May the worst of times bring out our best

by Dietrich Gruen

Bridges out, roads blocked, businesses closed, basements flooded. One death.  Many water rescues by boat, helicopter, and human chains.  Untold storage items, basement appliances and family treasures soaked and lost.  Lakeside decks and docks float away.  Lakes appearing suddenly where there were none the day before.  Hundreds of flooded cars ditched in either underground parking or clogging above-ground streets.

You get the picture.  And I hope you get going and give help, as able and as need be.

No need to travel as far as New Orleans, as I and 15 “Disaster Response Teams” (DiRT) once did over 15 months in 2006-07.  To engage in flood recovery efforts today, look no further than Madison’s far west side where I live.  Also needing flood relief are Middleton, Cross Plains, Black Earth, and Mazomanie—towns just west of us.  Now the low-lying Isthmus.  Next week, the neighborhoods bordering the Baraboo and other rivers and drainage systems of south-central Wisconsin.

As your Housing Advocate and Benevolent Fund Coordinator the last five years, we are meeting the current flood-related needs.  Our DiRT Coordinator, Bill Taylor, is a modern-day Paul Revere sounding the alarm and rounding up troops of well-armed volunteers.  Volunteers show up armed with strong backs, wheelbarrows, pick-up trucks, squeegees, bags and buckets.

Survivor stories and heroic clean-up efforts multiply.  Good news travels fast. Good deeds beget more good needs. Families who “lost everything” are grateful for the collaborative efforts of church volunteers, the National Guard and civic-minded citizens to muck out, to save what’s left, or to sandbag ahead of the next rising tide.  On 24 hours’ notice, 14 people strong from the David/Rhonda Thompson small group muck out a grateful Harald Myers’ home, soon after eight feet of standing water recedes.

Annette Konicek and her husband battle water for 11+ hours unassisted; surrounded by water, they look to God to make it through; their faith grows as waters recede.  She reflects on her flood story: “I find throughout my life that the attitude you deal with things is so much more important than the actual things you go through!  Everyone goes through difficult things. If you can find a good attitude, the journey is so much easier.”

With ear to the ground and fingers online, and an office open on Mondays at High Point, I hear many such woeful tales of loss but am encouraged by just as stories of help and hope.  “It’s just stuff,” they say.  I listen and pray, as I help them with funds to recover.

The worst of times brings out the best in people.  Ancient Israel’s King David affirms as much: “God sits enthroned over the flood.  The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses people with peace” (Psalm 29:10).

Good news of help and hope is spreading among clients served through HPC—also online groups and through Barbara McKinney and Paul Skidmore, two Madison alderpersons I am networking with. Hence, a rising tide and run on the “Benevolence Bank” of those in a position to help.  For now, HPC has enough funds in our bank, under budget for the year, saving up a “rainy day” fund as it were, for such a time as this.

It’s not just about benevolent funds or bucket brigades.  Some policies and hearts may have to change, as well, in response to the flood of 2018.  Let us consider how to become better at crisis-funding, as well as long-term mentoring of people caught up in one crisis du jour after another.  When people come to church to learn a different, more excellent way forward out of their miry pit, will we steward our resources for them?  We will continue to round up helpers and stir up hope?

May this worst of floods bring out our best, now and always.

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