POSTED ON FEBRUARY 16, 2011:
The Cold Shoulder
The next whiteout doesn't have to be a wipeout
Wow. This balmy 60-degree weather feels great for February. It's hard to remember what below zero felt like when the temperatures are this nice. Or is it? Most of us are already tired of talking about the winter storms that we experienced during the first ten days of this month.
How quickly we forget the degree (pun intended) to which we were all affected by the blizzard. Then again, being snowed in was somewhat enjoyable for many people. Especially at first, when sleeping in was an option and no one in our homes was driving the others crazy. After some enjoyable time in the house, most people were anxious to get back to real life.
The first snowstorm took us all by surprise. Or did it? We had ample warning that it was coming. Terms like "Snowpocalypse," "Snowmageddon," and "Snowblivion" were already flying around the social networks before the first flake hit the ground in Oklahoma. Most people were excited about the potential of unscheduled time away from work or school while at the same time a bit wary of what the consequences of a major blizzard might mean in an area like ours.
Here in Northeastern Oklahoma, we just don't see terrible winter storms like this. This kind of thing never happens, unless, of course, one remembers three of the last four winters. The ice storm of 2007 was crippling in many ways. The blizzard that came through on Christmas Eve in 2009 was also uncharacteristically severe. And yet, with our first major snow and ice of this winter season, we still weren't prepared in many ways.
To be fair, we did much better with the second round of snow. Our street crews improved their efforts and many of our residents stocked up ahead of time and made wiser decisions about their behavior on the roads. But what about the neediest people in our city? The shelters remained packed with record numbers and ran out of food quickly. Many were stranded here while traveling through and an even larger number of people remained stranded in their homes for days without access to food or adequate supplies. I don't know about you, but I began to feel like there were more important things to do than sitting in my recliner with a cup of coffee or building another snowman.
The book of Acts in the New Testament describes an up-and-coming church in the Syrian city of Antioch. When the members of this church heard that their partner church in Judea was soon to be suffering from a severe famine, they took action on behalf of those who were soon to be less fortunate ... and less comfortable than they were. According to Acts 11:29: "The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea."
We did much better with the second round of snow. Our street crews improved their efforts and many of our residents stocked up ahead of time and made wiser decisions about their behavior on the roads. But what about the neediest people in our city?
This is not purely a Christian response, however. On the contrary, this is about being a good neighbor and a fellow human being. The members of the church at Antioch did not give haphazardly, nor in a way that crippled their own families. They did what they could. They did not remain unfazed by the problems of others. They took action.
With all of this in mind, let me pose another question. What can we do to be prepared next time? Here are some practical suggestions:
1. Get to know the elderly, disabled, or otherwise limited people who live near you and find out what their needs are. They might be blessed by having your help in preparing or coping with the next winter storm.
2. Contact the shelters and food banks in the needier parts of the city and see if you can donate resources before, during, or after weather related demands.
3. Contact your local schools, churches, or clubs and see if there are any single-parent families or other disadvantaged families who might benefit from having someone to contact in case of need.
4. If you have a vehicle that can travel in harsher conditions be thankful for it. Let that thankfulness develop into a desire to "pay it forward" by using your vehicle to help others. Help people who are stuck. Deliver food. Take people to doctor's appointments. Just don't go out and get yourself stuck too!
5. Get the children in your life involved. Winter weather provides a great opportunity to have snowball fights, build snow people and snow fortresses, sled down big hills, wear pajamas all day, and do fun projects at home. Do all of that. In between such fun events, though, try to find ways to help and provide for others and let young people around you participate. They are likely to remember the ways in which they were able to bless others far beyond any recreational activities.
We are likely to find ourselves in this situation again; if not this winter, then the next one. Next time, let's all find a way to help others. You might be able to do a lot or just a little. Either way, may we all follow the tradition of those in Antioch and do what we can for the good of others. You never know, we might be the ones who need it next time.
-Eric Costanzo is Minister of Community Ministries and Teaching Pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.
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