Deep Calls to Deep

Irma churned through the Caribbean and threatened eastern Florida, and I urged my son to bring his family to our house on the Gulf side of the state. The day I loaded up on perishable food to feed a crowd the “cone” suddenly switched westward, including us. For the next 36 hours, the cone crept west and my level of unease crept with it.

Irma superimposed over Europe

On Saturday morning we woke at 6:00 AM to a text from our son. Irma was expected to rebuild after skirting Cuba to at least a Cat 4, if not regain the Cat 5 intensity which destroyed so many Caribbean islands. And the center of the cone traveled up through the western part of Florida, right over my brother’s house, my house, my oldest daughter’s house a little north of us, and smack into my youngest daughter’s house in Tampa. Hers was the most exposed due to Tampa Bay and the predicted storm surge, so I urged her to evacuate. Midday, YD left for her brother’s house in Jupiter.

Not long after that, my oldest daughter decided their odds weren’t good, since they didn’t have hurricane shutters, so they took off for Jupiter as well. Once we had our hurricane shutters in place I felt fairly secure in our strangely dark house, but after urgent text messages from the kids, including my middle daughter in Switzerland who watched Irma with alarm from across the Atlantic, I studied the Weather Channel’s predictions. At that point, it looked like we would get 150 mph winds. I started packing.

It wasn’t easy, wondering what to take if everything was going to be destroyed, the dilemma played out by thousands as evacuees fled the monster storm. I chose a couple of pieces of my mother’s jewelry, put plastic bags on important files and albums, and said goodbye to everything.

Everything.

That does something strange to your insides.

Since we’d decided to leave so late, by the time we turned south on the eastern side of Lake Okeechobee it was dark. We ran into the outer bands of Irma. My hip implant, which had stopped alerting me of frontal passages a few months back, stabbed me with a jolt of pain that wouldn’t let up. As I writhed in my seat, our Golden Retriever, Lily, panted behind me, obviously feeling the same pressure change that was torturing me.

Fortunately, when we arrived at my son’s house we found light rain. Everyone helped us unload quickly.

So there we were — four families and 2 very large dogs, boarded up and ready to ride out what wasn’t supposed to be much of a storm over there. Each family had one room, and we inflated air mattresses and made an attempt at sleep, trying to tuck our anxiety in for the night. When the power went out and the temperature rose, sleep became even more difficult, and dawn produced a lot of groggy adults trying to figure out breakfast with flashlights and the little battery-powered lanterns. (At least, we thought it was dawn since someone had a watch on.)

We strategized refrigerator openings, difficult since we’d all brought things and crammed them in, thinking we’d have time in the morning to organize. We cobbled meals, not simple with multiple food restrictions.

Another complication was my daughter-in-law’s allergy to dogs.

Along with power, we lost internet, then cell coverage for all of us on Verizon. One son-in-law had AT&T and was able to receive messages from MD, Tracey in Switzerland. She was the sole source of our information about the storm, apart from a wind-up radio that reported local events, like the danger of Lake Okeechobee overflowing its banks, causing extensive flooding.

We knew flooding would be an issue everywhere Irma went because we’d had an extremely wet summer and had yet to dry out from a tropical wave that swamped us when Harvey hit Houston and lingered in a similar fashion, flooding places that had never seen flood waters.

Throughout the day we played games and some of us jumped in the pool and cooled off before the storm became too intense. I had a fun game of Uno, starting with two grandkids and slowly dealing in the others.

And we tried not to think too much about what was happening across the state. Especially YD, whose husband was back home as a first responder.

The storm lasted longer than predicted on the East coast, still howling outside when it was time to put the little ones down for the night. YD had been upstairs with her youngest for a while, then they both came back down. He held up a book and she started singing the verses as he turned the pages. I joined in after a few verses, then one by one, everyone stood and joined hands. We sang, and repeated until we’d grasped it firmly, “He’s got the whole world, in his hands. He’s got the whole world, in his hands.…” As the wind howled and the rain pelted the shutters, peace settled over us.

Even in the midst of the storm, we remembered, he still has our whole world in his hands.

