A friend of mine from church recently felt led to do something for the people who had lost their houses in the recent fire. There were 346 houses totally lost, and lots more that were damaged. So Mandy set out to do something.
She set up a "Free Garage Sale". Meaning, anyone with an ID and address on the affected streets could come to our garage sale, and shop for free. No money. Nothing cost anything. She got a church to give us some space to do the sale, and a bunch of people to donate things that one might need after losing almost everything. She had volunteers to do everything in running the sale, and coordinated with the disaster relief effort going on nearby - they were helping people sift through the ashes of their homes, and using this church as a home base. They handed out water all day, and sent people inside to do some "shopping".
So I dropped off lots of sheet sets and comforters that Mom and I had culled from the cabin and our homes. And I told Mandy I would come back early Saturday morning and help get things opened up for the day.
So yesterday morning, I got some coffee and headed over to the church early in the morning. I had to be there at 7:30, and as my Mom says, "That's ALL THE WAY on the other SIDE OF TOWN!". So I went.
I didn't do much, except check-in volunteers, give people tours of the sale space, and smile and be friendly.
But let me just tell you.
As I was driving away, I got to thinking about those people that came to the sale. And I got to thinking about how they must be feeling right about now, as the shock has worn off and the finality of things set in. About how they must feel every time they have to meet with an insurance adjuster, and how they must feel sending in a mortgage payment on a house that doesn't exist anymore.
And I recalled the gratitude of the people as they asked over and over, "You mean we can take ANYTHING?" "We don't have to pay for it?" And their incredulous expressions as that information set in.
And I thought that even though I can intellectually understand the enormity of what has happened, I do not truly have empathy for them. I cannot wrap my mind around all the things they are dealing with at this point.
So I prayed as I drove home that God would give me more empathy for these neighbors of mine, and the will to find another way to help.
And then I was thankful for Mandy. That she had found a way to provide a little bit of hope to these people that must need some encouragement. And that God told her to do something and she obeyed.
And then I looked to the west, at the charred hills, and prayed for my neighbors who lost homes. That they would find what they need to go on and thrive. And I think God gave me a little bit more empathy, right then.