Saturday, September 23, 2017

Irma (Conclusion)

So, I promised a storm related story you could use to encourage others.  Here you go......

One of the first hurricanes Frank and I experienced together was actually while we were living in Ocean Isle Beach, NC.  The islands along the coast of NC jut out into the Atlantic Ocean and end up catching wild weather more often than you would think.

We lived in a rural area with more pine trees than people.  It had been an especially rainy summer. So, by the time that hurricane made landfall with its torrential downpours and winds topping 80 MPH, we had trouble on our hands.

After the storm passed us, we were left with hundreds of fallen trees littering the coastal areas.  A couple of days later, we took the girls walking on a golf course so they could see some of the damage from the safety of the cart paths.

Huge oaks and pines alike lay stacked askew on one another.  Aerial views showed something looking like a giant game of pixie sticks covering what had been carefully manicured lawns and golf courses.

The most fascinating thing to us was how the root beds of these trees remained in tact; many towering 8-10 feet high.  Everyone knows tall trees must have a huge root system of support. But to see that circular pad exposed was rather awe inspiring.

Several months later, I was preaching in another church and used those massive root beds as an illustration for my sermon.  I talked about the importance of developing a personal root system for life.  One built on truth that will help us stay standing during the storms of life.

After service, the pastor (who had formerly been a farmer for many years) clued me in on "the rest of the story."

During years with lots of rain, water is abundant and trees will typically grow roots outward; just below the surface to collect it.  But during times of drought, trees are required to put their energy toward growing a single tap root deep into the earth.  Only then can they find the water they need to survive. Very little growth is visible above ground during those times, but the tap root keeps the tree alive.

When storms come, trees that have primarily developed only surface roots have nothing to anchor them.  Toppling happens easily.

But trees that have survived the harshest droughts have a deep root system to hold them steady.  They may bend and some branches will likely break off but when the storm passes, they'll still be standing.

Do you see the similarity between the trees and us as people?  (I have tears in my eyes writing this.)

We all go through times of drought and difficulty.  It seems everything takes so much more effort than it should.  But during those times, we grow.

If we're wise, we grow deeper in the truths God has for us.  We spend more time in prayer and reading the Word; along with books of encouragement.  We don't try to figure it out on our own, we search out wise counsel to help us decipher what we're experiencing.

Then, when the storms come (and they surely will) we discover that the season of drought helped us develop a deep root system that keeps us standing until the winds subside.  We may have to bend a little and we may come out of the storm looking a little different but we WILL Come Through!

The tap root of TRUTH will hold us steady.

My friend's experience as a farmer cultivating crops became wise counsel to me as someone who cultivates people.  I hope this is encouraging to you, as well.

Blessings for your Sabbath!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Irma (Part 2)

What do 100 mile per hour winds sound like?

They sound like a freight train throbbing all around you.  And during a hurricane, there's also a lower sounding "growl" competing for attention which hovers just above the freight train.  When the 100 mph winds take a breath, you hear the terrifying growl.

There is no mistaking their intensity.

We met with about 30 of our church last Sunday morning.  As usual, there were lots of warm hugs, words of encouragement and sincere smiles being shared.  But there were no greeters; no announcements; no band; no sermon.

We were there to ride out Hurricane Irma together.  Some had been forced to evacuate others just didn't want to be alone.  Two older couples had never experienced a hurricane before.

Our "service" that day consisted of simple acoustic songs of worship.  Songs that reminded us just how great God is and how faithful He is to His people.  Frank shared a well-thought out word of encouragement.  He described the dual pegs of Hope and Peace on which we could hang our worries.

John's love language is food.  So he and Joy prepared a wonderful lunch of pork, beans and rice.  We all added the food items we'd brought; then shared a make-shift feast as the rains began in earnest.

Babies were put down on pallets and pack-n-play cribs for a nap.  Some of us rested; others read or quietly played games.

Around 5 PM the rain started coming in discernible bands.  The sign on the business across from us began blowing perpendicular to the ground.  Tree branches started waving and the palms were flailing.  The howling and whistling of the winds grew in volume while rain literally poured over the roof.

