You’d be hard pressed to tell it from the bright and sunny skies we’re enjoying today, but these last two weeks have been extremely difficult for so many who live in coastal regions. As the meteorologists have noted, these days marked the first time in recorded history that two Category Four hurricanes have made landfall on American soil. We can only hope that such history never repeats itself.
But of course, while we can hope that these sorts of storms stay away, we understand that there’s no chance of fully avoiding them. As I learned during my Florida days, contending with bad weather is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when.” Storms are inevitable. You don’t have to live along a coastline to understand that truth.
However, now that we are several days past both Harvey and Irma (storms that will never lend their names to another hurricane again), I’ve been thinking about lessons we might learn from them. It’s been a practice of mine always to take the time to reflect upon even the harshest of experiences because those are usually the ones that, despite their harshness, generate the deepest learning. So, here are some post-hurricane reflections:
(1) Storms are ultimately unpredictable. As we saw this past week, even with the best science, nature tends to move at its own pace and along its own course. How many times did parts of South Texas and Florida think they were going to get hammered, only to see the storm swerve in a direction to make landfall someplace else? And how many times in response to those changes of direction did communities breathe a sigh of relief, only to experience unforeseen flooding because of the storm’s peculiar effects? It would be nice if we could map out in detail every aspect of a storm’s character, but though we’ve made remarkable progress over the years, the fact remains that such adversity comes upon us in ways for which we could never be fully prepared.
(2) Some people simply refuse to heed all warning. I was impressed with the response of government officials prior to the arrival of the storms. From the President and FEMA officials down to the governors and even town mayors, people in positions of responsibility did their best to prepare folk in the projected path of the storm to get out or be prepared to suffer the consequences. I preached a funeral in Tallahassee last Friday and I can vouch for the fact that vast numbers of Floridians heeded those calls as I worked my way through all manner of Alabama back roads to avoid the bumper to bumper traffic on the primary roadways in my drive back to Birmingham. But if you watched the news of the storm’s arrival (as so many of us did), then surely you were as astounded as I that there were still some souls who felt it more sensible to “ride out the storm.” Even when the 11th hour came and first responders told the public, “You’re on your own,” there were some who hunkered down and refused to budge. Seeing the damage and hardship that so many of them suffered, the logic of their actions escapes me. I will grant that while some of those who remained did so because they were physically unable or poor of options that others enjoyed, most of the people who stayed behind were simply stubborn.
(3) Life will never be the same for many. Having gone through several hurricanes, I understand that there’s much hype the media create in order to assure people watch their newscasts. Most of the time the weather really isn’t as bad as projected…for most people. But there are always some who find themselves in low-lying areas or in high-rise apartments where the winds speeds are ramped up beyond the ones recorded. And as was the case these past two weeks, there were countless individuals who experienced devastation because nothing of the sort had ever happened before and no one knew how to prepare. Regardless, once the clouds part and the sunshine returns, the memories of the devastation will linger long afterward. I can remember my time in Elba, Alabama, where the flood of 1990 left a foot and a half of water on the second floor of the church! You speak with anyone who lived there during that time and they will tell you chapter and verse of stories that changed them forever. Harvey and Irma will do the same for so many. I’m sure of it.
Aside from some serious rain the first part of the week, Birmingham was spared the effects of the storm. But there will be other challenges we will be called upon to face, not so much weather-related as life-related, that will require us to draw upon lessons like those I have just outlined in order to get past the heartaches and headaches to a better place.
We won’t be able always to predict them. Sometimes we will fail to pay attention to the warning signs. The aftermath of the storms will inevitably leave us different people. But the hope we have as Christians is that we never have to go through them alone, and whatever difficulties they leave behind can be met with a grace that is sufficient for our every need.
So, let’s keep praying for all of those who experienced serious setbacks from Harvey and Irma (and let’s be quick to give money toward their recovery). But let’s also give thought to what we must do to make it through the setbacks that will inevitably come upon us. Faith is the all-important first step, for when the heavens rumble and the foundations shake, it’s always good to know that our ultimate hope is in One whom even the winds and waves obey.
“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm’” (Psalm 55:4-8).