As the world is aware hurricane Irma set her sights on Florida this last week. The predictions as to where her strike would occur and how strong of an impact she would have were all over the place. First west then east no west again. As the stereotypical woman, she didn’t seem to be able to make up her mind. You’d think she were deciding where to have dinner. Memes of Irma took over the internet and after the destruction of Harvey we waited in anticipation for Irma who was to be the largest hurricane to have ever formed in the Atlantic. My family potentially sitting in her path.
My husband as you may be aware works in the medical field as a pharmacist and the pharmacies were packed with people trying to get their medications early so they could flee the state. The interstate became a parking lot and gas became scarce and we prepared to hunker down. Then the report came Saturday morning that Irma had a real beef with us and looked to be making a beeline straight for us. Gas stations were closed and after retrieving our daughter from her college an hour away we were down to half a tank of gas. We didn’t have hurricane shutters and we didn’t have boards to put up to cover our windows and those who were not apart of the mass exodus had already bought all the plywood around. I have always thought there was comfort in being around other people. That said my husband and I left early and registered at the nearby shelter and went home to pack everything up.
As you are probably aware we are from the Midwest, as you further are now aware we now live in the great state of Florida. What you may not be aware of is that when the largest hurricane possibly ever is coming at you everyone in the Midwest becomes an expert on hurricanes. They also, not understanding how it isn’t so simple to just pack up and leave when you are not on vacation here and you have jobs and responsibilities, think you’re stupid for not leaving. My inbox, private message box, and text box filled up with family and friends telling me to get out and drive 1100 miles back from whence we came. We needed to come there to stay with every friend we had. Fear and anticipation of what could happen and the idea of us not fleeing for our lives drove them to tell us how to handle the situation even though they had never been in this situation. This did not help the women of the house. My middle child was filled with anxiety from the start and now she was on hyper drive. I was crying in the shower. My husband was at his wits end with scared women and trying to get us to calm down and we would be ok because we were together. Where was our faith?
We have family here. My cousin who lives on the other side of the state was very concerned and continued to call on us and check in, wanting to make sure we were taking this very seriously and that we were going to be safe. When told we were going to a shelter I could hear her relief. We have other family here that we never heard from. They left the state and never once thought to call us to see if we were going to be OK. I think that is one disappointment that has us the most flummoxed of all, especially when it is pointed out to us that they had left, hit the road, got out of dodge, without a thought to the family members who were new and had never experienced this type of storm before. I’m not sure how you make sense of that. Maybe you don’t, you just realize where you stand. Nevertheless, gas stations were closed and there was no way out by this point. We prepared for the worse and hoped for the best
We arrived at the shelter just before 3 p.m. on Saturday and started carrying in our supplies and looking for our spot that would serve as our “home base” for our stay. It was already getting full and by the time we were on lockdown on Sunday we were at capacity with 1700 people camped out and ready to ride out the storm together. We had hours to prepare and pack. We had our supplies pretty well put together. Food, cases of water, important supplies like games and other forms of entertainment were near the top of the list. When you are camping in a strange environment surrounded by strangers it is important to have things to do for not only you but the kids no matter how old your kids may be. The idea of going stir crazy didn’t sound appealing to any of us. My girls even brought homework to work on for school, desperate times and an overwhelming sense of responsibility drove that I believe.
I’m not sure what I thought this experience was going to be like. Packing up my kids and going to a shelter to ride out a storm was never on my ‘to do’ list. Had I to do it all over again…I wouldn’t change a thing and I’ll tell you why. Jesus was there. He was in the five-year-old little girl who was excited to be camping with her family in her school where some of her friends were doing the same. He was in the woman named Miriam who said, “We are going to get through this Heather, we’re going to get through this together.” He was in the woman who came alone but was finally joined by her older neighbor that she had convinced to come too. He was in the couple who are customers in my store who talked to me about churches in the area. He was in the young guy (I say young guy but he literally could have been 35 as everyone seems young to me at this point) who brought his service dog and his laptop and set it up and invited all to join him to watch the weather to see how things were going. He was in the service dog even because he never made a sound but somehow, I felt safer with him there. He was in the officers and national guard who were there to protect and serve. He was in the numerous volunteers who made food for everyone there three times a day. He was in the young mother of that five-year-old and her one-year old who allowed me to dote on her children and her husband who I ended up knowing from work as he had been a student at my store. He was everywhere I turned. I saw the hands and feet of God at work in an elementary school turned hurricane shelter.
I never once saw any of the storm. I heard the rain that sounded like rushing water on the roof. I saw things on the computer screen showing the news and forecasts but I didn’t see anything of the storm and that helped me. I think it helped all of us. We could have been there for any reason at that point. We could have been camping in a school not for survival but for a fundraiser or anything. But survive we did. The storm came and shook up everything but we made it to tell the story. The next morning, we packed up and went home not knowing what we would find or if we would even have a home once we got there. What we found when we arrived was leaves. We surveyed the entire house and all we found were leaved and a plastic piece from the side of the house that covers wires that just needed snapped back on. The neighbors on either side of me had damage. A tree down that blocked entrance through the front door on one side and screen from the lanai and vinyl fencing that needed snapped back together on the other side. Another tree down the road was down. We had leaves and a front door that now sticks for some reason. It seemed to me as if God had covered our home with his hand as the storm passed by. I was shocked at first but then I remembered all the prayer warriors we had praying for us and then it made perfect sense.
We learned a lot from this experience. First, our God is bigger than any hurricane. Second, we really can get through anything together. Third, God has plans for us. I know this because HE calmed the storm. He calmed a storm that was to hit our area at a cat 4 and it hit us at a cat 2. Irma caused devastation on her path to us and there are parts of Florida that fared far worse than we did. I urge you to see what you can do to help those in need here in Florida as well as in Texas. Help a neighbor without power, help them with the clean up of the aftermath. Offer a hot meal or shower. From what I saw in the shelter people are still pretty good in a crisis. We as humans can still rise to the occasion and show the enemy that we stand with God. Let’s do that. Let’s live like that. Neighbor helping neighbor.