Over the past week my husband and I have been in pretty much all of Florida, with the exception of the Jacksonville area. A week ago we were in the Tampa Bay area where we helped my sister pile up sand bags to keep water out of her first floor apartment, just because the heavy rainfall of the previous day was 1/2 inch from entering the sliding glass door into her living room. This was all before Hurricane Irma became a major threat. We traveled down the west coast of Florida, and then across Alligator Alley to Miami, where we visited my husband’s parents and three of his brothers and their wives. On Monday, we had lunch at a little restaurant on Biscayne Bay where we watched the boats go in and out while we sipped mojitos and munched on fresh grouper sandwiches. We canoed on a lake over the weekend, and my husband went golfing on Tuesday morning. But, by the time we left Miami late on Tuesday afternoon, it was apparent that our lovely family visit, had transformed us from vacationers into evacuees. We pleaded with David’s parents to leave, to get into the car and come with us north to our home. They refused. I asked my mother-in-law if she was now old enough for her children to tell her what to do, and she said, “No.” So, we reluctantly left without them.
The past week has been surreal. Never have we seen the traffic that we are now witnessing as millions of Floridians are leaving the state. It looks like something out of a disaster movie. In Miami, there were sheriff’s deputies in the grocery stores to maintain order. There have been lines at gas stations that I haven’t seen since I was a young teen during the energy crisis of the 1970s. The gas stations that don’t have lines now are the ones that don’t have gas.
After we left Miami, we crawled our way up the Florida Turnpike to Orlando. We had been there to witness the birth of our newborn grandson, Benjamin on Wednesday of last week. We stayed with our son and his wife, and now their two sons before we got back into the tide of evacuees the next day to make our way home. Again, we pleaded with our youngest child to bring his family north, but they decided to stay.
By the time we got home the grocery store shelves were empty of water, bread, cokes, and eerily absent of canned goods. There were no size D batteries to be found. And we weren’t even in the cone of uncertainty. All that has changed over the past two days. My sister in Tampa Bay is probably going to lose all the possessions in her apartment. I can’t see how they won’t be flooded in a hurricane of the size of Irma when they can’t stay dry when it simply rains. She will be at her job in a hospital, so I have less fear for her life.
I have never felt so helpless. I can’t go and get her or her two daughters who still live with her. I can no longer take her little dog to safety. It’s too late. And if I was even able to get into Pinellas County, I’d never be able to get out before the storm arrives.
And now, we too are in the middle of the track, and we too are in danger of the wrath of the biggest hurricane in history. We’ve done what we can, and it doesn’t seem enough. The weather is beautiful outside our north Florida home. The temperature is unseasonably cool. It’s cloudy, but the the sun shines brightly. The breeze is gentle and the atmosphere appears unusually quiet and calm. And yet, we know what’s coming. Denial is getting harder to accept, and so we wait. And, for the first time, fear becomes real. I have family in Miami. I have family in Tampa Bay. I have family in central Florida. I have family in Jacksonville. I have family in the north western peninsula of the state. And I live in the Big Bend of Florida, about 25 – 30 miles east of Tallahassee. And every single one of us is in danger.
Scripture tells me to fear not. Faith tells me that God is still in charge. Hope allows me to trust in the mercy of God. And Love connects all of this. So, I pray and I wait, and I stop trying to pretend to God that deep down I’m not scared, because for all our technology tells us about what is going to happen over the next two days, only God really knows.
It’s hard to believe that life goes on normally outside of the state of Florida. I imagine that the rest of the world is sick to death of hearing about hurricanes. And I bet that many simply don’t understand the appeal of life in this piece of land that literally sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico daring any tropical storm that develops to take it on. But it’s my home, and it’s home to millions of others who, for once are united against an opponent that is bigger than our legendary football rivalries.
Thank you to all who are praying for us. Thank you to all who will donate time and financial resources to all of us affected by this storm. I’ll let you know how we come out of this when we’re on the other side. We can’t go over, under or around this storm, so now we just have to go through it. God help us – please.