GTT and home again. Day 7 Heroes

Ahhhh. It is indeed a long drive home from Texas to Wisconsin.  At about 7:00 am we left Pflugerville, TX. We drove like bats out of hell to get back in time for Monday activities. We stopped only when absolutely necessary; a few gas stops and one stop at Braum's for food. As we got closer and closer to home, we decided to try to get all the way home, instead of hoteling for the night as we had initially planned.  And after many hours on the road we arrived back in Janesville safe and sound.  PTL. About 1:15 AM arrival: 18+ hours on the road. WE DID IT! At times when I felt discouraged driving, I thought of all the prayers people were praying for us this week, and felt God's hand directing and upholding.  Thank YOU all so much for your prayers.

Sam & I discussed heroes as we travelled home.  The dictionary definition of hero: a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. So many heroes in TX.

Julie Tucker, from Concordia Lutheran in San Antonio, works tirelessly (well surely she must be super tired by now), organizing teams and people coming from out of the area to do Hurricane Harvey relief. She helped arrange our work at Trinity Klein.
http://www.concordialutheranchurch.com/engage/events/hurricane-relief

The people at Trinity Lutheran Klein, Spring, TX are just amazing!! Several people I did meet, but so many more behind the scenes- making lunches, collecting and organizing the supplies, working in the food pantry, hosting out of town workers, etc!!!
https://www.trinityklein.org/harvey-relief/

But here are some people, heroes in our eyes, that we did meet and want to name:

Bill and Dan, the chief leads on Hurricane Harvey home relief, were both incredibly strong and wise men, interacting with homeowners and overseeing each job, making sure supplies and communication were taken care of.  Heroes. Thank you!

Kent and Jim were our team leads directing the work on the homes we volunteered in. Both men were kind, diligent, and helpful to the team and homeowners. We especially appreciated their interactions to us, newbies, as we learned the ropes.  Heroes. Thank you!

Carla Grebing met each us morning. She oversaw the volunteers and took care of and prayed over us as we left each morning. I'm sure we saw only the tip of the iceberg of what all she does. Hero. Thank you!

All of the homeowners had courage! Please continue to pray for "our families":
Barbara
Janis and family
Roland and Ann
"Brick wall" family

We left. All these people stayed and continued the arduous task of cleaning up! Heroes!

Joshua 1:9(ESV)  "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”





GTT Day 6 Encouragement

 A week of encouragement!!!

The very fact that we would come all the way from Wisconsin was an encouragement to everyone we met in Texas.

On our work teams, we all encouraged each other as we worked side by side, and as we shared stories and laughter. 

For the people whose homes we cleaned, our presence, our work, our prayers, our hugs, our laughter; all was a huge encouragement to them.

One of my favorite memories from the week: Sam & Austin laughing as they used their teen-age strength to tear out a wall together.  Sam and Austin, teen-age son of the homeowner, had spent the day working side by side, and by the afternoon both were encouraging each other and having a very fun time, despite the tragedy of Austin losing so much. (The day before Austin's downcast face showed only tragedy. This day, at least for a while, some joy sparkled on his face.)

United we stand! There is so much division and nastiness in our country.  Far nastier than the horrid muck we cleaned out is the tenor of our country at times. Oh how very encouraging to all be on the same page working on a common goal, with hearts full of love!

YOU encouraged us with your prayers and your comments.  So many people sent texts or fb messages and comments that lifted us up and helped us continue on; especially when it was tough. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH! And I was able to pass along to the people of Texas words of encouragement of people in Wisconsin and other states praying for them.

Carrie, Eric, and Melissa, our host family, encouraged us.

Some people were particularly instrumental in encouraging us to go to Texas: 
As always, my husband was the the first to embolden me to go after I had read the emails calling for people to come help. He helped me think through the details and overcome the obstacles, reassuring me that I could do this with Sam.

Next was Sam's soccer coach.  With it being mid-soccer season, we hated to ditch the team for a week.  I texted Coach Jacobson.  She immediately texted back, "Do it!" And she continued to encourage Sam.

