Your Response to Disasters… Does It Really Make A Difference?

Over the past year, we’ve been inundated with story after story of Billion Dollar Natural Disasters.  We have come to hear about these events on our smartphones, tablets, laptops, Twitter, Facebook, and broadcast news reports.  But when it comes down to it, when it happens in another community, it sounds bad, but it’s really just hard to understand how significant of an impact it really is.  On the flip side of the coin, when it happens to you and your town, or even more locally – to your family, most people would end up being overwhelmed with the situation, not knowing how to respond.  Let’s look at other areas in life – what about the loss of a family member – a parent, a sibling, a child?  How many people have lost jobs in the past year?  Have you been affected, or has this happened as well to your family or friends?  Do you know someone who seemed to have the world in front of them and then in an instant, it was all turned upside down?

Most of us can relate to one or all of these stories.  Life is full of ups and downs, but let’s address the times of disaster that we face in our lives.  Several years ago, I went through a financial planning course by author and radio host Dave Ramsey.  During that course, a quote stuck with me and it still resonates to this day.  In his lesson on the importance of an emergency fund, he quotes Money Magazine saying,

“No one eagerly anticipates negative, unexpected events. But guess what? They’re going to happen. It’s just a fact of life. Money magazine says that 78% of us will have a major negative event happen in any given 10-year period of time.” (Dave Ramsey – How to Recession Proof Yourself)

These negative life events could be the ones listed above, or a number of other events, but regardless over any 10 year period of time, 4 out of 5 of us will experience a major negative life event.

You may ask, “Brian, why are you talking about financial lessons in a blog focused on maps and natural disasters?”  Well, I’m writing this because I’ve seen this firsthand in my own life and in the lives of family and friends.  In fact, I look at this number and wonder if the study from Money magazine is actually outdated and it should be more like 9 out of 10 or even higher.  Sometimes even the best events and opportunities have negative impacts.  The birth of a child or an adoption is an incredible blessing to a family, but it brings with it increased responsibility, additional costs, and an incredible amount of redirection of previous priorities in time and resources towards new priorities.  But when the unexpected occurs in life and we face the storms of adversity, there are times where we get hit by one huge wave.  Other times, there are just a series of tsunami-like waves hit us time and time again, making it seem like it just won’t end.

When these storms hit me personally they can seem like a disaster.  There are other times when they hit family or friends and I want to help.  It’s hard to explain how it feels to know people want to help, to ask for help, to receive assistance, or to be vulnerable enough to let people come alongside and walk with you.  But it is pretty overwhelming to realize that people really care about you.  Likewise for those wanting to help, we’re not perfect as well.  We too are going through the storms in life, and sometime what we need to help us gain perspective is to give to others and not just look to receive.  Investing in people, not stuff is what really makes a difference and brings meaning to life.

Below are two stories that have stood out to me from the past several months.  As you read these stories you will think of many other examples of real-life struggles and heroes from your own life – people who have made an incredible difference in your family and in your community.

Jacob Rainey

One specific example that has really encouraged me in the past year is from Jacob Rainey, a young man in a neighboring county.  Rainey started the year out with an incredible season ahead of him at Woodberry Forest School in nearby Madison County, Virginia.  He was one of the top players in the state, and was being scouted by many major college football programs.  He was also one of the captains for the football team.  You can take a look at some of his highlight videos from the 2010 season on youtube

However, during a scrimmage in September before the first game of season, his knee was severely injured, severing the artery in his leg.  This injury resulted in having to amputate part of his leg.  I honestly can say that I didn’t hear of this story until later in the year.  I’m amazed that I didn’t know about it, most likely because of the ups and down in my immediate circle of family and friends.  As I began to read more about this young man’s journey, several things came to mind.  In my own life and in the lives of so many people, I’ve seen that the toughest times in life often bring out the best not only in people but they also bring out the best in the opportunities that we are presented with us.  We also see more clearly how much we still have even though things have been taken from us.  In life we have a choice to make when we face storms.  Those choices reveal the character that is rooted within us.  In Jacob’s case, he was a captain of this team before the season began.  But because of his personal character, leadership and the way that he has handled himself through adversity, he was a leader still for the team.

