HO HO HO Holiday Relief 2016

Having survived a devastating EF4 Tornado the evening after Christmas 2015 I find that I’ve learned a lot of things from being displaced from our home for 9 months. But what I’m writing about now is not about me or any losses we incurred.

In the months following a huge and deadly storm I’ve participated in a number of social media groups that have offered up support and resources for people who’ve suffered loss as a result of losing homes, personal belongings of every kind and just about every sense of safety and security that one might have.

These groups have pointed people to Relief Centers, Red Cross Offices, State Insurance Offices,  and a myriad of places for help with every possible need. People lost lives that warm and humid winter night in North Texas  (miraculously only 8 died). Of those lost they were all in vehicles traveling on the highway when this massive twister rumbled through south Garland headed northeast to Rowlett and beyond. The track went 13 miles with wind speeds up to 180 miles per hour.

With all of the loss that night there are items you wouldn’t normally think about losing at a time like this. You think food, clothing, furniture, cars, and personal belongings of every sort. But something lost because of being immediately following Christmas Day is peoples holiday decorations (both indoor and outdoor).  One big howl of the wind and your house is gone and everything in it is blow to parts unknown.

Having had great insurance and a very competent and trustworthy contractor to rebuild our home we feel especially blessed. Fortunately we only lost what little outdoor decorations we had. Our inside items (with the exception of the Christmas Tree damaged by the move and storage) didn’t sustain loss. So our tons of crates of decorations remain intact.

So as we are now back home I feel inclined to give back to our community that continues to suffer as a result of a fluke storm that changes many people’s worlds.

I am in the Christmas business 365 days a year as a buyer for a Lighting company. So Christmas lights and decorations are not a seasonal item for me. It is something I do year round. And you wouldn’t believe how many people will buy these products year round!

Currently I am soliciting the help of some of my vendor/suppliers for donations of Christmas lights, greenery and any other product that they are willing to send me. I’m also soliciting items from the local community as well via social media and other means. Then whatever we come up with we will assemble and distribute to those in need for this 2016 holiday season. We even have crews of men standing by ready to serve by installing displays as needed.

I heard a story last week of a lady who had just installed Christmas lights for the first time in a fairly new home. Her 2 year old son loved them. But they were all blown away and destroyed in a span of about one minute. She’s already told her son that they won’t be able to decorate their home this year. (oh, by the way her home was destroyed). They’ve since rebuilt but there have been plenty of expenses for every other imaginable thing besides holiday decorations.

Hearing stories like that propel me to action. Knowing people might not have such a normally festive time for lack of Christmas lights, presses me to do all I can to meet those needs. “The need is great but the supply must be greater”. I may capture that phrase as our motto in the project we are calling HoHoHo Holiday Relief 2016.

See our Facebook page for detailed donation and distribution locations and times. https://www.facebook.com/hohohoholidayrelief2016/

 

Normalcy – Crazy is Normal Too!

It really hasn’t been all that bad. People say “oh I am so sorry for your loss” or they have very careful responses when we are forced to tell them “our home was damaged in the tornado”. People have been really kind, but guardedly careful in their responses to us – as if we might just break down and boo-hoo on the spot. We’ve even gotten to the point that if the subject comes up (for whatever reason) we are starting to avoid telling people of our plight.

There have been annoying aspects of having things change so quickly – but being displaced by a Christmas tornado is not the end of the world. We all have stuff in our homes – like clothes – and appliances – and tools and closets full of food, and other items we can’t seem to live without. But to put it bluntly, virtually everything at our home either got thrown in the trash, tossed hurriedly into a suitcase or moved to a warehouse in very short order.

In the middle of the really drastic changes of the past 50 days we’ve been able to gain back a little familiarity in the past few days, by simply getting our hands on a couple of our own chairs. Hotel and rental furniture leave a bit to be desired in the posterior and lumbar departments. And excitedly one of our cars came back “home” last week after an extended excursion to a tropical body shop. The other car hope to make its escape this afternoon. So instead of driving my beat up pickup truck or the wonderful borrowed car from our daughter (which we were very grateful to have), we are getting back a few things that we depend on to help make things seem “normal” again.

We are undoubtedly part of the “Golden Agers Club” in our trendy apartment home. It is definitely a change parking in a garage that has more than one level and wondering each day what choice spot we’ll score (and hoping it is close to the correct exit). Then there’s the walk from the garage to the mailbox, and then up the elevator to the frigid hallway to our new paradise. Was that a right then left, or other way around?

But somewhere in my past I heard that new experiences are supposed to stretch you keep you young, aren’t they? If so we should have trimmed about 20 years off by now! At least things are not mundane and boring. One positive is that we’ve found like twenty new places to eat while waiting for a place where we could actually cook a meal or two on our own. Making our own food this past Friday night, was fine dining indeed. Hog heaven was more like it.

Over the course of time we’re learning to sit back, see the scenery, and enjoy the ride! What comes around the next bend might be yet unknown, but it surely will be just another adventure in the twists and turns of a crazy trip!

