The Displaced of #Gatlinburg Give Thanks

04 Jan
The Displaced of #Gatlinburg Give Thanks

First a note to the newcomers: If it’s your first time to this blog, let me catch those up who might believe that “Dolly has taken care of everyone,” and therefore everything is rosy for Gatlinburg folk; please let me assure you we have a long way to go. I personally applied for benefits on behalf of a number of people displaced (because when you are displaced your computer is also turned into ashes). While Dolly’s efforts have been very generous, the program was not designed to help anyone who sub-leased. Meaning, if your name was on a lease you receive a thousand dollars a month, but if I lived with you in the basement and sub-leased from you. . . if I even paid half the rent, I’d receive zero from Dolly’s Foundation. We’d both be homeless, only you would have cash in your pocket, I wouldn’t. Does that help clarify how people fall in the cracks? Hopefully, this explanation will eliminate confusion. Complicating the matter: because a large number of apartments (which I call “worker housing) were destroyed in the fire, compounded with the high cost of living in a tourist town, there were a number of people who were in a sub-lease situations. Additionally, re-building of apartments hasn’t yet begun. Long-term housing is still a problem.

Now for an update:

If you have followed my blog the past month you know that before Christmas, I launched a “Christmas Card” campaign for those displaced by the #ChimneyTops2 Fire in #Gatlinburg. I refuse to call these folk “victims.” These people are displaced. Homeless. Jobless. Scared folk. They are hard-working folk.  Americans, scratching, clawing, hoping to make it through another day.

They are just like us, only everything they own is now a pile of ashes.


#Gatlinburg Taken Christmas Day Photo Credit: Renea Winchester

I never really know what will happen after The Good Lord places ideas such as the Christmas Card mailing on my heart. I just pray and hope for the best. Several of my friends, blog readers, and Facebook acquaintances were eager to send cards. Once provided with contact information, they went to work and I trusted The Good Lord to do the rest. By way of example, several people who worked at one particular restaurant lost everything. No job. No home. They needed a little cheer.

They needed hugs too, but the best I can do is a little encouragement via the postal service.

But you. Yes you. If you sent a card, a message, a little money tucked inside, you were the blessing.

Today I’d like to share that your cards were received. Your cards have heaped a whole lot of blessing on folk . . .  people who are hurting. People who had given up.

People who needed hugs.

Trust me when I say, hugs can arrive in a tiny envelope.

I’ve received text messages and emails, all saying how touched and humbled they are that YOU would reach out; that YOU would take time to write.

Some had given up. One woman had surgery and lost her home while in the hospital. Your card let her know there are good people in the world.

And here’s the deal, most of y’all did this anonymously. No return address. Just a little bit of money. A little bit of love. A little bit of hope. Y’all are sneaky like that and I love a sneaky love-giver. Yes sir. I sure do. God bless the love-giving sneaks. God bless the love-givers who couldn’t send money. God bless-the love-givers who included a return address. Many people told me they have sent thank you cards.

The recipients cried. I’m crying now typing this. I just can’t process all of this love. I don’t what to do when God answers prayers like this, when God uses me . . . the LEAST of these. I am so humbled that anyone reads my words and then helps someone else. All I can say is every bit of honor and glory goes to The Father. He created this compassionate heart of mine. He knows how much I cry over this type of loss. And he sent you, to me.

Let’s give Him some praise!

During my mother’s agonizing cancer battle, she clung to the promise of “beauty from ashes.” I never really understood her dedication to these versus. I share portions here:

Isaiah 61:1-3King James Version (KJV)

61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings . . . To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.


#GatlinburgAshes 12/25/2016 Credit: Renea Winchester

I don’t know about you, but these versus are too deep for my delicate heart. Joy in mourning? Beauty from ashes? How is this possible Lord? I’ve been thinking about beauty from ashes. I have stood in the ashes of Gatlinburg. I have looked at them carefully. Touched them. Ashes disintegrate you know. Ashes are flakes of powder. The wind carries them, scatters them beyond our reach.

Using plain mountain talk, I must say, “You can’t make nothing from ashes.”

Even when I spread ashes on my garden the wind takes charge and deposits them wherever it wants.

But when you added compassion, when you (dear reader) placed a stamp on a sealed envelope you helped the Spirit of The Good Lord turn the Gatlinburg ashes into a thing of beauty. You are how God creates beauty from ashes.

Whew. Let me cry some more. If you have ever felt insignificant, let me say you are not. You. Yes you, are a blessing to someone and here is the cool part, you blessed someone you didn’t even know! You have created something beautiful from the most horrible experience.

You are love in action and I am honored to know you.

For those who perhaps didn’t have the opportunity to send cards but would like to do at your convenience please leave a comment and I will provide you with addresses.

Renea is donating the proceeds of her Christmas Story: A Hardscrabble untitled1Christmas  and In the Garden with Billy to the victims she met at The Distribution Center. Download it here.

Renea Winchester is a traditionally-published author of three books. She is a Jesus lover, a gardener, and a giver of hugs. She may be reached at P.O. Box 404, Webster NC 28788


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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in A Glimpse into My Life


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