With Endurance and Calm

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On this day, three years ago,
-I didn’t know where my elderly father was and if he had been evacuated from the senior’s home beside the river,

-my sister-in-law had to wade through water to get to her patients at the hospital,

-my brother, cut off by wash-outs, refused helicopter rescue and stayed to help neighbours whose property was crumbling into the raging Cougar Creek,

-my son’s family’s home and vehicle was under eight feet of water and sewage after the Highwood River changed course and the berms meant to protect the town center redirected water into his neighbourhood 3 kilometers away,

-I was in Edmonton on the other side of the mountains from my husband with washed out bridges and roads between us,

-our daughter’s family couldn’t get back to their home in Alberta for the same reason,

-the familiar landmarks of my childhood in downtown Calgary were submerged,

-and soldiers drove tanks down the Queen E II highway on rescue operations.

 

That day this verse meant a lot to me: When you face stormy seas I will be there with you with endurance and calm; you will not be engulfed in raging rivers. If it seems like you’re walking through fire with flames licking at your limbs, keep going; you won’t be burned.                         (Isaiah 43:2 The Voice)

On this day, three years later, I can say God has been with us with endurance and calm. We were not engulfed. I have hope and an even stronger sense that God is good.

Thank you, Lord, that when we are on a difficult or lonely road you have already placed provisions we will need there in advance. We just need to look to you to see the bigger picture.

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Restoration: High River

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I was back in High River a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a year and a half since the flood. A lot of improvements have been made since I wrote High River’s Higher Calling, the post with the most hits on this blog.  I still believe this is an exceptional town, full of the kind of people who adversity trains to become leaders in the country. I still believe they have a high calling.

A lot of improvements have occurred in the last year.

Some homes are actually in better shape than before. Real estate sales are surprisingly good. The restoration period has allowed some businesses to make the improvements they had never gotten around to. The temporary shops down by the railway museum have been dismantled and there is no longer a need for the refugee town of Saddlebrook.

These people have become champions at waiting and patient endurance.

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Restoration can take a long time.

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Some parts of High River are still under construction.

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A large school is still fenced off to students, the playground equipment set off to the side of the playing field now chewed up by heavy machinery.

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Some folks still wait their turn for reconstruction and some houses are boarded up, their owners overwhelmed by the situation.

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And wait…

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And wait…

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There are as many orange construction vests and helmets as leather jackets and cowboy hats to be seen on the streets – maybe more. Utility trailers still park in every neighbourhood and the beep-beep of heavy machinery working on flood mitigation projects is so common it’s become the new background music in this score.

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Life goes on.

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The town endures and rebuilds, one nail, one paint brush stroke, one shovelful, one stone at a time.

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The weary sigh and wait and wonder – how long?

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For some, life is becoming more difficult now that the worst is over. I was thinking about this when I remembered a time of mourning in my life.

As a musician I was often called on to sing or play the organ or piano at a funeral. I learned how to emotionally detach myself so I could bring this moment of comfort to people. I performed songs that were meaningful to survivors, sometimes hunting for music or learning songs in unfamiliar languages on very short notice, but many people told me it meant a great deal to them. It was hard to perform if I was close to the people who were in pain, and harder still if the person we were mourning was someone I knew well. (Eventually I learned to let the tears flow. It was trying to stop them that causes the choked up feeling.) I decided not to take on this role when I was the one sitting in the front row at a funeral. I knew that I was there to mourn and I needed to be comforted.

When my beloved grandmother died I had a chest cold which gave me a good excuse not to sing, even though some people turned the guilt screws and said, “But she was your biggest supporter. It would have meant so much to her.” Fortunately laryngitis gave me an out and another family member stepped in. I warned him to take care of himself after the funeral. I told him that being the strong one who kept control of feelings had its downside. Sometimes when you have to ‘be the strong one’ and keep your emotions in check because people are depending on you, you will find yourself alone when they do rise up, and by then everyone else has moved on.

He is a marvelous musician and “did her proud” as some of Grandma’s friends said. He had to leave right after the funeral due to pressing business in another city. I called him later to check on him and he told me I was right. He was feeling fine, when hours later, he broke down weeping uncontrollably and had to find a place to get off the freeway because he couldn’t drive. He found himself on a lonely back road in the middle of nowhere without the comfort of friends and family.