Then the sun set.  Darkness makes everything more intimidating.

Thankfully, we didn't lose power until after 11PM - well after babies had been put to bed.  Six little angels fell asleep with the comfort of routine Bible stories, music and night time prayers with mom and dad. All they knew was that they were getting to share a campout adventure with their cousins in the room where they usually have kids' services.

It was later reported we had over 10 inches of rain in that twenty-four hour period.  For our friends up north, I'm told you can safely multiply that by 5 and liken it to  50 inches of snow.  Weather is a powerful force.

Our own hefty church church sign began to blow sideways and sway.  About that same time, the rain went perpendicular, too.  We maintained news coverage long enough to know the storm had weakened and the eye was coming directly over our county.

I tried to lie down around 11:30 but just couldn't get comfortable on the air mattress we've used many times.  It was more comforting to sit in the kitchen area with the others who were still awake.  There wasn't much conversation.  We just drew strength from one another's presence.

We watched the fireworks display as transformers around us began to "blow."  Much like a mini explosion temporarily illuminating the darkness with bright blue light.

When our power went out, we fired up a generator to keep the refrigerator and a couple of lamps going.  Several stretched out on chairs in the auditorium.  One or two sat in the foyer.  Six or seven of us paced or sat in the kitchen - waiting.

Irma reached her zenith over us between 12:30 and 3 AM.  The sign across the street tore off completely.  We started losing branches and whole trees (at the edge of our property) toppled over, exposing massive root systems. Pebbles from our roof constantly pinged against the glass doors and windows.

And, of course, the wind!  That ever present howling, screaming, terrain-altering wind.

Our church has a covered walkway about four feet wide but it offered little protection from the fury of those winds.  By 1:30, the rain was being driven in between the double glass doors of our foyer and kitchen areas.  It literally soaked the carpeting almost five feet in.  We sat watching as the doors "breathed" and prayed they wouldn't give way.

At long last, Irma churned on toward the north.  Winds remained strong but the worst of it had marched beyond us.  We all fell exhausted onto pallets, chairs and mattresses trying to doze for at least a couple of hours.  There would be plenty to do at daybreak.

At first light, we started collecting our belongings.  Everyone was eager to get home and survey their damage.  We stopped to spend time together offering prayers of thanksgiving; shared a hasty breakfast and hugged our fellow storm warriors farewell.  Our hearts will forever be knit together by our shared experience.

Irma is no longer impacting our weather but her effects will be felt by our peninsula for months to come.  A pastor we know has a family business providing frozen foods to larger outlets.  They babysat generators for days trying to keep the freezers going.

Although the change in trajectory spared many of our coastal cities, the torrential rains devastated our interior farms and groves.  Vegetables and citrus that were only weeks from harvesting were stripped from trees or now lie rotting in fields due to the unrelenting heat.

Farming is Florida's second industry behind tourism.  We'll likely all feel the impact of Irma's devastation when we begin buying imported vegetables this fall.

Today, we're collecting non-perishables for shipment this afternoon to our sister churches in the Keys. They have water, we were told but are having very real problems obtaining canned meats and other food items.

Some of our church family just got power back yesterday while others are still waiting.  We've been amazed by the strangers helping strangers.  Power workers who have streamed in from other states to help us.  First responders who stay steady in service even when many of their own homes have been damaged or destroyed.

Frank, John and Joe cleaned up all around the outside of our church on Wednesday.  Kristin and I covered the indoors and contacted members to confirm they were safe.  Our Sunday service yesterday was one of celebration and felt like Thanksgiving in September!

A couple of closing thoughts for today:

  • No matter how big the storms, they all eventually pass.
  • Relationships matter much more than things.
  • Our hope is built on the sure foundation of God's Love.
  • After the rain, we always look for the rainbow.
Thanks for stopping by today, dear reader.  If you happen to be living through a storm of your own,  I encourage you to ponder those closing thoughts again.  Let them soak into your heart.  God is faithful; you can trust Him!   

(My next post will have a great story you can use to encourage others!  Watch for it later this week.)


