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Cover image via LDS Newsroom.
Much has been written about the mid-August 2016 flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Though the news of it was slow to hit the media, by now the bizarre conditions that created it, the 11 deaths, the extensive damage to homes and businesses, the billions of dollars of catastrophic damage, and the monumental number of volunteers arriving to “muck out” homes and businesses are starting to surface.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced this past weekend that there is now an estimated 8.7 billion dollars in damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure throughout the area. He also officially recognized the Mormon Helping Hands contribution to the clean-up efforts.
Mormon Helping Hands and their yellow shirts are starting to be a noted and powerful force for good around the world. For the past several years, I have seen the pictures and videos of Mormon Helping Hands and marveled at the service, scope, and the literal number of those helping hands and smiling faces. Watching those videos in between the sessions of General Conference always left me secretly wishing that someday I would be blessed with an opportunity to don a yellow shirt and volunteer.
Those video snippets also inspired a thousand questions for me. I always wanted an hour long TV special on the people affected by the disaster, more footage of their homes and lives, and where the volunteers stayed and managed. How did the Church get all those volunteers there? Who fed them or provided accommodations? Where’s someone who would talk their head off with the fascinating experience of being a Mormon Helping Hand? Hey somebody, tell us! Well if it’s to be, it’s up to me, I guess!
My secret desire to both serve and witness Mormon Helping Hands in action was answered when our Bishop (the Jackson Ward, North Memphis Tennessee Stake) announced on Sunday, August 21, 2016 that relief support was badly needed for the Baton Rouge, Louisiana flood victims. As many volunteers as possible, up to several thousand, were needed for the following weekend, August 27-28. Other stakes were being assigned for the following weekend. A flurry of phone calls, emails and texts solidified the team from our small, but strong ward: Six strong Priesthood brethren … and me! Soon an email titled “Crew Information” arrived with a simple, 2-page outline of what to bring and the address of the Church building where we were to meet in Baker, Louisiana at the Zachary Ward Building. (Another organization was set up at the Hammond Ward Building in Hammond, Louisiana.)
Wow. Here it was! Chapter 1! My first questions had been answered. Who organizes Mormon Helping Hands? The effort had launched from the Baton Rouge area to the surrounding stakes. The actual organization was handled through the Stake Presidents to the Bishops, to the ward leaders. Then each ward was to create a team, with a team leader. For us, it was Chad Ross, our able Elders Quorum President. Later I learned that the Stake Presidents in the area coordinated efforts and obtained relief and clean-up supplies through Salt Lake City Church headquarters. These supplies were trucked directly to the designated Church buildings that would serve as basecamps.
Our two-page information sheet was extremely brief and simply listed what to bring (shovels, wheelbarrows, drywall saws, hammers) and instructions to wear sturdy shoes and long pants. Yellow Helping Hand shirts would be provided. Check-In and registration times for the team leaders were listed, and the schedule for two brief Sacrament Meeting services on Sunday morning, so that we could work for several hours before heading home Sunday afternoon.
Food? You’re on your own. Bring coolers, canned foods, and camp stoves if you want. Showers and toilets? Toilets and cold water showers set up outside the Zachary Ward building would be available. Housing? Bring a tent and a sleeping bag. RVs if you have one. Bug spray. First aid kits. There was nothing more specific than that.
As empty nesters who have recently moved and left all our camping gear to the Scout Troop in our last ward, it was time to buy a cute little tent at Walmart. No one could tell us anything more than what was on that two-page document, so we stocked up on some canned food, and loaded our cooler with enough snacks and food to last for a couple of days. (Really, how hungry or needy can you get in two days, we asked ourselves.)
We had a load of questions, but no one seemed to know much more than that we were going to “muck out” homes. My husband, Bob, had spent a week as a missionary in New Mexico where they had done the same after a river there flooded. “I bet we’ll be pulling stuff out of houses so it can be hauled away,” he said as we pondered the adventure ahead.
