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.)