Wilma. Andrew. Hugo. Betsy. Allison. All these are past names of hurricanes, some more well known than others. It was 1995 when a hurricane sharing my own name made an appearance in the U.S.
I lived through quite a few hurricanes as a child, most notably Hurricane Frederic in 1979, when I was 5. This storm tore apart the low-to-the-ground tree house Daddy had built for my brother and me and left a giant pine tree toppled onto our roof.
In 1985, Hurricane Elena swept through south Mississippi. Our home at the time didn’t have air conditioner, but losing power meant we lost the ability to use our multiple box fans. My nana, a widow since I was age 3, left her home in town and sheltered with our family in our house out in the country.
In early September 2005, days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, some Cru staff–including my husband and I–joined a non-profit group serving people impacted by this storm.
Newly pregnant with Woodrow, barely able to keep in touch with my parents (whose cell phone coverage was nonexistent during the storm and spotty immediately after), I felt frustrated with helplessness. When I heard from my sister, who’d spoken with our parents, that Mama and Daddy had run out of ice and almost depleted their food supply following Katrina, I cried on the phone with her. Katrina pounded south Mississippi and south Alabama as much as the New Orleans area back in August 2005; my parents–and grandparents–went without power for many days. For a short time each day following the storm’s devastation, they’d run my grandparents’ gas generator so as to have a little time with the air conditioner. I felt paralyzed to do anything to help. Even if we drove from Orlando up to Mississippi, bringing food and water, we couldn’t buy any gasoline there to get back home.
So when the opportunity arose for a team of Cru staff to serve hurricane evacuees in Lafayette, Louisiana, Mike and I jumped on board. We linked up with a ministry helping to connect churches around the country with people rendered homeless due to Katrina. Church families participating in this program agreed to house (for free) a certain number of people in need in apartments for 3 months; they would also assist with food, accessing available government benefits, transportation, and job searches.
Our job was to coordinate the matching up of people with churches. Most all the churches volunteering to host people existed outside the state of Louisiana. And most all the people we met sheltering at the Cajundome in Lafayette didn’t want to leave their state. Who could blame them? But most churches in Louisiana were already at capacity, helping and serving those whose lives had just been invaded by this storm.
But the evacuees’ time at the Cajundome arena would soon come to a close, and these folks needed to find housing. We stayed 10 days and watched people (mostly from New Orleans) drive away in church vans and buses headed to Chicago, Little Rock, Georgia, and Texas.
Although rewarding in some ways, this work was intense and often stressful. I had multiple nightmares during our time in Lafayette; once I dreamed that the Finney family–mom, dad, a couple of teenage children, one of whom was diabetic–whom we’d dropped off at the bus station so they could travel to a sponsoring church in Marietta, GA, had missed their bus. In my dream, they were walking down highways and across bridges to get several states away, from Lafayette to Marietta. They’d shared with us that, after the hurricane, they’d walked out of New Orleans, where Mr. Finney worked as a bursar at Tulane University. I don’t remember how far they walked, or how they landed in Lafayette, but I woke up in a panic, thinking we needed to jump in our rented mini-van and go find that family walking their way to Georgia.
Today, though, over 12 years after Hurricane Katrina, my family and I face a different storm. Hurricane Irma has already begun to make its presence known, and the four of us will evacuate from our home in central Florida this afternoon. Starting out with a full tank of gasoline, we’ll set our course for south Mississippi, to stay with my parents. There’s stress involved in this, too, but our boys are excited to visit Grandma and Grandpa.
I’ll bring some photo albums, baby books, home school gear, along with the basics we’d need for a quick road trip. We don’t know what we’ll find when we return, but stuff is replaceable.
No matter the circumstances–storms within or storms without–I want to turn to Jesus and cling to Him in any of life’s storms. No matter their names.
Nahum 1:7 The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble…