Saturday, September 9, 2017

Those Who Stay

     I’ve been reading a lot of mean-spirited comments regarding people who are not evacuating ahead of Hurricane Irma. After spending a lifetime as a television journalist, I’ve learned that there are many real and legitimate reasons why people do not flee from an impending storm. I have been one of those people for most of my adult life.

     In September of 1979, I was a frightened cub reporter who said goodbye to my evacuating parents and siblings and then drove to the television station where I worked. I would be there, in and out of the Hurricane Frederic’s wicked weather, for days. Did I want to pack up and get out of town? You bet! Could I? No. The career I had chosen required me to stay behind. It required me to do my best to keep the viewers in my area informed, calm, and safe. The storm eventually passed and my family returned.

     25 years later, in September of 2004, I was a frightened, seasoned anchor who said goodbye to my evacuating children and then drove to the television station where I worked. I would be there, in and out of the wicked weather caused by Hurricane Ivan, for days.  You see the pattern. It was a pattern that replayed itself every hurricane season when a storm came to town. 

     Who doesn’t evacuate? And, why? Well, of course, there are “hurricane cowboys” who think it will be adventurous to ride out a storm, even though they have the time and resources to get out of town. And, I'll agree with you that they are irresponsible, reckless, and so very foolish. Sometimes there are those who truly believe the storm will not be “that bad.” And, they live (hopefully) to regret not taking the warnings seriously. But, those two groups are in the minority. 

     Most of the ones who stay behind simply can’t leave for one reason or another.  First responders, hospital personnel, and journalists are just a few of the people who can’t evacuate. Ministers stay to keep watch over their churches and congregations.Sometimes people are recovering from surgery, or have medical conditions that prohibit them from packing up and heading out. Some refuse to leave aging and sick family members who can't evacuate. Some people have no transportation. Some don’t have the financial resources. Some can’t get away until it’s too late- the roads are gridlocked and there’s no fuel.

     If you have been reading my blog, you know that circumstances put me in the Orlando area ahead of this storm.The scheduling was coincidental, accidental, or providential depending on how you want to look at it. I drove by a stretch of Orlando's Highway 192 late yesterday that was lined with hotels, grocery stores, and gas stations. They were all open. Someone has to stay and take care of the customers—the customers who are hunkering down and the customers who are trying to get out of town. I thought of the front desk personnel at hotels. Instead of leaving for safer ground, they are still here, making sure that those from mandatory evacuation areas (like Miami and the Florida Keys for instance) are checked in, tucked in, and calmed down. Both of my daughters have careers that keep them from leaving. (Funny how life plays out sometimes, isn’t it?) My son-in-law is a doctor, my sister is a nurse, and they also cannot leave. Thankfully, we are not under mandatory evacuation orders, and we have safe places to go. But we all know it is going to be a difficult and frightening ride. The only upside is that we will be close to each other and my girls won’t have to face this monster from a distance of hundreds of miles away from their mama-bear mother.
     Many people in Florida have never seen a hurricane this large and powerful. They are frightened. They are apprehensive. They are already weary. Every westward or eastward blink that Hurricane Irma makes spikes the anxiety meter.

     So, here’s what I propose. Hold off on criticizing the people who have not evacuated. There will be time enough to take to task those who defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed when they absolutely could have, and should have, left. Instead, pray for them. Pray for their safety and that their foolishness will not endanger law enforcement and/or medical personnel. Pray for the ones who can’t leave. Pray for people who stay to help others. Pray for the people who stay to inform others. Pray for the ones whose jobs demand their presence. Pray for the ones who can’t leave because of health or family concerns. Pray for the people who open their homes and businesses to those who have nowhere else to go. Pray for the ones who have evacuated and for the ones who are stuck in evacuation traffic. Pray for the ones who are not in mandatory evacuation areas, but who will most certainly experience pain and loss of some kind.

     Just. Pray.