My niece and godchild, Julie Meese, who lives in the Houston area and had so many friends and neighbors experience the devastation encouraged us to come. "You are so needed here."

On Saturday night before we left, I went to bed very conflicted about whether or not we should go to TX praying that God would just make it clear whether we should go or not. Sunday morning when I woke up, Ann Marie Vincent, my neighbor's voice was playing in my head, "Serve God and serve others."  She is always saying that phrase & on Sunday morning it was in my mind as I awoke. I decided we were supposed to go.


Day 6... hot tubbing, cookie baking, and story telling- a day to debrief and regroup.

Yesterday after finishing working, showering with again copious amounts of soap, and packing up, we headed to New Braunfels, TX to the home of my sister, Sharon, & her husband, Donald. Earlier in the week I had mentioned to Sharon that even after showering, I didn't feel clean, like I just needed to bath in bleach.  So both on Friday pm and Saturday, we went hot tubbing which soothed our aching muscles, washed our skin with chlorine, and filled our noses with something other than the putrid flood odor that I just couldn't shake. A time of telling our stories, baking chocolate chocolate chip cookies, basking in sweet sister time was so encouraging.

Saturday afternoon, we headed north towards Austin, attended a worship service, followed by supper and chocolate chip cookies at my brother Bill's house where we shared more stories with him, his wife, Carol, and Christopher, and Lisa, my niece, and her family. More encouragement.

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."
1 Thessalonians 5:11

Thanking God for:
almost perfect temperatures for all of our work days
sunshine
friends old and new who have been so encouraging
cookies
strong bodies
opportunity to serve
Coach Jacobson
AND SO MUCH MORE

GTT Day 5 HOPE

As you drive along the roads of the areas that had flooded there are piles, like big snow drifts. Only it is not snow. It is people's lives....their beds, furniture, pictures, clothes, and everything. The first day I walked slowly along Barbara's pile. One black high heel, a soggy mattress, a chipped china dish, a broken bed frame, ruined family photos, a ripped address book. And on and on. Their lives seemingly dumped on the curb. But hurricane flooding cannot steal the memories, because although everything has some emotional tie, they are still just things. And sometimes amidst the mangled mess, a treasure is found as we found out on Friday.

After meeting at Trinity Klein, gathering our tools & supplies, (I always grabbed Clorox wipes!), and being assigned to our work team, we were briefed on our next job. Our next house had not been touched since the flooding. As we drove up, we observed the "snow piles" on both sides of the street at every house except our work site. Nothing. Walking up the the house was 85 year old Ann & husband, Roland. After thanking us profusely for coming, they announced, with smiles, "We have been married for 65 years." Priorities! More important than the fact that the flood had washed away life as they had known it for so many years was their married life together. I asked if I could give them a hug & they both responded with a resounding, "YES!" Then I asked if I could pray with them and they responded, "Please!" I prayed aloud. They cried silently. ( I prayed silently, too.) And then opening the doors, we got ready to do battle against what the flood water had done to this house. Ann said to me, "I just hope, I can find some of my china dishes. They were from my mother."

It is just breathtaking, in a very bad way! Unfortunately the flood waters had risen to 7 feet in this home and although the waters had receded, the damage had not. I can't even quite comprehend it. Apparently anything that floats (like beds) knocks everything else It all becomes a twisted tragedy.

In the living room and dining room area, big pieces of furniture were turned on their sides. Broken pieces lay askew. A broken table leg, a piece of a chair back, a cushion. In the bedrooms more of the same. An earring entwined with a towel. The broken top of a knock knack on a bed pillow. A wall hanging covered by an overturned chair.

My assignment was to help Ann walk through the house and find some treasures. In the antique desk, now on its side with broken drawers, Ann found a few items she wanted to keep. We could not get all the drawers opened and as the guys helped us, the water logged drawers just fell to pieces. Ann & I carried a few papers, her "favorite picture" of Roland-a young handsome man with twinkling eyes, a picture of their son who had died, and some glass bowls out to the drive-way. As we walked back up, we linked arms & literally marched together & I loudly yelled, "We are doing this. We can do it."  We both laughed. Inside she continued to pick out bits & pieces of treasure. We went to the poor china cabinet with broken doors. I grabbed a box so we could pack up her china. Amazingly even with the broken doors and broken shelf, none of the china was broken!!! Ann was so happy. And as we packed she told me of being rescued in a big pick up. "The rains were so bad we couldn't even open the door. Someone with a pick-up truck came. I rode in the cab, but poor Roland had to ride in the truck bed with the 2 cats & the driving rain. And now we have a leased car and a leased apartment. Nothing's our own anymore."

