*I have no author to credit this writing to, however, the Branches have given permission to share this with you. Amazing read. Enjoy!
I will never forget the smell. It was a duck.
Five days earlier, Hurricane Katrina has rendered the family pet to nothing but a very small, very flat pile of feathers and goo, smashed quite efficiently under the weight of a giant pine tree. We laughed about "the fowl" odor as we applied chainsaws to the endless stacks of debris. It was actually a gumbo of aromas concocted from ingredients that included sweat, chainsaw smoke, pine trees, gasoline fumes, and this duck - whose spirit had departed its carcass 5 days ago. After being stirred by nature's brutal fury, the recipe was heated at 99 degrees in the Mississippi sun, and served to our waiting nostrils.
TV cannot convey the aroma of disaster.
All I could think about was that the stench must be really bad 40 miles away in New Orleans. There are thousands of ingredients and bodies in that hellish cauldron, and they must smell worse than this duck.
And I assure you a decomposing duck is plenty bad.
Some friends and I have just returned from a Labor Day weekend, round-trip from Nashville to Picayune, MS. We went to help our friend Richard Rose's parents dig out from Katrina's damage. The delivery included gasoline, a generator, tarps, prayer, food, manpower and moral support.
Dana and "Twig", both in their 70s, have never spent a night apart. They are the oldest married couple at the Solid Rock Bible Church *(now World Prayer Tabernacle) in Picayune. Before the empty nest, theirs was obviously the "fun" house that raised 4 kids on 12 acres. A yellow ribbon is wrapped around one tree left standing in the driveway. It is for the son who in the Navy in the Persian Gulf.
Dana is a vivacious, Spirit-filled woman, who often mentions the "Lord's healing" of a variety of ailments, and never fails to give Him the glory. "Twig" is in the MS State University hall-of-fame; a former football quarterback who in 1951 got his nickname because of his diminutive stature, and the fact that his last name is actually "Branch".
That's even funnier when I realize I've just spent the last 2 days removing trees from the Branch's house, for a guy named "Twig".
The Branches make their living selling "glitter plaques" to approximately 10,000 Christmas arts-and-crafts aficionado's throughout malls in the south. Although, the plaques are a little tacky, and Dana swears, "she'd never hang one in her house", she and Twig make thousands of them, by hand, throughout the year. Each contains a saying, an unsophisticated reminder of God's love, and the love of family. They are simple slogans applied to plaster castings(updated to wooden so they won't break), with glitter applied to the top. The plaques are stored in hundreds of poultry boxes, which now occupy the dry parts of their home.
The Branches have weathered many storms, but none like Katrina. The 145 mph wind shears brought two 100 year-old trees crashing down on their modest country home on the outskirts of town. Each limb pierced the roof shingles like nails driven in the outstretched palms of God's kindest couple. The night the winds came, they were sheltering others in their home.
One massive branch now pokes through the bedroom ceiling where it missed Dana's head by about 2 feet - and 4 minutes. She shows it me as evidence of the miracles that accompany their lives. In the aftermath she claims, "I had this peace during the hurricane" and "I was not afraid."
Right after we arrived, the police also came by to check on Dana and Twig. Five days earlier the couple's eldest son had called them to check on his parents. The police were just getting there.
The officers carried packages of single-spaced names, handwritten on legal pads, called in by hundreds of desperate relatives. No computer printouts. This was old-fashioned police work, one step at a time, across the fallen trees, electrical wires, scattered limbs, and death. They weren't the kind of police you see in the movies. They were just an average man and woman, probably deputized, wearing plastic vests with "Police" written on them. They assured Dana and Twig they were among the lucky ones.
And before any of us is critical of the authorities for being slow, unresponsive or inept, one must realize the scale of this disaster. Imagine a landmass the size of Great Britain was suddenly gone in 10 hours. And average men and women in plastic vests, whose lives are also damaged, must figure out what to do. It takes a while.
Even if the phones, and water and electricity were working - nobody calls in the say, "I'm dead."
The police have no clue how many are dead, hurt, injured until they can tediously walk through every single-spaced life on those pages.
There were eight of us to remove the debris, but it was still slow going. We used chainsaws to hack away one section at a time, and cut the trees into manageable sizes so that they could be carried away by hand. The neighbor loaned us a small tractor and trailer to pull some of the larger logs and piles of limbs. It was truly a Godsend.
