Archive for the 'Flood' Category

Alaska Journal 3–The Power of Weakness

I intended to write this soon after Part 2, which I posted nearly a month ago. But Life intervened, first in the form of my granddaughter’s curiosity about the Frank Schaefer trial. She stimulated me to write “This Is Our Witness?” Impulses that strong usually generate some of my best writing, so I’ve learned to go with them. Life also intervened in the form of family Thanksgiving, including grandchildren, travel, and miscellaneous fun. Life’s apparent interruptions also put me in sync with God’s timing, which always trumps my hyper-scheduling and micro-managing. I think you’ll agree that this last part belongs in the Christmas season.

Two churches, Galena Bible Church (GBC) and St. John’s Roman Catholic Church, serve the 500 people who live in Galena, Alaska, the town where I worked last summer as one of 80+ United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) helping with Yukon River flood recovery. Our team worshiped with GBC both Sundays we were in town. (Some will say we went to church in order to share the potluck feast that followed worship each week.) A few of us built shelves for GBC’s community pantry one day. This church of 21 members facilitated the work of another 220+  volunteers. Their cots, sleeping bags, and luggage were stacked around the edges of GBC’s multipurpose room all week, sometimes even during worship on Sunday. One Sunday a power tool battery sat in its charger on the platform just a few feet from Pastor Chris Kopp as he preached. The Altar Guild didn’t revolt because of the unorthodox liturgical decoration. For me the “functional” décor proclaimed that worship is meaningless if it doesn’t fuel and focus the church’s ongoing involvement in the life of its community—power tools and all!

Battery charging on the platform during worship.

I wanted to know more about GBC’s engagement with its community. But our team was involved with our work and Pastor Chris was rushing madly in all directions much of the time. After returning home, I emailed him and asked him to tell me more about the church and its ministry. He described how the church had called him as their pastor three years earlier. Eighteen months into his ministry he began working with GBC’s leaders to discern the church’s future direction. Study, dialog, prayer, and fasting led them to affirm that “…our gospel goal was that in five years we wanted any long-term resident of Galena to say two things about us: first, those are a group of people that love and care about each other. Second, those are a group of people that love and care about us.”

“Those are a group of people who love and care about each other.” It’s not rocket science, folks! Our life together is our most powerful witness to our immediate neighbors. Pastor Chris led that GBC congregation beyond “liking one another” to loving each other: “Just as I have loved you, Jesus told his disciples, “you also should love one another.” (John 13:34).By the way, Pastor Chris would insist that at most he’d led folks to be open to the Holy Spirit. That in itself is huge.

The quality of a church’s common life speaks powerfully to its neighbors, for better or worse. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus continues, “if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Tertullian was a bishop in North Africa in the late second and early third centuries. The Christians under his care generously shared food, clothing, jobs, whatever they had that others needed. Love erased boundaries between believers and non-believers. Tertullian wrote that such love moved non-believers to say with amazement, “See how these Christians love one another!”

 GBC has grown (and continues to grow) into a community of people who deeply and truly love each other.  GBC had also unknowingly positioned itself to respond to last May’s disastrous Yukon River flood. Pastor Chris says that when the flood came, “What else could we do but respond according to the burden that God had put on our hearts?”  GBC partnered with parachurch mission agencies, its supporting churches, local, state, and federal government agencies to bring help and hope into the stricken community. How did this church of 21 members, most of whom were coping with flood damage to their own homes and to the church, pull it off?   “It is impossible to explain…,” according to Pastor Chris, “other…than to say it was the power of God made evident in our weakness. “

Sounds like Christmas to me. Peel away the layers of tradition and commercialism and we find two peasants welcoming their first child into the world in a stable far from home and family. We who follow Jesus see in this story God’s limitless, world-creating love going to incredible, unfathomable extremes to heal the brokenness between God and humanity. Love empties itself, sets aside power and privilege, and takes on our human weakness in an out-of-the-way corner of the Roman Empire. Thirty years later this baby grows up and starts traveling through the countryside teaching people a whole new way to understand life, God, and one another. His enemies engineer his execution, but he doesn’t die. Jesus’ followers insist that his life continues in them and beyond them. An early Christian hymn affirms “…in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Colossians 1:19) At Christmas “all the fullness of God” chose to enter our world in “…the power of God made evident in…weakness”. “All the fullness of God” focused in one human life lived in very humble circumstances: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14 MSG) The people of Galena, Alaska know that as the people of GBC love and serve their neighbors day after day through “the power of God made evident in our weakness”.