After a few hours, Ann & Roland suddenly decided to leave. I think they had hit a wall emotionally. I asked Roland if there was anything special he wanted us to look for and save. "Actually, I sure wish someone could find my oil paintings," he responded, We dug through the room & took out different pictures. Then he told us they were oil canvases that he had painted, but not yet framed. "This is a lost cause." I thought to myself. Like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But with determination kept digging. Under a pile of stuff, I pulled up a bag & sent them out to him. Bingo. Oh my, his eyes lit up! "My Blue Bonnets! I can't believe you found my Blue Bonnets!"  Amazingly, it looked perfectly undamaged, his beautiful oil painting.  (We later found a large case of oil paints, that also appeared to be undamaged.)

Two boxes of unbroken china, pictures, some yard flamingos that Ann wanted and the Blue Bonnets oil painting were safely packed in the car. "Now we have some familiar sights with us!" Ann joyfully declared as they left.

Meanwhile, Sam had helped move out big pieces of furniture. Also, he worked a lot on clearing out the kitchen. He hauled out pots & pans; all were filled w stinky flood water. He carried out kitchen drawers. Most of that was set on the driveway, so the owners could later decide what to pitch & what to disinfect and keep.  Into wheel barrels, he shoveled out cupboards full of water soaked, noxious smelling food to be dumped into the "pile". The morning was the hard work of emptying the house. After lunch, we got to what Sam calls the fun work: demolition. Everything has to be torn out of the house so the house can be rebuilt.  After lunch Sam worked on tearing out the kitchen for a bit.

Another home owner needed a brick wall to be torn down. Being young and strong, Sam was just the man for the job. Another sad story. On August 18 this couple closed & moved into their house. When the flooding started coming on August 25, before they left, she said that they put all their unpacked boxes on the counters. "But it was not enough. The water came above the counters and everything was damaged."  This house had been all cleaned out. Everything torn out. Except a few brick walls.  I was surprised they had to be torn out. The home owners explained that the inspector had already been there & told them the brick walls had to be torn down because there was wet insulation behind the wall. This brick wall had been built to never come down. (Sam can give you the details on the construction of that brick wall.) It took many many blows to knock down that brick wall!

Thankfully HOPE came in found treasures, laughter, strong arms and so many other ways! But if we have learned nothing else this week, we have learned that true hope is not in earthly measures, but in God who loves us and sent Jesus, His son to pay the price of our sins so someday we can live in Heaven with Him, where there will be no more sin, no more tears, no more hurricanes!


1 John 4:9 (NIV) This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  

Thanking God for:
found treasures
chlorinated hot tub
people who know how to empty a house
no bugs today!!
loving family
all of the people who have sent encouraging notes to us & who are praying for us
AND SO MUCH MORE


