Are Floods and Disasters the New Normal?

It’s been a long while since I have published in this space.

Oh yes, I’ve had several false starts, and many thoughts running through the old brain; “…that might make a good blog post,” I think. And then, nothing. I’ve had no energy to write, no words of comfort or peace to a world gone crazy, nothing to say that hasn’t been said…

At least part of that changed last week when we spent five days in Eastern Kentucky working with Disaster Relief at Christian Appalachian Project. CAP, as it is known by friends and family, workers and volunteers, has been in Eastern Kentucky since 1964. Father Ralph Beiting was assigned a parish in Berea, Kentucky and soon envisioned a volunteer organization that would assist with poverty relief in the poorest areas of Eastern Kentucky.

CAP’s mission center in Martin, KY
It was a beautiful place to have no electricity…unfortunately we had to cook for 60 people.

Mr. HC and I had been to CAP four times in the years before the pandemic. We went with groups and worked on houses. We built ramps, repaired roofs, led a team of college kids on spring break, and cooked for those kids too. One March we weathered a surprise snow storm that left six inches on the ground and no electricity for two days.

It was a Thursday evening in late July and we sat down to watch the evening news. It was the second day of flooding in Eastern Kentucky and there was the Governor at the Pikeville Community Center. Paintsville, Martin, Floyd County–they were all familiar to us. We sat in silence, almost in tears, wondering if these were people we’d met, houses we’d worked on…

Later that evening I checked my email and found one from Becky at Christian Appalachian Project. “Dear Carol,” it read. “CAP’s Disaster Relief Command Center is currently set-up in Floyd County at our CAP facility in Martin, Kentucky. We will begin assessing the damage August 1. Soon after, the cleanup will begin. We need volunteers to assess properties, begin cleanup, help distribute needed items to families, cook, and help in the volunteer lodging facility. WE NEED YOU!”

I read it to Mr. HC. And then I said, “This might be an email from God….”

That night we replied to the email. The next day we filled out online paperwork, that afternoon our registration was accepted. We were going in a week. Friends from our two churches donated money and supplies and we left on Sunday with a truckload of mops, bleach, gloves, buckets, brooms, and garbage bags, wondering if our two old bodies and minds could do what they would ask of us. It all came together so quickly, we didn’t have time to panic.

We worked at the Distribution Center all week. Unloading trucks and cars of donated supplies, moving items around every hour. 50 mops disappeared in 2 hours. $700 in sheets and comforters were gone in a morning. Boxes of underwear were unloaded and passed through windows. More diapers were delivered so we had to move other things around to accommodate them. More clothing was delivered, so we had to change how we stocked it. On Wednesday my iPhone registered 14,978 steps. You’re walking more than last week, it told me.

Because we worked at the Distribution Center we did not go out with the teams who were mucking out or gutting houses, so we didn’t see the damage. But we heard firsthand the stories from the folks who came in for help. They were heartbreaking. Some had no transportation because the car was flooded and no longer worked. One family still had no electricity after three weeks. They were eating Army MREs (meals ready to eat) that someone had given them. We were able to give them some fast food gift cards; most everyone just wanted cleaning supplies, until they saw that we also had sheets, towels, personal care items, and clothing.

One family had moved the kids to the grandparents’ house, so they could take up carpets and throw out ruined stuff without the kids seeing it. Their other grandma was sleeping on an air mattress in their living room until they could find her a new place to live. A young pregnant woman was staying with her dad until it could be decided if her house was salvageable. He was letting her borrow his truck for work because her car was ruined.

Like the damage done by Katrina, this damage will be around for years. At the Distribution Center were also state offices and FEMA, but these ruined houses aren’t going to be rebuilt quickly. Here are some other articles to read for more information:

And here are some other organizations that are working on flood relief:

You can send any of these items directly to the Foley Mission Center, Distribution Center, 6134 KY-80, Martin, KY 41649

Unlike just the disaster relief organizations, CAP is in it for the long haul. They’ve been around for almost fifty years rebuilding houses, running youth camps, food pantries, thrift stores–and it’s mainly done with volunteers like you and me who give up a week or two, or a year or two of their lives. Before we left, the team there estimated that the Distribution Center at CAP would probably be open for several more months. Here was the list they tacked up on Friday, the day we left.