Friday, September 15, 2017

Irma (Part I)

For the first time in over a week, my morning feels a bit normal.  I have a hot cup of tea, a quiet house and a message of joy to share.

There just aren't words to describe how VERY Grateful I am today!  (My eighth grade english teacher said to never use the word "very" when writing.  This time it's necessary.)

Hurricane Irma was slated to be the biggest in Florida's history.  Visuals showed Andrew (which decimated Homestead, FL 25 years ago) easily fitting within Irma.

The storm bands for this hurricane were 500 miles across. That wasn't hype, that was fact.  The peninsula of Florida is only about 150 miles across and 350 miles long.  Irma was clearly predicted to swallow us.

Allow me to give you a few interesting facts I Lived this week:
  • Hurricane wind speeds are measured by incredibly brave people who literally fly a plane into the eye (calm center) of storms.  No!  I do not want that job.
  • Category 5 hurricanes have sustained winds over 157 mph  For three days (prior to landfall) Irma maintained a category 5 status, with winds often reaching 185 mph.  
  • Our governor started urging people in flood prone areas to evacuate early last week.  6.3 million people heeded his warning making it potentially the largest evacuation in history and clogging our two major interstate highways heading north for days.

  • Everyone was grateful to learn that Irma's winds speeds dropped when making landfall - only 135 mph.  (Everything is relative.)   

  • On Monday morning it was reported that approximately 5.8 million people in Florida had no power.  Many were also without water, including John, Joy and their four little ones.
All those facts would be just that, facts about nameless, faceless people you don't know.  Except we were right in the middle of it all and we became the "nameless, faceless" people you DO know through this blog.  Thank you for praying!

I want to tell you about the personal stories from our experience in the next post.  But for today let me skip ahead and say, everyone is safe.  All our houses made it with minimal damage.  Between us our family will need to replace:
  • a roof 
  • several fences 
  • a few trees 
  • a couple of appliances
  • lots of refrigerated/frozen food items
You know, the normal things one loses when one experiences a hurricane, its power outages and the subsequent power surges.  

One of the sad losses for Frank and me was the little playground we'd worked so hard to buy and build for our grandbabies.  The sturdy wooden beams were literally torn to pieces and the seven foot high tower was thrown onto its side landing some ten feet from where it had been built. 

But roofs and playgrounds and appliances can all be replaced.  

I spent most of Wednesday and Thursday calling to speak directly with as many of our church members as I could reach.  We served as a connector for those offering help and those needing it.  A few just wanted to know we were still praying for them.  Some needed a listening ear.  Others quietly wept as they told their own harrowing stories about the unwelcome visitor, Irma.  

Our extended church family includes first responders and power workers who are the heroes of every hurricane story.  One senior member was the victim of looting and one new baby was born this week. We have many who are still without power.  

We've shared generators, gasoline, spare bedrooms, ice, meals, showers, washers/dryers and air conditioning with anyone who wanted to come by.  Our bible study Wednesday night was unusually somber; a time of hugging one another and expressing gratitude to God.

I'll leave you with a powerful report from one of our local stations.  

(One more fact helps explain the story: hurricanes feed on warm, open waters; it's their fuel so to speak.  The Gulf of Mexico readily supplies this fuel to any storm that makes it across the outer islands.....Bahamas, Cuba, Keys)

But on Sunday night just as this monster storm turned to make landfall as a category 5 hurricane,  a mysterious dry wind started blowing from the west.  This dry wind successfully broke into the lower part of Irma's swirling and began to breech the concentrated, well-formed eye.  Within a very short time, Irma started losing power and came on the mainland as a category 2 instead of a 5.  

ABC weather meteorologist Denis Phillips reported, "There is no way to explain how this storm has diminished so quickly, except that a lot of prayers have gone up.  Twenty-four hours ago we were looking at the worst storm in history.  Now it's lessening and the eye has collapsed.  We are in a much better position."

Even the winds and waves obey HIS voice!

Don't get me wrong, we're totally aware of the devastation to the south of us.  Some of the islands report 95% devastation of homes and businesses.  We are heartbroken by the 23 deaths reported so far.  And we're well aware that the recovery efforts for Hurricane Harvey in Texas and for this storm will go on for many months.