In the morning, calm greeted us, and bright sunshine outside. Even before the guys removed some of the hurricane shutters we opened the windows and let welcome air move through. My son and I made breakfast, cooking on a propane fire pit out next to the pool.

Some went for a walk and found cell coverage, along with reports from neighbors that our houses were okay. And power was coming back on at home. After an impromptu play by several of the grands, we started packing, ready to get home and to take the dogs away so my daughter-in-law could breathe freely.

Going home turned out to not be a simple matter. The first one out encountered a roadblock due to a downed power line on 70, so he detoured, to flooded roads, and detoured again, and again. He’d had enough gas to start but barely made it after all the detours. YD set out next, hoping she’d have better luck finding gas on highway 60. We had just enough to get home, but my husband and I waited for OD since she knew she didn’t have enough gas. We went through the gas station area of Jupiter, but no stations had power.

We stopped before we got to the Lake Okeechobee road to decide what to do. A sheriff pulled over and asked if we needed help, then a man in a pickup pulled in to talk to her. He ended up selling us his emergency supply, 5 gallons of gas. I thanked him and said he was an angel. He smiled and said, “I guess that’s why the Lord had me come out this morning.”

With the extra gas in my car, ready for detours, my husband went on with my granddaughter, who needed to get home and on the internet for college work, and their dog with ours, in case OD and I couldn’t find gas and had to return to my son’s house. It was another strange goodbye moment.

Thanks to GasBuddy, OD and I finally found gas to the south. The station had shut down due to a vapor lock and had opened up just before we joined the line, 30 cars back. We were able to buy $40 worth, cash since no machines or internet worked.

Meantime, YD hadn’t found gas and her warning light was on, out in the middle of nowhere with three kids. I called as she saw a sign for a dude ranch. In the middle of Florida! She went in, if nothing else for a safe place to spend the night until her husband was free to come and bring gas, if he could find it. She was blessed as well. After a couple of hours, and a bunch of tadpoles which delighted her boys, they had gas and were on their way, courtesy of the general manager who drove out with a generator and pumped gas for her. He wouldn’t even let her pay. (We plan to go there for a family reunion. I think it was River Ranch.)

My husband made it home on 70, but said he drove through 3 inches of water, and it was rising. We headed west, hoping we’d make it, with storm clouds on the horizon. Contrary to what we’d heard, the road north along the Lake wasn’t underwater, though everything next to it was. On 70, it was the same. To our right, the water in the former pasture was higher than the road.

In Arcadia, we saw the worst storm damage, a huge tree through a house which sat in the middle of a lake, aluminum siding and roofing wrapped around trees and fences, cattle standing in water, and water in places I’d never imagine it.

We were blessed to get through. When I checked after I got home, the flooded Peace River had covered the road. Every road into Arcadia was closed for days. Some opened today. If we hadn’t gone right then, we would have been wandering north, hoping for a way west before running out of gas, since there was none available.

Gratitude carried us home, and continues to follow me as I recall the track that Irma took that spared our homes, and what could have happened.

I’m grateful for all the first responders who left families and homes and went to work long hours to care for and protect us.

And I’m grateful for the caravans of utility workers who left their comfortable homes and are working long hours in terrible heat and humidity, sometimes waist deep in water (during alligator mating season, no less!)

We gathered to worship last night at Church of the Redeemer, on the bayfront, and would have been gone if Irma had behaved as predicted. I wasn’t the only one singing from deep in the heart. We were all glad to be alive, to have our homes, though some still lacked power, and to have a church to meet in.

The biggest blessing was a sermon by our youngest clergyman, Chris Wood. He talked about praising God no matter what, even in the storm. That might sound cliché, or easy to say, unless you know his story.

Chris drove away at 3:00 AM on Saturday morning with his young children asleep in the back, tears streaming down his face, not knowing if he would see his wife again. She stayed behind as a first responder. They were predicting total destruction at that time, and he wondered if he had what it took to care for his children without their mother. Can you imagine his drive to Georgia, and the hours that followed?

