Oh my, how we're all praying for the people of eastern Texas!
Hurricane Harvey has hit that region with incredible force. The images of people being rescued, homes and businesses destroyed....it's almost unbelievable and just so sad.
I was listening to the news when a reporter said, "We haven't seen anything like this since 2004 when Charley hit Florida." His words were a jolt for me because we went through Hurricane Charley. We didn't move here until 2005 but we were in Winter Haven when Charley barreled across FL.
The circumstances surrounding that experience were so bizarre.
We were still evangelists at the time. It was August and we had to get Kristin and Joy back in school. We brought our RV down and actually parked behind what's now our church.
The plan was for me to stay with the girls getting them settled. Frank would fly to NC on Friday for the service we had scheduled then back to us on Monday. Perfect.
Well, perfect until Charley came knocking.
We hadn't watched the news and had no idea people were evacuating Tampa as we were driving toward the airport. We were completely oblivious. Later we learned, his was the final flight out that day.
Frank called as soon as he landed in Raleigh to say he was renting a car to drive back. "There's no need," I told him. "Wait until it passes over and then you'll know what supplies to bring with you."
Please remember, I grew up in FL. The routine of preparing for and "riding out" hurricanes has been part of my life since childhood. Collect food supplies, fill the bathtub with water, prepare to lose power and phone service. Mom and Dad always stayed calm so I developed that attitude too, I guess.
But I'd never experienced anything like Hurricane Charley!
We had only hours to get ready and I had two other girls with us for the weekend. So it was five young ladies ages 15-20; two silly dogs and me.
I contacted one of the board members and got permission to stay with the girls in the church. We cleared debris from around the RV. Tree limbs and loose boards become projectiles during a hurricane.
The girls helped cook what I had in our tiny freezer while I dashed to the store for batteries, bottled water, milk, bread and peanut butter. (PBJ sandwiches and milk make everything better!)
Not knowing how long we'd be without water and power, I urged everyone to get a quick shower. We closed up the RV and headed into the church just as the wind and rains started getting serious.
I won't bore you with all the details of that harrowing night spent sitting against the wall of the interior hallway. We prayed. We encouraged each other. We prayed some more.
At one point, I stepped into the foyer just long enough to see a row of trees bent almost perpendicular to the ground by the ferocious wind. It was too dangerous to stay there because of all the glass doors and windows.
As the eye of the storm passed over us, we all stepped outside to take a quick look at the devastation right around the church. Such an eerie scene. I was grateful to find our RV in an upright position but knew the backside of the storm was still to come.
We were already without power, so as the rain started again it was a little more difficult to take shelter in the darkened hallway. Those five young ladies were troopers!
Obviously, we made it through safely. RV's all around us were thrown on their sides like matchbox toys. But ours sustained only minor damage.
There was no power in our area for five days. Friends graciously invited us into their home in Lakeland. We camped in grand style; sharing our food and water with them.
Frank made it back to us and I gladly handed the cloak of "Family Protector" right back to the shoulders that carry it best.
I took a moment this morning and wrote a note of thanks to the family that housed us during that natural disaster. Yes, it was thirteen years ago but the appreciation for their kindness and generosity is still strong.
We've used many illustrations from that experience in sermons through the years. I'll leave you with what's probably my favorite story.
Everyone is aware that looting becomes a big problem after catastrophic storms. We knew as six women in a church building containing thousands of dollars in electronics, supplies and such.......that we were sitting ducks. Prayer for protection was a big one.
Around two in the morning, it happened.
We heard looters moving around outside, talking, rattling door handles, trying to find a way to get in.
I'm not exactly sure WHAT I thought I was going to do. I had no way to protect us from robbers. But I reached for my most intimidating teacher voice and yelled out through the locked door, "Who are you?! What do you want?!"
A split second of frozen silence......
"It's the police! Are you alright in there?"
That's when my confident-acting knees finally went wobbly. I opened the door and I'm pretty sure I startled the first officer by grabbing him in a big hug.
Yes, we know to keep praying for the people of Texas. For the first-responders; utilities workers; even military coming in and working tirelessly to care for those affected. We may not be able to offer our homes but we can pray.
How about you? Have you ever been through a natural disaster in your area? I'd love to hear about your experience in the comment section below.