Sunday, May 30, 2010

I’m still in shock.

I cannot get my brain to focus well enough to pull cohesive thoughts together. What do I say? Where do I start?

We learned today that our young friend Kevin died earlier this week. He was the age of our own children. People that age aren’t supposed to die of heart attacks.

My husband and I met at Kevin’s parents’ wedding. A year later, we were married. In the years following in the late 50s and early 60s, we alternated having babies. When we traveled to their part of the country during our furloughs from South America, we stayed with them. Kevin went to college with one of our daughters, and we have graduation pictures of them and us together.

I’m sure I should be coming up with something profound and touching to say, but instead everything is vague and undefined. We know where Kevin is—with the Savior he loved and served, and that is a comfort beyond words. But the idea that his life has suddenly been . . . been guillotined is surreal.

I know somewhat of what his family is going through. I have not lost an adult child, but my parents did. My brother died in a car accident when he was 24. Kevin turned 3 that month. Don should be past 70 now, yet he’ll never be older than 24. The hole he left in our lives is still there. Most of the time, the edges aren’t as jagged as they were in the beginning, but it is still a gaping hole.

Kevin’s died in eastern New York state, and we hadn’t seen him in years. We were up there just a month ago, and we had hoped to stay with his parents. But they and Kevin were away that week on ministry business, so we missed them. That makes me extra sad now.

My prayers are for his family now – his parents, two sisters, and a brother, each with spouses and children. They are hanging together, and I’m glad. I know that the God who saw our family through such a tragedy will not leave them to bear this alone, but I also know that the days and weeks ahead are going to be long and often dark. But I know the One who will be there with them.

The Apostle Paul called Him God of all comfort (I Cor. 1:3).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

What Kind of Sermon...?

It all started a week ago today—what they are now calling a 500-year event. Since last Sunday our city has been through the fire—excuse me, make that water. Now those streets that were covered with water have mountains of trash piled as high as my head all along their sides. Friends, family members, and strangers alike have worked side by side to empty out the flooded houses—everything from sodden furniture to cherished possessions to all the gutted siding and insulation.

What kind of a sermon does one preach at the end of a week like this? I was confident our pastor would have a real word from the Lord, and he did.

He talked about the three lessons we have learned this week. The first was the most glaringly obvious. Material possessions are fragile and fleeting. Luke 12:15: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Boy, is that the truth! I’ve done a lot of thinking about the things I would have lost if it had happened to our house. This house is full of family history and treasures, including the huge Bible of my second great-grandparents, printed in 1886. But that afternoon as it continued to pour and we had to think about evacuating, I could not figure out what I would should take with me if I had to flee. I simply didn’t know where to start. (I suppose I should live with such a list handy, and I’m thinking about doing that.)

A second thing we learned is that, despite how fragile material things are, love is strong (Mark 12:30-31). Love has reached out this week on all sides. Of course we’ve seen strong family ties filling unbelievable gaps and holding loved ones close, but we’ve also seen love expressed by strangers through everything from a hug on the street to hours of back-breaking labor sorting through muck and hauling the fragments of lives out to the street.

The third thing we’ve learned is that we already have the three things we need most. According to I Corinthians 13:13, faith, hope, and love are what stand the test of time—and we already have them. All three pointswere good reminders.

Our choir added to the blessings of the service with an appropriate number titled “Be Still and Know.” Yes, that’s what we all need in the midst of this storm (no pun intended), especially those who I imagine waking up every morning thinking it must have been a nightmare—and finding out all over again that it wasn’t.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Flood Two

I sit here staring at the computer, knowing there’s so much to say, yet I’m unable to pull my thoughts and emotions together to say it. I reverted to a trick I learned years ago for gathering thoughts and organizing them. It starts with a blank sheet of paper and ends up looking like a many-legged spider with pockets of thoughts at the ends of his legs. I might blog about it someday if I could remember the author and book where I learned of it.

When I wrote my blog the other evening, my husband and I had just gotten back in contact with our world after two days of being cut off. Being incommunicado (no phone or Internet) still felt like a big deal. We wondered how our friends were, but with no communication we didn’t know that thirty families in our church had been hit. Many, like so many other in the community, lost everything. Almost no one had flood insurance. One couple still have their home but lost their entire $1 million dollar business. And those are only a few stories I know. Suddenly the inability to communicate fell into a whole new perspective.

With four days of sunshine and summery temperatures, the rivers have returned to their banks, including the Columbia that devastated several blocks deep of downtown Nashville all along its banks. But the wreckage left behind, both physical and emotional, will have our worlds upended for a long time to come. In addition to no insurance, whatever does one do with a house that once suffered a flood like this?