He said he prayed more than he ever had. (And that’s what he does for a living, so it was a lot!) And he encouraged us to PRAISE GOD ALL THE TIME.
(If you’d like to read his powerful sermon, go to http://www.redeemersarasota.org/news-and-media/sermons/ and click on the one from September 17, 2017. If the audio is available, definitely listen.)

I’ve given all the details partly because that’s what we’re all doing right now when we get together … telling our stories of amazing ways that God protected and blessed us.

And to encourage you, whether your storm comes from weather, relationships, health challenges, financial stress, even the shadow of death. We can praise God in the midst of it all, because he truly does hold the whole world in his hands.

He holds you and me, sister. He holds you and me, brother. He holds the whole world in his hands.

Easter morning started on a dark pathway

Early on Easter morning I heard children calling to each other in a family Easter egg hunt. Then I focused on morning prayers for those on my heart. As I brought these dear ones before the Lord, I wondered how many of those struggling with cancer, chronic health problems, some without even a diagnosis, others with painful relationships, some still in the pall of the death of their loved one – how many were coming to Easter morning, which is supposed to be joyful, only in dread, or duty?

How many felt like the women trudging to the tomb before the dawn light, hearts heavy, hope gauged away? Carrying spices and the weight of the world, everything in their lives spun off into terrible disaster.

Venice Beach by Jack H Thompson, Jr

As I lifted them to the Lord, I asked for the same, lightning clarity for them that Mary experienced.

That they might hear the risen Jesus call their name.

That they might find so much more than they are seeking.

Ibis and reflection by Jack H Thompson Jr

In truth, we all find more than we are seeking, though we aren’t always aware of it.

ducklings by Jack H Thompson, Jr

In a service during Holy Week, I thought about the Last Supper and the scene in the garden afterwards, when one of the twelve who’d walked with Jesus, seen him heal and cleanse and raise the dead, betrayed him with a kiss.
(Read the whole story here.)

Immediately, a painful scene from early in my life flashed into my mind, distracting me. I tore my focus back to the covered cross before me.
(In our tradition, the cross which hangs over the altar is covered during Lent.)

Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, FL
photo by Fred Sieger

In that moment, I sensed a profound truth.

Though draped and obscured much of the time in my younger years, the cross has always been there in my life. Jesus was with me, loving me and dying for me every time I sinned,

Every time another sinned against me.

Every. single. time.

Since I was conceived, the cross has been there, redeeming me. Redeeming my life from the pit.

There were times when that redemption worked to prevent greater evil.

Other times, it worked to turn what the enemy meant for evil into good.

Every. single. time

Long before I could say the word, the Lord was there, redeeming me.

Long before I gave the mental assent and welcomed him as Lord, he was winding his love throughout my life.

Long before I studied the Bible and committed verses to memory he was writing on my heart with a nail-scared hand.

It is a great mystery, but it was the greatest truth I have ever discovered, that I have never been abandoned. Never neglected. Never hurt without being comforted. Never wounded without a healer at work. Never alone.

Not. one. time.

God is not limited by time or space. He is not linear as we are, with yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.

So he can be present in all things.

And he is.

For me, and for you.

sunrise by Jack H Thompson, Jrwater landing by Jack H Thompson Jr
Venice Beach sunlight from a cloud by Jack H Thompson, Jr

If this Easter was less than joyful, my wish for you is that you, too will hear him call your name,

Be alerted to the presence of the Living One, who is life itself,

Find a new and fresh vision this Easter season, tunneling into the swirling reality of God-With-Us.

Emmanuel.

flowers by Jack H Thompson, Jr

God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You don’t find it lying around on the surface. It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene….
No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it— What God has arranged for those who love him. But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you. The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along….We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.

1 Corinthians 2:6‭-‬10 MSG

Are you amazed?

Many of us have found our attitudes radically altered by reading, and re-reading, Ann Voscamp’s One Thousand Gifts. But, whether from indwelling personality or past injuries, what can you do if you automatically see the glass as half empty?

Thankfulness and thanksgiving pop up everywhere I turn. In our church we can log into our website and add our blessings to those listed, with a goal of 10,000!