But I don't want to miss an opportunity to express my gratitude before I start helping others pick up the pieces.  I also want to thank each of you who called, texted, emailed and messaged us with words of encouragement, letting us know you were praying too.  

Be sure to stop by next week.  The story will get more personal as I tell how it felt to sit and watch 100 mph wind gusts blow rain in through the center of our glass doors at church, wondering if they would hold.......

Saturday, September 9, 2017


I managed to get to my prayer chair for this post but it took some navigating.  All our patio furniture is carefully stacked well, crammed is a more accurate word.....into our dining room.  The garage is full as well with all our potted plants, recycling bins, trash cans and lawn ornaments.

Our water and non-perishable food items are in place.  We've located flashlights and batteries.  We cleaned out the refrigerator.  Important papers are secured.  All the laundry is clean.  I even bathed the dog and vacuumed.

Frank and I came home around 5 today and I prepared a wonderful hot meal.  We may not be privileged to enjoy many of those for the next few days.

Yes, Hurricane Irma is slowly churning toward us.  And we've done our best to be prepared.

Hurricanes are part of living in FL.  If you live in New York, you know blizzards.  If you live in California, you know earthquakes.  If you live in Kansas, you know tornadoes.  If you live in Arizona you know haboobs.  (Ha-whats??!  That's what they call dust storms. Yeah, caught me off guard the first time, too.)

In Florida, you just know all the lovely sunshine will eventually give way to the wind, rain, tornadoes and flooding associated with hurricanes at some point.  So you do your very best to be prepared.

But our Governor, Rick Scott, has made abundantly clear that Irma isn't your average, run of the mill storm.  If fact, it's been called the most massive storm Florida has ever encountered.

Driving home today I saw something that immediately struck a note with me.  A board of plywood was hanging from one corner and providing absolutely NO protection for the window it should have covered.

The home looked deserted so it was unlikely anyone would be coming back to fix the problem. Whoever attached the plywood must have rushed not doing the job thoroughly and it took only a small steady breeze to knock the wood loose.

It was especially disturbing for me because we weren't able to obtain any plywood for our windows. By the time we finished taking care of all that needed to be done for the church, there wasn't any more available.

Well, I take that back.  Frank found a few sheets of plywood but the individual was selling them for three times the normal price.  No Thanks!

As we drove on, I pondered that lovely piece of now useless plywood just hanging there.

Someone went to great effort to purchase and deliver the needed protection for their home.  (May I just add here, there's only one way to fully protect your windows during a hurricane and that's to cover them completely.)

What the homeowner needs was provided but it won't do them any good at all because it hasn't been put in place.  The answer for the coming storm is right there and it can't help at all.

Truth is, that's just like your life and mine, dear friend.  This is a broken world full of storms and uncertainties.  But there is help for us.

The One who made us, has gone to great effort to provide the answer we need.  He's provided a wonderful form of protection.  All we have to do is accept the work He has done; covering us completely.  (May I add, there's only One who gave His life for us.  Following Christ is the only way to be fully protected in this life.)

After the storm, that homeowner will undoubtedly think, "Why didn't I follow up on this?!  I thought I was prepared.  The protection for my home was sitting right there but it wasn't properly applied!"

Tomorrow morning, Frank and I will drive over to our church where we'll stay for the duration of this storm.  We have several church members who needed a safe place away from potential flooding and manufactured homes.  So, we'll make a memory together.

All of us here in Florida would appreciate your prayers, dear friends.  And please take a moment to consider my story about being prepared for the storms we all face.  The help you need is available, just ask the One who cares most.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Secret

May I share one of my lesser-known character flaws with you?  (If you’d prefer not to know, I understand.  Just click out quickly because I’m getting ready to reveal it now.)

When life gets overwhelming for me, I can easily slip on the banana peel of procrastination.  And suddenly I feel like the worst procrastinator in the world.  The WORST, I tell you!

Many who know me may be thinking, “I find that hard to believe, Sheri.  You have something going almost every minute of the day.”  But I promise it’s true, dear friend; totally true.

