The Unexpected Lesson of Irma

No one has on their bucket list: “To Go Through a Hurricane.” Even an adventurous teenager who has bungee-jumped off a bridge, dived from an airplane, and mastered Escape Rooms, ever says, “Aww, gee, Ma, why can’t we do a Category 5 hurricane! It’ll be fun!”

No, son, it won’t.

Living in southwest Florida, you know hurricanes are in the DNA. But none had struck our area for 12 years and our home was built to the newer rigorous building codes passed after Hurricanes Wilma struck in 2005 (a Category 5 storm) and Charley in 2004 (a Category 4 storm).

Nevertheless, we dutifully stocked the obligatory hurricane kit with non-perishable food, water, and other supplies like a battery-operated weather radio. We carefully inventoried the bulky corrugated hurricane shutters that came with our home, hoping they would never need to be installed on every window and door. We had insurance. We registered at a local shelter that takes dogs, in the event there was a mandatory evacuation.

Like most Americans who have never had to live on the run or flee with only what they could cram into a car, we felt we could handle whatever came our way. Isn’t that the American Way? “I can handle it.”

But then came the weather forecasts that changed several times a day, depending on the European forecast models vs. the conflicting American models which said Hurricane Irma was first going to one side of the state, then the other, then both sides, then right down the middle of the state, then the whole state. The. Whole. State.

We also watched Irma waffle between a Category 4 or 5, as if it really matters once winds go above 100 mph. The forecast storm surge added to the anxiety. Predictions went from a meek 2-3 feet to 15 feet–enough to swamp a house in its path. CNN made sure we all understood the danger, as meteorologists endlessly replayed a virtual video of how fast a 15-foot surge would swallow up a house.

Repeatedly, I reminded my heart of God’s promises in perilous times: not that he would rescue us from every danger, but that he would go through it with us, show us his presence, and teach us more deeply about what it means to trust when we cannot see or understand. It helped. It helped even more when we saw actual signs of his intervention.

Like when we booked what Expedia said was the last motel room in Florida, Georgia, or Alabama (after we belatedly decided it was too risky to ride out the storm and needed to evacuate along with six million other Floridians). In our haste, we forgot to tell the booking agent we had a small dog with us. When we arrived at the motel and announced we had a dog, the clerk said they did not have a pet-friendly policy and, in fact, they had a long waiting list of people without dogs who wanted our room. “But,” the clerk said matter-of-factly, “let’s just consider your dog an emotional support dog.” Oh, yes. Let’s.

Or when we drove through tropical storm force winds and flash flooding as the storm moved north into Georgia, while we tried to travel south to get home. We arrived at another last-ditch tacky motel in a nondescript little town, only to learn the entire town had lost power in the storm’s aftermath, except for one Waffle House restaurant where we grabbed a much-needed meal. Then, when we returned to our motel, limited power returned, just in our motel.

Still, the anxiety, exhaustion, uncertainty, traffic, long gas lines, and constantly changing information took its toll. One night, sitting in another crummy motel room where nothing worked, I realized how much I missed my home.

Home. That place you can withdraw to and regroup when life has beaten you up. That place where those you love welcome you, no matter what. Where there is always water…and ice…and a warm bed…and electricity…and air conditioning… and a toilet that flushes. Where every picture on the wall has a story behind it. Where our puppy has a favorite hiding place for his toys and I have a special chair where I can quietly read while enjoying a view of the woods and birds singing exotic melodies.

In that moment I realized home was also a place that could be taken away in an instant. Just ask the people in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

I wondered if Jesus once had similar feelings after leaving his home to come to Earth. He didn’t give up air-conditioning and his favorite pillow for a couple of weeks. He left paradise for 33 years and gave up the privileges of deity to grow up in a hick town as the son of a carpenter. Then he suffered unrelenting abuse and misunderstanding, before ultimately dying naked and humiliated on an ugly cross–a selfless act that paid my sin debt and made a way for all of us to go home–to his home–someday, to a place that could never be taken away from us…ever.

Of all the times I’ve heard the story of Jesus leaving heaven to carry out an audacious mission–to provide redemption to those of us who thought we didn’t need God and then lived to regret our arrogance–I only focused on his assignment. A tough job. Send Jesus. Of course, send Jesus. That’s his job. To be a Savior.

But this time, I realized Jesus also left his home–his beautiful, perfect home–not to save himself, but to save me. You don’t do that because it’s your job. You do it for love.

As I write this, I am sitting once again in my favorite chair, staring into the woods with exotic birds singing their hearts out. And Jesus is back home, too, in that beautiful place he promised he was preparing for us, a place we won’t ever have to leave again.

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6 Responses to The Unexpected Lesson of Irma

  1. Michael Wallace says:

    Such a poignant and insightful reminder of how important and comforting “home” is, of the sacrifice Jesus made, and of the joy of what we have to look forward to in our heavenly home. Thank you for the reminders!

  2. Laura Gorman says:

    Well said, Verla. This was our first Hurricane encounter. And our home was built 35 yrs ago. So when we evacuated, we didn’t know if we would be returning to our home. After 9 days of no power, we returned to an intact home with only landscape damage and lots of cleaning. We feel so blessed when we see the
    struggles of others.

    • Agreed,Laura.It could have been so much worse, if the back side of the hurricane’s eyewall had not begun to break up, thereby dissipating the expected storm surge. Naples got 143 mph wind gusts and suffered unbelievable swaths of total tree, sign, lamp post and other peripheral devastation, but not the leveling of structures seen in the Carribean. We certainly were blessed and my heart goes out to those who have lost everything.

  3. Love this, Verla. You nailed it. I am sharing with my sister in Clearwater. Thank you!

  4. Norma Dodds says:

    Thank you for using your gift to write this and to share it with others! I am blessed by it and asking God to continue to bless you and yours.

  5. Kathleen Skaalerud says:

    I loved reading this Verla and you were so right in the way you tapped into the heart of Jesus. I also, am so sad with the devastation in the Islands that lost all they owned. It hurts my heart that these things happen to people that have so little to begin with and now even that has been taken away. I believe His Word that He will make a way where there seems to be no way. I thank you for also sharing the struggles you went through during this storm. So happy you came through it as well as you did.
    Blessings

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