“…In five years we wanted any long-term resident…to say two things about us: first, those are a group of people that love and care about each other. Second, those are a group of people that love and care about us.” It’s a worthy mission/vision for churches of all sizes, shapes, styles, and settings. It’s a great way to proclaim Good News without getting too many words in the way. It’s a way to celebrate authentic Christmas: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Your neighborhood. My neighborhood. That neighborhood we’re afraid to drive through, especially after dark. Every neighborhood. Everywhere. For ever and ever. Amen.

Where Have You Been, (Not-so-)Young Man? (Alaska Journal 1)

Galena Flood 2

The last two weeks in September I was in Galena, AlaskaWhere? 64°44′26″N 156°53′8″W, to be precise. That’s 270 miles west of Fairbanks and 350 miles north of Anchorage.  It’s a long way from home—or anywhere else. What in God’s name were you doing there? In mid-August my wife and I attended a training event for people who wanted to help with disaster relief sometime, somewhere. Before we left that day, the leader, a long-time friend, told us how this Yukon River community of 500 people was the hardest-hit among the villages caught in last May’s thousand-year-flood(!) during the river’s spring thaw. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) invited faith-based organizations to provide volunteers to help with the cleanup and rebuilding process.  Suddenly my calendar said “Sometime, somewhere!” I served on one of eight teams provided by United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. I’d been nagging/encouraging folks in our church toward “incarnational mission” for a while. Like many congregations, we’re better at donating money and stuff than (our own) bodies to meet needs. “Incarnational mission” means we go in person, as God came to us personally in Jesus. “Put-up or shut-up” time for me and Incarnational Mission had come!  I learned long ago to pay attention to transformational opportunities that appear seemingly out of nowhere. “Coincidence” usually turns out to be a “God-incident”.  Jonah and a bunch of other folks have learned through the centuries: When God says “I want YOU!” you can run but you can’t hide.

What did we do? Whatever it took to get houses safe, sanitary, and secure enough for residents to live through the winter. AmeriCorps volunteers had already done the initial clean-out/muck-out. Thank God for their young, strong bodies which bent in ways to which mine would have objected strenuously, and recovered much faster than mine would have. The thirty-plus UMVIM and other volunteers present during all or part of those two weeks worked on at least sixteen different houses. Our eight-hour days six days a week included hanging and taping drywall, painting, installing new flooring, doing basic electrical work, scrounging for supplies, improvising, and creative re-purposing, and always more debris cleanup. Some of us spent three days under a house installing “belly board”. That’s plywood fastened to the underside of floor joists so that insulation can be laid on top of it before the rest of the floor is completed. This house had standing headroom under the back third or so, but only about three feet of headroom otherwise. Where were those Americorps kids? Two brothers from Michigan (Reformed Church in America members who somehow got connected with us) were skilled finish carpenters who installed trim, molding, cabinets, etc. Our most unusual challenge was raise the level of a large (empty, thank God!) steel fuel tank so that fuel would flow downhill to the family’s newly-installed heater. The challenge was using only what was at hand, which didn’t include a forklift or a crane. That night we gave thanks for the brilliance of Archimedes—“Give me a place to stand and I can move the world.”

Galena has two churches, St. John’s Roman Catholic Church and Galena Community Bible Church. We had very little contact with St. John’s, so I can’t say anything about their ministry in this crisis. We worked closely with the Bible Church. Most churches I know could learn from the way GBC has served its community through this disaster. Their food pantry fed people. They partnered with government agencies and nonprofits. They hosted mission teams from the “lower 48” nonstop. They stretched their modest facility to its limits. During worship on Sunday morning cots and sleeping bags were in evidence around the edges of the room. One Sunday a bright yellow power-tool battery in its bright yellow charger sat on the platform just a few feet from the pastor as he preached.