Yards are now piled high with trash as the homes have been gutted right down to the studs. Our grandchildren and their parents spent days this week helping both friends and strangers deal with this aftermath. Our granddaughter posted a beautiful piece on Facebook about how it has affected her.

Our church has set up a disaster relief center, with water and food from a local food bank, clothing and “everything” donations, and meals cooked and served by our own people to those who have been affected. My husband and I spent several hours there today. We experienced frustration because not as many people were finding us as we would have liked—but those who did went away helped.

So how am I feeling now? I’m getting a stiff neck from shaking my head so much in dismay. I’ve worked to get word out to our friends that we are okay, but at the same time I’m having trouble focusing and applying myself. I came home from church intending to make cookies to take back tomorrow, but they didn’t get made, at least not yet.

I am not the only one dealing with “survivor guilt.” Why were we spared when so many dear people were not? Did God think we weren’t strong enough to deal with it? Of course there are no answers, and my head knows I must not nurse that emotion. God has His purposes, and He doesn’t owe me or anyone else any explanations.

My biggest prayer is that this disaster will turn people’s hearts to God and not away from Him.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Our city has suffered what they’re calling “the flood of the century,” or even a “500-year event, and neighbors a block away from our home have had their homes destroyed, but because I can’t communicate in the usual ways, I’m using this way to let our friends know we are okay. So here is our personal saga.

We got home on Friday afternoon. The rains started that night. By the time they stopped Sunday night, our neighborhood had had fifteen inches. Sunday morning we awaited news that church had been cancelled; that happened just as I walked into the sanctuary. On our way home, we saw places where flooding had begun, but not horrendously. Less than an hour after we got home, the power went out. Not surprising. Surely it would come back on before too long. No power meant no Internet, and for us it meant no phones.

That afternoon we wondered why cars and people seemed to be gathering at the foot of our side street, so we walked down to see. We were appalled to discover that the neighborhood just around the corner from us was flooded—seriously with water as high as the tops of garage doors. A brick mailbox had only the top foot showing. Oh, my! Our son, seven miles away, wanted to know how many more feet until it reached us. We estimated twenty vertical feet and maybe fifty horizontal feet.

Also that afternoon, we learned that our substation was flooded and all roads into and out of our neighborhood were cut off—including I-40, our local link to town, our son, our church. Oh, my! Time to dust off some of our decades-old Jungle Camp skills. That afternoon during a break in the rain, I got out our iron skillet and started making granola on our patio grill. Before it was finished, my husband had to hold an umbrella over me; it was raining again.

With plenty of candles, we got through the evening, and we slept well that night. No TV, no music, no computer … but that was okay---for a while at least. Blackest night -- We woke up Monday morning to heavy fog that in a couple of hours changed to sunshine. Had granola for breakfast. The waters started receding except for the Cumberland that goes through downtown Nashville. Receding waters were still pouring into it.

That afternoon word came that I-40 was open, so we took the laptop and went to town. The kids’ soccer field was not just flooded but a lake, with less than half the roof of the concessions stand showing. At our son’s (they never lost power), I tried to get on the Internet—but he wasn’t there to give me his password. He and his kids were out somewhere helping flood victims. I was proud of them. Eventually, he was able to call home (his cell isn’t working either), and I got the password. Checked e-mail. Caught my sister on IM and caught her up on our situation.

Despite an invitation to stay, we returned home; that was where our pets and our life were. Radio was saying the power outage would be two or three days, so we were shocked when it came on at 8 Monday evening. Whoopee!! Internet! E-mail! Telephone! But those were not to be. It wasn’t until today, Tuesday, that it became clear that AT&T is one of the places flooded in downtown Nashville. When we’ll get phones and Internet back in anyone’s guess.

Life without communication? I’ve done it—in the jungles of southern Mexico all those years ago. But our life there was geared for it. My life here and now is not. I’m most grateful we have power, but being incommunicado is hard for me—harder than for my husband. Communicating is what I do. It is who I am. As a teacher in one capacity or another for the last forty-five years, I’ve communicated. As a writer and editor, I communicate. Communication is ninety-five percent of my work for the mission.
I’ve found this temporary way around it. I’ve written this on my computer at home—yes, with power this computer works, and I can write. I’ll put it on a flash drive and take it to our son’s and send it from there.

Hopefully. But I’m humbly and soberly counting my blessings because at least a quarter (maybe a third) of the homes in our part of town had water to their ceilings and are facing loss and cleanup like I can’t even imagine.

At least this will give our friends the word that we are fine—even if we are incommunicado.