Still I couldn’t really imagine it. We called friends who had served as Helping Hands with Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, who helped a bit more. “Bring good work gloves! And masks! Stuff that’s been sitting is smelly, and you never know what may have leaked.”
Throughout the week there was no more information. We really didn’t know what to expect or what we’d be doing. All we knew is that we were going, and very excited about the whole thing!
The only thing we could think of to prepare, other than collecting our camping gear, food and tools, was to spend an hour on Youtube, watching the videos of the Denham Springs area where we knew we were headed. It was heart-wrenching to see complete neighborhoods from the viewpoint of a helicopter – where only the roof tops showed. How could this be possible? A raging river through residential streets and business areas? Houses sitting in four to six feet of muddy water? It just didn’t seem possible.
These videos were taken at the time of the immediate flooding, the weekend of August 13-14, and we would be arriving two weeks later. Would there still be standing water everywhere? Did we need waterproof boots and shoes? No one seemed to know.
On Friday, August 26, we met at the church at 2:00 p.m. for the 7-8 hour drive down to Louisiana. The day was bright, sunny, hot and very humid. Our dependable, loyal, steadfast, cheerful team got organized into a truck pulling a trailer loaded with tools and our camping gear, and a compact SUV. If it were time to walk to Zion, I would choose the same group to travel with! I was the only sister, accompanying my husband, but there would be plenty for me to do, as sisters and youth over 12 had been encouraged to come.
The drive down was delightful and uneventful. Our driver, Heath Haws (our Assistant Ward Mission Leader) and Dave Myrick (our Young Mens President) had left their very young families, including one very sick and pregnant wife, to serve that weekend. Listening to the two of them in the front seat as they talked about everything from their missions, to their families, to their jobs, to the music, hobbies and sports they enjoyed was a joy. Overhearing them for the hours we were together left me knowing without a shadow of a doubt that the Church is in very good hands for the next generation with strong young Priesthood leaders (in their late 20’s and early 30’s) like Heath and Dave to lead the way. Questions about the Gospel led to listening to talks on Youtube that filled Heath’s car with a powerful spirit of the truths of the Gospel that I’ll not forget.
Their sweet wives and kids contributed to the relief effort, along with the thousands of others, and are to be especially commended. They cheerfully allowed their marvelous daddies and husbands to be gone for the entire weekend, starting Friday afternoon. Both these young men, and no doubt most of the other Helping Hands volunteers, left their jobs early to drive down on Friday, would work like he-men over the weekend, drive all the way home on Sunday afternoon and evening to rest for a bit, then get up and head back to their workplace on Monday morning with precious little rest. I have a feeling the Lord will long remember the sacrifices made by entire families for husbands to leave and serve that weekend.
Not knowing at all what to expect, we arrived about 10:30 on Friday night. As we drove into Baker, we started to see mountains of what … rubble? Trash? Furniture? in front of the businesses. Then we turned another direction. These residential areas, darkened in the night, looked fine. I wondered if we’d see more damage as Siri’s voice guided us to the Zachary Ward building.
All of a sudden, the streets were packed with parked cars and trucks. People were milling around in the dark. “We’ve arrived!” laughed Dave. “There are EFY shirts over there.” Sure enough. We could just barely see the building in the street lights. With the crowd and vehicles, there was barely room to make it through the street. Tents were pitched closely together everywhere on the grounds and surrounding area by the chapel.
“We’ll just drive a little further to see what we can see and figure this out,” said Heath. We drove another block, then with the Church building on our left, there was an opportunity to turn right. Surprisingly, no one had parked along the street. There was a darkened house at the corner across from the church.
“Can we stay here?” we said to each other, wondering if this was an acceptable place to stop. We pulled in and had the entire lot to ourselves. The house, completely dark, had an open door, and when we looked inside, it had been completely gutted. Clearly abandoned, all that was left was the roof, slab, brick walls, and studs. With no one to stop us, direct us or guide us in any way, we felt comfortable pitching our tents with the help of flashlights. (We later learned that this house had been abandoned after a fire gutted it several months earlier. And the rest of the homes in the neighborhood, as well as the Church, were in perfect condition.)