Our group of volunteers represented a broad cross-section of the Christian community.  GBC hosted mission teams from various evangelical churches. Our “United Methodist” umbrella welcomed  Unitarian Universalists, the two RCA brothers, a team of seven “Baptist Builders” from Arizona, , at least one self-described “half-Catholic”, and assorted Lutherans and Disciples of Christ who’d come in previous groups. Each morning someone shared a brief devotional message before we started our day’s work. These meaningful messages  set the tone for another day in which we  went out and embodied (Incarnated) the unity of the church as we worked together.

What in God’s name were you doing there? A) “Incarnational mission”. See above. B) Letting God love the world through us. You remember that verse everybody loves to quote that’s always showing up at sports events: “God so loved the world [emphasis mine] that he sent his only Son…” (John 3:16). C) Witnessing in the style of St. Francis who said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”

In his book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, Brian McLaren recalls the words of one of his mentors: “…in a pluralistic world, a religion is judged by the benefits it brings to its nonmembers.”  We understood that active faith at its best and highest reaches out to those who are not part of our United Methodist tribe or even our Christian “tribe”. What we have in common with those we served—which is more than enough to launch us into mission “in God’s name”—is that we,  along with our brothers and sisters in Galena and everywhere else on this planet, are all created in the image of God. In other words, we’re family. When part of your family’s in trouble, you do whatever you can to help.

LOCKOUT! (Flood Journal 4)

Last Saturday we met our contractor at the Jobsite (known as our home prior to The Flood). We reviewed the week’s progress, paid the bill, and discussed next steps. Next steps led Dianna and me to the Home Improvement Palaces to find tile and paint. At HIP 1 we found clearance-priced tile for the basement kitchen backsplash. The color led us to consider painting that area a different color. Pursuing this possibility added new color chips to my wife’s growing collection.

Then we left the store—and returned to our still-locked, still-unlockable car! Too much was happening at once when we’d climbed out of the car. In the confusion the only set of keys stayed behind. (Don’t ask. We momentarily blamed each other until I decided it was the dog’s fault.  He loves to visit Home Improvement Palaces. I’d set the keys down beside him when I got him out of the car and he didn’t remind me to pick them back up.) Dianna and I had agreed we should call AAA before we went into the store. But we didn’t stop and do it, and then we were caught up in our mission. What were we thinking? That the car might forgive our haste-inspired stupidity and magically unlock itself?

It didn’t. So we called AAA when we emerged from the store. “Within an hour”, we were told, our Liberator would arrive to end our self-imposed Lockout. We could get some lunch in the meantime. Last time we’d visited this store, the hot-dog vendor just outside the exit had served up the best Chicago Dog I’ve had this far from Chi-Town. He enjoyed his work, he’d told us that day, but he was losing money, and a man can’t afford to do that forever. Forever must have come, because the vendor, his stand, and the table where we’d eaten were all gone.

So we stood around next to our car, waiting…waiting…waiting. Carson, our dog, found some shade near the edge of the car. It was still lunchtime. But the hotdog stand had been the only source of food within walking distance. Undaunted, I delved into my survival training (a very shallow delve), took my trusty key-hiding dog Carson, and foraged up a candy bar and some water inside the store. We ate and drank and stood around in the warm sunny parking lot some more. Winter seemed to have followed the school schedule and taken its own Spring Break. It was getting uncomfortably warm.

The Lockout bumped me just far enough outside my comfort zone that I found myself praying, “Lord, I thank you that this condition is temporary and I don’t live in those tight spots where people get trapped, too often for good.”

