All of us can be struck at any time without warning. How will we respond? Are we prepared? Several years ago, the small community I lived in was struck by a freak ice storm. Although the damage doesn't begin to compare with the horror of a Tsunami or the water surge of Hurricane Katrina, there were lessons learned by me that I pray will help us all.
Christmas Eve 1998, began like any other day. During the last several weeks our church was involved in a flurry of activities from special Christmas programs to mission projects offering toys and coats to needy children. Our candlelight worship service tonight would be the last big event. My wife, Mell, and I were looking forward to a few days of rest and vacation time with our families. At 6:30 AM, we were sharing a fresh cup of coffee when our lights began to flicker ... then go dark.
"No electricity? Oh well, a few hours inconvenience," we thought as we continued our normal routine. The weather reports had mentioned a possibility of ice and snow, but nothing major. How could I know that we were in the middle of a freak ice storm that would blacken nearly 400,000 homes across Virginia? Throughout the long day, ice and sleet continued to fall.
By 4:00 PM, I reluctantly joined hundreds of churches and cancelled services. Wanting to escape the inconvenience of no power and still not realizing the seriousness of the storm, we decided to visit relatives several hours away. Bad decision! Car wrecks were all over the highways. Trees and large branches littered the road and occasionally fell just in front of our car. A normal three-hour drive turned into seven hours of terror. There were no lights on the road to guide us and no gas stations or restaurants open to offer respite from the storm. Everything was closed and dark.
The next morning, Christmas Day, we assumed power would return soon and decided to go home and see what could be done to help others caught in the storm. Another bad decision! The weather was deceptively calm and the trees glistened like crystal chandeliers on the long drive back. The only evidence of the massive damage was piles of limbs stacked beside the road. Driving through town was like the aftermath of a hurricane with trees and debris everywhere.
Our house still had no power and other than a small fireplace, no alternative source of heat. I came home with noble intentions of helping others, but with a sickening feeling soon realized that the one who would need help first would be me. There were no emergency shelters so I had to first figure out how to survive. During the next four days and long nights, thanks to the generous help of friends and neighbors we did survive and received some hard-learned lessons.
Be Prepared! The old boy scout motto certainly counts here. I had given no thought to how we would manage without electricity. Could we obtain other sources of heat? Did we have candles, flashlights and batteries for light? Could we get enough food and water? By not being adequately prepared, I was forced to ask for help rather than offer help to others. In our spiritual lives, good preparation can also mean the difference between seeking aid and aiding others.
Aggressively Share! We desperately needed help, but hesitated to ask for it. One friend called and delivered a kerosene heater. Several neighbors offered shelter. A local hotel offered rooms to the community for hot showers. A retreat center offered free rooms. As electricity was restored, some folks looked out of cold dark windows and saw houses brightly lit and obviously warm. It was especially appreciated when they opened their doors and generously offered us aid. In our spiritual lives, those of us who are fortunate to know God's light and warmth should aggressively share with those who are still feeling left out in the cold and darkness.
The real heroes of the storm were the hundred's of workers who left their families during Christmas holidays to labor sixteen and eighteen hour days restoring our power. A local nursing home was without heat for two days and in serious trouble. When a local lineman found out, he summoned a crew and immediately went to restore their power, possibly saving several lives. Our community can never thank them enough for their hard work and sacrifice.
The lights returned, the clean up is long over and the Christmas Eve storm has faded into memory. But I will never forget the lessons learned and the generosity of those who reached out to others. It's a simple gesture really. But maybe that is what being a follower of Jesus is really all about?