The surface areas of the streets were perfectly dry. No need for weatherproof shoes or boots, but when we pitched the tent, the level of saturation was clear: our tent stakes slid into ground as soft as butter, no hammer needed.
After setting up our own little camp area, we went across the street to the Church to use the bathrooms. We found the entry foyers packed with bags of donated clothing and immediately saw that the building had been transformed into the base camp for operations! The carpets had been covered with plastic, not for flooding we learned, but to protect them from the wear and tear of servicing the Mormon Helping Hands effort.
Some classrooms had been turned into well-organized clothing donation centers with signs clearly marking sizes and genders, while others were used as offices for organizing the teams and supplies. The cultural hall stage was packed ten feet high with humanitarian kits and emergency cleaning kits in portable buckets. The bathrooms were surprisingly empty for as many people as seemed to be in the area. As we walked back to our tent we realized it was nearly midnight, and there were still so many people milling about in jovial moods. “Where’s the concert???” joked one man to us as we walked by. We returned to our tent and went to bed, wondering what the next day would hold.
To my surprise, it got noisier and noisier through the night. There was the constant hum of motors, generators and some voices. When we got up the next morning, the Shreveport Louisiana Stake, all 250-300 of them, had joined us on our lot! With two huge RVs, large generators, and an incredible organization, worthy of any Pioneer trip to Zion, they had pulled together their equipment, vehicles, gear, people and food to serve, cafeteria style, their entire group. Arriving after midnight, they were up and cooking bacon by 5:30 a.m. and laughing and chatting up a storm as big as the one that had flooded Baton Rouge. Later we joked that It felt a little like a Book of Mormon war story, where our little village had been overtaken while we slept!
As I roused on Saturday morning, a wonderful spirit filled my heart and the words, “You will meet the most delightful, dear people today! This day will be filled with joy!” We got dressed and ate cold cereal and fruit. Our team leader Chad Ross, (our Elders Quorum President) gathered us together and got us on our way after a prayer. We would be traveling 30 minutes to Denham Springs, and not returning until the end of the day, so bring some snacks and water bottles.
I had wondered all week how assignments would be made. Chad had been given several work orders of names that had been acquired through a 1-800 phone number. That number had been advertised and flood victims were to call if they needed help. We were given several of those names and numbers, and very specific instructions not to mention the Church in any way, just that we were a volunteer organization who wanted to help at no cost and had learned about them through the 800 number. Do the best you can with your list. If you find somebody else that needs help more, feel free to serve there. Pray to be guided to those you should serve.
I felt like the camera crew of a reality TV show, sitting in the back, as Heath used the blue-tooth device on his phone through his car radio. We could all hear the phone ringing, and the entire conversation. Heath’s excellent missionary service was evident as he confidently and kindly spoke to introduce himself. The first man we called, Sharkey, was very excited to have us come, but would not be home that day, which was required for us to help. “Could we call tomorrow? But oh, by the way, everybody in his neighborhood needed help. Couldn’t you just drive over here? Especially a young couple that had left immediately after the flood, and is just getting started?”
We agreed to call him back the next day, and then went to the next number, a lady named Gwen, 74 and a widow. She was ecstatic over the phone that she’d been selected for our help. Our team traveled in both our vehicles to her home. Getting out of Baker, onto the interstate past Baton Rouge, and for most of the 30 minute drive, there was nothing unusual to see.
As soon as we drove into the Denham Springs area, however, the view shifted to something from a Hollywood set …to a … horrible, horrible flood.
