I don't even know where to begin, in reflecting on these five years. Do I talk, again, about those early days? The horror of riding that storm out, how it FELT, SOUNDED, SMELLED? The incessant howling (SCREAMING) of the wind, the nauseating feeling in my gut, the way the very low pressure made our ears hurt, the terror of watching a roof peel off behind you and wondering if you've put your family in harms way, grateful so much for the friends who sheltered us and took loving care of us for weeks after, the miracle of our own home surviving when so much was destroyed, the church flattened, finally being able to make phone calls - randomly and not often - finding my oldest daughter with the mentally handicapped people she evacuated from the group home she worked in, evacuated to Lord-knows where, took us 3 days to find her and see her and know she was ok, the utter despair and destruction, the mountains of debris (tens of millions of yards, trust me it is incomprehensible), the "Dorothy houses" sitting in the middle of roads they were deposited on, the unbelievable flooding of every stream, river, bayou, bay, creek and drainage canal, helicopters and National Guard trucks, and people simply undone.
Remembering the blur of day after day, waking up wondering, crying out to God - "What am I supposed to do today?" Here I was a person who actually prefers a little structure, a plan, something to attack and measure, and each day brought complete chaos with no plan and way too much to tackle, too many people with such great need, too much destroyed to even imagine it rebuilt, so we just got up, early, Jennifer and I and headed to the relief center, helping the volunteers who came by the hundreds to setup and unload, to tend to medical needs in the miracle of a medical clinic run and managed by my wife, to begin the clean up and removal, to hold a hand and say a prayer. How many times I followed someone out to their car, helping them with their load of water and food and clothes and diapers, heard their story, slipped them a hundred dollar bill from the checks I had cashed which had been given to us to help, cashed on road trips to Alabama since we had no banks, helped this one woman who loaded her old beatup Dodge Caravan with supplies, who then broke down crying on my shoulder, this worried and burdened woman who told me she had six family members sleeping in that car, nowhere to go, and I went with her and took more stuff and some sleeping bags and a tent and prayed for them and with them, never to find them again, hoping they moved to a shelter. Being so proud and teary as some teens from my church came and helped us at Camp Coast Care, they laughed and worked and played with kids that came in, all these teens also had lost THEIR homes, were staying with others, as so many families were, if you had a house standing you had other people in there with you, recalling my son, about 8 months into this thing asking, not in a mean way, but just in a curious-will-normal-ever-come way, "Dad will we ever have a night where someone I don't know is staying with us?', and Dad has no answer. We were blessed, very much so, so it was no big deal.
Do I move on or talk about the woman who almost died in her home, water to her neck, neither she nor her daughter could swim, how a neighbor rescued them out of a window and lashed them inside a boat tied to a tree, where they watched it all play out, tornadoes and wind and water and prayed the tree held, watched her home and car wash away, knowing her story was just one story of so many JUST LIKE THAT. Do I step away or talk about the friend in Hattiesburg who is a Chevy dealer who loaned me a pickup truck that I would fill up with supplies and drive around to all the tent "villages", especially in the Bay, and hand out what I had and money if I had it too, and then go back for more supplies and do it all over again. What a gift that truck proved to be, just in the nick of time. So much came to us just in the nick of time, over and over again God provided, in the triple digit heat and the dust and the great despair, God kept showing up, looking different every time, but present and there always. Always.
Should I talk about that or let you browse the archives of 2005 from this blog and see the images yourself in the media reports. Going there, just a little, just in writing this, is hard. So this must do for me, I can't go there too much, still.
Do I reflect on that 1st anniversary service, down at our outdoor chapel, looking towards our former church where the green tentacles of nature have taken over, where we sang and prayed and anointed and shared Christ and baptized two of our own, reclaiming water as a creative and cleansing force instead of a threatening and destroying one. If nothing else, go HERE and read friend Bruce Colville's account of that service, his prose capturing the moment beautifully. Please read it...
2nd anniversary, no big production, did a treadmill stress test and wept in my car as I looked at the picture of my seminary class, sent to my from the death bed of a dear classmate, letting all that sweep over me, the terror and loss and despair, sometimes it can creep up and tug on my sleeve, if I let it, and that moment in the lonely parking lot of a still-rebuilding hospital I had my time with crushing sadness and grief. Why did it take so long? I have no idea. Read more about it right HERE.
Three more years of rebuilding, of watching people come and go, of praying for direction, of traveling the country, of meeting so many people whose hearts were changed because Jesus said GO and they did, not looking back, and so what was once despair turned to joy, oh how I prayed Psalm 126 over and over, declared it for us, made it our own personal promise from God - "WHEN the Lord restored Zion, THEN we were like those who dream, our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of JOY. The Lord has done great things for us, and we ARE filled with joy". And then 45 months after the storm-that-must-not-be-named, we moved in, into our new home, our own holy space, missing still our volunteer friends, we claimed holy ground and sang with joy, we said yes that night to laughter, we said yes, oh yes, to joy.
There is such a big gap, so much more to say, people to thank, stories to recall, trips to remember, victories and frustrations, so much more. The archives of this blog have some, my heart has so much more. But this has been long enough. 5 years we will mark on Sunday. We won't look back much, or even dwell too long in sadness. We have a new playground to bless, new stations of the cross to dedicate, new (to us) vestments to pray over. We will give thanks to the army, God's army, that have given time, money, prayers, support, their very selves, to help us. We will count those blessings and many others, share a meal together, and proclaim that the Lord has restored our fortunes, though we may still have far to go we too will fill our mouths with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy. For this is what the people of God, supported and loved and helped and made whole by our brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what we do. May God be pleased.