After the smoke clears: How to help when it really matters after a crisis
Long after the news crews left, we were still there, making the drive to our land every evening to work on the house. We'd gotten the windows in and electricity on after almost a year. We stood in the yard to admire the work. The light shone on the new sheetrock that had yet to be painted. Our high school boys were scribbling on their homework after they had helped us lift windows into place. They see us standing in the yard and decide to join us.
"Just look at it…isn't it beautiful?!" I say. The men in my life and myself are lined up, staring at barebones of a house, as if we are seeing the premier of the newest flick. We stand motionless as the light softly gives a welcome feel. A sight we had been longing for, "We will be home soon, she's coming along."
When I hear that song, "The House that Built Me," by Miranda Lambert, I'm overwhelmed. In the song a lady is returning to her childhood home and recalling certain memories. Her room where she did her homework and learned to play guitar, her handprints on the front step, her favorite dog that’s buried in the yard. She says, "If I can just come in I swear I'll leave. Won’t take nothing but a memory, from the house that built me." Where she was returning to a home from her childhood, we were rebuilding our lives after a wildfire had taken our home.
The day was dry, without rain for months. The winds were particularly high as we left church to grab a quick bite to eat. We saw a fire in the distance, too far to be concerned. That's what we thought anyway. We never knew what that day would hold. But we– along with several families–would not return to our own beds to sleep. We would lie down at a friend's, a pastor's, a trailer that nobody lived in…a place that was not home. All the while with the unbelievable thought of losing everything is pulsing through every inch of our minds. It was one of the hardest things our family had been through. It was one of the longest recovery periods in our lives. And for our family it was one of those times we witnessed the help of others in unbelievable ways.
We had the help of our community, our church, our family and strangers. We received everything a person could need–money to replenish our home goods, a place to stay for free while we figured it all out and rebuilt. Our boys were gifted a new guitar and drum set since they lost theirs in the fire. We also were brought meals, gift cards, and clothing. Our biggest monitory gift was a house that was to be torn down in town but instead would be moved to our place. Every step of the way, as scary and unstable as it may have seemed, was met by the unbridled love of people and our mighty God who provided (Phil. 4:19). An electrician offered to do new electrical, a plumber friend offered his services as well. The outpouring was incredible!
Here's the best advice we offer to those who want to help someone whose recovery from a major life event.
- Show Up. Many times people don't want you to say the perfect thing. They honestly just want you to be there. They want you to walk through life with them, especially in a time of uncertainty. People who showed up and grabbed a shovel, brought us water or food, or just gave us a hug made the biggest impact. Do keep in mind that this will be a long process so jot their name on your calendar for the next several months. Our church did this for us by assigning people to help as long as needed. We will forever be grateful for everyone who showed up!
- Ask. Sometimes we assume that people want the ugliest couch we own just because they lost theirs. After the fires I saw so many ugly, peed on, dusty couches that hadn't seen the light of day since the '50s hit the streets. Someone who already has too much on their plate now has to fake being polite and accept it. Now don't hear me being ungrateful but honestly the amount of broken, unusable stuff we received made an overwhelming time even more overwhelming. Ask what they need or give a gift card to a supercenter or hardware store.
- Pray and offer support. Other than the work that you can physically do, pray for them. Prayer is the worker we can't see and accomplishes plans that we know nothing about. Take time to listen, lighten their load, and even be comic relief when appropriate. The people closest to you know when it's needed. Laughter is good like a medicine and gives us much needed relief! Prov. 17:22
If you can do these three things for someone, you will be effective help to them. Most importantly don't forget about them when the news crews leave. Believe me; they will never forget the love you show them in the follow-through.
We will leave you with this:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
James 2:14-17 (NIV)