Even though THIS had never happened before in our neck of the woods, thousands of families were having to deal with chaos like they had never known.
Day after day, I woke up, got dressed, packed my breakfast, dinner, and supper in my lunch box and headed on over to the Celtic Studios where DCFS (Dept of Children & Family Services), The Red Cross, and FEMA had set up shelters for hundreds of families and pets.
I began each day, making my rounds, visiting and praying with the group of people I had come to know and care for. Each day we got caught up on what had happened the night before, their successes as well as what they still needed to accomplish to further put their lives (as they were now) in order. People were doing their best to adapt to these new surroundings. Some better than others.
Slowly, they were able to move from feelings of overwhelm and downward spirals, up and into the practicalities and needs of this current transitional step. There were forms to be filled out for FEMA, housing, food, employment, etc. Sadly, some people had no cell phone, no money, no way to get mail, and no family support. The shelter provided daily basic life necessities, yet because this event was unprecedented in our area, the agencies involved were also in overwhelm and doing what they could and what they thought was best to provide for so many people all in one place with such a variety of needs.
Firsthand, I saw what was supposed to be teamwork between agencies and the temporary residents become a laundry list of frustrations, dropping the ball, confusion, and mounting hostilities. Hundreds of people were now in constant state of fight and fright about one thing or another. What could have been a great place of safety and security for them, within moments, gave some more reasons to be afraid. Sadly, parts of the system are still broken AND there are parts of the system that are filled with people who are ready to step up and fill in the gaps.
Yes they had shelter, clothing, and food. Yes there were phones to use with outgoing calls. I offered my cell phone to be of service as we made call after call to FEMA, to insurance agencies, to various housing opportunities, and to hotels for temporary housing. Yes there was protection in every building…law enforcement, military personnel, EMS, medical doctors and veterinarians provided much necessary security inside and outside of the buildings. Thank you all for your service. For me, you made THE difference for me to easily return each day to give my time, energy, and services to the needs of as many people as possible.
Yet the practical parts of what was needed during this transition period seemed hard and difficult to come by. Even after a week, some people still had not secured their FEMA number, were in pain from injuries received during the evacuation, and some were still unable to locate family members. Even in the midst of overwhelm, no matter the source, we know that we can’t stop. We must keep going and make the next step a little better. This was not going to be a 1 or 2 step process by any means! This was not going to be fixed with one interview or one meeting. Not by a long shot. We were all in it for the long haul.
My personal and spiritual intention was to be a light in their darkness, provide peace, comfort, and calm during the hours, days, and weeks of volunteering. The more I worked with people, the more I could see where a bit of organization was NECESSARY to help these folks receive some kind of face to face, one on one support…not just “here’s the number, call them.” The frustrations from the ‘runaround’ ran rampant!
I was inspired with ideas — perhaps Maslow was providing some ongoing inspiration — for creating consistency, accountability, follow-through, and follow-up. This process seemed to bring hope, encouragement, and excitement, something to look forward to, and the greatest gift of all, CALM. For with calm, the mind can process more clearly, the body can relax, and the spirit can regain the sense of value and worth.
Each day, as each person’s ‘to-do’ list had been checked off, I offered to massage their feet. I had given this service to the people I helped at The River Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This sacred gift was given as a blessing to their peace and comfort. I had not been in their shoes nor was I in their shoes now. Yet, I could feel the calling, nudge, and pull to offer this service as a way of letting them know that someone, a stranger before a few days ago, cared about them and wanted to help make their world a better place. There were women, men, black, white, Native Americans, young and elderly. All had found themselves together in a common situation with common needs trying to survive and move forward in whatever way they could.
Some folks lit up when I offered and were able to receive this sacred quiet time. Others thanked me and were not interested. Those who said yes, were able to relax, enjoy and receive. Some people shyly whispered before their massage ‘so sorry, my feet are still so dirty’. What a humble place of surrender I witnessed over and over. I was so grateful and thought many, many times…”but for the Grace of God, there go I.” I was honored that these strangers trusted me enough to allow me into this vulnerable space with them. What a blessing.