In a crisis there are strong people we know we can rely on. Sometimes we are amazed at the fortitude of giving people. Sometimes they give and give and give tirelessly for days… months… years…

Then one day, when everyone else has been cared for and gone back to their normal lives, they find themselves alone on a back road, overcome by the emotions that have been piling up in their hearts.

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I’ll be honest. Our family has been through some tough battles in the last couple of years. We have come out victorious, seeing God step in and do miracles and provide in ways we never imagined. He is SO good and we are SO thankful! I am grateful that He gave me the strength to support other people when somebody had to do it. I am even more grateful for the ones who stood by me and held me up when I felt I didn’t have the strength to go on. There are still challenges, of course, but it’s comparatively smooth sailing right now, and the timing seems strange, but I’ve been realizing there is a backlog of emotion spilling out of my own closet that won’t stay shut anymore.

That’s what I saw in High River this time. Put it in the takes-one-to-know-one category. Life is back to normal for most people, and many of the friends and comforters and charity services have gone home. But now some of the toughest folk, the ones with the broadest shoulders, the ones everyone relied on, are having to pull off the freeway and do their own mourning. It’s a lonely business.

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Mourning and restoration can take a very long time. But when restoration comes, the newly blossoming trees will provide shade as townsfolk sit in their re-planted gardens and tell their children and grandchildren that although they were beaten down, perplexed, exhausted, emotional, and pushed beyond what they thought they could endure, that God never failed, and endurance has developed character, and that strength of character allows them to have the kind of hope that does not disappoint.

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When the healing’s done High River will be a city of refuge, of peace, of caring –and of love.

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They’re a tough breed, these ranch country people. A walk around town today revealed such contrasts, the broken and the restored, the old and the new, the open and the closed, the cold temperature and the warm hearts.

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Hampton Hills by frosty fields

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Superman’s barn

IMG_5603Filming “Heartland” at -11 degrees. One of the crew took me to a place to watch where I wouldn’t I wouldn’t be in the way, then offered me a hot cuppa tea.

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IMG_5601“One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity. ”

-Albert Schweitzer

High River’s Higher Calling

Dark cloud over High River, Alberta
Dark cloud over High River, Alberta

 

High River, Alberta is still under a cloud. It may not be the same dark heavy rain cloud that dumped more water than the Highwood River could hold on that horrible day in June, but it’s a cloud. And even though there is light on the horizon, for many people living with the consequences of the first day of summer disaster, it is still dark and heavy. The children will tell you.

I stayed in Saddlebrook camp this week, caring for my grandchildren while their parents were away on business. Saddlebrook is the trailer town out in the country on the road to Okotoks built to house those whose homes are not habitable. There are many kind, encouraging, generous people there –especially in the food service areas (residents are not permitted to use the unconnected stoves). Visitors to the camp are strongly discouraged, but as a substitute parent I was permitted to stay (after paper work and getting photo I.D.) The government has generously provided housing to those still affected by the flood, but due to logistics problems there are often a lot of rules and regulations that communicate a big brother/victim disparity in such situations. (I’ve noticed that when people who already feel a loss of control are treated like incapable victims, they start to act like helpless victims –and angry victims need someone to blame. Just sayin’.)

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Saddlebrook

I cannot possibly understand what it is like to suddenly lose everything but the mortgage. I don’t really know what it is like to wait, fill out forms, and wait some more and still not have answers. All I can do is listen –and pray.

I listened to where-were-you-when stories. I listened to you-think-that’s-bad stories. I listened to survivor guilt stories from folks who didn’t have much damage. I listened to a job list a mile long from an exhausted young father who sat on the front steps of his broken house, too tired to put one foot in front of the other anymore. There is so much to do in his “spare time” before winter.

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The garden
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Watermarks
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The front door
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The kitchen

I listened to a young mother who longed to correct her children in private when they misbehaved at the dinner table in the café at Saddlebrook. “Don’t misunderstand. I’m very grateful,” she said. “The food is good, but it is not what I would choose to make for my toddlers. I just want to go home and cook for my family again. It’s hard to explain.”

