Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How It Felt to be Powerless

My grandmother was born in 1922 and born the oldest of four children to a farmer in Arkansas.  I’ve always thought that her childhood experiences of deprivation affected her tendency to keep a stocked refrigerator and pantry.  I used to marvel at all the colorful fresh vegetables and fruits that filled her fridge with multiple types of ice cream in the freezer next to various cuts of meat.  The shelves in her pantry were always filled with stacks of canned vegetables and soups along with baking supplies so she could make fresh cookies at a moment’s notice.  

This habit of keeping a stocked kitchen was inherited by mother whose current pantry offers a variety of unique bread mixes, pickles and sprinkles among other foods.  Poking through her refrigerator looking for food she bought just for me and exploring her creative pantry are rituals of coming home.

Now in my first house in New Jersey, my own refrigerator and pantry seem like important validators of my ability to care for my family.  But three weeks ago, these validators were threatened by Hurricane Sandy.  Accurately predicting that we would lose power, I took all of our frozen fish and meats to a friend’s house where we set up camp expecting their house to be safer than our own.  If we were going to lose all this food, we might as well begin to eat it!  

On Sunday October 28th, the nine of us who had gathered under one roof began to feast on everything that we expected to go bad.  On Monday as the worst of the storm began to hit, we were cooking frantically when our friend’s house lost power.  It was too warm to keep any of the perishable food outside so we kept cooking on their gas stove by lantern light to fry fish and bacon and cook one-pot meals so our food wouldn’t be wasted.

Just as we hit the point when food poisoning was a real threat because we couldn’t keep any food cold, the temperatures dropped.  Unfortunately all our leftover meats, milk, salad dressings, condiments and frozen meals had already gone bad.  And now we were cold.  We started making nightly fires in the fireplace and we toasted bread in a frying pan to accompany meals of canned soup.  Instead flipping on a coffee pot each morning, we struggled to patiently pour boiling water through a coffee filter knowing that we didn’t have half and half to add to our homemade coffee and our sugar supply was diminishing.  It almost seemed like we were pioneers.  As power was restored to other various blocks in town, we were able to begin finding fast food restaurants that were open.  

After the first few days, we began to rethink our situation.  We debated daily whether we should use our limited gas to move to various family member’s houses who might have had power restored.  After a week of hanging in there working as a team to survive, I left with my infant son to stay with my parents.  

I returned a week later to my friend’s house where power had been restored since my house still wouldn’t have power for three more days.  Finally it was time to clear my refrigerator and freezer of the things we weren’t able to eat before they went bad.  I cried as I washed out bottles for the recycling and scrubbed every nook and cranny hoping to avoid mold and the possibility of contamination of future meals.  Then it was time to restock.  Where do you even start?  Milk... eggs... butter... cheese... 

As I prepared to preach a sermon for last Sunday based the importance of generosity, I found an article that estimated that 1.5 billion people live without power every day.  One in five people worldwide can’t reach into a cold refrigerator to get milk for their coffee, let alone drink coffee made by an automated coffeepot.  They can’t even flip a switch to turn on the kitchen light after the sun goes down.

One of Paul’s comments caught my attention as I thought about my experience.  

“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way.  
Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us.”  
-2 Corinthians 9:11 (CEB) 

Yes, it was difficult to lose most of our food.  But I feel grateful that I can begin to restock my refrigerator and the almost empty pantry shelves.  Many people in my own state lost more than just their food supply.  You’ve probably seen the photographs of the devastation on the Jersey shore.  I have been given the resources not only to restock my own shelves but also to act generously towards others.  And generosity is not limited to monetary gifts.  Some of our neighbors need help cutting down trees, cleaning out flooded houses and repairing their damaged property.  Some of us need listening ears and compassionate responses as we readjust after a frightening storm.  And some of us need to help each other.  May such generosity produce thanksgiving to God this Thanksgiving holiday.  

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