Surveying the damage, they can’t imagine life again after the storm. They can’t yet see the trees that will grow to replace those pulled up by their roots. They can’t picture anything flourishing again in this place of devastation.
Looking out at the endless sea of cars sitting on the interstate, I felt restless and foolish. What was usually a five-hour drive was now entering hour nine. Stretching my legs at the rest stop, I chatted with others fleeing the coming storm. Like me, they weren’t native to the Gulf Coast; I didn’t know one local person who was heeding the mandatory evacuation.
But when news of the hurricane barreling towards the Mississippi Coast hit the airwaves, the call came. My dad on the other end said, “Either you come now or I’m coming to get you.” The evacuation of everyone below I-10 included the little stilted guesthouse where I lived on the edge of the bayou.
I dutifully packed a few belongings. As I drove away I achingly looked back at the green live oaks tendrils framing my rear view mirror like fingers trying to pull me back. My friends laughed: “Yeah, she’s not from around here.” There were parts of me that wanted to defy my father and stay like everyone else. I believed it was safe to stay but my sensible, fearful side agreed with him. So, I ran.
It was a pattern set early in my life. When the storm clouds started to gather on the horizon, I took the path that promised to take me away from the squall. I don’t know why fear has always been my default. Broken relationships, abandoned dreams, and chances never taken out of fear were evidence of my cut and run tendencies.
I wanted to stay and ride out the storms. But time and time again, I didn’t believe I was strong enough to endure the floods. So, I ran.
That time I evacuated, the storm turned to the east (like most locals assumed it would) and ended up bringing heavy rains directly to my parent’s house, missing the Gulf Coast completely. Downed pines clogged the roads and made it impossible for me to return home for a few more days.
Less than a year later I said “see you later” to the sticky heat of the Gulf to return to Georgia. I lingered a moment, running my hand over the peeling paint of the living room of that little house I loved so deeply in the short time I lived there. I closed the slatted windows that let the salty air waft through the house, the crank creaking as it turned. I glanced at the pond to the right of my porch, hoping I’d see the leathery nose of our friendly neighborhood alligator rising out of the water one last time. The surface was like glass.
Little did I know I wouldn’t see that apartment again, nor many of the places I frequented in town. The next time I visited, I couldn’t even find the road where my first apartment by the beach had been located. Everything around it had been flattened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and there were no street signs, no landmarks. Only destruction.
Most of my friends stayed through Katrina like they stayed through every other storm. The news was rarely accurate and where else would they go anyway? They would remain as they always had, would stand strong. Some were trapped in their homes for days, huddling in attics to flee the rising waters.
That little guesthouse on the bayou was lifted off its stilts and into the treetops, boats from the marina still lying unclaimed in the yard months later. The family that owned the main house rebuilt, their faith that was the foundation of their lives never shaken. They clung to Jesus like the rescue rafts that came for them. When the waters rose, their hope rose higher.
I’ve spent much of the last three years living inside the storms of anxiety and constant transition. I have wanted to run for higher ground but where else could I go? I know the One who has the words of eternal life and right here in the middle of this storm is where Jesus has been all along. Sometimes I have screamed as loud as the raging winds; others I have cowered in fear while they battered everything around me.
But for the first time in my life, I have planted my feet on the Rock that doesn’t shift even when all the sands are washed away. I’ve remembered that house on the Gulf often during this time, my friends who endured Katrina—those who stayed, rebuilt, turned to face the raging winds and pressed on.
Surveying the damage, we can’t imagine life again after the storm. We can’t yet see the trees that will grow to replace those pulled up by their roots. We can’t picture anything flourishing again in this place of devastation, but it will. We will come out stronger on the other side. When we set our feet on the firm foundation, we will not be shaken. When the waters rise, our hope rises higher.