Back in June 2013 our city and surrounding communities were hit with what was described as the worst flood in Alberta’s history. Schools were closed, thousands of families evacuated from their homes, billions of dollars in damage. There was so much devastation…. and yet, through this disaster we were also reminded that there was so much goodness. Strangers helping strangers. People offering their homes for those evacuated. Volunteer clean up crews. Donations made. It was an incredible.
One of the ways I wanted to contribute was by giving a “New Beginning Session” to a family affected by the flood.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting the Dees family just after the anniversary of that historical day in June. They shared what that day was like and also what the past year has been like for their family. After talking a bit back and forth over email I realized that Karen is a wonderfully gifted writer and so I asked her to share in her own words what their family has experienced. I hope that these words encourage your heart and remind you that even in the midst of darkness there is always light.
There were moments of feeling normal, waves of sadness; feelings of extreme gratitude, deep anxiety for how this had changed our lives; times of being thankful for our safety, our friends and family, but also times of real grief and anger over what we had lost. This is probably the best way to describe our journey since June 20, 2013, the day that flood waters forever marked our town, our neighborhood, our home.
We live on the south east side of High River, one of the furthest neighborhoods from the Highwood River. When we evacuated along with thousands of others, we knew the river was flooding parts of downtown and neighborhoods closer to the river, but we drove away on dry roads and honestly felt that we would be fine. I brought a few things upstairs, thinking that at the very worst, the floor might get a little wet from seepage, but I paid little attention to the majority of possessions that filled the family room, play space, bedroom, scrapbook room and storage room that made up our 1100 sq foot basement. We left with a few sleeping bags, one change of clothes for each of us and not much else.
By early the next morning, we knew that our neighborhood was a lake and our basement, literally full to the brim. Even now, over a year later, the images of that reality do not seem real. We spent the first few days in a daze, the full extent of the devastation not yet hitting us. Simple tasks took a lot of concentration and effort; none of us slept well and our children were out of sorts and unsure of how to process the chaos. At times we were overwhelmed with the hard work, difficult decisions and huge stress we knew we would be dealing with for a long time…
Yet, what stands out when I think back is how UNBELIEVABLY blessed we were. Moments after we were evacuated, there was a hot supper and warm beds waiting for us, emails, texts and calls full of genuine compassion and empathy. During those first two weeks after the flood, we were daily overwhelmed with love, which came in so many forms! A roof over our heads, meals, gift cards, boxes of clothes and toys, financial gifts, hugs, prayers, child care, treats for the boys, offers to help clean up and rebuild when the time came…needs we didn’t even know we had were being met in amazing ways.
When we were allowed to return home, 15 days later, the waters had receded but disaster stared us in the face. After getting over the initial shock of seeing the amount of destruction in our neighborhood, in our own basement, we began the enormous task of cleaning up. Dan and I, along with an army of friends and family, donned haz-mat suits, masks and gloves and hauled load after load of sodden, muddy, stinking mess up the basement stairs and heaped it all into an unrecognizable pile on our front lawn.
Taking photos and recording inventory for insurance purposes kept me busy for a while, but it wasn’t until most of the debris and furniture had been taken out and discarded that I let the tears flow and sobs come. There was nothing like seeing some of our most precious possessions and keepsakes, our children’s toys and treasures, hard-earned, carefully crafted, well-taken-care-of things covered in sewage, dripping with the most awful-smelling water, piled like a mountain of garbage on the front lawn.
Yet, again, when we think back to that day, as hard and painful as it was, we remember the blessings over the heartache. We had an amazing crew of friends and family who helped us from morning til night, without being asked. In the course of 1 day, we were able to accomplish what other homeowners spent over a week doing! My heart rejoices that even though photo albums and memory books were submerged for 2 weeks, I was able to salvage some photos from their water-logged sleeves and take pictures of some of the items and scrapbook pages that just couldn’t be saved. We all slept better, knowing that the hardest day was over and we were moving on.
And so began the rebuild and restoration phase of our journey. There were waves of frustration, trying to make seemingly simple decisions, spending lots of time getting only small and insignificant things done, trips back and forth and back and forth to the hardware store trying to find the right materials, trying not to spend too much. Yet, how dare we complain?
With promises of insurance and government assistance, plus the generous and selfless help of friends and family, we were so much further along in the rebuild process than SO many. Oh, how easy it was (and still is) to be negative. We volleyed between the gumption to work hard and get it done, and the absolute exhaustion from all of it. The physical rebuild of our basement was complete in late February and what rejoicing! Ever so slowly since then, we have gathered, purchased or received as hand-me-downs, a few items to make it feel like home again.
We admit that there are days when we go between wanting to just run out and buy all new “stuff” for our basement – fill the shelves again, replace all the items we lost, no matter the debt we’d rack up – and just living free of so many possessions. I go between feeling comforted by stashing things away and writing lists of what we still need to buy, and then immensely enjoying less clutter and not caring at all about the empty walls, shelves, and rooms! Never again would we take it all for granted! Every time we walk up and down those basement stairs, it is a reminder of how full of water it was not so long ago!
It’s hard to capture a whole year in a nutshell, but since those early days after the flood, we continue to remark about how BLESSED our family is. We may have lost a whole bunch of possessions and struggle like so many others from High River, but through this ongoing journey, we have gained a deeper faith, a stronger relationship with each other and learned lessons that nothing but a disaster could teach. We have learned that Jesus brings the richest joy through the hardest trials. We have learned to be ever-more grateful for the sunshine-y days and unexpected delights, that God’s hand is in everything, that He speaks and ministers through the most amazing and surprising ways.
We have learned that there is value in investing in people and relationships instead of accumulating possessions, that taking time away to heal is ok, and that leaning on each other and falling into God’s wide, strong arms together is the best way to handle life’s difficult circumstances. We have learned to be content with less, and that sometimes it takes being stripped of nearly everything to refocus and rededicate life and purpose in Jesus’ name. We look forward to what God is going to do next!