With reassurance that all was well, they each laid back, closed their eyes, and relaxed possibly for the first time in days. These were sacred moments to my heart and soul. While I was cleaning their feet with baby wipes, drying them with hand towels, and massaging them with lotion (all provided by the shelter) I silently went through a modality I use every day in my business, T.A.T.™, which is a gentle, beautiful process of clearing up the emotional origins of trauma, grief, PTSD, abuse, physical issues, and negative beliefs…all of which each of these people could relate. As I massaged their feet, I silently went through each step on their behalf.
I remembered what a blessing it was for me to do this at The River Center. To me, it was my way of letting them know that their feet, in whatever shape they were in now, had brought them through the deep and dirty waters, onto the boat, Humvee, or helicopter. Their feet, to me, represented part of their soul and I wanted with all of my heart to honor that part of them too and to help them feel loved, safe, protected, and valuable. I wanted to be a part of bringing their lives from chaos to calm.
We looked forward to our early morning hugs and conversation and even to some added challenges. They did not seem as insurmountable. was returning. Progress was being made, baby step by baby step. Day by day, one by one, I could see the light return to their eyes as we shared beautiful moments of peace, calm, and light-hearted laughter.
Knowing that at some point this shelter, and all shelters would be closed, we accomplished as much of the practical and necessary work as possible. I didn’t and still don’t have all of the answers for how this process could have worked better, yet I know that the people and service providers were doing the very best they could in any given moment.
It was as though I was privvy to watching a whole new version or representation of how family lifestyles can work. Each cot and space was like each child’s room within the home. Some neater than others. Some outgoing and willing to be of service to others. Some sleeping all day to avoid their new reality and the pain of what they had been through. Other’s stepped up seeing the gaps and filling in those spots. Amazing to see the human resiliency and survival mode kick in! Everyone was evolving into a new version of the light they were now to be in the world. Awesome to witness! I wondered what would change for them once they were back in their permanent home. I wondered what changes they’d make after having lived through this ordeal.
After returning home from the shelters, I would sit and fill pages of my journal with the experiences of the day as well as the hundreds of things I was now grateful for in my life. From the clean, warm, safe bath water and the privacy to take a bath to the sound of the birds outside and the gentle wind blowing in the trees. I had been reminded day after day all of the small to big blessings I am able to enjoy in my life. I was sure not to take them for granted ever again.
Journaling was another tool that helped me to process my feelings and experiences of the day as well as to see beyond the pain and challenges of others and my feelings of helplessness to make it all better right now. Journaling helped me to change my outlook and recognize what extraordinary gifts and blessings I had now and how valuable all parts of life truly can be.
So when you’re down in a valley of life, in some form of chaos, how do you rise above it? When you’re in a downward spiral of chaos, how do you work your way back to calm? Recovery from the inside out takes faith, time, tools, patience, fellowship, understanding, compassion, and knowledge from others who have been there and have found their way out and up. These times are NOT meant to be gone through alone. We need others in our lives to help us take a step back, evaluate opportunities and, discuss options.
Moving from chaos to calm is not a 2 step process by any stretch of the imagination. Part 1 of this series was about the chaos, the feelings, emotions, and fears. Part 2 is the beginning of moving from chaos to calm. It’s not always easy or quick. There are necessary practical steps of recovery as well as emotional steps of healing and recovery. During recovery, please be gentle and kind with yourself. I am here to support you in all phases of your journey from chaos to calm. It is in times like this that asking for help is one of your greatest strengths!
If you’re new to journaling and would like guidance and support, I’d be honored to help you. Please visit my website at http://lightenupallover.com/ and click the calendar on the right to schedule a 30 minute Basics of Journaling session. This is my gift of love to ignite the spark of hope within you. No matter where you are on your path from chaos to calm and you’d like support and guidance, reach out to me. My life will never be the same as a direct result of being a part of this epic experience.