Strength After Hurricane Ian: My Letter to the Community I Love
Good morning, friends. This is the first moment I’ve been alone, with power, internet, and a glass of clean water that came from the faucet since 5AM on Wednesday, September 28th… the day Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida. But I’m still not in my own home; I’m in Michigan. I could tear up over the feeling of relief in the reprieve, but I also feel incredibly guilty that I’m not home, doing my part.
I don’t think I’ve had a chance to process the past 10 days yet. I feel like we’ve just been in survival mode, living life on adrenaline and what feels like a constant road trip, never sure where my things are—at my parents? My in-laws? Our church? At home?
Trying to figure out what to do with my dog, who’s not good with other dogs. Trying to make sure my kids don’t drink the water on accident. Trying to figure out ways to get their energy out so they don’t wreck other people’s homes who are graciously opening them to us. But Hurricane Ian put most of our parks out of commission, contaminated our pools, and took away all of our “normal.”
Trying to figure out how I can get my work in when schools are closed indefinitely. Feeling so bittersweetly heartbroken when I hear them playing with stuffed animals and saying, in their precious pretend voices, “This home is destroyed by the storm! It got filled with water! We’re going to fix it up!” The sting of realizing they’re picking up on the nomadic unknowns as they ask, “Have you decided where we’re going today yet, Mama? Do you know where we’re sleeping tonight? Can we go home now?”
And yet, we have had it so good comparatively. We’ve had places to go when we need some AC. We have places to go when we want to cook a hot meal or charge our devices. We’ve been able to find gas, food, and water when we need it. God has provided. He is providing. And he’s doing more than that.
He has been tenderizing my heart in ways I wish you could feel. It’s a good tender. An expectant tender. An others-focused tender. A God-given tender. I feel more alive, awake, and eager to see all that God wants to do and how he wants to use me. Like my eyes are just waiting to watch the miracles.
And already, they are coming. There was something about COVID that connected people globally. We were all going through something together, no matter where you landed on the opinion-side of things. We had common knowledge, common ground. And while we were so globally connected, division ran rampant. Families and friends divided over equally strong stances, on opposite sides of the spectrum. Neither end being able to comprehend how the “other” could possibly get to where they landed. Division.
Hurricane Ian tore it all down, at least in Southwest Florida. The way I described feeling earlier—tender-hearted—everyone in our community is feeling the same way.
We are all seeing the Army and Coast Guard helicopters flying in and out, on rescue missions, looking up and praying silently. We are all going to our neighbors’ front porches, sharing our storm stories and checking in on one another, genuinely. We are all going into flooded homes, mucking out the debris, throwing practically all contents to the curb, and hoping to salvage some keepsakes and family treasures. No one is complaining of the filth and smells.
We’re not focused on anyone’s mess. We just want to help restore one another’s hope and welfare. Unity.
No, I do not wish this hurricane took lives or everything people owned. But I am taking in the fresh wind after the storm, and it’s so beautiful. It’s so refreshing. And it’s teaching me about the power of community, true community. The actual community you live in.
We get so focused on connecting with others, praising technology for linking people anywhere throughout the world. But do you know what I saw when my phone couldn’t connect to WiFi or get service? The people right in front of me. The people who just so happen to be the most important people in my life. The very people I sadly overlook to “connect” with people in other places. And they were all so brave, kind, and wonderful. I’ve never felt so lucky that these people were my people.
My people waded through sewage-filled storm surge, carrying women on their shoulders in the dark of night and the midst of the storm to get everyone to safer, higher ground. My people went to the home of a 90-year-old shut-in, who didn’t have anyone caring for her, and brought her food and water and offered to bring her home with them. When she refused, they made sure she had gas for her generator and that is was at a safe distance from her home.
My people went into homes that had been baking in the flood water for days, already growing mold, and helped sort through belongings and clean out the mess. My people ran to the first store that opened and brought back ice cream sandwiches for the kids to put smiles on their faces when the parents had lost sight of that responsibility. My people opened their home at first sign power and water to everyone who didn’t have it, making large meals and encouraging all to shower and do laundry.
My people did all of this for others before they even took the storm shutters off their own home. My people are good people, and Hurricane Ian showed me just how good they can be.
I’ve seen a quote a few times recently that says something like “You can be heartbroken and grateful at the same time.” That’s what I am. That’s what I’m feeling. And that’s what I’m seeing here in Southwest Florida. Soft and strong people. Tender hearts but resilient spirits. Grit and grace. It’s a beautiful thing.
So this is just a friendly reminder: Don’t forget to look at your people and see all of their good. Don’t let it take a natural disaster to notice them, for who they are and all of their wonderful traits. And don’t let it take a natural disaster for you to show your best self either. Don’t let it take a loss for you to be grateful for life. Let us all love and serve simply because we have this day. Let us use it wisely.
It often takes a big life event for us to step back and evaluate our role within our community. Listen to this podcast episode to learn how to step back into that role with confidence: Why Your Life and Community Matters Right Now – 142