What We Can Learn in a Hurricane

Psalm 86
img_9367It amazes me that Hurricane Matthew happened 3 weeks ago. Feels like forever, yet it wasn’t that long ago. It feels like forever, yet people are still working to get back to some sort of normalcy.

We knew Matthew was coming. Haiti knew it. Florida knew it. South Carolina knew it. North Carolina knew it. We knew it was coming but we didn’t know the impact it was going to have.

We know when something is coming yet we don’t know the impact. That makes it difficult to fully prepare for the storm. For North Carolina, Matthew was supposed to take a sharp turn before making landfall, but he decided to hang around for a little longer. All day and night on Saturday, October 8th, we saw the winds, rain and debris increase as the day went on. By 7:00 that night, there were already videos on Facebook of floods, streets being washed out, cars getting stuck in water, and communities were losing power.
Matthew stayed for a while.

I woke up Sunday to bright blue skies, sunshine and comfortable temperatures. Before I left my apartment complex, the only evidence of Matthew I saw, was some branches, leaves and puddles on the grounds. It looked as if a small storm came through. When I looked towards the sky, it was clear blue, no clouds in sight and the brightest sunshine over Greenville. Was there really a hurricane?

When I looked up, it was as if nothing ever happened.

On Sunday, I went to Town Commons, a local park in Greenville where the Tar River flows alongside the park. The waters were flowing quite rapidly, for a gentle river. Trees and debris were going downstream. A tree had fallen on the beautiful green park and there was a lot of debris and puddles along the walkways and grounds. The water had already made its way over ¼ of the parking lot. The water had already risen to just below the top of the wall by the sidewalk and fence. I walked down the sidewalk knowing that the rising water was just the beginning. I knew walking along the path that the water wasn’t going to crest until later that week. What I didn’t know was the impact this storm would have on the community in the days to come.

Yet when I looked up, it was as if nothing ever happened, even though I knew otherwise.

For the rest of the week, the weather was perfect. Blue skies, sunshine, fall like temperatures. It was picture perfect. Yet every morning, we woke to rising waters, evacuated neighborhoods, flooded homes and washed away streets. Schools were closed. Roads were closed. Streets caved in. Cars were trapped. And the worst of it all, people died.
Yet in the midst of devastation, you could see hope, you could feel a spirit, a sense of community coming together for one another. People came together to fill sand bags, to move retirement communities, to collect food, clothing and supplies. People came together to take care of one another, to offer temporary housing, to raise people up in the midst of the storm.

Wednesday morning, we got the news that the water won’t crest until Friday. Yet, before he knew that would happen, Mayor Thomas had called for a time for community prayer for that same Wednesday. At 12:00, several hundred folks in Greenville gathered together at the Greene Street Bridge for a time of prayer and community. The mantra for that day was “The waters may rise, but we rise stronger.” It was an incredible experience. We were one. We were together. We were lifting each other up in spirit, in prayer and in song. We were img_9382lifting up the sign of hope, hope that will get this community through the storm and floods. While we were there, the National Guard came across the bridge in their big tank trucks. The National Guard and Greenville Police had been touring the streets to see where the worst of the floods were and they arrived just in time to the prayer gathering, for us to pray for them and to say thank you.

These last three weeks, the emotions have run the gamet. Predictions had people worried, scared, concerned. And that is understandable. We all get scared. That’s ok. Predictions had people preparing for the worst and some not preparing at all. I experienced uncertainty. I’ve only been in Greenville for 3 ½ years. I’ve been around floods before but not as close as this hurricane was predicting to have. I didn’t know what to do. Honestly, the most I did was prepared several gallons of water. I lived through snow storms in Boston. Maybe I was naïve. Many folks who’ve been here for a while, were having flashbacks to Hurricane Floyd that wreaked havoc on Greenville and Eastern NC in 1999. It was understandable to consider what could happen with Matthew after Floyd. At the same time, the experience of Floyd prepared the leadership and community for this time.

Why am I bringing up Matthew in the hospital worship service?

There are storms here, every single day. They might not be in the form of clouds, winds, and floods of rain from the sky but there are storms within these walls. Those storms come in the form of diagnoses, death, pain, suffering and trauma.
I think as believers, we can learn something from Matthew as storms gather daily around this community, within this community.

Sometimes, the disease, the illness and death can be predicted. We can prepare for what is coming and start the process of treatment and/or grief. As a chaplain, I can assure you, just like the impact Matthew had, we will never be prepared for the impact disease and death will have on the patient and families. I hear families all the time said, “I’m not ready.” It is rare that I find someone ready.

As a trauma chaplain, I know patients and families are NOT prepared for a trauma. In a 010_10split second, a trauma changes your life. You are never prepared for it. You can’t be. There is no way to predict being hit by a car or shot at. There is no way to predict a motorcycle collision or a head-on car crash. There is no way to predict someone falling and hitting his head. There is no way to know that when you wake up in the morning and have breakfast with your loved one, that one of you will be paralyzed by the afternoon. There is no way to predict when a split second changes your entire life, forever.

I bring up Hurricane Matthew because it wasn’t the storm that had an impact on me, it was the way the community came together. As I said, the community gathered together that following Wednesday for prayer and support. The community gathered together every single day, to help one another. All faiths, all colors, all people came together to support and help one another to get through the storm.

As chaplains, we hear all the time, “God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle.” But I have to remind families, I have to remind patients that even though we want to believe this statement to be true on so many levels, we have to remember that God does NOT prepare us to handle the storms alone. God doesn’t give us any more than we can handle, knowing that we are NOT meant to handle it alone.

God made Eve for Adam. God made the disciples to help Jesus. God made the church to help the people. We are NOT meant to handle the storms alone.

After the hurricane, we had perfect weather for several days. After the storm, all you had to do was look up to see the blue skies, the sunshine and the bright moon and stars.
Every single day, I see the storms that my patients and families and staff face. I see families that come together. I see families in the waiting areas come together to support one another, in prayer, in emotion, in tears, in grief, in celebration of small milestones. I see the epitome of strength that comes out of the depths of the souls of the patients and their families. In the midst of the most challenging of times, the hardest of circumstances; in the midst of shock, grief, trauma and death, I see hope. I see communities that come together to help one another, whether it’s in the patient’s room, the conference rooms, the waiting areas, the churches or the neighborhoods, I see community. I see God. I see hope.

In the midst of the storm, we can see hope. Yes, something happened. We may be in the midst of a storm, but when we are, look up and don’t ever let it go.

Amen.

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