The flooding in Louisiana was nearly a week old before I learned of the news. I saw the extent of the decimation when I read through the postings of a dear friend on Facebook.
I was speechless and heartbroken. How had I missed a disaster more devastating than Hurricane Katrina–an event that had glued a nation to television screens for days and weeks? Where were the cameras? Where was our president? Why weren’t churches and communities racing to Louisiana to help?
More importantly, what can I do? How can I help, even in a small way?
That’s the question I believe I need to be asking. The question I believe we all need to be asking.
The question each and every church in America needs to be asking. If Christians don’t respond to natural disasters on this level of horror, how can we speak authentically to our local communities about the love and compassion of Christ?
This week I will be re-posting original writings and reposts from dear friend and New York Times best-selling author Julie Cantrell (Into the Free and The Feathered Bone), whose family was among those whose homes were destroyed and lives were altered by the Louisiana flooding.
The following post is Julie’s powerful description of the onset of the flood. Please take the time to read it. You will be changed.
I appreciate the urgency Julie creates–the solid, continuous flow of her words that convey the pressure, fatigue, and surreality of those first days of the flood. Live this experience through her eyes as you read.
“First chance I have had to put my head around all that is happening in Louisiana. We are on Day 5 now (I think. Time has become fuzzy.) I witnessed more than a few people sobbing yesterday. The emotional fatigue is worse than the physical. Reality is setting in now for those who have lost their homes, vehicles, etc. The shock is wearing off and the strain is real. Imagine…you are in your BatonRouge home. A home that was built on high land. No flood plain. No history of having ever been flooded. You have no flood insurance. Few people do in this area. You know it is raining. It rains nearly every day in these parts. Heavy storms don’t worry you. But this time the rain doesn’t stop. It rains apx. 19 inches in 24 hours (and keeps raining for days). The pretty lake where your grandchildren fish is rising high as you take your little dog for a quick walk in the rain. By the time you get back to your door, the water is following you. It keeps coming, quickly, and before you can react, it is three feet deep in your living room. You don’t know how much higher it will rise. The roads are too flooded to leave by car. You live alone. You are a fortunate one who does not have to climb onto your roof or cling to the limbs of a tree or perch in our attic. You have a second floor, and you hustle to pull as many dry items as you can to higher quarters. You can’t save much. You can’t believe what is happening and your mind struggles to process. You try to devise a plan, slowly realizing muddy waters from the bayous and rivers are now claiming your home as their own. It happened so quickly. How much higher will the waters rise? Weather alerts are now firing disaster warnings. Millennial records are shattered. The flooding is affecting such a broad area, cell phones fail. Your landline no longer works. The night is long. Can you get to your neighbor’s house? At least then, you would have each other. But the waters are even deeper outside and you don’t know what’s in the water. Is it safe? Then the CajunNavy arrives via canoe. You have to hurry. Get in. What do you grab? Your dog. You get your dog. You can’t think of anything else. Oh, here’s a bag. You throw in a few clothes. Where will you go from here? You don’t know. Your entire community is nearly under water. Hotels are packed. Shelters have been flooded and are being relocated to second and then third locations. Your out-of-town relatives cannot reach your EastBatonRouge home because roads are closed. A friend steps in, says come with me. She has a hotel room. Her boss has offered to pay for it. You crash there for 2 nights. You learn to use Facebook messenger to make calls. It proves to be the only reliable source of communication, even though the connection fails frequently. You wait out the storms in the hotel, hoping roads will open so you can assess the damage. You begin to hear stories that Denham Springs has been 90 percent flooded. You know nearly everyone in that town and you don’t know of anyone who didn’t flood. You teach in that town, and the schools are under water. An entire community has gone under water. You think of Atlantis. Then you hear Walker is 75 percent flooded. You know even more people in that town where you reared your children. Nearly everyone you know in Walker has flooded too. The Walker church you have attended for decades becomes a Livingston Parish shelter, as it did during Katrina. You slowly realize this is worse than Katrina. Yet the hotel television airs not a single news report about the devastating situation happening outside your window. You rely on Facebook for vital information. Facebook becomes a lifeline for countless people who are posting in need of rescue, reunification, lost pets, road dangers, etc. Facebook friends who happen to see your daughter’s posts are shocked. They have no idea the flood has occurred. You see photos on Facebook. Countless rescues, floating caskets, submerged churches and houses and schools. Stranded motorists, scared pets, a missing woman with dementia last seen in a nightgown, a child with autism trapped at home alone. It is still raining. Waters continue to rise. Rivers cannot handle the backflow. Bayous top their catchbasins. You are a fortunate one. You have a hotel room with a friend. Others are spending a 2nd or 3rd night trapped in a car, an attic, a roof, or on a hard floor in a shelter packed with strangers and babies and dogs. Others are in boats helping rescue or serving at shelters or taking in strangers. By day 3, the flooded roads are beginning to open. A friend gives you a black dress from Walmart and the keys to her car so you can attend a funeral for a well-respected friend and community leader whose services would have normally included hundreds if not thousands of people. Fewer than 20 have found a way to attend, including relatives. A second friend says come stay at our home. We are dry. You go, gratefully. You can get to your home now to access the damage. The waters have receded. Everything in your lower levels has been soaked in 3 feet of dirty water but you know others who have it worse. You hear their stories. 6 feet. 8 feet. Above the roof. Everything is coated in mud. The smell is of decay. You are overwhelmed and exhausted but you cannot delay. Clean up begins. Relatives can finally reach you from out of town. Friends bring food and cleaning supplies. Neighbors helping neighbors. Strangers helping strangers. No one goes hungry. No one stands alone. You know you will get through this. You know you are fortunate. But, still, there are moments when you break. As you discard the antiques you saved from your ancestors. Or as your family photos wilt and mold. Or as the trunk your father carried to college on a train fails to have protected the tiny clothes your son (now deceased) wore as an infant or the stamps your father tenderly collected for decades or the hand-stiched heirlooms made by the women of your family who have long left this world. You have moments when you stare at the massive pile of rubble at the curb where nearly everything you have worked for your entire life now crumbles into an ashy, toxic mix of sheetrock and insulation and mud and mold. There are moments when you cry. But then, someone offers you a snocone. Or a plate of jambalaya. Someone else collects those moldy stamps your father loved and offers to try to restore them. Someone else takes your grandmother’s silver that survived more than one war and relocation. She will polish away the mud and the muck. People send texts and Facebook messages letting you know they care. They rally the troops and revive your spirit and remind you life is good. As your loved ones gut your home, leaving only the tired wet bones to dry, you have no idea how long it will be demolished. Your FEMA application is pending, and even if approved, the funding is low and limited. Your fears are many. Anxiety comes in waves. The future is unclear. And yet, your faith is deep and your will is strong. When morale starts to sink, the neighbors gather under your carport for food and drink and story and laughter. When joints ache and head pounds, someone else steps in to carry the load. And minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, you count your blessings. You look back on your life and realize how many times you survived when you thought you might not be able to go another day. You inhale. You exhale. You hug your family. You pray. You survive. And when someone from far away criticizes your homestate and the people of Louisiana, saying in a vindictive tone that this is the work of God, you look around at the thousands of people who are feeding, clothing, sheltering, stewarding, tending, rescuing, supporting, protecting, loving, sharing, and caring for life in all its many forms, and you say, Yes. This IS the work of God. #Louisianastrong” –Julie Perkins Cantrell
The greatest command in the Bible? According to Jesus, to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love others the way we want to be loved. (Matthew 22:34-40)
So if you had experienced the Louisiana floods, how would you want others to love you?
Click HERE for update on the flood cleanup.