504 Java Profile

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Holding on in a Hurricane

I am preparing a sermon series on the book of James. I just discovered an old blog that I never published. It was a bit eerie to read the recollections of the initial evacuation for Hurricane Katrina.

On Friday, August 26, my world began to change in a hurry. I had just returned from a meeting in Birmingham and at 8:20 that morning, I took Aaron to the doctor to get a CT scan. The reason for the visit was a recurring nerve condition that was brought on by a viral infection, and the doctor wanted to make sure that there was no abnormality in the brain.
I was scheduled to fly out on Friday evening to speak in Owensboro, Kentucky. It was a bit unusual in that two youth professors from New Orleans had been enlisted to travel for this event. My friend and colleague, Dr. Rick Morton was on the same itinerary that I was.
As the afternoon went on and I had not received word from the doctor’s office regarding the results of the CT scan, I became restless about the idea of leaving before I knew. We were supposed to hear from the doctor after they finished with their patients on Friday, but by 4pm, we had not heard from them. I called my good friend in Owensboro, Tom Cruisenberry, and asked him if he would be too upset if I let Rick go and carry the load for the weekend. Tom is gracious, and has had enough experience waiting on doctors for his son Tristin, so he understood. I cancelled my airline reservation.
Before 6pm on Friday, we had heard from the doctor that the brain scan looked as normal as it can be for a 16-year old male child, so we went on to see Aaron’s football game and later Sarah’s play. Oh, and there was a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Her name was Katrina.
In New Orleans, we always watch hurricanes as they approach the Gulf of Mexico because for as long as I can remember, there has been a fear of “the big one” that tracks directly toward the city and is a either a Category 4 or a Category 5 storm, meaning that winds are somewhere around the 150 mph range and the storm surge would be 15 feet or more. Katrina was a Cat 4 when we went to bed on Saturday night, and we had decided to ride out the storm. We did, however talk about some contingency plans. Because I was scheduled to be away, a guest preacher was arranged for my interim pastorate at Crosspoint Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
On Sunday morning, we awoke to a phone call from a friend who was asking what we were going to do. “Make coffee” was my immediate thought, but then I turned on the television and saw that Katrina had become a Category 5 and the track had not wavered from a New Orleans heading. We lived in a new house, well-built and we were not worried about it withstanding a storm. However, a Cat 5 is different. It is like an F4 tornado that just stays on the ground for 6 hours if the eyewall makes a direct hit. So we got out.
We video taped all of our possessions, more because we had a relatively new digital camera and we could do so without difficulty. We took pictures and coin collections and probably not enough to the second floor, laughing at ourselves at being so silly. We couldn’t comprehend that this house–on relatively high ground would be in danger of flooding that would rise much above a foot or so. Realists that we are, a foot or so was very much within our thinking. We always anticipate power outages, so we froze some bottles of water and put them around the perishables in the freezer. I figured out that we might be out of power for a week at most.
We packed the Mercury Mountaineer and the 1986 F-150 with enough clothes for a week, ice chests with food and drinks. We packed the dog, the kids, and started for Baton Rouge where we could stay a couple of days with friends from Crosspoint Baptist Church in Baton Rouge where I am the interim pastor. We experienced “Contra-flow” where the eastbound lanes of I-10 had been converted to westbound for the evacuation of New Orleans. All in all, it felt like an adventure.
We went to bed Sunday night to the sound of rain and some wind. We were exhausted, so we slept well. Sometime during the night, I realized that it was storming, so I got up to look out the window and observe the awesome power of Hurricane Katrina. Sometimes I forget how powerful God is. I went back to bed, then got up early on Monday to wait out the rest of the storm. Nobody was working, so we alternated between watching the reports on television (we didn’t lose power) and playing Scrabble. We ate continuously and eventually went out to allow Aaron to spend time with some friends.
We returned to our friends’ house around 10:30 pm on Monday night. On the way home, we talked to someone who had stayed on the campus. She told us that our house had lost some shingles, that the fence had blown down and a tree had fallen on our neighbor’s car. Otherwise, we were in pretty good shape.

Then the levee broke.

The city of New Orleans is protected by a levee system that keeps water out. We are below sea level and when it rains, the water has to be pumped out into canals that take the water either to the river or the lake where it is pumped out of the city. In other words, the city is a bowl nestled between levees that keep water from filling it up. For decades, engineers have warned that if the levees failed, that it would put somewhere between 12 and 18 feet of water throughout the city. Doomsday prophets spoke of bodies floating in the street and widespread destruction.
What they couldn’t predict was the effect of the tons of concrete that have been poured or the inability of the very poor to evacuate or the actions of the morally bankrupt who would stay behind and loot and intimidate. My emotions vacillate between being desperately compassionate towards a society that would produce people who would have to steal food during an emergency when they didn’t have a place to go if they evacuated and being angry at people who would take advantage of a disaster to steal televisions, beer and Nike shoes. My pastor-shepherd-seminary professor-Christian person says that we should wake up and never have a world where people are that desperate. My justice-seeking quasi-red neck person says that we should just clean up the gene pool by shooting these looters in the head. I have a great deal of guilt in recognizing that the latter person exists.
We are now aware that we have water in our house up to the ceiling of the first floor. Anything that is on the second floor is more subject to mold with each passing day. If there is water below and humid air all around, then the probability of mildew and mold becomes a certainty. But enough of the negative.
I have worked this week at Crosspoint church where I have served as an interim pastor since last September 12. The people here are gracious and welcoming–it is a great environment to grow and learn and lead. I have observed God’s hand in this whole process from staying in town instead of leaving, evacuating when the macho in me said to ride it out, having a place to go. . .
At the same time, I am on the edge enough to have to trust God. Is my house being looted? Can I find a place to stay? What should I do about my children’s schools? What is the future of the seminary? It has been, is, and continues to be an interesting faith journey. My bride pointed me to a Psalm that she had discovered.

Ps 31:1-5

In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.

I couldn’t help but focus on the phrase in v. 3–for the sake of Your name, lead and guide me. I want to pray selfishly–for the sake of my name, but Sovereign Father, You have reminded me that all things that happen in the life of one who chases after a relationship with You are for the sake of Your name.


1 comment:

  1. Hello, I was wondering if the friend you mention in your story, Tom Cruisenberry, recorded a folk album in the early 80s? And if so, would you mind giving him my email address. I would like to discuss it with him. Thanks.