I remember hearing about a hurricane forming in the ocean. I didn’t think much of it. I live in Florida. Hurricanes mean strong winds and rain – and maybe a day off work. But, as the days passed, the panic grew. Stores struggled to keep bottled water stocked. Gas stations ran out of gas as people started stock piling. A massive, category 5 hurricane threatened to engulf the entire state. Millions of people began evacuating a week before the storm for fear of not being able to get out.
We decided to leave 4 days before the storm hit. I didn’t sleep much. I would cry randomly. And I packed my family to flee everything we knew. Our home. Our friends. Our community. I had to leave my mother behind in a hospital bed. I didn’t know if I’d be working next week or moving to another state. I packed things like Bibles, birth certificates, social security cards, pictures and a week’s worth of clothes. When you don’t know if you’ll lose everything, so much becomes meaningless. All that money spent on shoes, clothes, furniture and decorations - and we were leaving it all behind. Because it didn’t matter.
We drove through the night. Bumper-to-bumper traffic for 9 hours. Cars with sleep-deprived drivers drifting over lines and rear-ending each other. Hour long lines at rest stops to use a bathroom. Can’t even get into a gas station. People walking on the side of the road because they ran out of gas. No cars were headed south except military vehicles and utility workers.
We did eventually make it to Georgia and we waited. And prayed. A sense of wanting it to be over and not knowing if life would ever be the same.
Then it hit. But miraculously downgraded and didn’t do near the damage expected in my community. But people did lose their lives. Homes were damaged. Electricity was out for most of the state. Flooding. Closings.
Now, almost 4 months later, blue tarps no longer hang over neighbors’ roofs. Workers replaced most of the bent highway signs. Crews removed the downed trees and debris. The heroic out-of-state utility works went home. Grocery stores restocked. Gas stations refueled.
Floridians are back to normal. But are we? Do you go back to normal after you were told for days that your community would be destroyed? That you would lose everything? After you got up at 4am to get in line for gas? Waited for hours for bottled water?
When life hits hard, we create a new normal. We can take lessons of a hard experience and use it as a tool for the next hard-hit.
Here’s what Hurricane Irma, and the belief I would lose it all, taught me:
1. You are stronger than you realize – just lean on God. I’m not sure there’s anything that could have prepared me for the most stressful, emotionally exhausting month of my life. But praying and trusting God gave me the strength to do what I needed to do.
2. God never leaves us. I prayed while I packed. I prayed for protection while we drove in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the middle of the night with millions of other sleep-deprived Floridians. And God protected us. He is faithful. He doesn’t say we won’t go through struggles. He just promises to go through them with us.
3. When we don’t ask God before we plan, we can’t be upset at Him when we don’t like the results. I didn’t ask God if we should leave Florida. I prayed for God to control the winds. To protect us as we traveled. To help us find a hotel room. But I never actually stopped and asked God if we should leave. I let fear control me. I can’t be upset about spending over a thousand dollars travelling, bumper to bumper traffic, back pain and sleep deprivation when, if I had just asked God first, I could have stayed home.
4. There’s strength in tears. I cried. A lot. But tears are an emotional release and a signal to give control over to God. There’s strength in recognizing where you end because this is where God begins.
5. God allows us to go through tough times to shape us for the future. He is a loving father and He doesn’t want us to be in pain. But, He will allow us to go through tough times to transform us. After Hurricane Irma, I know without a doubt that I can make it through just about anything.
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