Thursday, June 30, 2011

A personal flood timeline, part two

Monday June 20th

v Mayor Curt Zimbelman announces that six inches of rain which fell in already saturated Saskatchawan would fill the Souris and Des Lacs Rivers to historic proportions which the preventative dams and reservoirs built north of Minot after 1976 would be unable to contain. The largest flood in Minot’s history was coming.

v Terri and I spend Monday cleaning out our basement. I spend Monday night painting a room in our basement to seal out leaking groundwater.

v In the evening our friend Dan, a plumber, comes over to help us re-hook up our washer and dryer and ends up helping us move them (and a refrigerator and freezer and water softener) out of our basement to our main level. Dan replaces our oatmeal-filled sock with a professional plug in our basement drain.

Tuesday June 21st

v I go to church to begin work on my weekly sermon, having not yet heard about the Mayor’s announcement about the imminent flood. Facebook and the news is jumping with activity as a second mandatory evacuation is announced for Wednesday night.

v At about 9 am Howard Rodgers (a wise church leader) calls and tells me to go home to help my family prepare for the coming flood. I go home, prepared to move the rest of the stuff out of my basement, confident that flooding would only affect houses immediately adjoining the river channel (we live four blocks away).

v As the magnitude of the coming flood begins to hit home for me, I spend the late morning finding available friends to help us move everything on our main floor either out of our house or to our second floor and attic. 10+ friends help us at different points of the day to move half our furniture to church Sunday School classrooms (our church building is high and dry), our garage stuff (which hadn’t even gone through my mind until a friend mentioned it) to our former youth building at church and everything else up to higher ground in our house. Janet Rodgers carefully wraps up all our dishes, china and food and stows them in our attic. Around midnight Greg Bledsoe and his brother Aaron remove all the electrical outlets and devices from our basement.

v Wade and Dawn Talley graciously take our sons (ages ten and six) to live with their family for two days (joining their family of 10) while Terri and I focus on our evacuation.

v Colin and Shannon Lovdahl, again, temporarily adopt our dog Lexie and take her to live with them on their farm in Palermo. Hundreds of pets would be homeless soon as makeshift animal shelters are set up.

v Minot has a sudden rush on cardboard boxes and Rubbermaid bins. Menards is sold out. I procure the last seven available from Walmart. Most evacuees do not have sufficient containers or time to carefully pack their belongings for movement and storage. Things are hurriedly piled and/or transported pell mell.Finding all our belongings after the evacuation lifts will itself require Herculean effort.

v Terri packs up and hauls out clothes for our family sufficient for a couple of weeks. I remember to take my best suit in preparation for a wedding happening in four days. Two days before the wedding, I realize that I forgot to pack my black dress shoes. Knowing that I can’t recover them in time, I put out a Facebook plea for size 10 black dress shoes and within hours have many pairs to choose from. Mike Milkey’s become the chosen pair and prove so comfortable that I threaten to keep them after the flood.

v At about 2 am Terri and I arrive at church, exhausted yet still running on adrenaline. Terri sleeps under one of our son’s blankets on the couch in the church library. I sleep on the couch in the counseling room under a blanket which smells like livestock and motor oil that had been used to cushion furniture for the move.

Wednesday June 22

v In the morning I arrive back at the house to hurriedly move the rest of our things up to the second floor and pack some needful items for the evacuation. It is announced that the 10 pm evacuation time has moved to 4 pm. Mid-morning I intend on going over to help move final things out of Sandy Sander’s house (which would later become almost completely submerged in the flood) when I hear that the evacuation has been moved to 1 pm. I call Bob Hargrave (who the previous day removed our new boiler and hot water heater from our basement) who comes over and, with tears in his eyes, removes the breakers from our breaker box.

v Still confident that our house can stay dry, I drive to B & D Grocery (which is closed) then to the Broadway Miracle Mart to buy bleach (which they have) and duct tape (which they don’t) in order to seal my lone basement window. There I meet Josh Hawkins (our church I.T. director who later would become our flood recovery point man and whose house also became inundated with water) who I take back to my house so he can move one of our vehicles to get it out of the path of the flood. I tape up my window to keep water out of the basement, empty two gallons of bleach on our basement floors (to counteract the bad water which the river would bring in) and help Terri pack up the last of our temporary clothes. At 1 pm the evacuation sirens sound and we head to the church.

v In the evening, we pick up our boys from the Talleys and travel about twenty miles out of Minot to Des Lacs to take up residence with the Wagners – again.

