Sunday, August 29, 2010

How Hurricane Katrina Changed My Life

Or better yet -- How God used Hurricane Katrina to change my life.

I always think it's kind of interesting when someone shares their "testimony." That's mainly because I can't imagine sharing just one testimony. How do you choose? How do you break it down?? What do you share?

For me, my list of "testimonies" is way long. Some are pretty -- some aren't. But I don't have a single experience in my life that's more powerful, or more treasured, than the way God used Hurricane Katrina to change my life. And today, as we mark the 5th year anniversary of Katrina's landfall, is the best possible time to share that with you.

I was miles and miles away from the storm. Living in Plano, we didn't feel the immediate impact. We didn't go through the trauma that so many people did. I didn't lose everything I owned, or my home, or any loved ones. In fact, my experience with Hurricane Katrina would never be counted among my "losses." For me, the hurricane was a gift.

Please don't take that wrongly. Please don't walk away right now. I know many people were hurt greatly. Maybe you were. But hear me out.

Five years ago.... I'm not at all proud of what was going on in my life. I'd made some choices -- not good ones -- and was reaping the results. I don't want to go into details, but I will put your mind at ease enough to let you know that know that no drugs, alcohol or affairs were involved. Nothing illegal.

But still, I'd made choices, friends had been hurt, and I was on the dark side of the moon. I'd "fallen down," and I didn't know how to get up. While Biggs knows all of this now, he knew nothing then.

I would take the girls to preschool, then come home and sleep. I'd pick them up, come home, get dressed and clean the house. By the time he got home at 6 or so, dinner would be ready. I could have been on Broadway. He was travelling a lot, and life was more than a little crazy.

I don't have any recall as to how long I was "down." Maybe a couple of weeks. No one in my life knew what was going on. I never saw a doctor -- I never took "happy pills." I'd simply fallen down. I didn't feel worthy of the life God had blessed me with. I was so ashamed of what all I'd done.

During that time, Biggs and I had become involved with two small group Bible studies. We met on Sunday nights with a group in Allen. On Wednesday nights, we met with a second group in Plano. Almost immediately, Biggs started serving as the apprentice leader on Wednesdays, and eventually led the group.

Then Katrina hit. And as I watched the scenes over and over and over on the TV, I knew I had to do something.

At that time, we hadn't been members at The Branch (our church) all that long. We weren't really "plugged in." But I'd made some friends who were involved with setting up a response from our church. I got plugged in.

We went home that weekend for Opening Weekend of dove season. It's a National Holiday as far as we're all concerned. Biggs needed to come back earlier than usual anyway, but I remember getting everyone up in time to make it back to The Branch for church that Sunday. We did special offering, and the money came pouring in.

I loved what The Branch did with that money. Each small group Bible study was giving a certain amount -- I think the initial amount was $500 -- to help a family displaced by Katrina. The Metroplex was teeming with these families -- people who had nothing more than the clothes on their backs. We were empowered to find a family -- and help them.

It's been five years, and I don't remember the reasons why the first family we found wasn't a perfect fit, but our small group was sent back to the drawing board after delivering some food and a Yahtzee game to their hotel room.

Within a day or so, we got word of a family in Frisco that needed our help. My friend Janell and I went up there to visit with them. Mike and Madonna were staying with Madonna's daughter, Melody, but they needed to get a place of their own. They had fled New Orleans with very little. They had honestly thought this was just a warning, and they would be able to get back in their home a day or so later. When they left, they had no idea they would lose everything they owned -- that the flood waters would overtake their home, damaging everything in it.

This wasn't the first time they had faced tragedy. At one point, Mike's son had married a woman who already had a daughter by another marriage. The son and his wife had eventually had a baby girl together. Unfortunately, this woman had turned to a life of drugs, they had divorced, and Mike's son had gotten custody of both children.

Then disaster struck. Mike's son was killed by a drunk driver. The courts gave Mike and Madonna custody of the girls.

And then came Katrina.

They needed our help -- and helping them is what picked me up, set me on my feet, and got me out of my funk.

And boy, did we ever help them. My precious friend Dori gave them the bed out of her guest room. We bought them clothes and school supplies and helped them find a place to live. It was so cool to see our friends being the hands and feet of Jesus through this process. It was so cool that The Branch had given us the tools needed to do just that.

So much was going on a the same time, that it's really hard to write this in an organized fashion. So please bear with me.

