In The Aftermath of Irma


DSC_0034

It’s been two weeks since Irma ravaged the islands south of Florida and made landfall only miles south of where I live. When power came on for the first time a week ago, I felt as if I’d entered an episode of the Twilight Zone.  The entryway light beckoned and a television voice spoke of a hurricane in the distance. Only the different name gave away the fact that days had passed.

It was as if time had stopped and started again with a normal week missing in between. Instead, we experienced a surreal week of survival that continues even now.

I emerged from the storm unscathed in body or material damage, but many were not so fortunate.  For the first week since early Monday morning, my church deployed a first responder team.  I had the privilege of helping organize teams to assist with physical needs, visiting shelters and helping with lunch service, delivering oxygen and fever medication,  taking water to dozens of hot and thirsty folks and praying for and encouraging them with the love of Jesus.

This week, I rested. And cried.

Everywhere is evidence of what we’ve all suffered through no matter the extent of the damage. Some houses are still under water, many massive trees lie across yards and homes. While clean-up efforts have made good progress, debris litters most streets.  Companies work round the clock to get electricity and water flowing. About half of the businesses in my town are functioning at some capacity. The other half need to relocate because of damage, or wait for power and internet to be restored.

While hope permeates and inspires, the reality of relief and recovery loom with a shocked sense of foreboding.

No one can deny the trauma we’ve experienced.

With another hurricane approaching in the distance, I confess the prospect is daunting at best. While I completely trust God and know he is in control, I wouldn’t be honest if I said I wasn’t emotionally affected by this past few weeks as well as whatever faces us in the days to come.

I’m not alone.

I’ve prayed with over a dozen people  whose lives felt chaotic, confusing and hopeless. And I’m only one person. Our church has ministered to more than 10,000 people collectively and that doesn’t count all the other churches that have impacted our state.

And let’s not forget the people in Houston, areas of California that have dealt with flooding and fires, Mexico City, Montana, and Puerto Rico.

So how do we move our lives forward in the midst of such destruction and heartache? I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve had some great counsel. Here are 6 ways to move forward:

  1. Cry. Yep. It’s a good thing to release the overwhelming emotions through tears. Grieving for the losses is healthy and helpful. In addition, pent up adrenaline causes anxiety. Tears may be your way of letting it go.
  2. Rest. It may seem impossible when there is so much to be done, but taking a break by reading, watching a movie, or taking a nap will rejuvenate your mind, body and soul.
  3. Take a walk. Exercise releases endorphins which create a sense of well-being. Exercise also relieves stores of adrenaline which helps return our bodies back to a balanced state.
  4. Talk to someone. Relating your experiences to a trusted friend(s) helps us process what’s in our heart and mind. Sharing stories can help us sort through the negative and see positive in the midst.
  5. Help someone else. When I’m listening to someone else and serving and praying for them, my mind focuses on them not my woes. But be wise about how much of others’ burdens you carry. A trusted friend reminded me that when I’m helping others, I’m also feeling their trauma as well as my own so I need to take time to rest in between.
  6. Pray and praise. I could not have made it through this without constant communication with God, other people praying for me, and playing worship music as much as possible. In the depth of a disaster, we naturally feel afraid and need the reminder that God is with us, sees us and knows our needs. He will hold us and provide for us as we wait on him.

Our pastor, Matt Keller, talked about three phases in a crisis: rescue, relief and recovery.

Immediately after the hurricane, as we were able, we began rescuing people who were trapped in homes or had trees blocking their way or puncturing their roofs.  While we can visibly see a physical need, we also need to be aware that our hearts need rescuing too.

 And not only in a storm.

The Bible tells us that God is our rescuer from situations in which we have sinned or people have hurt us with their sin. He rescues us by Jesus’s death on the cross which relieves us of the sin in our lives when we accept his action on our behalf. He then can also rescue us from circumstances by showing us a way out.