     Florida will appreciate it. And, we will thank you on the other side of it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Faith Before the Storm

I’m going to stop writing about life’s struggles. No, really. I mean it.  It seems like every time I write a blog, or a Sunday School lesson, or a magazine article, or a book about the challenges in life… that particular topic comes home to roost right on top of my ever-lovin' head.
But, for real, people. I write about how to overcome issues with self-control, and the most aggravating human being on the planet since National Lampoon’s Cousin Eddie crosses my path. I write about choosing joy instead of giving into stressful circumstances, and I get a flat tire on the road to nowhere. I write about seeking peace and my life goes cattywampus times twelve. OR--- as is the case of the past few days--- I write a blog post about surviving Hurricane Harvey and other storms of life and I find myself driving TOWARD the next hurricane, a tyrant named Irma, because of a pre-arranged appointment that can’t be rescheduled. Really, Life?

Yes, here I sit in Orlando. Florida. The PLAN was to arrive early in the week, and head home no later than Saturday. The REALITY is that by the time I can extricate myself from things here, the impact of Hurricane Irma will make driving home perilous. So, it looks like I’ll be hunkering down--- with my two daughters who, coincidentally, live in Orlando and Tampa. You know those cities. They are currently in Irma’s bloodshot-eyed line of sight.
So, the question for me today is: Where is your faith in all of this, Drexel? You are an unabashed Jesus-freak. You beat the drum of faith and trust. You say, “Jesus, take the wheel” and you claim to mean it. After all, you just wrote a blog explaining the process of trusting God in the healing process that follows a storm. And, here you are, scrambling for water and peanut butter, drawing up a plan of action… with one eye on the lines at the gas station and one eye on the hurricane weather radar.  I ain’t gonna lie. The anxiety meter has spiked. As the cases of water pile up in my car, so do the “what ifs?” in my mind.
The question again: “Where is your faith, Drexel?” The answer to my question is this: My faith is where it has always been. In God. While I keep my eyes on safety plans and provisions supplies, I choose to remember that He has his eye on me and on those I love. I do not know how this unwelcome tryst with Hurricane Irma will end. Will she barge right up the spine of central Florida? Will she decide to two-step to the east and possibly move into open water? We just don’t know. What we do know is that wherever she lands, Irma will cause damage. So, I wait. I watch. I pray. But I'm not expecting God to do it all! I use the brains, logic, and critical thinking skills he gave me. So, I also plan. I have three possible locations for evacuation. I know where the official shelter in my area is located. I have water, batteries, flashlights, wading boots, non-perishable food. I’ve fueled up the cars.
I also look for ways to be thankful in this situation. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances.”) It’s hard to be thankful when you look at the radar screen and see nothing but a huge blob of angry red that is covering ¾ of the state of Florida. Having said that, I made a list. I am thankful that, as a coastal resident my entire life, I understand how to prepare for hurricanes. I am thankful that I have been able to find provisions. I am thankful that I have options for shelter from the storm in the event I do need to evacuate. And, I am thankful that I have both of my daughters within hugging distance. I was a television news anchor for almost thirty years. I spent countless hurricanes separated from my daughters. If this hurricane comes our way, I won’t be holed up in the bunker of a television station while my kids are hours, or days, away from me. There’s something weirdly comforting about that.
For all of my friends and family in Florida, and those whom I will never meet, we don’t know what the next few days will bring. None of us in Florida, or beyond, knows where Irma will eventually end up. So, let's plan. Let's prepare. Let's pray. Let's hold onto God and to each other. Let’s be smart. Let’s be kind to each other as we seek out provisions and prepare our homes. Let’s be compassionate and helpful to those around us. Let's leave for safer ground, if necessary. Mostly, let’s have faith that God will bring us through whatever is coming our way.  
Back to what I said at the beginning of this little piece, it seems like everything I choose to write about quickly shows up in my life, kind of like a challenge to put my money where my mouth is. To make me prove that what I write is what I believe and what I live.So, from here on out, I’m thinking that I’m only going to write about fluffy white clouds. And rainbows. And butterflies. And puppies. Can I get an amen?