Pictures do not do justice. There is no way to describe turning off a main road and from one street to the next, you’re in another world where every home, every block, every street has a 10-12 foot high mountain of destroyed, muddy furniture, appliances, toys and rubble sitting in the front yard. These neighborhoods are not dumpy old homes, or shacks, or run-down trailer villages, but lovely, well-cared for homes that anyone would be delighted to live in. Manicured lawns and yards were evident, as were the quality of the lovely furnishing and appliances sitting in the heaps. Pinterest, HGTV and Better Home and Garden decorating styles showed in the ruined furniture heaped everywhere, along with the remnants of up-to-date kitchens with stainless steel appliances. Toys and ruined belongings of every kind were exposed for all the world to see. There were piles and piles of sheetrock, ruined carpeting, destroyed carpet padding, and clumps of insulation.
By the time we got there, two weeks after the flood, much had been done. And much, much more still needed to be done. Nothing had been removed from the yards, and no one knew when that would happen.
We pulled up to Gwen’s house where she was waiting. The sweetest little lady you’ve ever met, she’d taught elementary school for 40 years, and lived in this house a very long time. Her husband had passed away 16 years ago, also a son, and her own mother had also passed away in this home while she lived there for her last years. Gwen’s adult life was in this home. And it was entirely paid for! Gwen had no mortgage. This past year, deciding that she was in good health, with the house paid for, and planning to live a long time, she had replaced her 20 year old kitchen appliances, and installed a lovely new mahogany front door. The new appliances are now gone, (rather they are in the mountain in the front of her house) and she has contacted a specialist, hoping to dry out and treat the mahogany door. She and her two big dogs, and a grown daughter are currently living with a friend.
With all that she was experiencing, she was happy, bright and thrilled to welcome us! She had previously hired some help to gut most of her house, but there was still plenty to do. Our guys donned their masks, grabbed their tools and went into the house to continue with sheetrock removal. The backyard, which had been worthy of a photo-shoot and special feature for Southern Living Magazine with all kinds of small garden areas and styling, was a completely destroyed mess. The large side gate had been ripped off its hinges in the raging river and had drifted to the front yard. Bob and I got to work hauling things from the yard, then I settled into the garage to work with her.
As the only woman, on the team, I helped her in the garage with some of the belongings she was trying to salvage. A hot and steamy day, the door was open and from a distance, at another time, it might have appeared to be the beginning of a huge yard sale. On closer look, however, everything was either wet, molding or dirty from sitting in flood water. In one corner were all her electronics, TV and computers, to be sorted for insurance inventorying.
She was doing her best to sort through another corner of dishes, then boxes of her children’s special things, and some inherited furniture that might be able to be salvaged. Boxes of holiday ornaments were opened, all wet and ruined, their once delightful colors now strange shades of pale green and orange, and I carried them to the pile. A collection of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls that she had collected as a special little comfort during the years immediately after her husband’s death were in a big tub, but nearly all were molding and ruined. I carried them to the continually growing front yard mountain as well.
“My saddest loss,” she said, as we noted what a lovely home she had had, “are the family scrapbooks. All the growing up years for my children … ruined.”
Indeed, those scrapbooks were already on the mountain heap in the front yard. I saw them, and started to flip through them and realized there were a few photos on the very inside that might be OK. As I pulled the plastic film from the scrapbook pages, however, the colors on the damp photos swirled into a palette of colors that looked like melted crayons. Several more were instantly ruined until I figured out how to cut them out, and lay them flat to hopefully dry. We comforted each other with a conversation about the most important memories being in our hearts, and how many generations in this old world have been born, then lived and died without any thought of photos to mark the people or events.
It was hard to know where to start or organize. As we sorted, Gwen shared that she loved genealogy and had used the Church’s resources many times. It was a thrill to overhear her return a call from a friend with the words, “Girl! You just wouldn’t believe who is here helping me right now! Yes! They all just came, from the Church of Jesus Christ! And they’re still here!”