Thursday June 23

v Reports all morning come in of flood waters exceeding the height of the city’s levees. Burlington, to the west of Minot, is the first sign of serious flooding. Their citizens continue round the clock sandbagging in an attempt to save parts of their city. Eventually, they would lose that fight.

v Throughout the day, water levels on Minot’s northwest side rise precipitously. Despite the valiant attempts to keep businesses like Harley’s Conoco and Arrowhead shopping center and churches like Christ Lutheran, Little Flower Catholic church and Bible Fellowship church dry, they all take significant water. Eventually Longfellow Elementary school is moderately flooded, Lincoln Elementary is flooded beyond recovery and the fight to save Ramstad Middle School with a massive dike proves futile. Flood waters border Minot State University on the north and are held from inundating north Broadway with a massive north-south dike (for which many homes west of Broadway are sacrificed).

v At church I begin work on a revised ‘flood focused’ worship service to include testimonies of God’s grace in the midst of loss, fear and suffering and a shortened message highlighting God’s sovereign power and heaven as our true home in light of the flood.

v During the day a friend calls me and tells me how my house could be sacrificed in the aftermath of the flood to create a new, wider flood plain for the city. Without flood insurance, the prospect of being financially ruined through this ordeal hits home. I call Terri and honestly share with her the grim possibilities. In tears she says, “But my mom’s portrait!” – referring to a large, beautiful painting of her deceased mother which hung in our dining room and was still in the house.

v In the late afternoon, I drive into my neighborhood (still dry at this point), enter my house and with lightening speed find the picture and retrieve an heirloom glass which has been in my family for more than a century and make my way out.

v I drive to Des Lacs, pondering on the way that my house, since I sealed off the window, could present too much resistance to the current if the water rises quickly and be moved off its foundation which would rendered it condemned. (I’m not an engineer. These were simply the thoughts going through my head.)After consulting with a few friends, I meet up with Doug Wagner back in Minot and we make one last excursion into my house to open the basement window and secure Terri’s jewelry and address book.

Friday June 24th

v Flood waters top the dikes to the north and east of my neighborhood and slowly flood Eastwood Park. By day’s end I am confident that my basement is full of river water, and I pray that it does not go so high as to destroy my new kitchen cabinets. Most agonizing of all is not being able to get near my neighborhood to see the effects of the water on my house. The unknown (which would continue for weeks) is torturous and continues to stretch our trust in God. Unlike other natural disasters like a hurricane or tornado where the damage can quickly be surveyed, floods keep one in suspense for weeks.

v At church I work on the wedding I’m performing at Trinity the following day. In the afternoon, Lindsey, the bride to be, shows us with her family to decorate the church. Corey, the groom to be, has to make the difficult decision about whether or not to evacuate his house which is on the edge of the evacuation zone. Looking south down the street from his house, he can see the water rising.

v At 5 pm I lead the wedding rehearsal at church. The original rehearsal dinner is cancelled due to restaurant closures. Pizza Ranch remains open, so the wedding party heads there to celebrate.

Saturday June 25th

v River levels continue to rise to historic proportions, by-passing the 1881 record of 1558 ft. above sea level. By Sunday the river would crest at 1561.72. Preparations for the wedding engross the morning.The city announces that Minot’s drinking water supply may be contaminated. Breaks in the city’s submerged water pipes begin to occur. At 3 pm the wedding commences and proves to be a wonderful distraction to the flood. After the wedding we tape off our sinks and water faucet and hang ‘contaminated’ signs on all church water receptacles in preparation for the service the next morning.The wedding reception is suddenly interrupted by a tornado siren as a massive thunderstorm rolls over Minot and expels a downpour on our already waterlogged city, adding insult to injury. As if the week wasn’t exciting enough already.

v Due to the water situation and driving restrictions in Minot (since flood dikes have cut our city in half leaving only one, congested north-south route) our church elders decide to hold our service the following morning in two locations: a small service in the Wamhoff home on Minot Air Force base for all north side families and a larger service at our church facility for all south side families. Additionally, Sunday would be the first time we would video-livestream our service on our website. Due to over crowding, we’d been talking about multi-site as an option for some time. Now the flood would give us an opportunity to test it out.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A personal flood timeline, part one

Before posting thoughts about God's work in and through this flood, it seems wise to provide some basic information regarding the flood itself. The best way for me to do that is not posting bland statistics but by telling my own timeline story. For those of you who are involved in the flood, this timeline might prove helpful as a framework for processing your own unfolding story. For those of you not in Minot, it will give you a picture (albeit a very subjective one) of what our experiences here at Trinity and in our city have been like. Again, this is just my story, but it is characteristic of thousands of other stories being written by the finger of God in the face of the flood. Part one will give you some background to the flood, documenting the first evacuation which we experienced during the first week of June.