  • We’re locked out of the car and can’t go anywhere. Not to worry. I’ve paid my AAA membership, the repair truck will arrive soon, and within minutes we’ll be free. Thank God for our comfortable, air-conditioned, well-running eight-year-old car and the lifestyle that makes it possible. Thank God that this Lockout is temporary and not like the desperate, “no-way-out” lives folks live due to their own unfortunate choices, circumstances beyond their control, or a paralyzing mix of choice and circumstance. (Most of us have been there at some point in our lives.)
  • It’s getting hot out here in the sun. But I can get out of the weather. I can walk inside the store. I know I’ll have a warm, dry place to sleep tonight and a cool, shady place out of the sun and wind every day.
  • It’s way past lunch-time and I’m hungry. Thank God for financial resources and physical strength to walk into the store and get a little something. Thank God for strength and ability to feed and care for myself and my family (including our trusty key-hiding dog Carson).
  • I wish that locksmith would hurry up and get here. Once again, thank God for the resources to have a car, to call a locksmith when we need one, and to have a cellphone which can receive text-message updates on our Liberator’s estimated arrival time.

Lots of people walked or drove past during our hour-plus wait. Some stared at us. What did they think? Were we homeless and living in that car? Had we had had a breakdown? Could we really be dumb enough to lock keys in the car? (Yes.) My wife made eye-contact with two or three and volunteered an explanation. They’d listen, then walk off, mumbling and smirking their way into the store. She soon quit explaining. Let them mumble and smirk without our assistance!

About two-thirds of the way through The Lockout a woman pulled into the parking space next to us. Everyone else had carefully avoided it. She asked about our situation with genuine concern. ”Called anybody?” Yes, we had, and they were coming. “Got some water?” Yes, and you’re the first one to ask. Bless you. Thanks for asking. She went into the store, did her shopping, and returned to find us still waiting. She inquired again about our situation. We said that we’d just learned our Liberator was about two minutes away. We thanked her again and she went on her way. The Liberator arrived and quickly unlocked the car. (I miss the time when a carefully-sculpted wire clothes hanger and a steady hand could unlock almost any car.) We thanked our Liberator, drove to have lunch, and found the rest of what we needed at Home Improvement Palace 2.

If we were exploring this story the way we often study Jesus’ parables, I’d ask, “Which of these characters do you identify with? The locked-out folks? The Liberator who’s coming as fast as he can but not fast enough? The passers-by in the parking lot? The helpful woman who expressed genuine concern? The trusty, key-hiding dog who was a convenient scapegoat?” (Please forgive me, Carson. It won’t happen again.)

Jesus might ask, “Which of these passers-by was truly a neighbor to the locked-out folks?” (Luke 10:36) The question that matters most is not where we see ourselves in the story right now. It’s who we will seek to be next time we come upon some locked-out folks that our eyes of faith recognize as neighbors. That moment is very near. After all, Jesus teaches us through stories like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) that our neighbor is in fact any person within our reach at a given moment.

New Life Ain’t Easy–Flood Journal 3

About four months ago a hard freeze combined with preventable human error (mine) to cause a pipe in our attic to burst. The Flood ruined most of the inside of our home. Since then we have lived in a rented house  about three miles away.Thank God for homeowners’ insurance that pays the rent and related expenses! We’ve made the best of life in “The Cabin”, as we’ve come to call our temporary quarters. Even our dog has adapted enough to call the place “Home—for now”. But he still has days like today when we went to our home (now known as “The Jobsite”) and he didn’t want to get back in the car and go  back to “The Cabin”. He knew where home was.

It’s taken longer than we expected to put together the pieces to start reconstruction. The biggest, hardest piece has been coming to a meeting of the dollars (and minds) between ourselves, our contractor, and the insurance adjuster. But a few days ago the meeting happened! We signed the contract to proceed with the reconstruction. Checks are in the mail from the insurance company. We can see an end to our stay in “The Cabin” and a new beginning in our renewed home. It hasn’t been easy getting to this point, and we expect the rest of the journey to be equally challenging.

This whole process reminds me of the challenges of living the new life God gives us in Christ. For example, our insurance, like most homeowners’ policies, pays to restore the house to its immediate pre-Flood condition. We certainly won’t do that. We’ll do better. We won’t put 15-year-worn carpet back in the house. We’ll correct electrical issues uncovered during “de-construction”. We’ll buy new furniture rather than items as well-used as what we lost. We’ve already decided we can live without some of those things the water ruined.

