Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When You've Lost All Things Worldly....

The past week has been such a vivid reminder that our Lord God is Sovereign, and He IS in control. And, He will continue to be. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed by the name of the Lord!

Many of you know that the storms of this past week have been some of the deadliest in the history of the U.S. The state of Alabama was literally ripped to shreds in some areas specifically Tuscaloosa, Cullman, Pratt City, Pleasant Grove, Oak Grove, Concord, Ohatchee, Phil Campbell, Hackleburg, and Huntsville. Over 200 people were killed and stepped into eternity. Another 400 are still missing. Our hearts are heavy with the amount of death and destruction that surrounds us.

The church of our Living Savior has stepped up to meet the needs. People from everywhere are donating clothes, toys, books, toiletries, etc. to meet daily needs of people who have nothing. Others are giving of themselves selflessly to remove debris, search the rubble, and to help clean up. We are absolutely awed at God's provision for His people by the body of Christ!

Just six years ago, we lost all of our worldly possessions in a house fire. Everything we owned (except for some books and a computer in the basement) were gone. God gave JT the presence of mind to throw our scrapbooks out of the house and they are still here as vivid reminders of the fire. With burned edges on each page, we look for photographs to remember times past. The charred remains won't let us forget....and we remember those who find themselves in a similar situation today.

Let me first say that our fire is NOTHING in comparison to what these people here have lost. Many have lost family members...a child, a husband, a wife, a mother, a father and more. Our lives were spared. While we lost our home, we still had family and friends to help us get through the hardships of daily life. Many of these people don't have a neighbor to help because that neighbor lost everything too. Or, a dad needs someone to help him sort through insurance papers (if he can find them) but he has to bury his wife first. My heart breaks for our brothers and sisters who find themselves lost amidst this tragedy.

So many people want to help, and it is God's design for the body of Christ to rise up and take on the burden. With so many organizations leading the way, individuals and groups donating items and places to serve, what are you to do? Based on our own personal experience, here's what helped us the most:

1. Designate a contact person for your family that is NOT you. This should be a very close friend or family member who can literally think for you. This person would be responsible for relaying any needs and encouraging you to get certain things done!
2. Apply for any aid that is available. Many organizations, including FEMA, Red Cross,and local churches will have immediate assistance available. Seek these organizations first as THIS money will NOT be deducted from your insurance money. Remember you only have so much insurance money available to you, and you don't want to use any of that until you have had adequate time to pray and think through the details!
3. Do NOT make any commitments to using funds until you have had plenty of time to pray and seek the Lord's face.
4. Find your insurance policy (if possible). If not, call your insurance company and get a copy sent to you (or your contact person). Make sure you have an electronic copy of this as you will need it!
5. Seek any shelter/food options for your family for the first 30 days after the loss. Again, if you don't have to spend money, DON'T. There are many shelters and food options open right now that you can use to supplement your family's needs! That is what they are there for. Plus, you have the opportunity to be around other people who know what you are going through and can relate!
6. Secure counseling! This is one of the critical items that we sought very early especially for our children. We all needed to process and grieve the loss in a way that was healthy and honoring to God.
7. Tell people your basic needs - clothing for a week, toiletry items, Rubbermaid containers to keep donations in, school supplies for kids, etc. You will be surprised how little you really need at this point. Survival initiates a sense of minimalism.
8. Take an inventory of your home. Picture each room in your mind and note the following: name of item, year purchased (you can estimate), approximate cost at time of purchase (or estimated cost if a gift), and quantity (if more than one). Make the list in Excel or another spreadsheet format so that you can easily adjust as needed. Be thorough!!!! If you have trouble remembering items, ask friends/family for digital pictures taken in your home. Use these photos to help recall any items. Record EVERY item...shampoo, toothpicks, pictures, memorabilia, jewelry, etc. EVERYTHING!!! In addition, make sure you take photos of everything....your car, your hard, every room, every view of your house...lots and lots of photos!
9. When the insurance company assesses your home, be sure to keep a copy of anything said or promised. Keep thorough records. Keep all email correspondence. Know what your insurance policy says...read it several times! (Our insurance company did a great job of communication and walking us through our trials....but it is YOUR job to know what your policy covers so be familiar with it).
10. If you want to keep or salvage certain memorabilia, contact a company like ServPro (David and Christie Wilson here in Birmingham) to help you save certain items. They restored our wedding picture, and it is still a blessing! We also recommend ServiceMaster in the Calhoun County area (Scott and Alyson Mims - better known to us as Aly Dob).
11. Seek out others who have experienced a similar loss (in times past) who can help you walk the journey. Few people understand what it is like to lose everything...you will want that shoulder to cry on sometimes (okay, many times).
12. Pursue medical attention. In the wake of a serious loss, many people are numb to the physical effects on their bodies. After our fire I began to lose a lot of sleep and what sleep I got was full of teeth grinding. The world's best dentist, Dr. James Sanderson, made a guard for me so that I could sleep again and wake up headache free!
13. Be sure to call all of your utility companies and let them know about your situation. Although some/most may be aware, they cannot possibly know every single address that no longer is able to receive their services. So, call your cable, phone, water, electric and gas providers. Have them postpone your service or cut it off depending on the state of your home. Most of them will simply postpone your service and will not charge you an extra fee to turn it back on one day!
14. Get your children back in school as soon as possible. They need a sense of normalcy and a routine. For public school students, the state of Alabama provides great resources during times like this (including free meals, school supplies, etc).
15. Keep a blog or a journal of your journey. This will allow you to retrace what all has happened and remember what the Lord has brought you through!
16. Have a place to receive your mail if you can no longer live in your home. A temporary post office box or forward it to a friend's home for a while. Be sure to notify businesses of your change of address (post office first, of course).
17. Make sure you immediately obtain duplicate copies of your personal identification (driver's license, passport) as well as credit cards and checks. Let your financial institutions know what happened in case someone else tries to use your id (for some of you that had your personal belongings spread across the state).
18. Keep a secure spreadsheet of all of your purchases as well as all receipts. You will need these for insurance purposes!
19. Be aware and mindful that certain smells, sounds, and sights will bring back some intense emotions and evoke feelings that you may not even realize you have. For example, the tornado sirens blaring during the monthly testing service may send some people into panic mode. For us, it was the fajitas in Mexican restaurants with all of the smoke that sent us packing to the door....or a candle burning just a little too long at a friend's house.... This is perfectly normal!
20. I'm placing this as the last item but it is really first. Pray and seek the Lord's face. He has allowed you to live for a reason. I don't pretend to understand His ways, but I know this: He is good, and His ways are not our ways. He is Almighty!! Allow this time to press you even further into His Word and seek Him with all of your heart!

For those of you looking for a place to serve, look for well-known organizations like Samaritan's Purse who have extensive disaster relief programs. Serve with your local church...(for us, that's The Church at Brook Hills) come under their authority and guidance. It can be difficult for families to deal with the outpouring of donations, so be careful not to overwhelm them. Allow the church body to take the lead and serve with them.

Thank you all for allowing Christ to initiate a love and a desire to serve those who have experienced great loss. May God continue to show you where He is working so that you may be a part of what He is doing!

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