Gwen’s a spunky one, no matter her age, with an eye to the future! As we went in the house to see how the guys were doing, she showed me an exposed brick wall that led out to the backyard … “That’s been covered with sheetrock all these years, but look how beautiful that brick is! It’s totally something from “Fixer-Upper” that Jo-Jo and Chip would find and never cover up! I’m going to just love it!” she crowed. Then she asked that the guys take down the soffit framework where her cupboards had been. “I’m going for the newer look in cabinets when I rebuild!” she said with a smile.
As we prepared to leave, she found a huge flag, miraculously still dry, that she wanted our photo with, and told us more about her neighbors. “We help each other in this neighborhood! I have had wonderful neighbors for many, many years! But the truth is, we’re all in the spot and none of us can help each other. It’s just how it is. Many of them have made arrangements for travel trailers in their driveways to live in while they get life figured out. I’m with a friend for the time being, but I can’t stay forever. I’m not sure what I’ll do.”
Like most of the people in the area, there is no homeowners insurance for this type of damage. She does not know what her compensation will be from the government. She knows that the best things in life …aren’t things. But there is still a lot to work through, physically, emotionally, and financially.
While we could have spent a week at Gwen’s, it was time to move on. Our other phone numbers didn’t work, so we drove over to find Sharkey’s neighborhood and the young couple he had mentioned.
It wasn’t hard to find them. All the other houses had large mountains out front, but Ashley and Eric’s mountain was small. A few people were pulling things out of the house, and as we stopped to ask if we could help, several people from another church introduced themselves. The actual family, the young couple and a mother-in-law, spoke to us in guarded tones. “We need all the help we can get, as you can see. But how much money do you want?”
It took a little convincing that our team of six strong, sturdy guys with equipment was here for the fun and joy of serving, but once they understood, they welcomed us with open arms and became dear and instant friends.
For them, the flooding had started Friday evening in the baby Anthony’s room. Ashley thought little Anthony had thrown his bottle on the floor and that it had leaked. As the carpeting continued to get wet, she realized they were in trouble and at 2:00 a.m., after some emotional phone calls to family for advice, had gathered together things for themselves and the baby, then left in a hurry to head to her mother’s home. Eric’s mother, Janet, who’d been on the phone with them and knew of the plan, thought she and her daughter, Brittany, were OK. She set the alarm for 4:00 a.m. to check for damage. Whew! The carpet was still dry and she said a prayer of thanks. At 5:30 a.m., when she got up to go the bathroom however, all the carpets were completely soaked and it had started to rise. Soon it was up to their ankles. By 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., they knew they were in trouble as it was well up their shins and rising fast. They were later rescued by someone with a boat. It was extremely frightening. They too, lost everything. She’d spent the past two weeks emptying out her own home, and now it was time to help with her son and daughter-in-law.
“I’ve been praying and wondering how we were going to get this done, as they left after the flood, and nothing had been touched. You are the answer to those prayers.”
I was sent to baby Anthony’s room where a large dresser had been turned over and was on it’s back, face up. Ashley wanted the clothing in the drawers. The drawers were swollen shut. It took a crowbar to open it up. I then loaded the soaking, but perfectly organized baby clothes, into plastic bags to be washed. It was clear from every closet we gutted what a lovely housekeeper Ashley is, and even with all the damage, you could tangibly feel the love in that cute three bedroom home.
Some of our guys commenced with taking down sheetrock, while others pulled out soaked carpeting and padding. They were all he-men, with their crowbars, and saws, and mallets. Like little boys allowed to do whatever they want, however, they want, they grinned and laughed and heaved and ho-ed for hours.
Removing the masses of wet sheet rock, nail-studded moldings, carpet, and carpet padding was a huge job. So was pulling out the kitchen cabinets, counters and sink. All of this was done in an extremely hot, humid, non-air-conditioned environment. Then it had to be taken out. All hands were welcome to load, re-load, then load up again the wheelbarrows and a made-for-construction toting sled. They would drag it and the wheelbarrows through the front door, then through the yard that had 3 weeks of tall grass, to the growing mountain in the front yard.
