Friday, February 23, 2007
Katrina, Trees & Heaven
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
(James the Apostle of Jesus)
Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 destroyed the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. To those who died in this storm I offer my prayers to their families and friends. To the homeless in Biloxi, Mississippi my heart and prayers are with you and your memory will be with me for life.
Droplets of rain dribbled from the sky. The wind was swirling, the movement of the trees started to acknowledge her presence. Dark, sinister clouds proclaimed her arrival but I wasn't about to leave. I listened to the warnings all day but still remained steadfast in the decision not to leave. I believed Katrina would drift farther west. This scary picture of drowning kept leaping across my mind. I denied the images and remained resolute in my decision to stay on the coast.
The storm keep getting stronger, bigger and she kept turning toward the east and it wasn't looking good for Biloxi. I thought about leaving but the traffic was so bad and I really didn't know where to go. I knew the roads were jammed and going to a shelter was out of the question. I kept trying to believe the storm would move farther into Louisiana. I had Faith in God. I believed God would protect me. However, I didn't know if God was telling me to leave or stay. I was really confused. I knew that faith required actions but I was undetermined what action God wanted me to take. I guess it should have been an easy decision but it wasn't. My soon to be wife, who was in California, was begging me to leave but I just couldn't. I had worked so hard to help the homeless in Biloxi and now just leave. I had been through hurricanes before and survived. The weather reports keep saying this was going to be the storm of century and I was starting to believe they were right. After watching the news all day, I realized we were going to get hit hard. I didn't want to leave my job. I didn't want to believe my work with the hopeless was over. I had to make a decision. Katrina was moving into South Louisiana. I was extremely confused and scared. I had to make a decision soon.
Two days prior to Katrina's arrival I was sitting in my office in Biloxi, Mississippi. Suddenly the door opened and in walked a homeless man. I had been working with him for a while but he was having a hard time giving up alcohol. "Hey Dude, what's up." I said with a smile. I always enjoyed seeing him. I loved this guy. My heart was on his side and I just believed that one day he would walk free from alcohol and the bondage of homelessness.
I knew he wanted to smoke so we stepped out on the porch. It was hot, horribly hot in South Mississippi. He rolled up a cig, crouched down on his haunches and said, "Bob did you know a hurricane is coming this way?"
"Really, where is it now" I ask? I really wasn't too concerned.
"It is crossing over into the Gulf and they are saying it is going to be a bad one." He stood to his feet and looked towards the Gulf of Mexico.
"Where is the sucker headed?"
"The word on the streets is it is coming straight towards us or New Orleans." He had a worried look on his face.
We both stood in silence for a few seconds then I spoke. "My friend we just have to have faith that God will protect us." I opened the door to my office so I could hear the phone ring.
"Bob the police are going to start rounding us up soon." The Biloxi police department had a reputation for picking up the homeless and moving them to jail before a storm hit. I had also heard the police would let them go just before the storm hit. I don't know if that was true or not. However, I had heard other homeless talk of mistreatment by the police.
"You know God will take care of us my friend but we also have to take action." I put my hand on his shoulder and continued, " we also have to have enough since to take action. Maybe you should starting heading north just in case it hits."
He nodded in agreement and then ask, "What are you going to do Bob?"
"I ain't going anywhere." I shrugged my shoulders and acted tough. "I guess I am going to hang around and help Rita down at the soup kitchen." I had no idea the time the storm was going to be the largest to hit the Gulf in a century.
We continued talking about the storm, our plans, and the hope it miss us. Hurricane Dennis clipped us a little earlier in the year so we were not that worried about Katrina. I had no idea what was about to happen. I also didn't realize I would never see the my friend again. I found out later my friend did survive but I still haven't seen or talk to him.
