On a seemingly normal and mundane Tuesday my husband came home for lunch and laughed as he said “It’s like armageddon out there.” I had no clue as to what he was referring to. A more astute wife would have known that only days after Hurricane Harvey had destroyed Houston, Texas a hurricane of record size was heading straight for our home in Tampa, Florida. He had gone out to get gas in the car and was met with panic and lines of epic proportion at every station.
The days that followed can be described as nothing short of inexplicably exhausting, both physically, mentally and emotionally, as we watched and waited for the catastrophe that was heading our way. The entire country was on edge as it had just witnessed the demise of Houston. I fielded text messages from family and friends as they begged for our quick evacuation. We had a family conference call almost every evening, sometimes multiple times a day, as we tried to make the decision about leaving or staying. I stood in line for hours for water. We became experts at hurricane proofing a home. And we barely slept the entire week as we weighed all the risks of staying and all the people we would abandon if we left. We felt like idiots for leaving. And we felt like idiots for staying. The decision was gut-wrenching.
God used the 5 torturous days leading up to the hurricane’s arrival (those 5 days felt like a lifetime) and the 5 days following its destruction to teach me a few things. Some of which were reminders of truths already known but forgotten over the years and some were new revelations altogether. I hate hurricanes. I hate destruction. I hate panic and fear. I hate not being in control. But I am so grateful for any storm that causes me to see my Creator and His beloved people with fresh eyes.
10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM HURRICANE IRMA, plus one more
in no particular order
- Waiting. I hate waiting. It’s beyond uncomfortable, and dare I say even painful, for someone like myself who desires to just move in a direction-even if it isn’t the right one. And yet a hurricane put me in a position where I had no choice but to wait. And in the waiting I remembered. I remembered that my impatience is often a sign that I do not trust God. I don’t trust that He will move and work in ways that will be for my good. My impatience says “I know better.” God used the waiting to remind me that I am not God, that I am not in control and that despite what I think, I don’t actually know best. And that is a good thing. I have such a limited perspective while His eternal.
- The Bible. What a gift God’s Word is in times of trouble and fear. God used a hurricane to remind me of it’s power in moments of desperation and hopelessness. How it can fill a soul with peace and assurance as it reminds me of who He is, of His power and His goodness and His faithfulness. My typical time in the Bible each day is often driven by routine and habit rather than a heart that is desperate for a reminder that my God is mighty and that He is in control and that even amidst eternity He sees and cares for even me.
- He alone controls the winds & waves. I’m not sure a single meteorologist perfectly predicted how the storm would hit. And the predictions changed every 45 minutes. Watching storm updates and reports created so much anxiety in my heart and then after it was all over I marveled that God knew all along where that storm was heading and He alone had the ability to shut it down. With all of our technology and all of our instruments and all of our education we still only see in part. What a reminder to trust and wait on a God who sees fully.
- Hospitality & Strangers. We woke up on Sunday morning with news that most likely Hurricane Irma would make a direct hit to Tampa as a category 3 or 4. In that moment we made a crazy last minute decision to leave Tampa and head north away from the storm. I sent a couple frantic text messages to friends who I barely knew trying to find a place for us to stay. Without hesitancy they said “come on!” and graciously and joyfully took in our party of 10. In all my life I have never had such an example of hospitality. Hospitality that put aside plans and priorities and comfort to welcome strangers without warning. Carroll family you will forever be a tangible example as to what it looks like to set aside your needs for the needs of others.
- Preparation & Precautions. When a record size hurricane is headed for you at a size that is bigger than your entire state you go ahead and take some precautions. You make the decision to listen to authorities and follow their instructions. Trusting God doesn’t negate my responsibility to prepare well in order to ensure the safety and provision of my family. That will look different for everyone but for us it looked like making a plan (where would we go in the house when the hurricane came), boarding up the windows, having enough food and water for at least 3 days in case we lost power, etc. We didn’t do every precaution suggested but we did our best to make sure that our family, specifically our children, were protected to the best of our ability.
- Better Understanding. For my entire life I have watched natural disasters from afar and judged the people who stayed even when given warnings to leave. Then I was put in a very similar situation and for the first time I understood why people stay. Difficulty and trials give us a better understanding and a greater perspective of what others are going through. We gain compassion in the place of pride.
- Serving & Being Served. Do your best to put yourself in a position to serve others. I was reminded how important it is to steward our finances, time, even our bodies (it’s a lot easier to serve others when we are healthy) in a way that allows us to give generously. I was reminded that serving others requires sacrifice. It means putting aside your own needs for the needs of someone else. And when you aren’t able to serve others, be willing to receive others serving you. I was reminded what it looks like to let others help me this week. I don’t always have to be the one helping. I don’t always have to be the hero. In fact, its best if I’m never the hero – because that makes it all about me. Instead we love one another, we serve one another, we bear one another’s burdens-all by the grace and power of Jesus.
- Eyes Up & Out. No matter your suffering, your trial, your difficulty there are always others who are hurting. That truth doesn’t diminish your suffering but it does remind us to keep our eyes up and out, not just inward on our own hurt. In fact, from my own experience, the best remedy for pain and heartache is to get your eyes off of your own circumstances and look for someone you can serve.
- Still A Mess. Suffering lingers long after everything looks “cleaned up.” We came home to a perfectly in tact home. No damage. And yet I felt as though I was reeling for days on end. I was reminded that just because everything looks all pretty and cleaned up on the outside it doesn’t mean that we’re all better on the inside.
- Social Media. Ugh. My relationship with social media can easily be described as love-hate. There is so much value and yet so many opportunities for my heart to be swayed from truth. I was reminded what power social media has; both for good and for bad. The good: asking 20,000 people to pray for my neighbor who is pregnant with twins, that God would protect her and those babies through the storm. The bad: doubt over our decision to stay, doubt over our decision to leave, being made to feel like I don’t love my children if we stayed, being made to feel like we weren’t brave if we left, etc. Social media can be a great, great gift, but it must always be filtered through a lens that reminds us that it isn’t ultimate truth.
- First Responders. Thank you. I grew up in a family of first responders. I can’t remember a family get together that didn’t have emergency tones going off at some point or another. My heart just about burst out of my chest as we drove north away from the storm and we watched first responders and clean-up crews driving south into the storm. I was reminded what a gift it is to live in a country where there are people who will risk their lives for mine.
Overall, this storm reminded me that there is much to be grateful for. For provision, for mercy, for grace, for a God who controls it all.
Ways You Can Help
- Emily Ley + Convoy of Hope = 100% of donations from this print will benefit Convoy of Hope providing disaster relief and emergency supplies to people affected by Hurricane Irma throughout the state of Florida.
- Refinery 29 put together a lengthy list of ways to help.