Someone told me, “People have been really kind and have wanted to give us things, but we have nowhere to put them. And I sound awful and l hate myself for it, but I don’t want your stuff! I want my stuff! I liked my stuff! I want my baby pictures. I want my Grandma’s teapot. I want my old music. I want to go home!”

I think my granddaughter expressed it best when she was telling me about children on the school bus arguing over who was most deserving of sympathy: the ones who lost everything, the ones who knew people who died, the ones who lost their school and still don’t have classrooms and are trying to study en masse with other traumatized kids and teachers in a single chaotic banquet hall room without an outside play area, the ones who don’t have dads to help them fix their houses, the ones living in a fenced refugee camp with security guards checking their every move….

She stomped her foot and cried, “They don’t understand! You don’t understand! Nobody understands!” then plopped on her bottom bunk bed in the tiny “kitchen” and pulled a blanket over her head because that’s as close as she can get to running to her room and slamming the door.

She’s right. Every heart has its own sorrow. And this was definitely not the time to remind her of Syrian refugees or Pakistani Christians being blown up in their churches. She can’t understand their sorrow any better than they understand hers.

Only the heart can know its own resentment; likewise no stranger can experience its joy. (Proverbs 14:10)

I admit I feel my own rage rising and want to stomp my foot and scream every time I read another heartless online comment about “the foolishness of people who build on a flood plain and then want the government to pay for their stupidity.” Our son’s house is more than two kilometers from the river in an area that is still marked on the maps as being far outside any risk for flood. They are hard-working responsible people who checked before buying. This flood was way beyond anything a prudent planner could have predicted. The history of this country is that nearly all towns and cities are built on waterways. According to the maps millions in this country are at greater risk of flood than they were. Do we blame people for building in areas where tornadoes, or forest fires, or earthquakes, or blizzards or ice storms or tsunamis occur? I guess my heart has its sorrow too and I’ve got some forgiving to do. No, these know-it-alls don’t understand –and why should they? If a person has never faced adversity or experienced feeling out of control of their circumstances it is easy to maintain the illusion of being sufficient unto oneself. They don’t know what it is like for others –not really.

I saw signs of recovery though –like a chinook arch of clear sky rising on the horizon. People were trimming hedges and mowing lawns or raking leaves in some areas of town. Businesses were re-opening. Folks were discussing the choosing of new paint colours and flooring options for re-builds. My grandson was thrilled with a patch of grass in the camp big enough for him to practise throwing his new football. There is talk of an off-leash dog park going up nearby -somewhere near the beep beep beep sounds of backing-up earth movers.

I saw people laughing.

I saw kids showing off donated clothes and backpacks.

I saw a group of loving people whose church building was not damaged. They moved their own service to less-than-convenient early hours on Sunday to make room for others to use their building for the rest of the day.

I saw grateful tears in the eyes of an older woman as she clutched a handmade quilt my friend sent. (Rose gave a dozen of her gorgeous handcrafted quilts to the folks in High River).

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Quilts

“I waited until the families took what they needed,” she said. “But I’m so glad this one is still here. It’s so beautiful. You don’t know what it’s like to lose everything and have to start again at my age. It means so much to have something this nice!”

No, sweet lady, I don’t know what it’s like. But I see joy in your face and you give me hope.

I dare to believe that most of the people of High River will not only survive, but that this beautiful windy mountain-edged prairie town will thrive and remember the sorrow of this tough season without bitterness. They will also remember the joy. My prayer is that they will know what it is to need help and how to give help in a way that preserves dignity. They will use this opportunity to develop the skills that untangle red tape; they will know from experience how to plow through unwieldy bureaucracy, how to organize volunteers, how to establish a grass-roots just-folks-helping-folks attitude that can stand firm when disaster hits another Canadian town. They will know how to be grateful, thoughtful, helpful and compassionate because, unlike the nasty commentators on the sidelines, they get it. Right now they are hurting and need more time to heal, but they will rise up again.

They will rise up.

It’s people like these beautiful folks, the ones trained by adversity, who build up this country. They are the wise ones. They are the strong ones.

I believe when the dark cloud blows away, the town will see it has a purpose and a higher calling in the grand scheme of things.

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Higher Calling

High River will be a city of refuge, of peace, of caring –and of love.

He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles. (2 Corinthians 2:4)