In the same way, new life in Christ isn’t more of the same. It’s new. It’s not the life we’ve been living, only with a confirmed reservation at the Heavenly Hilton in our back pocket. New life means new priorities and new values. It means taking up some new habits and attitudes and letting go of some old ones. New life in Christ is guided and shaped by our growing experience of Jesus’ life, teachings, and constant presence.

New life requires many choices. All those choices come with costs. We chose to upgrade flooring. We chose to make good (finally!) on our six-year-old threat to remove a wall. We chose to replace the aging original water heater rather than risk FLOOD 2—THE SEQUEL when it dies sooner rather than later. We struggled to balance personal preferences in style and color, finances, stewardship, and boring stuff like functionality, practicality, durability, and energy consumption as we chose cabinets, countertops, paint colors, and all the other elements that go into a home.

One key factor in our choices has been how much of our own money we will invest in this rebuilding process. The answer is turning out to be “enough to do it the way that’s right for us”. It’s not like taking the insurance money, paying your deductible, and being done with it. Having some skin (and dollars) in the game means we’ve “counted the cost” as Jesus advises us to do at the outset of any building project (Luke 14:28). We understand the cost and we’ve chosen the cost in order to achieve the results.

New life in Christ requires many choices. All those choices come with costs. As we said earlier, Jesus shapes the priorities and values that guide our choices in this new life. Following Jesus leads us daily to choices that go against the dominant culture. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43) “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the meek…the merciful…the peacemakers…” (excerpted from Matthew 5:3-11) “ “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1) “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). “…just as you did it to one of the least of these…, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) You get the idea. Following Jesus faithfully confronts us with difficult, costly, countercultural choices. Grace isn’t cheap. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote honestly and powerfully about “The Cost of Discipleship”.   

We want to leave a legacy for those who follow. With our home, that means making choices that lead to a desirable and salable property when the time comes. No, we don’t expect the next six generations tolive on “the old home place”. Yes, we do anticipate a day when choice and/or necessity lead to selling  this house and living somewhere else. Beyond practical and material considerations, this home has hosted some great family moments. We expect the renewed home to host many more. We’re trying to rebuild it in ways that will enhance its warmth and welcome.

Our new life in Christ is never solely about me and my “highway to heaven”. It’s about the difference I make within my reach. Who and what is better off because I chose to step up? How has my presence and involvement in others’ lives helped them see Christ? How have I been an instrument of building God’s New Creation? The answers will be different for each of us. The answers will be surprising, exciting, and life-changing as we invest ourselves fully in living the new life of those who follow Jesus together. New life ain’t easy by any means. But it’s the best life ever.

Living Toward the Light (Flood Journal 2)

The house we’re living in while our “water incident”-damaged home is repaired is only about three miles away. But it feels much farther. We’re a little higher up the mountain. The neighborhood is more densely wooded. The houses are farther apart. It gets much darker much more quickly.

That’s why Carson and I walk less at night. Neither my aging eyes (yes, I admit it!) nor his nine-year-old dog eyes work well in the dark. Our eyes need light to see! I have no desire to run into four-legged strangers larger than a rabbit, especially a coyote or javelina with a temper—and an appetite for a 17-pound Shih Tzu. Carson’s self-image is “Fierce Invincible 100-lb. Rottweiler Lap-Dog”. But four-legged strangers don’t always see that side of him.

Our ritual morning walks continue. Lately, however, they’ve started in “deep darkness” as the days have grown shorter. We walk east the length of our quarter-mile driveway to the road. Our “light” as we set out is at most a very faint hint in the east. By the time we’ve followed Carson’s meandering route and turned back toward the house, the light has begun to grow. As we turn around and walk west, the light is rising behind and around us. The light reveals the true identity of menacing shadows. They are rocks or bushes—just as they were yesterday, last week, and last year! Now, ten days past the winter solstice, we celebrate the light’s growth each day.

We longed for the light this past Advent season. Many people honestly wondered whether it would come. On a personal level The Flood dislocated us literally and spiritually. Newtown shocked the nation, even more so because it was the week’s second mass shooting, following the previous Tuesday’s incident in a Portland, OR mall. Congress again displayed its dysfunction as it failed to solve the “fiscal cliff” issue and left other critical legislation untouched. [I give our legislators minimal credit for today’s Band- Aid, assuming the House has sense enough to add its consent.] Syria and Egypt continued to be unstable in the Middle East with little hope for peace on that patch of earth. Extreme weather hammered much of our country while climate-change denial continued unabated. You can write the next verse as well as I.