His love, our response

GTT Day 4 No Snakes, Please

Exhausted, but excited!
This work is exhausting beyond belief, both physically and emotionally. You know how much I love to exercise, but I have definitely discovered muscles that prior to now have been unused and are now groaning. But I'm proud to say that I'm getting pretty whippy at running a wheel barrel. :)
Today started where we left off yesterday of hauling stuff out of the house. While bravely (or honestly not so bravely) helping to finish up emptying the kitchen cupboards with the bugs et al, stories were shared around of the snakes that people had come across while doing flood clean-up. And Sam reported to me that this family had seen 15 snakes in their yard. Oh my, please no snakes!! I thought the bugs were bad, but I really can't handle snakes. As I ventured outside I was on high alert for snakes. Thankfully I did not see any today. After the kitchen, several of us worked in the master bathroom and closests.  As I said yesterday, the septic tank right outside the window started flooding and overflowing first so the water in that room was very concentrated sewage water.  Add to that water sitting stagnant for about 12 days and hot temperatures, and what a combination of yuck awaits. I pulled out piles of soaked clothes from the whirlpool tub, took out racks of saturated hanging clothes from the closets, and gathered up many moldy shoes. (When the water is swirling 5 feet high, everything becomes a mess.) We filled wheel barrel after wheel barrel. Unfortunately in the bathroom, several great big bugs darted across the floor.  Sam got tired of hearing me scream & kicked me out of the bathroom to go work somewhere else.
We had a bigger work crew today, so it was very exciting to make so much progress. Initially we had 7 people and then 4 more people joined us. In addition, as we started making progress, the members of the family became more & more involved with the work. (I think it is just shocking for the people to go through this experience; they don't even know where to begin as it is so overwhelming.) Sam described this day as "demolition day" & he loved it.  He and Austin, one of the teen-age family members, really made a great team. They are strong. They worked hard. They accomplished much.

The question of the day: to open the refrigerator or not to open the refrigerator??? What is the right thing to do? Some say to just tape it shut to reduce the stench. Others say to open it to let the gases out. After my experience here, I vote tape it shut!

SO much more to tell, but I'm so tired I just have to sleep.

Thanking God for:
cool temperatures!!!!!! (low 80s)
wonderful relationships with the team members and home owners
no snakes today
laughter
sleep
AND SO MUCH MORE


GTT Day 3 STENCH

WOW...no one could really prepare me for this day!

The first house we had already been mostly cleaned by Barbara's son and his friends.  Besides tearing up a floor in one room, we boxed up belongings that had been rescued. But talking with Barbara about her rescue, shock, and grief so touched my heart. We prayed together for peace, joy in this difficult journey, thankfulness for God's unfailing love, and for guidance for where she would go next.

Throughout the day, common themes emerged:
"The water came up so fast!"
The people we help all have a story and it's a sad one.
All the belongings are just things, but there is an emotional attachment and memory tied to them.
People feel their loss greatly, but they also feel guilty for feeling badly about their loss because so many other people around them have also lost so much.
Everyone is so appreciative of the help.
There is a sense of despair of not even knowing what to do next because it is all so overwhelming.
Most people still have some humor left which makes a very bad situation more bearable.

The second house we cleaned out can be best described with one word...STENCH.
As we cleaned out the master bedroom, pulling out once plush carper on top of a thick pad, the woman told us that the septic tank right outside the window was the first to flood into the room.  With that, I walked right back to the truck and put on an extra pair of waterproof gloves. We already had our heavy duty masks and goggles on. After we had hauled everything out of  the bedroom, (imagine everything in YOUR bedroom being under 5 feet of water!), we cleaned out the laundry room and the kitchen. No amount of poopie diapers, (and heaven knows I've changed many), out- houses and camping potties, or dog poop and cat urine, can prepare a person for the smell of a refrigerator/freezer full of rotting meat filled with maggots. In addition to the horrible stench in the house of sitting septic water, and rotten meat, I was pushed right up to my limit pulling pots and pan out of the cupboards filled with stinky water with "stuff" in it.  Every time I pulled out a pan, bugs also came running out of the cupboard. My double waterproof gloves could not protect me from that. This family is living upstairs in this home right now! At the end of the afternoon, I felt incredibly privileged to come home to my host's beautiful, clean home and a delicious, hot meal.


Sam really thinks we need to bring back Hurricane Harvey water to study in biology; he thinks it will beat WI pond water.

Thanking God for:
waterproof boots
opportunity to talk and pray with these families
so many volunteers
wheel barrels
Chlorox wipes
clean, dry, sweet smelling bed to sleep in tonight
the other members on our team-love Texans
AND SO MUCH MORE!

GTT Day 2 Just Enough

Tuesday, Day 2

Morning run for Sam & I with Brother/Uncle Bill. Temperature: hot & humid!! (When we drove into TX yesterday the temperature reading on the car was 99 degrees!) Can we survive working in this heat & humidity?