The work is hard, the fellowship and the camaraderie is amazing, laughter and tears are prevalent, the food is great, and you collapse exhausted in your bunk bed (hopefully a bottom cot) around 8:30. Coffee is on around 6; breakfast is at 7. See you then.

Season of Winter

The day says goodbye with a painted sky

The colors more glorious than has been the day

God affirms his presence, confirms his essence,

And beauty breaks through.

Yet God does not promise roses in winter,

Each season holds elements hard and cold.

But He asks us to find the intricate design

In beauty breaking through.

Perhaps the season is painful and harsh,

Perhaps the gray days have us weary,

But we can choose hope–for all seems new

When beauty breaks through.

When we can no longer count on normal: a sermon to myself, and maybe you too…

It’s a tough time to be reading Revelation, but here I am–at the last book in my two-year-journey through my journaling Bible–in December of 2020. These are some of the darkest days people here in ‘the new world’ have experienced in decades…Europeans were much more affected by World War II than we were, for it was fought in their own front and back yards. Our cities were not bombed or blitzed or darkened by black-outs; surely they must have thought the end of the world was imminent.

Not being brave enough to read Revelation without a commentary at hand (I’m using an older Layman’s Bible Commentary written by Julian Love) I underlined these words: (and shortened them here for clarity)

“Oftentimes when it looks as though God’s judgments must surely be spent…there is a prolonged period [that] seems to be unchanged awaiting some final decision. And in that waiting there is opportunity to look around and gain fresh understanding of what has been going on and especially what redeeming factors God has introduced, which men in their hurried and often frantic way of life, have not observed.”

As I’m writing these words two days before Christmas, the day is lightening. The hill and trees are as black shadows against a pale pink and ivory horizon. It is a subtle sun-rising that befits these days, yet still, it is a reminder of the light that always comes after darkness: morning after night; spring after winter; the cycles of life, ordained by God.

This pandemic time is already being called the great pause–an interlude–in which, if humans were so inclined, we would/could/should “look around and gain fresh understanding.” Indeed, what  redeeming factors has God introduced that in our frantic way of life we have not observed?

There are many obvious answers–physical, emotional, and spiritual–so I think we can be ‘wholistic’ when considering this question.

We all long for the return of normal; it seems everything in our lives has been either put on hold or turned upside down. But what if God is upending our normal for His own purposes? Our frenetic pace has been forcibly slowed. If your normal was go everywhere and do everything, you have been obliged to reconsider. Many rage against this, call it the taking away of freedom, and disregard the new restrictions (at a risk to society). God does not need to rain judgment on us; we bring it on ourselves through our own foolishness, selfishness, and pride.

No matter if one is averse to change or if one embraces it, no one likes to have change forced upon them. (We do like the illusion of our control, don’t we?) Our emotions spiral out of whack when it happens, as do the above triage of sins–selfishness, foolishness, and pride.

Consider that our spiritual lives are being upended too. It is as if God Himself is saying,

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that my Son is born.

You have not listened to my still small voice,

so hear now the thunder and the storm.

We miss it now at peril to our lives and our souls…

I was going to end this sermon there for dramatic purposes, but I couldn’t.  Because there is always light after dark.

The darkness is given to us so that we understand light. Fear, grief, illness and death, instability–all things of the dark that have been so prevalent this year–are appointed to us so that when joy arrives, when our blessings are counted, when our hope wins, it can all be more glorious.  This year I wrote on Christmas cards a verse from the Gospel of John: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1:5, and this next one is like it:John 1:9

Jesus’ name is Emmanuel, God With Us. In the dark, as well as in the light. In this darkest of years, in this darkest of months, in these darkest of days, let’s not forget that He experienced the greatest darkness of all. So that we would not have to live in the darkness forever. So that we can have that great hope of joy even when the darkness threatens to overwhelm us.

So I ask us all to consider what it is that God is showing us through this time that we have not observed. It will be something different for us all, I think. But let’s not waste this time, and then automatically go back to normalcy when we can. This is a wake-up for the world, isn’t it?

A radical change is being called for; what will that look like for you?