But “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5 NRSV)  The Sunday after that horrific Friday our Methodist choir joined with Catholic and LDS singers in a community Christmas concert. It’s a long-standing annual tradition here in Chino Valley, Arizona. Some Christians in the community don’t care to associate with such a doctrinally-diverse group, but we just keep on singing. The young LDS missionary from Ogden, Utah who sang next to me struggled to fit this unique gathering into his worldview. We don’t agree on everything, but we agree on the joy of Christmas. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” After the concert, Dianna and I watched the Newtown Memorial service we’d DVR’d. Again we saw people transcending deep divisions to share comfort and hope. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” TV journalist Ann Curry invited us to do “26 Acts of Kindness”, one for each Newtown victim. Thousands of people responded. (I’m among those who count 28 victims, including Adam Lanza and his mother.)  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Serious conversations around the issues of guns, mental health, and the pervasive violence in American culture are happening and will continue. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  It’s early, but some politicians show signs of growing enough backbone to confront ideological extremists with common sense. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Recently my colleague Rob Rynders posted a blog titled “Why the UMC Needs an Era of Innovation.” It‘s so boldly visionary that I hear “realists” refusing to believe, mumbling, “It’ll never happen”. But Rob’s next post, “Innovative United Methodist Ministries”, lists eleven innovative ministries already in progress. That’s by no means all the newness blossoming in the wilderness, United Methodist or otherwise (cf. Isaiah 35). “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

I started writing this nearly two weeks ago, before Dec. 21 and the Winter Solstice. Shortly after Christmas, we experienced a period of extended moonlight. Carson and I really appreciate moonlight in the “deep darkness” of this land we now call home. The moonlight can be nearly as bright as the sun. But that brightness never lasts. That brilliant light happens because the earth, moon, and sun are aligned so that the maximum surface of the moon catches the sun’s light and reflects it to earth. But as the heavenly bodies move, that alignment shifts. Eventually we have moonless nights and “deep darkness”. (That’s more than I know about astronomy, so no follow-ups, please!)

On a recent morning walk (Carson calls it “Dawn Patrol”), I thought about how our lives of faith reflect Christ, the Light of the World. When we’re aligned with Christ, the light is as brilliant as that full moon that turns darkness to daylight. Folks see Christ in and through us with laser clarity. But when things get out of alignment, the darkness deepens. “Christ-in-us” is anything but clear and inviting. “Deep darkness” covers everything.

If I were a resolution-maker, 2013’s one resolution would be: “I will do all in my power, and be open to God doing all in God’s power, to keep my life aligned with Christ, the Light of the World, so that Light may shine through my life for all to see and live by”. We who follow Jesus are “The people walking in darkness [who] have seen a great light”. We know on this side of Christmas and Easter that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Never. Not ever. Thanks be to God!

“How Long Can You Tread Water?” (Corrected)

(The original post referred to Bill Cosby as “late”. Thankfully, I was reminded that he’s old but still very much alive and therefore no more “late” than any of the rest of us. Maybe I’ll make it up by writing about Cosby soon. If you’re young enough to have missed him in his prime, I encourage you to check him out on YouTube or other sources.)

 