Two hours into our labors, we were called to the front yard, where Janet, Eric’s mother, had sent a friend to McDonalds for 40 cheeseburgers. “Why 40?” I asked after a blessing had been said, and then we all laughed and realized: 40 cheeseburgers was the perfect amount that Noah would have needed to enjoy a cheeseburger each day during HIS flood!
We worked with Ashley and Eric all afternoon. Once again, their home owners insurance coverage was a mystery for this situation. We actually went and found the filing cabinet where the policy was located, but it had been underwater. When we pulled the drawers open, every important document was reeking, and had turned gummy. The penda-flex hanging folders pulled apart in our hands, and all the documents had become thick, gluey stacks of paper that fell apart when you tried to separate the pages.
Ashley and Eric feel blessed to be living in a camper provided by Eric’s employer, and don’t know comes next as far as housing and compensation. What they do know, and shared again and again is “Yes, we’ve cried all the tears that ever could be. Then cried again. Yes. It feels like a bad dream you just can’t wake up from, but everything we lost can be replaced! But Eric has a great job. We have our lives, and each other!”
We left their home, with pictures and smiles and hugs, at about 5:00 pm. It had rained heavily for 15-20 minutes earlier that afternoon, then cleared. As we left, the skies opened and the rains began again. My heart just broke, realizing that although the many mountains of home furnishings and belongings were already ruined, now they were being rained on and drenched once more.
We traveled back to our camp through the rain, and ran for our tents. Ours was nice and dry, but others in our group retreated to the dry shelter of the abandoned house and slept there. I laid down on my sleeping bag with a good book and a flashlight, content for the night that it had, indeed been a wonderful day with beautiful people and a great deal of joy. Too tired to eat, I think we went across the street when it finally stopped raining to use the bathrooms just before midnight, then returned and went to sleep.
The Shreveport Louisiana Stake was chopping onions and making scrambled eggs, once again, by 5:30 a.m. the next morning. We joked that should our favorite Japanese steak house here in Jackson, the Hibachi Grill, need a qualified vegetable chef, we knew where to find them. We had our own breakfast, then went across the street for the second of the two Sacrament Meetings. We stood in line, as the service before us was packed and not yet finished. It was great fun to hear of everyone else’s adventures and where they’d all come from. A happy spirit of cheer and bubbling energy was everywhere!
We sat in the cultural hall, as the chapel was filled to capacity and there were not enough chairs for everyone. President Thomas MacKay, the Stake President, was conducting. As he stood and welcomed us, he joked that he never thought he’d be out of place in a suit and tie at church. Indeed, it was a sea of yellow shirts, and he was the only one dressed in a suit. Our hymns, were appropriate and never sung so meaningfully, “Because I Have Been Given Much,” “I Stand All Amazed,” and “Press Forward Saints.” The sacrament had been prepared, and was set up not just in the front, but also on round tables throughout the cultural hall that had been covered with white plastic cloths.
There was only one talk: President Mackay told us about how it was to prepare the list for Salt Lake Humanitarian Services. “How do you know how many shovels and crow bars to order?” He queried us. “At the end of the list, because it was still raining, I added one Noah’s Ark. They sent all the shovels and crow bars, but I’m still waiting on the ark.” He asked us to pray with each family that we left, and to let that prayer be the exclamation point on a day where comfort and service had been a joy to provide.
We then loaded our tents and gear into the trucks. It was time to work with one last family for a few hours before heading home. We drove to Sharkey’s, the man we’d spoken with the day before.
Now, here was a hero’s hero! Muscular and well built, with more flood war stories and a way of telling them that should put him on TV, he told us of the Friday night when he realized they were going to flood. His children ( five of them, ranging from ages 4-11) had wanted to play in the water that was rising in the house. Instead he put them to work, with one on the ladder to the attic, and one stationed to be the runner. The rest were to bring their brand new school clothes and their most special belongings to her to stashed into the attic.
