Monday, April 28, 2014

13 Points on How to Help, Not Hurt

Here we are again. I began praying for the victims on Saturday morning--before they were victims. I had no clue where or who they were. They didn't know where or who they were.

But God knew.

He knew who would cry out to Him in desperation, who would be the miracle, who would feel the splaying of their hearts as their world was destroyed in a single breath. And He knew who was unknowingly living out their last moments here.

You know what I was thinking on Saturday morning? I was asking God to grant miracles. I asked Him to give little glimpses of Himself to these victims who will desperately search for Him among the ruins. I thought of my grandma's heart necklace that was dug out of my bathroom's rubble by precious servants and I smiled. That was only one of my miracles, and I am certain that without those breaths of God, I would feel quite differently about our story than I do now. That's what I prayed that these people would find--undeniable breaths of His strength, His power, His protection, and His comfort.

And I thought of something else. I wished there were a way to prepare those around them. But as it goes, you only get your umbrella out of the closet at the first rain drop. No one knows when their city will be the next national emergency or if they will be called upon for extraordinary acts of love. I wish there were a way to know, don't you? If there were, I'd send the helpers a prep pack, a note to help them know exactly how to turn their shock and sadness into immediate helping hands. Sometimes those helping hands end up hurting, so we must be gentle and take great care in learning to serve.

I thought I would throw a few things out there in case you are someone wringing your hands and your heart, wishing for a way to help someone who has just lost literally everything they called their own.

1. The first thing people in desperation need is actually not material things. I would say the rule of thumb here is that if you are best friends with or the parent or child of a victim, that is your permission to give them material things. Their receipt will not be strange from you. Please don't send them used under garments. The victims are emotional and feel degraded enough already; used panties won't help.

The exception on material things is slim. In the first day, the victims will need toiletries in an easily portable bag. They need a toothbrush, tooth paste, shampoo, body wash, deodorant, women need face moisturizer, lotion, sunscreen, tampons, pads, razors, floss, tweezers for goodness sake!, mouth wash, chap stick. I will never forget my husband's boss sending his wife to buy us these things on the next day. She clearly has the gift of shopping and bought me nicer things than I've ever bought myself! Now that's being helpful. She bought us diapers and wipes as well. I cried as my husband loaded them into his truck, still shaken by the outpouring of someone's generosity who barely knew us.

Remember that these victims are basically homeless right now, so there is literally no place for them to put things you send them. Speak with them about items you can donate down the road like a couch, bed, etc., and wait for them to procure a place to put those things. Once they have a rent house, by all means, fill it up, but don't send things you would otherwise take to the dump. Would you sit on the couch? Would you sleep in that bed? If not, don't send it. The victim is still a human, remember.

2. Set up a way to get funds directly and immediately to them. Paypal was the avenue someone used to start the ball of immense love and care rolling for us. I still cry thinking of the funds that poured in for our family in those hours following the storm.

3. If you live close to the victim, show up and help them physically. They will need help digging through their things. Don't worry that you will be in their way. They don't know up from down right now and they need people who love them to be their compass right now.

Obviously, this must be done with consideration and intelligence as well. Clogging up the highways and neighborhood streets only hurts the residents who are trying to get to their sites to salvage anything they can find. If you are going to help, be prepared to carpool and park FAR away and walk in to the site. Don't try to drive directly in. This only delays the actual residents themselves and frustrates the authorities, putting them on a higher alert that--you guessed it--only hurts the residents.

4. Find out what legal help you can offer. Insurance information must be found, and this is obviously difficult since their paperwork is probably ten miles from the slab that was their home.

5. Make phone calls for the victim. Find shelters for them, places that are offering free supplies, hot meals. They will need a new birth certificate, marriage license, insurance cards, driver's license. Find out how they can get a vehicle to get them around until theirs is replaced. These things may seem like an intrusion to you right now, but I promise the victim can't even begin to categorize everything that he or she will need to accomplish in the days ahead. Take some of that load off them if you can. We had a couple that showed up one day at our site with a list of the phone calls they were making for us to places we had not even thought of yet. That was such an act of love that nearly knocked the breath out of me.

6. Bring them hot food. Bring them lots of drinks. Their insides are destroyed with grief and their nerves may not let them eat much, but make them drink. Bring them a backpack with snacks like granola bars, gatorade, and gum. Throw in some hair ties and if you're dealing with women, feminine items. Mother Nature does not stop just because their world has been turned upside down.

7. This is one of those "be sure you're the only one doing this and that you are close to them" points, but they will need tennis shoes immediately to dig through their rubble. Find out what size they wear and get them some tennis shoes right away. Chances are they were bare foot when the storm hit or were wearing flip flops. Obviously they will need socks, too. Buy those new, please.

8. Listen to them. Let them tell you every tiny thing that was in their home and what was where and how it looked on the wall and how their little four year old would sit in front of the fire place with the dog. This was their world, and it's gone. Part of grieving is to share that with whomever will listen. Don't worry about giving them answers. They don't really need them right now; they just need your compassion and your listening heart.

One particular community in Ohio who knew exactly what we were going through embraced us and walked with us through the aftermath, doing fundraisers on our behalf and sending gifts to us. It was incredible to have someone who knew how we felt and what we needed. They checked on our emotional state often, which is why I'm including them in this point.

9. This is down the road, but be sensitive and thoughtful on your future conversations with them. Don't brag about changes you're making to your home, new projects you're embarking on in your kitchen, etc. Don't whine about having too much stuff and needing to have a garage sale. I know you won't mean anything by it, but it will hurt, intended or not.

10. Some of the sweetest acts of love we received were not basic needs, but desires. Some of my precious friends knew how much I love sewing, and they went together and bought me a new sewing machine! I was speechless. Another friend knew that my daughter had lost her American Girl doll and found out which one she had, then bought her one and mailed it to her. Another friend gave our family her beach house for a week for free to give us some healing time away. I am still stunned at these generous, selfless acts today!

11. Remember that you may not get a proper thank you for what you are doing. Be sure you are doing it for the right reason and not to be recognized. The victims will not mean to, but they will forget what came from whom and how to even contact them to say thank you properly. Be assured, they are more than thankful for your help.

12. Please, whatever you do, don't tell them that they were at fault. Don't say that they are standing, muddy and bruised and homeless in front of you because they or the rest of us didn't pray hard enough or because they should have been smarter than they apparently were. For the love, DON'T open your mouth with something as stupid as that. Just don't.

13. This should not be listed as last, but it's where I thought to add it. PRAY for them. During these first hours and days, knowing that other people are thinking of them and praying for them is what will literally carry them through these heart wrenching moments. Pray and then pray some more. God doesn't mind you repeating yourself.

Peace of Christ to you,