Feb. 21, 2006 - Seth Kaiser’s March Newsletter
One Story of Hope
Last month I wrote about how staggering some of the numbers were in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and how slowly but surely new numbers were beginning to compile. Numbers that represented response to the overwhelming need here in the South.
This month I want to share a story with you of exactly what that response looks like to the victims of the hurricanes.
In the second week of February we found ourselves working in a “new house” about three blocks from the London Street Canal break on Filmore Drive in Lakeview, Louisiana, which is a northern suburb of New Orleans. The house we were working in belonged to a 73 year-old lady named Gladys and had 9 feet of water that sat for about two weeks in her home. Unfortunately the condition of Gladys’ home was something that we have grown all too familiar with. With furniture strewn all over the inside of her home, with bookshelves, refrigerators, tables, china cabinets all turned over and impeding the progress through the hallways, we ventured inside. What a mess!
As the work crew from Beautiful Savior in Omaha, Nebraska began to start hauling Gladys’ ruined possessions out her front door and onto the curb, we helped her pick through the ever-growing pile of rubbish to find remnants of her life left behind in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As we found old bottles of perfume that Gladys had collected since childhood, collectable china that Gladys had planned to give to her grandchildren, and rare items hand fabricated out of Depression glass, Gladys began to tell us her amazing story. You see, Gladys was inside her house when the levee broke.
She said that the first surge of water came in at about four feet and for whatever reason came from the back of her home first. Gladys closed the back door and ran to the front porch of her elevated home to close the front door as well, but it was too late. The force of the first surge of water wouldn’t let her close the door. It was then she saw the second surge of water rushing into her neighborhood. She had to think fast. Just in case she needed it, she had pulled a four-foot stepladder out of the closet and had it close by. Gladys grabbed it and quickly made her way into her hallway, where she knew if she climbed the ladder, she could brace herself on either side of the hallway walls. It was in that hallway that Gladys stood on the top rung of her four-foot ladder as the water came up. And it kept coming…up…up…up. On the top of the ladder in the hallway of her elevated house, Gladys stood in the dark for 12 hours. The water was at her chest line and her head was up against her ceiling. Fighting off exhaustion, she knew that if she fell asleep, she wouldn’t wake up. It was a this time that Gladys made her peace with God and resigned herself to whatever His plan was for her life from here on out.
Sometime during the middle of the night, Gladys heard her neighbors talking and joined in the conversation. They asked her if she was O.K., and she said, “Yes, I think so.” Their conversation carried them through the night and into the early morning hours. It was then that one of Gladys’ neighbors suggested that they float a large Styrofoam container to Gladys’ front door for her to swim to and join her neighbors on the roof of her garage in her back yard. “Can you swim?” her neighbors yelled. Gladys responded with a resounding, “No!” “Well, can you doggy paddle?” they asked. “We’re going to find out!”, Gladys responded.
73 year-old Gladys learned some things about herself early that morning. She learned that she could, in fact, doggy paddle and she learned that the Lord wasn’t finished with her yet. Gladys paddled right out her front door that, thankfully, she was unable to close about 12 hours earlier; grabbed onto the Styrofoam container and kicked her way back around the outside of her home to where her neighbors were perched on the roof of her garage. It was there that Gladys found a piece of plywood, climbed aboard, and quickly found herself drifting off to sleep.
Gladys was suddenly awoken some time later by a stiff wind that accompanied the loud chopping of helicopter blades. It was the Coast Guard. Though it was a rude awakening, it was truly a welcome sight. As the helicopter descended upon the hapless residents of the garage roof, a gust of wind got underneath the plywood floatation device where Gladys had found a makeshift bed, it flipped over with her still on top. With the last remaining ounce of energy that she could summon, Gladys kicked to the surface. As soon as her head broke the surface, she was snagged by a closest Coast Guardsman and lifted to safety.
It almost seemed like a fairy tale or more like someone sharing their memory of a terrible nightmare; but Gladys’ story was real. It was a morning that I will not soon forget.
Every day we hear similar stories. Each home that we are in has a different, unique story of perseverance and survival. Somewhere in the midst of all this chaos however, hope springs anew. That is what we see and what cannot be forgotten. In Christ there is always hope.
Despite her harrowing experience, Gladys couldn’t thank us enough. As she sat on the corner of her old, discarded refrigerator looking out at her old neighborhood, she thanked God for us, her angels; and said “Thank you, now I have hope for the future.” What an amazing lady! What an amazing God who continues to work through the worst to give us His best. May God continue to bless the victims of the hurricanes with comfort and peace and may He continue to move His Body to action as messengers of hope in the face of disaster.