An Army of Angels

Mark Lambert
October 04, 2021

 

Miss Cat is sitting sideways at her kitchen table, where she has fed hungry friends, family, neighbors, and strangers with countless bowls of gumbo, smoked chicken, chops, and vegetables for decades in this Lake Charles neighborhood.

On this day, her eyes are lifted in thought, her right hand sweeping past the combination living room/bedroom and settling toward the front door.

"This old house,” she declares, almost singing the words, “is pretty solid, pretty sound.”

 

She is proud of the two-bedroom wood-frame cottage she and her late husband bought some 50 years ago. Her eyes rest on the cot in the living room, a reminder that both bedrooms are damaged and uninhabitable, courtesy of Hurricane Laura, a 2020 nightmare that hasn’t ended for Miss Cat and too many others in southwest Louisiana.

Now her eyes are straight ahead. She sits a little straighter, her voice is softer.

“But this time, it took a good pounding.”

Miss Cat – few call her by her legal name, Carline DeJean – evacuated ahead of Laura’s pounding and stayed with relatives in Dallas for nearly two months. She returned home to a crooked little house with large ceiling cracks and busted floor tiles. The roof leaked, the porch, door, and windows were damaged, and the interior was full of moisture and mold.

Help was hard to come by. The whole city was hurting and trying to recover. With nowhere else to go, Miss Cat stayed in the compromised home.

“That’s OK,” she says, recounting her trials. “I’m not on my time. I’m on God’s time. I have the patience of Job.”

The Jobesque events continued.

The insurance adjuster couldn’t manage to find enough damage to meet her deductible. FEMA came through with $153.42.

She spent a harrowing Valentine’s Day weekend riding out a rare ice storm and cold snap that paralyzed the city. She fell asleep that Friday and woke up Sunday, shivering from the cold and sick from the mold. No one could help because everyone was iced in.

“I cried, ‘Lord, please don’t let me die in here!’”

Neighbors eventually came to her rescue and nursed her through the freeze, but she clearly needed more help. Through a Facebook post, she learned that a group of Methodist volunteers would cut down damaged trees for her. Rev. Angela Bulhof, senior pastor at University United Methodist Church in Lake Charles, showed up at Miss Cat’s house with a chainsaw.

“If it had not been for Reverend Angela,” she says, her voice trailing off. “She asked if I needed more help. By the next Sunday, they had a huge group of volunteers that came, tearing out walls.”

The roof was patched, and other repairs were underway. Through a grant, the Methodist volunteers were able to re-straighten the house.

“God sent a whole army of angels,” she says. “I never saw a bill.”

Recovery comes in many forms and at different stages. Disaster response is a sprint; long-term recovery is a marathon.
 

“If there was ever an example of the best way to handle long-term recovery, it’s Cat,” said Howard Hines, disaster case manager for the Louisiana Conference’s Office of Missional Engagement and Outreach. “You sit and talk with her, she is calm, understands where she is, understands it’s not going to get better overnight, and takes it in stride. That’s the way to try to handle going through a disaster.”

Howard, who lives in Shreveport, called Miss Cat to introduce himself as her long-term case manager.

“I told her, ‘I’m not sure when I’ll be in Lake Charles, so I’ll get this paperwork in the mail today,’” he said.

Miss Cat, who was visiting a grandchild in Shreveport when Howard called, picks up the story.

“Now, how is it that I just happened to be in Shreveport when he called me?” she asks. “That’s just God.”

“She said, “Howard, you’re my angel,’” Howard laughed. “I told her she didn’t know me that well.”
 
Howard met Miss Cat at the Shreveport clothing store where she was shopping, and they huddled together in a corner of the store to discuss paperwork.

“She absolutely is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met,” Howard said. “And funny, man’s she’s funny! She’s just a blast. She’s a good lady.”

Miss Cat’s long-term recovery is underway, thanks to the Louisiana Conference’s disaster relief efforts. Howard and other case managers match resources to meet clients’ needs and help with the necessary paperwork to review insurance and FEMA decisions.

“The long-term recovery side is every bit of what the conference is about from both a spiritual standpoint and the “We’re here to help” standpoint,” Howard said. “We help with paperwork, yes, but there’s also something about being able to put your arm around someone’s shoulder for a while. I think this is one of the things the conference and Methodism is known for.”

It’s a marathon, but Miss Cat is up to the challenge.

“I’m a blessed person,” she says. “I thank God for everyone who helped me, all of my angels.”
 
 
 

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