Sam & I went to  Concordia Lutheran High School where I got the opportunity to speak at chapel & Sam got the chance to do improv in one of Lisa Fitzgerald's (my niece)  impressive classroom. Many of the girls would like Sam to attend Concordia Lutheran High School. ;)

Because our trip to TX was unexpected, we needed to gather supplies.  When we left Janesville on Friday, our plan was to spend the weekend in NE with Daniel & travel back home.  However on the trip, I read several emails from different organizations calling for people to help with Hurricane Harvey clean-up starting this week. Here are some links if you are interested in helping. https://www.samaritanspurse.org/disaster/hurricane-harvey/?utm_source=Ggl&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=m_YGHH-B17V_HHSP-LP&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIr6GPw4yT1gIVg5N-Ch3VoQi3EAAYASAAEgJuPPD_BwE#
http://www.concordialutheranchurch.com/engage/events/hurricane-relief
https://www.trinityklein.org/harvey-relief/
After filling out about 1500 forms from different organizations, Julie Tucker, from Concordia, San Antonio, helped arrange for us a spot  on a team at Trinity Lutheran Klein, Spring, TX. Neither Sam, nor I had packed for hurricane clean up when we left for NE. Lisa and her family, and Bill and Carol were able to supply us with several things we needed. At Walmart, there were 2 pr of goggles left, 2 masks left, a pair of rubber boots left in my size & they even had steel toes; Sam got water proof, steel toed work boots. JUST ENOUGH  for what we needed!!

We had too-brief of a supper time with Brother Bill & Carol, and Lisa & Christoper & family, and then Sam & I headed off to Houston, hoping we could avoid flooded roads. Thankfully we arrived at our wonderful host family's home, Carrie, Eric, & Melissa Oblinger, safe and sound!

Thanking God for:
JUST ENOUGH supplies
family
opportunity to be in TX
delicious brownies
safe travels
AND SO MUCH MORE!

GTT Day 1 What? No Gas

After an exciting weekend of Big 10 college football game, water ski tournament, and Room 211 Church, we dropped Daniel at the dorm about 8:15 A.M. and headed south!

Suburban School: A very long and diligent day! 8:15 A.M. to 10:15 P.M. Sam studied Kingdom Monera, plasmid, etc in Biology, worked Algebra 2 problems, and outlined his HERO paper. (Yes, that is actually his Classical Conversations writing assignment scheduled this week. Timely.) Together we listened to "Sir Gawin and the Green Knight". The headless, bleeding green knight holding in his hand his own head by his long hair...Caught me off guard. Gruesome.

What? No Gas.  Great trip driving through our beautiful country so lush & green. NE, KS, OK, TX. We stopped for gas along I-35 south of Waco, TX. Sam commented, "Interesting that the lights on the sign are off." Turns out, "No gas." As the station owner declared, "This is NOT a supply problem. This is a demand problem. Everyone is buying extra gas because they are worried gas is going to run out.  But if everyone just bought their usual amount of gas, there would be plenty." On we traveled. (Being a somewhat prudent woman, I fill up my tank long before I'm running on fumes, so I still had gas.) As we drove into Pflugerville, an Austin suburb, we searched again for gas, being successful at 7-11. But we drove by several stations that were out of gas. We will get to Houston! Will we find gas to get home? Will we have enough gas to evacuate Houston if Irma changes course and heads to Houston?

Housing: Late in the afternoon, we were ecstatic to get a welcoming call from our host family. Until then we were unsure of exactly what our sleeping quarters were going to be in Houston, and anticipated that it might be a shelter type condition. (Am I getting too old to sleep on a cot in a room with many other people? Well, I won't have to find out this week, thanks to our host family.) The comment she made to me on the phone, "You will be dismayed by the destruction you see, but you will be so uplifted by all the people who are responding with help."

We are mostly excited and a little bit nervous...more later!

Thanking God for:
we actually made it here!!
all the plans came together for us to serve
safe travels
beautiful country
delightful day of learning
beds! (at my brother's home in Pflugerville, our host in Houston)
gas
people who encouraged me to just do this
AND SO MUCH MORE