Night was approaching and the wind was picking up. I loaded my clothes in car, still unsure if I would leave or not. I watched the sky. The clouds were moving faster and faster in a circular motion. Questions exploded in my mind. Would I take the risk and stay or would I take the risk and leave. Finally, I made the decision. I took a long look at all the things I had accumulated then I looked at the car. The thought of swimming in 150 mph wind with trees falling raced through my mind. Finally, I walked into the kitchen grabbed a gallon of water and headed for the car. I drove out of Biloxi, Mississippi at 7:00pm on the night Katrina was coming into the coast. I didn't know exactly where I was going. I did have California on my mind but I only had 14 dollars in my pocket and ¾ of a tank of gas. I turned the radio on and just kept driving and praying that I would get away.
To my surprise and delight the roads where clear and the rain wasn't that bad. I drove to Jackson, MS, turned right and ended up in Cambria, CA. My fiancé lived in CA and I really didn't have anywhere else to go so I drove for two days straight. Frighten, oh yes. I knew by the time I reached Texas the storm had ruined Biloxi. I was in contact with Mary, via cell phone so I knew there was no turning back. I had never been to Cambria but I was confident God was guiding my path. As of today, I have been in California for three months, got married, and started a ministry called Challenger Christian Ministries, with intentions of doing the type work I did in Biloxi.
I am so thankful I left Biloxi. I am not sure if I would have survived or not. The office was gone and the home I rented was under water for a time. I lost everything but my clothes and car. However, the one thing that I never lost was my desire to serve my Lord. I will not be defeated because nothing in God's world happens by mistake. I am thankful I took the risk that night. I could have been trapped on the road right in the middle of the biggest hurricane to ever hit the coast. I listened to the voice of God and obeyed. Thank God I did. He is Lord of the storm and Lord of my life. I refuse to be depressed, discouraged or beaten by circumstances. However, the storm wasn't over. I had no clue what was coming and I have to admit depression did come, discouragement did invaded my thoughts and once again, I was taken to the brink of insanity.
California Pine Trees
I couldn't believe my eyes. I was numb, scared and holding back the tears. I had escaped the horror of Katrina and now this. Four months after Katrina took my office and flooded my home and now this. I left Biloxi, Mississippi and all the destruction and now this. Disbelief was an understatement. Shock, denial and anger fired off in my heart like a bolt of electricity. My wife hung up the cell phone and franticly began to praise God. I cussed and went into shock. I just couldn't believe it. We were coming over a mountain when we received the phone call. The wind was blowing so hard I had a tough time keeping the car on the road. My mind was blank. During desperate times, I have a tendency to just shut down emotionally. After hearing the news, I was completely shut down. I over heard the conversation my wife had with her son. I couldn't believe it. This phone call and the events of January 2, 2006 would once again alter the course of my life, affect my faith and push me a little closer to the breaking point.
Rain was coming down like bullets. The wind was furious yet we had to get home. When we finally arrived at the house it was still raining and trees, big, tall and pines trees were still popping like firecrackers. We could see them falling and the sound of fire trucks and ambulances filled the air. As we stepped out of the car a fireman appeared and told us to leave the area but we didn't. My new wife was frantic. She couldn't find her son. We knew he was alive because he phoned us after his narrow escape. Yet she wanted to see him, touch him, and hold him. Kyle, her son, was nowhere to be found. Mary, my wife, was running around screaming his name, totally ignoring the destruction of her house. I, on the other hand, was calm on the outside but scared to death on the inside.
As my wife searched for her son, I stood speechless in front of what used to be our house. I couldn't believe my eyes. A tree approximately 6 feet in diameter and over 100 feet tall fell during the storm and totally destroyed the top floor of our house and caused sever damage to the down stairs. In a split second life had changed again. It had only been four months since hurricane Katrina altered my life now this. What else could happen? This had to be the end of the storms but it wasn't. My faith was beginning to grow weaker, my marriage was off to a horrible start and it was just the beginning of a tidal wave of grief, heartache and questions.