At the same time we were helping this family through our Wednesday night small group, we were involved in that Sunday small group across town. An elder and his wife were a part of our group. One of the great things about our Sunday night group was that we spent a lot of time in prayer, and one of the things we prayed about often was the life of one of the elder's sons. He'd asked us to pray that his son would be led back to the Church. And that he would see that his lifestyle wasn't the one God would have chosen for him.

And at the same time all this was going on, my friend Dori and I had joined the Ladies' Bible Class at The Branch. Our leader was Robyn Knight, and I have no doubt God put her right where she was to play a role in what was playing out in my life.

All this is going on simultaneously. Dori and I are doing this Bible study. We're praying for the Watson's son -- at this point I don't even know his name. And we've plunged into helping Mike and Madonna and their girls.

Early on, we find out that the girls missed having a birthday party. One daughter's birthday was in August -- before Katrina. The other daughter's birthday was in September. They had always done one party between the birthdays, but Katrina had prevented that from taking place.

So we decided to throw them a party. The local skating rink gave us a "deal." The Branch helped our Small Group host the party. We had a Tina cake and friends and all that jazz. Everyone brought presents -- and we gave Mike and Madonna money to buy their girls presents from them.

The party was a blast -- but the really cool part didn't happen until afterwards. Towards the end of the party, I was sitting down talking to Melody's boyfriend/husband/guy who I had no idea how he fit in. But he fit somehow.

So we're talking (knowing I could take to a fencepost for hours, I know you don't find that a surprise), and this guy named Marcus brings up how we used to go to Pitman Creek, how we're at The Branch, and how his parents go to The Branch. His dad is an elder there. The same one in our small group on Sundays. Who has been asking us to pray for his son. Marcus.

And folks, that is when the light bulb first went off. I'm a slow girl, but even I caught that one.


Of all the families that fled Hurricane Katrina, we got hooked up with a family staying about 15 minutes from our house. Staying with the woman's daughter who was living with the son of an elder at our church. The same son we'd been praying for. Dude. Our God is big. But until then, I'm not sure I knew just how big.

But there's more. As we left the party, I was visiting with Madonna's daughter in the parking lot. I asked her for her email address -- melody112670@ (you don't need to know.) 112670??? Like as in November 26, 1970??? Uh-huh.

Let me tell you, it doesn't get any weirder than that. It was like God was screaming, "This is about you and her!!!!!!!" We didn't just share the same birthday. We shared the same day. Month, day and year. (Along with my friend Leann Freeman!!!)

Looking back, the time we spent with this family was short. Relatively speaking. But I think God used us in a big way.

We helped them as much as we could. We're not rich, but we shared what we had. And we shared our time. And we shared our hearts.

And some of it was pretty. Some of it was not. Some of it was drama, drama, drama. But you know what? The joy of looking up in the balcony at church and seeing Melody and Marcus there was incomparable. Knowing that in some way God was using us to help bring healing to this family.

Melody and Marcus came to church, and brought her kids. But tragedy struck again the next spring when Melody's young son passed away in his sleep. This family that had already suffered so much suffered the ultimate loss -- one that God understood.

I don't know how it all works. I don't know how all the pieces go into place. But here is what I do know. I don't believe in coincidences. Or fate. Or the stars aligning. I don't believe it was through an accident that God plugged us into the lives of Mike, Madonna and their girls. I don't believe we just somehow stumbled into the lives of Marcus and Melody.

I don't believe it's coincidence that God used us to help bring them home to the Church. Not the building -- the family. That God put the pieces in place to introduce her son to Him before he was called home. That God brought Melody to a place where she would have a church family to lift her up after that happened.

Remember, while all this was taking place, I'd been in the Believing God, Bible study. While all this was going on, Beth Moore had been teaching me that:
1. God is who He says He is.
2. God can do what He says He can do.
3. I am who God says I am.
4. I can do all things through Christ.
5. God's Word is living and active in me.

And through all that, through that whole process, through the Believing God study, and through the fallout of Hurricane Katrina, God used me.

For the first time ever, I could see a pathway of how He had used me. Little old me.

And it was so cool. It had taken a hurricane to change my life, but change it did -- in a really big way.

The story isn't over. Guess what? This morning, on the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall, I found out that this Fall our Ladies' Bible Class is studying Beth Moore's Believing God.

That, my friends is not happenstance. Coincidence is what happens when God chooses to remain anonymous.


jenny said...

Oh my!! That's awesome.

Kayren said...

I had not heard all of this God story from you- thank you for sharing! Love you!