 

Progress is Slow – But it’s Still Progress

Finding your sea legs after something crazy as a tornado hitting your home is a difficult task. Being patient and being placed “on hold” is something I don’t’ do well. I manage my personal affairs with a “full hands on” for most things. Being dependent on other people and waiting for dominoes to fall does not come naturally for me.

We all hate insurance, until we need them – to pay off. The constant battle is this – Do I or don’t I trust the insurance company? Currently I do trust them. They said the right things. They seem to be on our side and in our corner.

Storm follow-up and repairs are slow, especially in such a hard hit are like North Texas. I am learning a great lesson that I’ve heard about before- That this is going to be a marathon not a foot race. We are taking a very LONG foot race. it will be about endurance and hanging in there. The word race will now be replaced with journey.

It has been an emotionally grueling 3 weeks since our world flipped over. Emotions change every day or two. It goes from shock to sad to mad to hurt, and then bits of each all over again. At least now I don’t take those big nose dives after visiting our home. The hurt is being replaced with “OK, let’s get this ball rolling and get it all done”.  If you don’t like simple auto damage claims, you’d not believe all of the elements of a catastrophe dwelling claim. I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by it all. So many decisions face us in the months ahead. But the alternative is homelessness! We are grateful for small things that we took for granted before.

We are on a quest to find joy in our journey. We’ll look back one day and know what we should have worried more about, and what we should have done differently. We hope we’ll be better people for this chapter. We can’t help but think there is some grander purpose in this all. We just know it.

Riding the Rails

The emotional roller coaster in the aftermath of devastation is quite the ride. The ride takes off with tons of adrenaline flowing that moves you to action as you take that first steep dive down the tracks. Then as you start up the next hill you get a bit concerned about how high the next drop might be .

Then after a few days of riding you are dizzy and downright tired of the ups and downs. The downhill falls seem to get steeper when they come. But pockets of adrenaline arrive to alieve some of your fears.

About a week in you realize that your life (all of it) will never be the quite the same. Planning for a life change and implementing that plan is quite different than being forced to change every single plan and thought you had about your future.

Yesterday was one of those days. It started out stressful at work with tons of things to do and not knowing where to start on them because they were all urgent. It was so overwhelming it made me want to just walk away. Then I found a happy place with earbuds in place with some soothing music that took me away. That’s when work started cranking out. At the crest of the ride I decided that I needed to go “home” at lunch to survey the mess to see what we still need to do in the mopping up process. That little visit sent me back to a bad place.

Life has its ups and downs regardless of the date or your station in life. Challenges that we all face can take us from contentment to worry and doubt, in short order.

As I reviewed my life (and not just the past 10 days) I was reminded of some words from Isaiah 54:10 that lifted me up.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” NIV

That’s all I got today, and all I need.

Where’s My Cup – Quest for Normalcy

Having a normal nights rest is something that can be illusive the older we get. Depending on circumstances or diet or a change in the time we retire, we seem to search for the perfect sweet spot so that we can get a deep restorative sleep.

When your apple cart is flipped on it’s side or tossed a block from your home you reach for the fruit – it is not there. You look and all you find is an empty place.

When everything in it’s place has been moved, the quest for things from your normal routine begins. Whether it’s a favorite coffee cup or a small screwdriver, trying to navigate back to simple routine it can be as illusive as laughter at the IRS office.

Our complex world can become very simple in short order.

99.9% of our personal belongings are now in storage 19 miles from us. I almost said 19 miles from home. Camping out in a hotel room is fine for a couple of days but the novelty and simplicity grows thin rather quickly, especially when you can’t even find your house shoes.

Humans were created for routine. Navigating in the dark in our home is  (was) something I’ve took for granted. Not that I count, but I can walk directly the the door handle on the bedroom door. I can walk to the kitchen or den without running into a wall or stumping my toe. When I wake up in the morning I can tell you what time it is without even looking. I can take you to the top drawer of my toolbox in the garage for a screwdriver (in the dark) and pull out a phillips head.

When I rolled out of bed this morning I turned right and ran into the window. Then I put my foot in my bride’s shoe and it didn’t fit. I walked in the dark with my hands out in front and walked slowly. I saw a glimmer of light. Aha -the  microwave clock! That tiny light is so important to me right now. Who would have ever guessed?

We found that we have a nice lady here that can make a mean omelet in the hotel lobby. We have a new routine! The food is good but I have a hard time with total strangers sitting around in their jammies and hair so wild they could easily have a bird hiding in there. As we prepare to return to work tomorrow we will no doubt enjoy at least something that is routine and familiar. Who would think I want to go back to work?!

I promise to grateful today. I will be grateful to go to my church, even though it’s 12 miles further now. I will be grateful for a couple of meals prepared by someone else. I will be grateful to know I still have a partner that I adore with every fiber of my being.

It will take a little time, but we will find our new “normal”. And we will be happy with whatever that different routine brings us. We have no reason to fear. We have no reason the grieve. We have no reason to worry. We have each other and we hang onto a God that we believe in. We know that He will provide our every need. He’s that kind of God and we trust in His goodness.

