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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Little Miracles

       It was the post-post-post Katrina relief work my family did with a Christian relief agency over a year after the hurricane that drew me to the Red Cross.  I had caught the relief work bug and teased I didn’t mind being the tenth responder but really wanted to get there right away.  My husband and I had both taken leaves of absence from our jobs to do Katrina relief.  Before we left, several predicted we’d never return.  It was tempting to stay or find a similar project, but we knew it was right to come home.  Among other reasons, my dad's health had hit a moment of crisis.  He was in “Middle Alzheimer's,” the hardest stage.  Those in the early stage are confused, frustrated and need their loved ones to help keep them on track, but they can still enjoy a genuine quality of life.  Those in the late stage, as my dad is now, are too absent to grasp the depth of their suffering.  But those in the middle stage are deeply disturbed that they are “not in the right place” (all meanings intended).  Even though we lived 800 miles from my parents, I could still come when needed.
                My dad's perseverance in this life has astonished us all.  He's had several “this is it” moments when we thought he was facing his last few weeks.  Remarkably, he's pulled through them all.  Still, I know he understands enough to be aching for his true Home.  Much of my reading this year has been of those who have experienced near death experiences (NDEs) or other out-of-body visions of the next place of light.  The books have also described that thin veil between this life and the next, in which those near to death are already glimpsing the glory of what comes next.  I've been yearning and praying for this place for him.
                My family planned a trip to visit him and my mom and I was praying I could pray him into this heavenly realm, even as his body remains here.  Since it hasn't been safe for quite a few years for Mom to care for him, he's been in a special home a little over an hour from where she lives.  We arrived at Mom's and had made arrangements to visit Dad the next day, including with a private time and place for me with him. 

One of the first photographs I saw on my Facebook news page and the one I reposted,
taken about 10-15 miles from my home
After sharing a special evening with Mom, I logged onto Facebook and saw the news and pictures from my local friends. My hometown was on fire.
I checked my cell phone and, sure enough, there was an urgent message from my Red Cross director for my assistance.  I contacted her and other Red Cross friends and they all said they were handling it, that I needed to stay, and they’d have plenty for me to do upon my return.  I then checked other media outlets and saw us in the national news.  That was a tough night.  My heart was aching for my dad, worried about my community, and angry with God for double-booking my calendar!
                Since I couldn't sleep anyway, I got up with the sun and took an extended prayer walk.  I prayed for Dad and my hometown, but also released my confused anger as to why I was away when my own community was suffering in the very way I had been training to help.  The Lord took my anger well and calmed me down.  I also prayed I could be all there with Dad and that my time with him could carry him into the places of light.
                God answered that prayer in a big way.  I prayed Dad into the places of light, describing the images I had read about by those who've had NDEs.  I saw his face relaxing, his eyes seeing it, his eyes welling up, and his whole body soaking it in.  After my prayer, I kissed him, which is usually a one-way kiss of me to him, as he barely moves.  Not this time.  He leaned over and planted a big, full kiss on my cheek.  I knew Dad had just seen heaven.  I also knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Watching Dad glimpsing heaven was the first little miracle of these intense weeks.  I've since been praying that he is spending more conscious time there than here. We spent our fully planned time with my family.  Upon my return, the fire was still raging, much help was needed, and I was given plenty to do.  Meeting with clients in the fire zone, seeing my own beautiful community charred in black for miles upon miles, and breathing in its smoke felt heavy and surrealistic.  But I resonated with what one of my Red Cross friends noticed: “In the midst of all this destruction are all these little miracles.”
Some of the “little miracles” were small, like the heavy envelop filled with change a volunteer firefighter brought to the Red Cross filled with “widow’s mites” of grateful locals of little means, or the provision of yard tools to a couple who managed properties for multiple tenants of lost and destroyed homes. While I was helping to close a shelter, we were deciding where to bring the many donations that had poured in and we had places for most of them, but not for the rakes, shovels, and other yard equipment.  Three hours before closing, the couple managing properties came in, needing these yard tools in the quantities we had, and they gratefully took away most of the materials we had no space for.
Some of the “little miracles” were not so little, like the lives and the home of the couple living deep in the fire zone and a far distance from town.  The couple had tried to evacuate, but never made it out of the fire zone, as the fire was surrounding them.  They waited in their truck for a couple of hours, seeking an opening, but as the fire was coming toward them, they saw that it was also retreating from where they lived.  They decided to return, hoping to save their own lives, but expecting to find their home destroyed.  With blackness all around them, and all around their property from 10-30 yards, their home was in tact. The couple had used basic fire repellent from a local hardware store; it was hardly professional grade and certainly not meant to ward off a raging wildfire.  But, along with divine grace, it worked.  It seemed to me as if God had looked down and said, “I see you’re doing what you can and I’ll take it the rest of the way by My Grace.”
Other “little miracles” touched me personally, like the assistance I was able to give to one particular client.  A local organization had put up a communications website for the fire so that those who had need could connect with those who wished to help and vice versa. The cry for help by one woman whose home had been destroyed moved me into special prayer for her.  I had not remembered her name, but knew God did, and kept praying the Lord would provide for her.  That evening, I was working through a list I had been given of clients to call to arrange meetings with us.   I spoke with one woman who was staying with some friends, but needed some privacy and felt the friends did too.  I arranged to have her come to one of our shelters and I met her there the next day.  My partner and I also provided her with some basic necessities and small funds for more. Two days later, I checked the website again and looked for an update on the woman who I had been praying for.  She was the same one I had had the chance to help.
                In those two weeks, I saw suffering but I also saw little miracles.  It seems when we step outside of normal, everyday living, we put on new eyes and we see what the Father is doing at all times. For years, I’ve posted the following as my “favorite quotation” and it fits perfectly.  It comes from “The Lost Years of Jesus,” when Jesus, as he so often was, was being tested by religious authorities to produce a “miracle.”  Too bad the canonical texts missed his response on this particular occasion: “Miracles happen every day and et every moment.  He who sees them not is deprived of one of the fairest gifts of life.”