After the first few days of rescuing people, we met their needs for relief. Many were without power and water so they were sweltering in our unusually high Florida heat. They needed water, food, ice and basic supplies.

God promises to provide for our needs. He sees us and makes a way for our every need to be met. He brings relief through practical ways, but also through prayer, friends and community.

And then comes recovery.

Each person and situation is different. For some of us, power is back on, we’ve been back to work, and our homes are clear of damage and/or debris. Many others are still waiting for help, power or work to start again. No matter what our position is, recovery takes time.

Recovery for our emotional state takes time as well.

After any trauma, whether it is one of the recent events our nation and neighbors have faced or a personal tragedy, we must allow for God to take us through the process of healing and recovery. We may need more than our trusted friend and community. Professional counsel can lead us through that journey as well.

I pray that whatever you are going through in your life, you will seek whatever help you need.

And let’s keep praying for everyone who’s suffering right now. God is with us. He loves us and loves when we talk to him on behalf of others.

I’d be happy to partner with you in prayer if you let me know in the comments below or email me at laura@laurabennet.com

Hurricanes (Hardly Ever) Happen


DSC_0006
Hurricanes (Hardly Ever) Happen

The region where I live is all aflutter.

Hurricane Irma has been assaulting innocent islands in the south and is headed our way. For the past five days, Southwest Florida has purchased more gas, water, batteries and boards (no, not surf or paddle) than probably have been sold in the past five years.

People are literally running for their lives.

I don’t blame them. I’ll confess it’s a frightening situation, this first hurricane of my life. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of the ones that ripped us apart in the past, but to be here first hand, stocking up on canned foods and looking at empty shelves in grocery stores is a bit daunting.

Then there are the news reports.

Trees bent over in winds whipping San Juan. Cars crawling along like…well not like ants because ants move faster—more like snails taking naps. Buildings decimated with roofs scattered. The pictures say a thousand words and more.

But the tone of it all is fear.

And I hate fear. While healthy fear can be a good thing causing us to be diligent in preparation, fear can also cripple us into immobility. Or avoidance which keeps us from facing the storm until the very last devastating moment when disaster is upon us.

Fear grips us in ugly claws until our hearts pound in panic.

In the midst of this stormy circumstance, I think fighting fear may be a bigger issue than the pending potential destruction. The actual fight for our lives happens in our minds. And fear is like a monster demanding to be fed.

If we fuel it, it will grow.

I don’t know what will happen in the next few days. I’m sure numerous people will lose some if not all of their belongings. I grieve with Houston’s residents. Some may lose their lives or someone they love. I could be one of them.

But fear will not help me weather the storm well.

Preparation, peace and confidence in my God who created wind, rain and oceans will set me up to endure this storm. No matter what happens, He will be there with us to guide, protect and comfort us. He can turn any tragedy into something positive or helpful.

Already we’ve seen people reaching out in kindness.

Kindness is a characteristic of God. A man giving up a generator for a woman in need is laying down his life and looking to another person’s interests instead of his own. Another man volunteering his time to make sure people get water is giving of himself. We may think of those stories as sweet or nice, and they are, but really they are examples of God’s love.

I don’t know if those men know God personally.

But I do know that God is blessed when we exhibit his character. Serving, helping, giving all equal loving. God is love. And when we point to him as the source, he is pleased because he longs to see his love displayed to every single person.

Perhaps this post seems a bit random.

But as you read about kindness, did you forget I started with fear? Yeah, that’s what I though. When God’s love gets involved, fear gets pushed away. The Bible puts it this way,

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…     I John 4:18

If I know God loves me, then no matter what my situation, I don’t have to be afraid. He will bring the best for me even in the worst of circumstances. I know that’s easier to say than to experience all the time, but that has been my goal during this hurricane.

If it’s time to go, I will be with Jesus. If I get hurt, he will heal me at some point. If I am safe, I can help someone else. And in any case, I can trust him to hold me in the storm if I keep my eyes on him.