Posts Tagged 'Flood'

IMPRESSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS (Alaska Journal 2)

 “Bush Alaska” refers to communities in the vast state of Alaska that you can’t drive into or out of. Commercial transportation is limited to air or water. OK, we’ll include dogsleds and even “Ice Road Truckers” if you insist. If you read Part 1, you know that I spent two weeks recently in Galena, Alaska working with other volunteers to repair Yukon River Flood damage. The longest excursion possible on Galena’s fourteen miles of roads was to“The Mall”, as the landfill was called. Locals actually did “shop” there. Even in Alaska, my trash just could be your treasure. We visited“The Mall” on Sunday afternoons to look for bears, moose, or other wildlife (not the locals mentioned above) who were “shopping” at “The Mall”.

Here are three impressions (and their implications) from my brief experience of “Bush Alaska”. 

  • Life is hard—just ordinary everyday life. Options are extremely limited. Everything takes longer, costs more, and requires significantly more effort. For example: The store is days or weeks away. One of our team ordered (online!) some caulk from an orange-colored “big box” store so that we could complete a project. It took three days to arrive by air. The shipping cost as much as those few tubes of caulk.  Installing and insulating a floor required far greater care than typical “Lower 48″ construction. Sealing in heated air and sealing out -60 or colder outside air is critical. In addition,moisture cannot be allowed to condense in the insulation. Condensation forms ice balls, which melt when the weather warms and ruin the insulation. Every staple-hole and other opening in the vapor barrier has to be covered with ubiquitous red tape. C) Hunting is about survival, not sport. A moose head complete with antlers greeted us as we arrived for our first day of work. The neighbors had gotten their moose. The family would eat well all winter. They spent much of the next few days in the yard (too cold for flies) butchering and wrapping the meat for the freezer. We’d noticed large screw eyes in the center of the main room of most of the homes. One day someone saw a chunk of meat hanging from one. Folks routinely hang the meat to cure it right in the center of the house as they have for—a long time. Hundreds of families had lost freezers full of meat when the flood had hit last May and power was lost. Those freezers were immediately flown out in order to prevent disease from spreading in the community. As moose season drew to a close in late September, we shared both the joy of families with full freezers and the anxiety of those who hadn’t yet gotten their moose. It was a legitimate and serious subject for prayer during Sunday worship.               

IMPLICATION—[Of course even the hardships in Galena pale in comparison to the Philippines typhoon we’re only now beginning to comprehend.] 1) Let’s appreciate how blessed we are and whine less. 2) Let’s be real. Everybody has hard stuff they’re going through, even though they may be hiding it well. Let’s cut each other some slack.

  • We learned firsthand the agony and the ecstasy of “Your tax dollars at work”.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had been on the scene from the beginning, even though the disastrous flood made very little “Lower 48” news. FEMA paid transportation, food, and housing costs for about one hundred faith-based volunteers who served for at least two weeks. Americorps staff and volunteers were on the scene from the beginning doing the really hard dirty work. At their best, these two agencies and others empowered the recovery process for the community. Every morning our team leaders met with representatives of FEMA, Americorps, the Army Corps of Engineers, and state and local agencies to coordinate the overall scope of work. “When it was good (to paraphrase a nursery rhyme), it was very, very good, but when it was bad, it was horrid.” Some days we heard how synergy flowed as all these folks sat around the same table and discovered how they could work together so the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. Other days we heard apparently inexplicable bureaucratic decisions. We understood that everyone had rules to follow, bosses to please, and funds for which to account. Sometimes the rules facilitated  healing and hope. Other times they became roadblocks. Sometimes the bureaucrats and our leaders were equally puzzled or frustrated.

IMPLICATION—Doing away with “government” sounds like a great quick fix, but it’s neither realistic nor humane. Broken as it is, our system serves millions of vulnerable people in important ways. Let’s keep working on it together so that it works more effectively to serve all the people of our great country.

  • Those Baptists weren’t doing evangelism exactly my way, but at least they were doing something! One day we built shelves in the Bible Church’s community pantry. I overheard volunteers from a large Texas Baptist church discuss their church planting mission in Mexico. I heard them asking the right questions! Who lives here? What’s the culture like? What are the needs and the strengths of this village? What language(s) do people speak? What sort of person will relate well to these people? I learned that the mission board through whom their church was working required that in-depth study of a potential new mission field before a missionary was sent out.

 IMPLICATION:  We mainline folk still cover our ears whenever we hear the e(vangelism)-word. Worse yet, we assume that our “target audience” is just like us. If they were, they’d already be members of our church! Reaching the mission field that is our own community requires the same rigorous study as if we were going into a foreign mission field. Do we care enough about our neighbors to do that work, in order to increase the chance that they’ll discover how Loved they are?

NEXT TIME—WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM CHURCHES SERVING IN A DISASTER ZONE?