There were other jobs to do: removing sheet metal debris, keeping the generator running, getting well-water flowing, nailing tarps to the roof, prepping meals, finding water and a mosquito-free place to sleep. I had to beg-off on the carpet removal, when an asthmatic attack (my 1st in 25 years) began closing my throat in a choking reaction to cat dander, wet moldy carpets, and mildew on damp boxes inside the 90 degree home.
Safety is a legitimate concern. With all communications gone, you can't exactly call the cops or an ambulance if some decides to pilfer you life. And it is happening, even in this small town. Twig keeps a rifle in the kitchen, and pistol in the candy bowl.
The logs must be cut to a manageable size. The debris must be carried away moment by moment, one limb at a time.
I think some people thing they will "get back to normal" after the hurricane. But there will never be "normal" again. Normal is gone. The task of a "new normal" is daunting, but people like the Branches will rise to the occasion. You can't really focus on the thousands of other details, like your family photos, your comfort, the rest of the world, your cars, or life as you knew it. Today's challenge is just food, water and a dry place to sleep. The "new normal" is years away, and they will need help to get there.
And normalcy comes especially slow if your "glitter plaques" and your livelihood are lying in a wet chicken box.
Still I have been amazed at how our 2 day trip provoked generosity, and people saying things like "hero", "bless you", "here's a free generator", "here's money", etc. There is a greater good that is revealed in people during times like this. This is also not normal.
I'll always remember the clarity, and poignancy of this 70-year-old woman, in the rubble of her life, staring me in the eye telling me that "happiness is a choice", and how she is choosing hope, joy and faith. This was her moment of choice.
And before everyone sinks into spirals of hopelessness and despair, Dana believes we must CHOOSE happiness. Through her tears I saw her choice. It was obviously a statement borne of pure faith and determination. Mountains will be moved by her choice.
So, as Twig and Dana modeled the choice, I also chose Happiness amidst the devastation. I experienced the simple pleasure of a pure sky as we ate dinner under the stars. I realized it had been years since I'd seen the Milky Way. I thought of how even marginal food could taste amazing, when seasoned by a heart of thankfulness over a camp stove. We laughed and told stories by candlelight. I learned about my friends' childhood. I found out what "Blue Johnny" milk is (don't ask). I learned how to file a chainsaw blade. We gave each other high-fives, as an attorney, a record producer, 2 teen aged boys, a pastor, and an accountant managed to fell a large pine tree EXACTLY where we wanted it.
Choosing happiness makes you feel alive again. But it's a hard choice to make in such devastation. The stars can be bright again, even if you are forced to sit under them.
People back in Nashville have asked me what to do? There is really only one thing you can do: Don't try to help everyone - just help "One". Jesus just said to love your neighbor. It is God's job to love the whole world.
Individuals like Dana and Twig are a good investment. I know the tiny deposit we made into their life will grow exponentially. After all, they emulate a man who fed 5,000 with a few loaves and fish. I'm not sure how the miracle works, but you've gotta trust the process.
Now that Dana and Twig have a band-aid on their house, and have been checked on, and are somewhat stabilized...they can help others apply their bandages.
On the way back to Nashville, I saw probably 10 convoys of military vehicles headed south with relief supplies. But the federal government is not going to be able to help individuals very well. They can only help "the many". So, it's up to us to help "the one". If millions of us will do that, the solution is waiting. Give whatever loaves and fish you have to another person, just do that one simple thing.
A miracle is desperately needed.
*I asked Dana tonight if I could put this on the blog and she lovingly said "it will be fine, dear". This is just one of things that make me see that Jesus Is Lord Over Picayune, MS. He brought so many to assist many of our city's residence from all over the globe to help and many of the recipients of their physical help were really a great and Godly influence on those applying the 'band-aids of life'. I praise the Lord for His goodness and love.
Intro to this blog!
As a transplant resident of Picayune, MS I have observed since we arrived in this area in June, 2006 that there are many people throughout this city and its surrounding communities who are strong in the Lord. As I've asked the Lord to show me something I could do to reach out to others I've had a strong leading to begin this blog. Also in the past few weeks Picayune's local newspaper has included some writings as to why people live in Picayune and what this city means to them. My goal here is to allow as many as would like, to share their love for the city and to blog why they think 'Jesus Is Lord Over Picayune, MS'. Come back often and see what kind of responses we get. This is an exciting adventure for me and I really do hope you'll enjoy participating. I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Please follow this blog and suggest your friends also do so. Thank you and may the Lord give you eyes to see as the Lord sees His desire for this city!