But how do we gain an attitude of thanksgiving? What if, like me, you are pensive by nature, and naturally tune into the pain and brokenness around you?

In a room full of people I can’t help noticing the uncomfortable one, the wall-flower, the one retreating with an unexpressed need. I imagine how the moth feels when it flies into a spider web. It has been a struggle to assert authority over my puppy, rather than dwell on her feelings.

It surprised me to realize that by allowing my sensitive nature to rule, I am, but default, viewing the world through a negative lens

looking at the world as if God doesn’t exist

or he doesn’t care

or doesn’t have the power

looking at the world without faith!

That is not a place I want to stay. My first step has been to take every thought captive.

…tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 MSG

Some days it is an every minute, constant battle to stop the negative mind-slant. I must simply freeze, and re-frame that view.

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel. Philippians 4:6-7

When I choose to notice it, even the tiniest detail can become a delight, an amazement—a natural state of thanksgiving. As long as I recognize that I am only the recipient of all the wonders, big and little, and give thanks to the One who made them, I go from wonder to amazement.

by Jack H Thompson Jr

Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. Romans 1:24 MSG

I won’t lie. It is hard to change a life-long way of looking at the world. My kids and husband sometimes still have to remind me when I launch into a tale of family woe.

Alone, when I recognize a negative thought slipping in, I speak thanksgiving out loud. It feels like it clears the air, and maybe it does.

The spiritual air.

Though I have worked hard to change, I’ve worked to alter patterns before that didn’t budge. The difference now is asking for God’s power, in the Holy Spirit, to transform me from the inside out.

And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. Ephesians 4:24 MSG

It feels so good now when I spontaneously speak thanksgiving, or my heart swells with gratitude.

by Jack H Thompson, Jr

Last week I drove across the middle of Florida. In the wide open expanse of sky, dark clouds billowed up and out – quite an impressive sight. After weeks of heavy rain, all the rivers and creeks were flooded way beyond their banks. I enjoyed the reflection of the clouds on bodies of water I never would have noticed at their normal levels. And on the return trip, after only one day of sunshine, the water had receded and exposed fresh green grass. A cow and two calves gleefully chomped on it. Those little delights made me smile.

clouds

Sometimes it’s a pair of sand hill cranes whooping over our house on their sunset trek to another pond. It can be as grand as the arrival of the roseate spoonbills or sunset on the water, or as simple as a butterfly or a delicate flower, or as striking as bare, weathered trees on a sand dune.

roseate spoonbills by Jack H  Thompson, Jr
Sandhill cranes in sunset by Jack H Thompson JR
Sunset on the water by Jack H Thompson, JR
Butterfly on Porterweed flower by Jack H Thompson, Jr
DSC_9084phalaenopsis orchid
dead trees on sand dune by Jack H Thompson, Jr

Today I enjoyed my Golden, Lily, and Sophie, who is staying with us while my oldest and her family are settled in a house, retrieving and swimming together, simply enjoying the process, no matter how many times I threw their toy.

happy Lily in the surf
Back home, tired from a busy day, they played on their backs.

Golden play
How can I not chuckle, and give thanks for the delight in these small things?

In The Power of Being Thankful, Joyce Meyer says,

I believe that if we’ll stay amazed at the things God is doing in our lives—even the little things—we’ll never be without hope. I encourage you to realize what you have, be thankful, and decide to live amazed…jaw-dropping, wide-eyed, “Wow! That was God!” amazed.

Some times are easier than others. Last week, caring for my granddaughters, I really didn’t feel well. I had way less energy than they did, so we built puzzles on the floor, then laid on top of them and snapped silly selfies together. We giggled at our photos, grateful for laughter together.

Grammi and A selfie
Grammi fun

When I’m dead tired, and everything in my body hurts, it’s hard to look around and appreciate what I see. But even then I can give thanks for a warm shower, dry towels and a sumptuously comfortable bed with clean sheets!

It’s always a choice.

Are you a half empty of half full person?
What is your struggle with keeping an attitude of gratitude?