Click Photo for Link to Woodberry Forest School Football Blog Website

A few weeks later, I saw a story in Rainey again, but this time with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.  Tebow’s foundation has been reaching out to children who have faced or are facing life threatening injuries and illnesses and flying them and their families to watch the game and participate in pregame on the field.  Several weeks ago when the Broncos played the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo, Tebow’s foundation chose Rainey to attend the game.  This has since been covered by ESPN and even today there is a lead story on ESPN.COM by Rick Reilly about Tebow entitled “Believing in Tim Tebow“.  Tebow’s comebacks on the football field have been remarkable, but at the end of the story, you are left with the following statement about the time between Tebow and Rainey:

“Remember the QB who lost his leg, Jacob Rainey? He got his prosthetic leg a few weeks ago, and he wants to play high school football next season. Yes, tackle football. He’d be the first to do that on an above-the-knee amputation.

Hmmm. Wonder where he got that crazy idea?

“Tim told me to keep fighting, no matter what,” Rainey says. “I am.””

Yes… Tackle football… Fall 2012.  This message is for Jacob – you’ve made me a fan.  I’m definitely coming to Woodberry to watch the games next year.  Whether you play or not, I’m definitely bringing my family.  The character that you have and how you have handled adversity point to something that must be celebrated.

In the same ESPN story, Tebow is read a letter from another child that he met with at a game this year.  Tebow’s response?

“Why me? Why should I inspire?” he said. “I just don’t feel, I don’t know, adequate. Really, hearing [their] stories inspires me.”

For those of you from other parts of the country outside Virginia, you might wonder how the Woodberry Forest football team did in the season after losing their starting quarterback and captain even before the season began.  Well they started off 1-2.  After returning home from the hospital, Jacob ended up returning to the sideline on crutches, still wearing his jersey and still serving in his role as a team captain.  The team as a whole rallied and overcame both individual and team adversity.  Woodberry Forest went on to win the final 7 games of the season including the Prep League Championship Game and THE GAME against 110 year rival Episcopal High School.

Waterbury, Vermont

Another example I just became aware of today was the town of Waterbury, Vermont.  Most of you will recall Hurricane Irene earlier this year and the devastating flooding that occurred in New England.  The video linked below is from and shows not only the effects of the flooding, but the response both inside and outside the community.  During disasters, most of us who are coming “to help” from outside the community think we’re coming to your community to add something and help you out.  When we get there and when we reflect upon the situation, we realize that we have much in common with the players in the story above.  We might rebuild houses, feed people, deliver supplies and the like, but we quickly see and realize that the communities that are devastated are really the ones that are doing the inspiring.  The individuals who have been through so much and still stand back up are showing us something that deep down each of us knows that the rest of us will have to face sooner or later (remember the 4 out of 5 statistic earlier).

Waterbury is one of many towns all across this country that have faced disasters in 2011.  Not all are natural disasters.  Some are financial disasters while others are medical and more yet are from traffic accidents, lack of planning and the worst still are ones that we feel as though we could have prevented.  In all of these cases, people are presented with common challenges and common issues.

But this article isn’t about them.  This article is about you.  How will you respond to the disasters that come to your life?  How will you make a difference in others – not because you’ve helped them in “their time of need”.  But because you were vulnerable and opened up to let them see you battling and overcoming your own personal disasters.

I know that you’re not trying to inspire others from your disasters – in many cases you’re fighting just to survive.  But it’s because you’re willing to let people see into your life and join you in the journey that you inspire others.  Community matters, and your willingness to share with us helps us see a glimpse of our own lives and the disasters we’re facing as well as the ones that we have tried to run from and avoid for years.  When you let us join you, that is really what we are doing.  We are seeing the leadership that you bring, and strengthening those values and principles in our own lives.  And be sure to know that your inspiration to the rest of us reaps rewards – ones that we see as we apply the lessons learned in our own lives and to our own storms.


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