Sharkey himself was frying up hamburgers so there would be a hot meal to last them for who knew what the next several days would hold, and to not lose what was in the freezer. With the waters rising, he loaded all five children, his wife and two dogs into their boat. And the hamburgers.
“The water was rising! It was like a wild river in my street, something like you’d see in Colorado. Some of my neighbors in smaller boats had flipped. It was terrible.”
Sharkey got everyone to dry ground at the Walmart not too far away. He found a place for them to be safe, and used several bags of mulch from the garden department so they’d all have something to sleep on. There had been a lot of people and pets at this Walmart, and not all of the interactions, with so much happening, had been pleasant – especially with some of the pets.
“Wasn’t it raining?” I asked. “No, that’s what was so weird. It was only misting, or very lightly raining. This flooding was more related to the rains of the days previous! So no, it wasn’t raining when it started flooding and we left for the Walmart.”
Sharkey’s home needed the sheetrock removed from the four-foot level down only, not to the ceilings like Gwen’s, Ashley and Eric’s. Still, it was a massive amount of work. The acrylic bathroom fixtures needed to be ripped out, along with all the kitchen counters and cupboards. I was assigned to empty out the kitchen cupboards. Baking pans and all the dishes were still filled with brown flood water.
As we visited more with Sharkey, it was one story after another! Including that the morning after they’d left home, he’d gone back to check on the house in the boat. Before arriving, he was sidetracked by a neighbor shouting from her carport for help. When he stopped, she conveyed that her aging parents were trapped in the attic. Sharkey pulled his boat into their yard and told us how they’d found a ladder and helped these folks get out of the attic into their boat.
I will never forget Sharkey or his magnificent spirit. Outside of Sharkey’s house by his mountain of rubble was their refrigerator with a joke spray-painted on it: “If you find a dollar, it’s mine. I lost it here and want it back!” Our guys were so tickled that we set up a photo with Dave giving Sharkey back the dollar. I texted the photo to his wife who texted back. “Ha-ha, only it’s not a joke. I lost a $100 bill out there, but I have a feeling that it’s not coming back.”
Sharkey’s family is scattered right now between two or three different family members, and looking forward to school starting and being together again. They are not quite sure when that will be.
At 1:00 p.m., it was time to go home. I took one last video of Sharkey’s neighborhood as we drove through, and quietly reflected on our time, as the miles sped past. How I’d grown to love the guys on our team. I couldn’t help but wonder which was bigger: the flooding or our incredible Church that can round up several thousand people at a moment’s notice from many miles away, dress them in matching shirts, and send them out to do the work of a mighty army?
It was a life-changing experience that I will never forget. The continual counsel from the Book of Mormon about materialism and pride bubbled in my head as I saw how easily a home and belongings, no matter what they cost, can be destroyed. What matters most? What in my life can, or cannot be destroyed? The powerful lessons and messages on materialism, the things of eternity, and personal preparedness that were there for me will take a long time to be recorded.
I wondered why these families were going through so much, and not me. Could I have been as gracious in a time of such loss? Furthermore, how would my family fare in an emergency? I had seen the leaders in our ward tell these people about 72-hour kits, and watched our families’ eyes widen in surprise with such an excellent emergency plan.
As importantly, however, throughout the weekend an old favorite poem had come to mind, and perhaps is the best thought of all … written by someone who had survived not a flood, but the Holocaust.
by Corrie Ten Boom
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.
I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to be an official Mormon Helping Hand and hope that sharing my experience will be a blessing for those who read it. In truth, every day holds opportunities to be a Mormon Helping Hand. No disaster or yellow shirt is ever required for serving those around us with love and a smile.
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life, available HERE. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband Bob are the parents of five children and grandparents of ten. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson Tennessee, close to Memphis where they center their online business and Carolyn serves in the Primary Presidency. She has been writing for Meridian Magazine since March of 2007.