It’s amazing the lessons that can be learned in just a few hours on a beautiful Saturday morning.
Today, Laurie and I headed to Nashville with three other friends to help flood victims with salvage and cleanup. Christie Wright, the wife of my friend Jeff, was our trip planner/organizer. Of course, with a disaster of this magnitude, you can’t really do much real planning, so the plan was basically, “Let’s go find some people to help.”
When we first arrived in Bellevue — the area hardest hit by the flooding — we couldn’t find the folks Christie had originally contacted. We got out to walk around the neighborhood to see if anyone needed a hand. The devastation was pretty startling, as entire homes were being completely gutted.
In the photo below (click on any of the pics to make them larger), notice the water line in the garage, where all the drywall had been removed. Every house on the block looked like this.
We were eventually told that this street had had plenty of help, and that we might be of more use in another area. So we got back in the car and went in further search of folks with need.
Unfortunately, we had a little trouble navigating, as many of the roads were closed that lead to areas we were told were coordinating relief efforts. We finally just decided that “local traffic only” included us, and drove around a road block. The damage we saw there was far worse than where we’d been initially… and worse than anything we’d seen on the news.
We were directed by the first folks we spoke with on this street that the most help was needed “at the house with all the chickens in the yard.” The house in question was three stories high, but the water line was still near the roof! When the Harpeth River flooded, the water rose quickly. The homeowner said she and her husband (an Army officer who just returned from Iraq a little over a month ago) had spent 11 hours moving things into the third floor before finally taking their three young children and vacating the house. Unfortunately, the third floor wasn’t safe, as the water level reached above bed height even there… 25 feet above ground!
They had been pulling anything remotely salvageable out onto tarps in the front yard, supervised by the survivors from their flock of chickens (28 out of 70 survived… the rest drowned after being rescued from the chicken coop and stored in the 2nd floor craft room, where the family thought they would be safe). Below is Laurie surveying the damage from the back of the house.
This is a sweet family. None of the other volunteers could stop speaking of how much they loved them. Cynthia (the mother of the family) was a great encouragement to me, as her attitude in the wake of such extreme devastation was unshakably positive. Despite having suffered the most extensive loss of “stuff” among their neighbors (theirs is the only house being bulldozed), she repeatedly put things in perspective by saying that we were merely looking for “stuff”, while down the street they were looking for bodies (an elderly couple may not have made it out of their home before the flooding). She refused to be pitied, insisting that because of the love and care of so many friends, they had been blessed far more than their neighbors.
As we began to dig through the muck (which smelled pretty terrible… to be expected, I suppose, when the excretions of 70 chickens had been floating in the house among all the other nastiness that came in from the river), I realized that we had a lot in common with the homeowners. Desks filled with homeschooling materials, music instruments strewn about (including a horn that looks salvageable), and books… oh so many books! I thought I read a lot until I learned that Cynthia averages about 200 books a year. Her personal library had over 10,000 volumes… all under water.
As it turns out, we were in the home not just of a musician, but a college music professor. Most of those volunteering to help were her students and colleagues. Of all the people in Nashville in need of a helping hand, this is where we were directed. Isn’t the providence of God amazing? I can’t imagine a more ironic or fitting opportunity for me to be of service than working alongside a bunch of musicians clearing out a library!
This day taught me a great many things, but two in particular stick out:
- Stuff is just stuff. Yes, some of it is very important (and irreplaceable) stuff, but that’s not all there is to life. I am increasingly convicted about the amount of stuff I possess. What good does it do me to spend so much of my life collecting more stuff, when it could all be washed away in a moment? I need to spend more of my time and money investing my life in eternal things that will never pass away. Ultimately, none of my stuff is really “my” stuff. It all belongs to God, and I’m simply a steward to see that it is used for His glory. This will require a lot of changes in my life and the life of my family…
- God is in control. We thought we knew what we were doing. We thought we had a plan. But God knew exactly where we were going, and put us in a precise place at a precise moment in time. I must confess to some initial disappointment that we weren’t able to work in a poor neighborhood (though it wasn’t for lack of effort trying to get to one). I thought God meant for me to be serving the poor on this trip, but that wasn’t the case at all. As it turns out, God has been using MANY people — particularly through efforts coordinated by many of Nashville’s churches — to meet the needs of the poor. The thing is, sometimes those in academia need to see God’s hands & feet as well… He loves them, too! The fascinating conversations I was able to have with some really extraordinary people are something I could never have orchestrated on my own. I won’t share the content of those conversations on this blog, but would be happy to give testimony to anyone who is interested… there were some great stories!
The hard work of cleaning up the residential areas of Nashville is nearly done (though much work remains downtown and in the Opryland/Opry Mills area). Soon will begin the even harder work of rebuilding lives. There is great need for donations of food, water, clothing, money, and many other items. The most important thing you can do, of course, is to pray (and please pray specifically for the family we met today). To find out how you can help in more concrete ways, here are just a couple places where you can get involved:
P.S. – The title of this post comes from Psalm 29:10. This is a great reminder of God’s sovereignty over every situation. This is meant to be a comfort to us in the face of unfathomable tragedy. It is followed by this fitting blessing:
May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! ~ Psalm 29:11