Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Patch of Dry Ground

My brother spent the night in his flooded town in his flooded home with a shotgun, watching for looters that dared enter his home. There is no water, electricity, food service, or any service of any kind open in the devastated Owego/Binghamton NY flood zone. Into this vacuum, the looters came. The National Guard increased its patrol, but my brother must not have felt it was sufficient. He couldn't stop the flood, but he is determined to stop the looters.

I can't imagine what his night must have been like, but I am waiting anxiously to hear from him today. It distresses me greatly that anyone would take advantage of others' troubles as to loot the remnants of horrendous loss. Ninety percent of the Owego businesses were flooded extensively. I can't imagine how this town is going to rebuild.

My brother sent a newspaper photograph of an aerial view of flooded Owego. No streets are visible. It looks like Holland with canals of water crisscrossing the town, with trees growing out of the water. There is one patch, one small patch of dry grass in the whole city. The flood waters rose around all but that patch of grass. Half my brother's house sits on that small patch of dry ground. His house is the most fortunate house in all of Owego.

While the waters were rising, the river not yet crested, and John's wife, Jenny, and son Anthony, were trapped in the house, John had texted me.
"Now might be a good time to get on the God hotline," he said.
"I'm on it," I texted back.
I prayed and prayed, throughout the day, texting back and forth with my brother as the river rose. I prayed for the safety of John's family, and for his beautiful two hundred year old home.
Finally I got the text that the river had crested. And that Jenny and Anthony had been rescued.
However, I felt like John might think God had let him down. The house had still flooded, at least part way up the first floor level. But his family was safe. I praised God for His deliverance. Not a single person died in the overwhelming flood.

But as I gazed at the startling photograph of Owego underwater, with that single patch of grass beside my brother's house, I thought of the rest of the story I had learned later. Jenny had been able to walk across that single patch of dry ground between the waters, to the public phone in the business on the other side of the grass, and call the authorities. Every road was flooded. Owego was trapped in the water. The National Guard was alerted, and John's family was rescued by boat. I couldn't stop looking at that patch of grass, and thinking if that isn't an answer to prayer, I don't know what is.

"But what about the other people?" asked Asherel, when I told her the story.
Yes, I had thought of the other people. They weren't given a patch of grass. But everyone in Owego is safe, and there is much to be thankful for in that alone.
"I should have prayed more fervently for the whole city," I said, "I was so focused on praying for John's family..."
It is not that I think my prayers direct God, nor that they even influence God. But we are told to pray "without ceasing", and I do believe that obedience in prayer brings blessing. It may not bring the answers we long for, but there is always blessing in prayer. And if everyone would bow their head in prayer, they would have no time to loot, or blow up buildings...

This anniversary of 9/11, I have my first book signing. It was the Park Road Bookstore's available date, and thus assigned to me. But my book is one of hope, of redemption, of saving what seemed impossibly lost. Perhaps it is a good day for my book signing, after all.

When there is a flood of trouble around you, and today certainly is the memory of that, I think sometimes the only way to wade through the grief is to look for that one patch of dry ground. The waters do eventually recede, and flood plains have the richest soil of all to start anew, when we find the strength and courage to replant.

Nehemiah 9:10-12

11 You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. 12 By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.

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