Sixteen days ago Dianna and I arrived back in the US after our trip-of-a-lifetime visit to China. Walking through LAX, I turned on my cell phone and found two messages. One was a voicemail from a sheriff’s deputy about “a water issue” in our home in Arizona. The other was a text message from our daughter in Las Vegas: “Everybody’s fine, everything’s OK. Call me as soon as possible.” I flash-prayed that both messages addressed the same disaster. They did. A hard freeze had hit Northern Arizona on Veterans’ Day weekend. A water line had broken and sprayed water all over the attic. The water drained down through the ceiling into the main part of the house, down the stairs into the basement, and through the top floor onto the basement ceiling which mostly collapsed. A neighbor saw water running out the door of the walkout basement and called the sheriff. He entered the house, discovered The Flood, and found our daughter’s phone number on the refrigerator. When Karin (our youngest) heard about the “water issue”, she called her big brother Paul (our oldest). He and his wife Paula fiercely threatened their teenagers regarding any inappropriate behavior during their absence, then drove the 250 miles from their home to ours. They found the “water issue’s” super-soggy mess. More important, they found our insurance papers, called our agent, and got the cleanup process started. Paul and Paula boxed up “anything that looked important” in terms of papers and files, as well as winter clothes (for the season that’s taking its sweet time to arrive this year). Our kids decided not to call us in China and ruin the trip, since we couldn’t have done anything anyway. We have great kids—including our other son David who stayed warm and dry in his home in Maine!

When we stepped off the plane (midway through our 40-hour Saturday that began in Shanghai), it was time to deal with The Flood. Monday morning we saw our home for the first time. Nobody had exaggerated.  While clearly of sub-biblical proportions, The Flood was still very bad. Every room of our large house except our bedroom suffered major damage. We met with the three(!) insurance adjusters and the cleanup crew (very caring and professional). We began learning the rules of the insurance system that has suddenly become our new reality. We discovered that we’d be out of the house up to SIX MONTHS during reconstruction. We’d been talking about remodeling and clearing out clutter, but not this way!

Somewhere in this nightmare I began hearing a voice in my head. (Yes, it’s enough to make you crazy, but this was memory, not mental illness!) I heard the great Bill Cosby’s classic “Noah” routine. The only explanation Noah  offers his curious neighbors for the boat in his front yard is, “How long can you tread water?” Later, when the project gets too hard and Noah complains, the exasperated LORD rumbles, “Noah—How long can you tread water?”

That’s what we’re doing these days—treading water. Not literally, thank God. But spiritually and emotionally we’re just trying to stay afloat. Everything’s harder. Everything takes longer. Daily routines are disrupted.  We’re learning how to do things without most of our useful, familiar, comfortable stuff. Best case, it’s in one of three large storage containers in our yard. Worst case, it was ruined and tossed in the dumpster. We’ve gone from a couple of nights with generous church friends to staying with our kids (which we’d planned to do at Thanksgiving anyway) to a few nights in a motel and now a rented home about 3 miles from the site of The Flood. We’re grateful for both good friends and good insurance! Two weeks after our return, we had our first home-cooked meals in the place that we’ll call home for a while. Maybe we’ll call this place “The Ark”!

“How long can you tread water?” Not very long all alone with no land in sight. But as long as we need to “with a little help from our friends”. We’re aware of lots of people in lots of places praying with and for us. We’ve heard from friends who had a similar experience recently. As I mentioned, some generous church friends contacted us as soon as they heard of our situation and invited us to stay with them. Their hospitality was helpful and greatly appreciated. They also let us stash stuff at their place. When we moved into our rental this week, the “muscle” from Chino Valley UMC–the guys who move chairs and tables and do most of the hard work–showed up to do an all-day job in a couple of hours.

Our other church family–Green Valley UMC, our daughter and son-in-law’s church in So. Nevada–helped more than they know just by being themselves and doing what they do. We left Southern California  early on Sunday morning after our return to see and thank our children in Las Vegas. “I need to go to church today,” Dianna said. We drove straight to the church. We found what we needed. We were cared for and healed. (Not fed. I have a problem with folks going to church to be “fed”, but that’s a separate issue.) The next Sunday, after Thanksgiving with our family, we were back because we both needed and wanted to be there. Green Valley UMC consistently provides focused, creative, thoughtful, welcoming worship. They know folks come every week in the midst of living through all sorts of issues—even treading water! We’re grateful for their ministry.

I told someone God’s sense of humor is absolutely out of control this time. Dianna and I don’t believe God burst that pipe in our attic. We do, however, believe Paul’s wisdom in Romans 8:28 (CEV): “We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him.” I’ll keep you informed as we discover the ways that happens for us. Consider this post the first in an intermittent series. Perhaps we’ll call it “Flood Journal”—or maybe “Treading Water”.


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