Going Home–Flood Journal 5

Yes, I’ve been silent for more than a month. But I’ve hardly been loafing. As April ended, so did the lease on our temporary housing. We moved out of the rental and back into our home.  The same strong hardworking friends from Chino Valley UMC who’d helped move us into our temporary quarters in early December helped us move back home. For the next few days we did a dance with the builder’s crew as things like sinks and kitchen counter-tops were finished. It was good to be home, even though we knew we had a mountain of work ahead of us. (If you missed previous installments, “Flood Journal” chronicles our return from a trip to China in mid-November to discover that a “water incident” (broken pipe) had flooded our home.)

Carson, the four-legged member of our family, may have been the happiest about going home. We had traveled the three miles back and forth between our home (The Jobsite) and our temporary housing (The Cabin) almost daily, often multiple times. Carson was always glad to be “home” (at The Jobsite). But whenever we told him to get in the car because we were leaving (for The Cabin), he would give us a look—“Are you nuts? This is our home.”  He had a point, but we left anyway.

Carson finally got his way as April ended. We moved “home” and got completely out of our rented house. The next Thursday the crew that had packed all our possessions into three 8’x20’ storage containers after The Flood came and moved everything back in. They left us with hundreds of boxes stacked (sometimes ceiling-high) approximately in the rooms where their contents had been. The next day the furniture restorer employed by our insurance company delivered the truckload of furniture he’d lovingly and skillfully brought back to life. It all fit (sort of) among the ceiling-high stacks of boxes. My sister and brother-in-law spent the weekend helping us start unpacking. By late Sunday I’d taken two pickup loads of flattened boxes to the recycler, along with a load of 12 40-gallon trash bags stuffed with packing paper from fragile items.

On Monday morning we still faced cold, harsh reality–mountains of boxes packed by total strangers! We’d needed their help, they’d done their job well, we appreciated it, along with God’s provision of the material resources to buy the house and the insurance that came through when we needed it. BUT– the boxes were labeled generically, often cryptically, hardly the way we would have done it in order to find stuff easily. After three weeks we found our silverware! A few days ago a box labeled “Office Supplies” yielded a computer printer. The printer was in perfect condition. It had all the pieces—except the power cord. It looks great sitting in my study, but it has yet to print its first page! This process has been a graduate-level course in PATIENCE! (Yes, in BOLDFACE ITALIC CAPS!) I don’t see that learning curve flattening out any time soon.

Diana and I have had a running conversation about what “Enough” means for us. As we unpack, we ask, “Where was all this stuff hiding?” and “Do we still need it?” Our present household is the product of numerous “mergers and acquisitions”. We worked and lived in different places about half of our last twenty working years, so we maintained two households. My mother lived with us for her last twelve years, so we have her things. After Dianna’s parents died (both within the last five years), we acquired some of their substantial lifetime accumulation. When I retired two years ago, we lost a room—my study at the church. All those books, papers, etc., now live at home. To make this all more interesting, Dianna’s a keeper and I’m a tosser—except when it comes to my tools! So “Enough” is an ongoing dialog.

We’re also learning endurance and perseverance. “Move-in burnout” strikes often. We don’t care how tall Box Mountain is. (Parts of our house look more like The Cardboard Range than a single peak). We’re just mentally and physically DONE! Of course those mountains don’t shrink while we’re on strike. They loom as large as ever. A couple of rooms have become choke points. The contents of those boxes came from those rooms and the movers put the boxes right back where they went. But they’re so full there’s no room to work, no room to put up shelves or bring in furniture to hold what’s in those boxes, no room even to shuffle stuff into the hall or another room to relieve the congestion. So we work through one box at a time. One of these days, we keep telling ourselves, we’ll reach the “tipping point”. Our “home-reclaiming” process will gain conclusive momentum. Then we’ll really and truly be “home”.

What is God teaching us through this process? That depends on how teachable we are. Some days, not very!

  • A) I’m learning a ton about patience. One can wait when one has to wait. Sometimes waiting improves the timing in a way we never imagined. But sometimes one has to act. The balance between waiting and acting can be tricky.
  •  B) “Enough” is a continuing dialog. Friends engaged in similar conversations in their own lives contribute to our conversation, and we to theirs.
  • C)  Endurance/perseverance grows with practice, and I’m getting tired of practicing! In our case, I’m also looking for ways to work smarter as well as harder. Some solutions we haven’t thought of, or been willing to try, may provide the break-through we need.
  • D) We’re newly appreciating friends and family who’ve helped in so many ways throughout this process. And we’re appreciating letting each other survive as we worked through a very difficult period in our life together.

We’re home. But we’re trying to get all the way home. We’re not there yet, but we’ll make it. Meanwhile, as that car commercial said, we’ll “Enjoy the ride!”

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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