After the tree hit the house the Red Cross put us up in a motel for several nights. Men from the church helped us clear the wreckage so we could see what we had left. We moved from house to house trying to find a place to live while the house was being rebuilt. We were under tremendous pressure and didn't have any idea which way to go. One of the hardest parts of this ordeal was to see the pain in my wife's face. Her house, her things, her antiques, her paintings and collectable glass and her cat was gone. The Tree killed her cat named Paws. To her Paws was like a kid. The poor old cat was just too old to move when the tree fell. In my wife's house was a life time of accumulation and now it was destroyed. My heart was broken for her and her son. I tried to comfort her but I didn't do a very good job. In fact, it was her faith in the Lord Jesus that kept us going. She is a really trooper. In fact, she is my hero. She cried and praised the Lord at the same time. My tendency was to cuss a little, praise a little and wonder what life had next. I actually had people that didn't want to get to close to me because of the events that had occurred in my life. I didn't really blame them and I know that were kidding but I was beginning to pray that an earthquake didn't occur and so far it hasn't, thank God.
Return to the Destruction of Biloxi
I really didn't want to return to Biloxi but it seemed like the right think to do. Both of us were excited about the invitation to return to work with the Mental Health Association of Mississippi. In fact they offer both of us a job so we bought a motor home and returned to Biloxi to help with survivors of the storm.
I wasn't prepared for what I saw on the coast of Mississippi. I just wasn't prepared for all the destruction. I had seen the pictures but the pictures didn't really tell the story of what happened on the coast of Mississippi. It was as if a bomb had gone off. I couldn't believe my eyes. I felt a surge of pain and shock when I first saw the coast. I knew many had died (some were my friends) and so… so much was gone. I cried.
Mary and I went to work almost immediately. There was and so much need. Yes, the physical destruction was beyond comprehension but the emotional, spiritual and psychological need was even greater. Anger was the primary emotion of the many who had survived the storm. Aggression, depression, suicide, homicide was at an all time high. I believe it would be safe to say we say a car wreck almost everyday. People were in pain, hostile towards FEMA, God, and anyone else they could think of to blame. I have to say I was angry, frightened and in the beginning stages of PTSD just like many on the coast.
We arrived about six months after the storm had hit but it was if it was yesterday. Everywhere we went people wanted to tell their stories. People needed to talk about what had happen to them and how they survived. The main conversation of almost everyone me met was about Katrina. I went to work as an Out Reach Provider or counselor and Mary went to work as a case manager. It was absolutely unbelievable, the people that came through our doors. Hurting, angry people came out of the wood work. We started a survivors group so people could talk about what had happened to them. It was sad, draining and totally out of my scope of training. I was use to working with the homeless, alcoholics and drug addicts not people who had experienced this type of devastation. We were all wounded and doing our best to help the wounded. Then the strangest thing happened. Without much warning, we had an argument with the leaders of our agency and we made the decision to quit. This was a major decision and our leaving this job almost killed my wife and I became more angry, depressed and my since of purpose was gone. I had built my identity around what I did instead of who I was in Christ and I was paying the price for this mistake.
My Mother Died
I was close to the breaking point when I received the phone call. The phone rang, I picked up knowing this could be the call I didn't want to get and it was. My sister said, "Bobby mother just died." We were expecting it, in fact, my mother told me she would wait until I got home to die but now she was really dead. My heart broke but my face and my words didn't reflect how bad it actually hurt. Mother was one of the greatest Christian women I had known. She believed what she believed about Jesus and nothing could change her love for Jesus. It didn't matter what I had done or how many times I had been to jail she loved me. I knew she was always praying for me and now she was gone. I have no doubt my mother is in heaven.
Mary and I decided to return to California. We didn't have a single clue as to what we would do now. We believed with all of our heart that God had sent us to Mississippi and I am sure He did but now our mission was over. I am not sure what we accomplished but I was just about ready to give up on this thing called life.
The house in California was still being rebuilt and I flooded the motor home. I was really starting to crumble. I took a drink. I mean I took a drink and got drunk and Three hours after the drink I was in jail. I couldn't believe it. I was once again as hopeless as I had ever been. The insanity of alcoholism had returned and death was close.