This is all that was left of Mrs. Ruth's garage.

This is the front of my Dad's office.

Mom digging through Dad's office. Check out the amount of mud on the walls.

This is the door my Dad and Todd kicked their way out of after the tornado.

This is Dad's car. He has a flat.

This used to be an 18-wheeler.

Another view of the Fellowship Hall

The last picture is of an entire stained glass window that amazingly made it through the storm perfectly okay.  It is beautiful and shows the Resurrection power of Christ, and proves that God is in control and He is gracious!  It will be displayed at church tomorrow morning.  Wow!

Because He lives I can face tomorrow.

Smithville Tornado: Friday Recap

Today, we had a chance to get into town and take some pictures.  We spent more time, however, working hard cleaning and packing up several houses of SBC church members.  In the morning, Carmen and I worked in an old lady’s house packing up salvageable and/or sentimental items that she could take to a storage facility.  Around 11 AM, a team from my home church, The Church at Trace Crossing, came down and we got to work in a neighborhood.  Later, we were finally cleared to visit the church, where we set up the tent for Sunday’s service and picked through the rubble for hymnals and other salvageable items.  Below are some select pictures to view of the day’s events.  Thank you all for your prayers!  They are much needed.  Any donations of money and/or items can be sent to Smithville Baptist Church, 60027 Edgeworth Drive, Smithville, MS 38870.  Money is much needed, along with items like clothing and water.

Thursday Morning's Front Page of the Daily Journal

The only real damage done at my parents' house, praise God.

Our first stop of the day. I took this picture standing on the house's actual foundation about 20 yards away!

We went through this house packing up things worth keeping.

Marcel's son said this: "My grandfather planted this tree in 1964."

One of the houses Trace Crossing helped clean up

House with a perfectly staged living room on Hwy 25

This was the church sanctuary. Impossible to pick through.

This is my Dad's office. Mud everywhere.

This is SBC's church bus, carried into a nearby ditch by the storm.

This was the church basement my Dad and Todd survived in.

This is the bookshelt Todd held on to for dear life during the storm. It's amazing that it stayed standing.

One of the only things that survived in the church were the choir robes, which somehow remained spotless!

This is where the church service will be held Sunday morning. Right in front of the destroyed building.

"If our God is for us, who can be against us?" - Romans 8:31

Interesting notes: 1) The first service held in the (new) sanctuary (shown destroyed above) was on Easter Sunday, 2001. The last service held there was Easter Sunday, 2011.  The building stood for exactly ten years.  2) These pictures aren’t even the tip of the iceberg of the destruction in town.  I chose pictures of buildings today.  You will see pictures tomorrow of places where houses were that show no trace of them now, along with many more.  3) My Dad was in the Clarion Ledger and the Washington Post today.  4) The attitudes here are amazing.  More on that tomorrow.

Thanks for reading and praying.  Allow these photos to spur you on to pray for Smithville, worship our exceedingly gracious God, and propel you to action for His name and glory.

Smithville Tornado: Thursday Recap

This was the building of the church my Dad pastors: Smithville Baptist Church in Smithville, Mississippi.  Yesterday, a maximum category F4 tornado demolished this small town of 1,000 people and destroyed this church.  Please be in prayer for the people of Smithville.  Dozens are dead and 11 more are missing as of the time of this post.  Smithville has never seen a tragedy of this magnitude before.

During the hurricane, my Dad, Wes White, was in the church building along with the Youth Pastor and several neighborhood kids.  At the last second, they ran into the church basement and huddled together.  The massive tornado ripped the top floor off of the building, leaving the huddled group exposed to the storm.  My Dad related the story to me over 24 hours later, still reeling and in awe.  He told me of the air pressure which made his head feel like it was going to explode.  He told me of the bravery of Todd Summerford, the previously mentioned Youth Pastor, in gathering the children into the shelter.  He described in graphic detail the horrible noise and the debris flying violently at them.  With tears in his eyes, he described the sheer power of the tornado that featured 200 MPH winds.  The group miraculously escaped without harm, with an incredible story to tell.  Unfortunately, many Smithville residents were not so fortunate.

This tornado is proof that God is indeed gracious and good.  He had every right and ability to take every life in this town, but he spared over 90% of the town, including my Dad and that group in the basement of the church.  God is good.  He is gracious.  He is enormous.  His love is staggering and His power is unfathomable.

I heard the news of the devastating tornado yesterday afternoon, immediately after it happened.  The next morning, Carmen and I loaded up and headed out toward Mississippi to offer any help we could and to be with my family in this horrible time.  Over the course of our time here in Mississippi, I will be posting nightly updates on this website, along with pictures and prayer requests.  Please view some of the pictures of the church below and understand just a little of what the town is going through.  I will post more pictures of the town’s immense damage tomorrow evening.

This is the front of the building. Only the steps remain.

The flat part was the sanctuary.

Right behind that car was where my Dad was during the tornado.

The white car is my Dad's. It was thrown into the building.

Our God is greater. Our God is stronger. Our God is higher than any other.

*These pictures were unashamedly stolen from Mr. Michael T. Simpson on Facebook.  I will post my own tomorrow.*

Please, please, please, please keep praying and consider giving to support these wonderful people in Smithville, Mississippi.

Grace and peace.