As a younger woman, I tried diligently to hide my tendency toward procrastination. 

I had all sorts of responses ready when Frank would come home and find the mountain of laundry still not put away.  (Some days it wasn’t even folded; much less put away!)

When the choir I directed would question why the new music hadn’t yet come in, I dodged their puzzled expressions.  And said, “Let’s revise this wonderful old song we all know and love so well!”  I didn’t want them to know the new music hadn’t even been ordered yet.

My girls looked to me to have home school essentials organized and ready to start the end of August.  But many times, I was still scrambling to find the math curriculum I KNEW we had…….somewhere! 

It was easier to respond, “I am waiting for you to get your rooms organized.  THEN we can start.  Now, get to it!”

Even in high school and college, when term papers were due I would make a mad dash to the library just as time was nearly expired.  “I do better work when I’m under pressure to finish!”  It sounded plausible to my roommate but in my heart, I knew it wasn’t true.

Yep!  Classic expressions of the practiced procrastinator.

It was a huge, ugly monster that lurked under my bed at night taunting me with reminders of:
·      work I could have done!
·      work to be done!
·      work I should have done! 

Pat, the Procrastination Monster, made sleep difficult and sometimes impossible.  The resulting exhaustion would give me one more excuse for not beginning whatever task awaited me.  “I’m just too tired!”

Pat was also cunning with his accusations, “I bet Cindy has her laundry done; her lesson plans complete; her choir music in; her house organized; her…….”  You fill it in. 

So I would find myself sitting.  Frozen.  Staring.  Feeling massive amounts of guilt.  Incapable of moving forward because the mountain of what had to be done was Just.....Too......DAUNTING!

Freedom came for me when I talked with a friend I greatly admired.  “I’m such a terrible procrastinator,” I confessed.  "You wouldn’t believe how things overwhelm me to the point that I can’t do ANYTHING!"

“Oh, Sheri.”  My friend slipped an arm around my shoulder for comfort.  “I struggle with procrastination, too.” 

My head snapped up and I stared at her in total shock.  This gal was the organization queen of my universe.   How could it be that Pat the Monster was sleeping under her bed, too?


“Yes,” she assured me.  “Getting overwhelmed happens more than anyone likes to admit.  I had a meltdown just last week about work I couldn’t seem to manage.”

Well, when you feel like that, what do you do?”  I still wasn’t convinced she wrestled with the same size monster as mine.

“I stop blaming everyone and everything else around me.  I ask the Lord for help.  I pull one tiny thread on the mountain of tangled issues and then I just Get Started.  She paused to let the ‘get started’ part sink in.   “Seems like once I take even the smallest step toward action, things begin falling into place.”

It was about that same time I discovered my Tennis Shoe Technique. 

As a mom working from home, I needed something to signal the start and ending of my work days.  The solution was in my tennis shoes.

When I took off my bedroom slippers and laced up my sneakers each morning it meant, “Game On!”  The starting gun had sounded (in my mind) and we were off like a shot. 

As soon as the last little one was tucked into bed each night, my sneakers came off and I exchanged them for tattered bedroom slippers that cradled my feet.  “Day is done,” they whispered.  “You’ve run your leg of the marathon well.  Now sit down and rest a while.”

Through practicing those two simple techniques on a daily basis, I began to battle procrastination more successfully.  After some time, I was finally able to reduce Pat the Monster down to Pat the Dust Bunny. 

His voice had once been the terrifying  boom of a thunder clap warning of impending disaster.  It slowly morphed into a squeaky mouse-like sound that I could more easily silence.

(Frank recently started using a third technique to produce movement on dreaded tasks.  He envisions a rocket being launched and reproduces the countdown to greatness, “Five, four, three, two, one……..MOVE!”   Feel free to adopt it as your own.)

I still struggle from time to time with feeling overwhelmed and under prepared.  But I’ve learned the value of starting.  And forward movement can soon become the freight train of accomplishment once again. 

 Remember friend,  the dreading is almost always worse than the doing.  And you aren't the only  Procrastinator out there!

I’d love to hear about techniques you’ve used to battle procrastination.   Tell us about it in the comment section, won’t you?