The Minot Flood – a personal timeline

Winter 2010-11 – record snow falls on already saturated ground

Spring 2011 – wet snow and rain in March, April and May

Evacuation #1

Saturday May 28th
• The city of Minot alerts its residents of an impending storm sewer backup due to high river levels and the break of a pump on Minot’s east side.
• A colossal line forms outside MAC’s hardware with customers looking to purchase drain plugs.
• Since we couldn’t find drain plugs to fit our basement drains, the Perrys plug their drains with the homemade remedy of oatmeal filled socks. I’d been wanting to get rid of those 20 year old socks anyway.

Sunday May 29th
• A drain plug exchange takes place after our worship service in an effort to ensure that people had the right size plugs.

Monday May 30th
• As an Army veteran, I played a role in Minot’s Memorial Day ceremony and then took my family to the annual chili feed at the local VFW. Dan Offerdahl, a friend from church who’d joined us for lunch, left the VFW to help fill sandbags at the Minot Public Works. Sandbagging began around low-lying buildings. Sandbags were made available to residents for personal use.

Tuesday May 31st
• I went into church as usual to work on my weekly sermon.
• Facebook becomes all abuzz about the rising river.
• 11 am - Jason Skjervem (our local Campus Crusade staffer and fellow church elder) needs help clearing out his basement. His house is adjacent to the main river channel.
• 11:30 am - While heading out the door to help Jason, Doug Wagner, our church chairman, calls letting me know that my neighborhood was under a mandatory evacuation order.
• Early afternoon - I helped Terri (my wife) clear the larger things out of our basement. I secured five sandbags from Minot Public Works and placed them over my various basement drains. Knowing we would be losing electrical service to our house, Kevin Burckhard, Jay Wahlund and Jane Kelly help us get our frozen food to other freezers around the city.
• Mid afternoon I helped a group from church move stuff out of Casey and Michelle Ellis’s basement to higher ground.
• Late afternoon, that crew decided (with Terri) that we needed important things from our main level higher and put our furniture and piano on blocks and sawhorses in our living and dining rooms. Our basement appliances were moved into our kitchen and dining room. I downplayed the emergency, explaining that the real threat was storm sewer backup, not an outright flood of the city by the river. I told my friends that I thought their work was unnecessary. Most of us thought we were well out of harm’s way.
• By 10 pm a mandatory evacuation order compelled all citizens within short reach of the river out of our homes. We were graciously welcomed into the home of Doug and Diane Wagner. Other Trinity families found refuge in area homes. Only one, to my knowledge, at that point, left the city entirely.

Wednesday June 1st through Monday June 6th
• Hundreds of citizens fill sandbags at three area locations to raise the dikes around Minot and the nearby town of Burlington. Area restaurants feed the sandbaggers and other workers for free. The National Guard begins patrolling the evacuated area and takes charge of sandbagging/dike-building efforts. Minot State, Minot Air Force Base and other area businesses allow their workers to take time off to fill sandbags and build dikes.
• Local contractors and state and city workers begin excavating massive amounts of local clay to build up the dikes along the Souris River and successfully stop an impending flood.

Friday June 3rd
• A citywide prayer meeting put on by the city’s evangelical churches is held at First Baptist Church.

Friday June 3rd through Monday June 6th
• Minot’s 10,000 evacuees are allowed to return to our homes. I compensate the Wagner’s for things one of his sons broke in their home.
• Basement drains remain plugged due to continuing worries about storm sewer backup in light of the high river volume.

Flood info

Though our blog has been silent in the past ten days due to Minot's historic flood, beginning today that's changing. First of all, for those of you who are looking for information relating to how the flood has, is and will affect Trinity Church or are eager to help in some way. You can find it here. I will soon begin posting personal reflections regarding our flood, how it's affected us and how to think/live biblically in light of this unique moment in our history.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Don't look back

In Philippians 3:12-14 Paul famously writes,
"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
When the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts by grace, He sets us on a trajectory toward increasing Christlikeness and hope in Him. Though our lives will have ups and downs, and though the focus of the Christian life is not our great performance, but Christ's performance in our place, His supernatural power in us should change us - the inner compass of our lives is forever pointed to True North from now until heaven.
Earlier this spring Bob Huggins led his West Virginia University basketball team to new heights of success for a relatively small and unknown program. After one significant win, when the team was one step from the Final Four, Huggins was asked about how he felt. Here's what he said, “I never look back. I’ve just never been that way.” Then he told a story. “When I was a kid growing up in West Virginia, one day while hitching for a ride, I got in a pickup truck in Midvale with a guy and I noticed that he didn’t have a rearview mirror. I said to the guy, ‘Hey, there’s no rearview mirror.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Boy, we ain’t goin’ backwards.’ That’s the way I’ve lived my life."
That seems to have been the apostle Paul's attitude, too. He had many choices in his past to regret; many chapters of his life he would have liked to live differently. He could have wasted mental and emotional energy brooding over his past sins and letting them cripple his present, but he did not. A future with the gospel at its center propelled him forward - onward - with little reference to the rear-view mirror of his life. He allowed his past sins to grow his humility, but that was all the power he was willing to give them. "Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead, I press on...." May it be so with us. Don't look back.