Oh Holy Night – Part 2

In an instant your life and everything familiar to you can change.

For a few seconds the lights stayed on. I knew the storm had passed but somewhere during the walk from the security of the bathroom to our kitchen we lost power. I noticed then that the kitchen ceiling was down and the little pink insulation topped everything in the room.

Opening the door into the garage revealed tons of debris and items from the attic now resting atop both cars. The wallboard blocked it so that we couldn’t see. What I’d later find is not roof above the garage and the metal door on top of both cars.

Knowing we’d been spared total destruction I continued out front to see what else I’d find. A view of the street was shocking, to say the least. Even in the darkness I could see entire trees and tons of debris blocking the path to the street. There were pieces of houses so large it was unfathomable how they arrived there, especially in the span of less that one minute.

Next thought was to see if our neighbors of 30 years were intact and OK. As flashlights began to appear I could see what looked like one half of a house directly across the way. My pickup was still in front of the house buried under a tree with a limb impaled in it’s windshield all the way through the dash.

I could hear my bride in the background trying to reach our daughter Holly because the trajectory of this storm would place it on their doorstep. We later found that they were close to downtown Dallas and not at home. home was within 6-7 blocks of some of the worse destruction in Rowlett, TX. Their home suffered only minimal roof damage.

Within minutes a number of saints showed up at our place to check on us and lend  lend a hand. Without our children and close friends I think we would have probably caved in emotionally in short order. There was an urgency in everyone that I’ve not witnessed firsthand before. It was hectic and fast and crazy. We didn’t have time to worry or cry.

As we continued to survey the damage we saw one shocking thing after the other. Walls missing, roof trusses that looked like matchsticks and destruction too great to fully comprehend. I believe  the emotion of shock protects you from caving in and giving up. For me preservation mode kicks in and my mind starts to prioritize everything.

For one of the first times in my adult life I wanted to set aside my instinct to take control and make things happen, to that of wanting to just be a foot soldier behind a great general. We had several such officers that night that were taking on my normal role of leader and protector. I appreciate every one of them more than you will ever know. They were firing questions at me as if I were in charge. I was anything but in charge. So having these folks in full battle mode was just what we needed.

With large sections of roof missing and heavy rain coming, within hours, I think we instinctively knew that moving recoverable items to covered areas of house was crucially important. Try taking a fully furnished house and pressing everything into a couple of rooms and you quickly find that is a difficult task, while at the same time trying not to damage what was being moved.

The emotions of our disaster seem to run in circles. Shock one moment then sadness. The old mind races and normal sleep is hard to find. It’s been a week and I just had my first full restful sleep. Perhaps that’s because we left town. Perhaps that’s because we have something great to celebrate being able to meet our new grandson Austin.

When I held this little fella last night there seemed to be a great salve of healing being applied to my soul. This little boy represents hope to me. He represents OUR future. Destruction and despair and worry and doubt melt away like hot butter when I think of this majestic creation that God created from microscopic cells.

There is more to this story because it’s still unfolding. But for now I have bright hope and encouragement. God is not finished with us yet.

 

O Holy Night – Part 1

On the early morning of this new year I find myself awake early. The past week has been a bumpy ride, literally. Following Christmas day there were errands to run and  the decompression after the buildup to Christmas Day. Upon settling in my old easy chair to watch a little TV, little did I know that silent night was about to become anything but silent.

The networks were being preempted by the weather on this warm and sticky December Texas evening. We knew we had a cold front on it’s way and heavy rain coming the next day. Texas weather is a crazy thing. We laugh, but all four seasons can happen in a single day.

As I watched the weather guy track a heavy thunderstorm, that was starting to turn ugly, little did I know that weather front had a late Christmas present for us.

One storm had produced a tornado south of Dallas and it had tracked almost to the downtown area of Big D. As I watched the trajectory of that storm, I told my bride that I was more concerned about the eastern side of the track because that is where we were sitting.

A few minutes later I lost satellite signal. Usually when this occurs it will rain pretty heavily within a short time. I waited for the sound of rain on my chimney. Nothing.

As I sat in my recliner looking out through my patio door I could see some flashes of light that were most likely lightning strikes from an approaching new storm. Being the constant weather watcher that I am, I stood and looked out to the southwest to see in the back-lit sky what surely looked like what they call a wall cloud.

I summoned my better half for a look. She saw what I saw. It was a cloud hanging lower than the surrounding clouds. And there were flashes of light that made it evident it was more than a wall cloud.

I opened the door and stepped on the patio for a better view. That’s when I heard “that” sound. It was a roar with a loud motor grinding pulsating. It appeared several blocks from us. I quickly tried to determine if it was headed left or right. It was neither. It was coming our way.

I loudly called out to my wife that we needed to head to the main bathroom. I’ve always been a scoffer at the warnings to get in the tub. This time I knew better than to question what my ears and eyes had seen.

So with pillows in place and Miss Sadie in (our dog) we closed the door and waited. A mere 60 seconds had passed when we heard a couple of loud “booms” and a little vibration. Then quiet. I said it’s over. And it was.

The “easy” part was now over.