Friday, June 17, 2011

'Dads, wake the hell up'

I know - that's bit of a shocking title you don't expect to find on this blog. Yet, it well communicates what some of us Christian men may need to hear to get ourselves more actively engaged in the lives of our kids - and wives. An intriguing article by that title - written by an unbeliever - can be found here.

By the way - most of the Christian guys I know are working hard to live out the author's admonitions - and, moreso, the Bible's. As Father's Day approaches, be sure to take time to encourage and show your thanks for the fathers in your world who are striving to bless their families.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The blessing of the law

This week in our effort to take in the Bible's entire plan of redemption, I will briefly be noting the blessing which the Mosaic Covenant (which gave rise to the Mosaic Law) was to God's OT people. I believe, with Luther and Calvin, that the Mosaic Law continues to have great relevance and blessing for God's people today. The commonly spoken of 'three uses of the law' are enumerated below for you to ponder and apply.

1) The civil use. That is, the law serves the commonwealth or body politic as a force to restrain sin. (e.g. Romans 13:1ff.) Though our political/legal context is different from that of the theocracy of ancient Israel, the divine principles in all Mosaic legislation remain relevant as we define, debate and establish laws in our land today.

2) The pedagogical use. That is, the law also shows people their sin and points them to mercy and grace outside of themselves.

3) The normative use. This use of the law is for those who trust in Christ and have been saved through faith apart from works. It acts as a norm of conduct, freely accepted by those in whom the grace of God works the good.

Note: In this model, Christ appears as the end of the law, both in the sense that the pedegogical use leads to Christ as to a goal and in the sense that the normative use has become a possibility for man only because Christ has fulfilled the law in himself. In other words, in both the pedagogical use and the normative use Christ is central as the one who has saved his people from the law’s demands and the one who has merited the gift of Spirit-wrought obedience.

Thanks to the Reformed Reader Blog from which some of this material was borrowed.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The fallen

This week we come to Act Two of the divine drama of the Bible: the Fall. I'll have much to say about how sin lends insight into the rest of the biblical story-line (and into our lives). For a more comprehensive and keenly thoughtful exploration of human sin, I recommend Neil Plantiga's book Not The Way Its Supposed To Be. Here's just a taste:

"Sin is a parasite, an uninvited guest that keeps tapping its host for sustenance. Nothing about sin is its own; all its power, persistence and plausibility are stolen goods." - p. 89

"Due to sin, we've become an ego-centered culture where our wants become not just our needs but our duties. In such a world, the self replaces the soul, and human life degenerates into the clamor of competing autobiographies." - p. 83

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Marriage is grounded in the covenant

Last Sunday we saw in Genesis 1-2 just how foundational marriage is to God's plan for humanity. We live in a day of disposable, optional marriages - sadly, even in the church. In this brief video Don Carson, John Piper and Tim Keller remind us of its divine sanctity.

Piper, Carson, and Keller on Sustaining the Covenant of Marital Love from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The flood and God's faithfulness

This week many of us who live in Minot's floodplain have witnessed God's faithfulness through the quick work of friends to get us high and dry, to house us and our pets (and our frozen food) and through the collective efforts of countless others, including the Corp of Engineers, the National Guard, the City Public Works, volunteer sandbaggers, etc. We've seen God's faithfulness.

That's all true, and yet it may be that God wants us to use this flood to focus on a greater example of His faithfulness. Genesis 6-9 documents the global flood of Noah's day in which only eight people survived. No natural disaster even approximates the devastation and loss of life which Noah saw. Yet his account ends with God's covenant of promised preservation and the rainbow put in the clouds to remind us that God will never again destroy the earth with a flood - or any natural disaster prior to the second coming of Christ. So, as we face the challenges of this week and behold small examples of God's faithfulness all around us, may they remind us of God's greater faithfulness: His promise to never again wipe humanity out with a flood and to save eternally all who put their hope in Christ alone. When seen in that light, our present, small adversities become a song of praise.