Exactly ten years ago today, Hurricane Charley, the storm that initiated the chaos, ripped through Central Florida. We were living in Kissimmee at the time in an older neighborhood with large lot lines. Our unique property, tucked away in a corner, consisted of two acres, a ranch style three bedroom, two bath main house with a pool and a detached, cozy one bedroom, one bath guest/in-law house out back, several sheds and a separate screen room where our hot tub lived.
The property backed up to a conservation area and was surrounded by lush jungle on all sides; thick Florida flora of wild palm trees, palmetto, gigantic oaks and hanging moss. Some people thought it scary and worried about what lived in those woods. Not me. I thought it was beautiful, until Charley. We moved to Florida in 2001 and had never been through a hurricane before, but as I looked out at all those trees, I began to wonder what they could crush if they started falling.
The weather predictors vacillated for days over the path Charley might take, but when we finally knew the storm was coming for us, our family gathered in a tight circle and prayed for protection. Jon disappeared into his room and taped a paint stick perpendicular onto a yard stick forming a cross. He came back out and leaned it against the patio doors, his way of demonstrating God’s watchful eye over us. He then went back in his room and refused to come out. I found him lying stiff as a board on his bed wearing a bicycle helmet, a jacket, and a pair of boots, clutching a flashlight.
We’d had a new roof put on the main house a few months prior and fortunately never lost one shingle, unlike many of our neighbors, but the contractor forgot to nail down the three brand new skylights he installed and they blew off as Charley came barreling through. Rain was pouring into both bathrooms and the breakfast nook and it seemed as if the wind would lift the roof right off the walls.
I ran to the storage closet and found some old plastic shower curtains and a large piece of clear vinyl, while Mike went out in the garage to retrieve his staple gun and an eight foot ladder. Wind was battering the garage door so hard he thought it would blow in. He quickly climbed over potted plants and outdoor furniture we had brought in from outside, to get to his tool chest. As hurricane rookies, we never thought about keeping the tool chest where it could easily be reached.
Our son David, who was fourteen at the time, climbed up into those wide open ceiling holes in the middle of the storm to staple the plastic down. The pool solar panels had come loose and were flopping back and forth on the roof above his head. I held the ladder and prayed like a crazy woman for the panels to not slam through the roof opening and hit my son in the head, while the wind and rain roared around us.
By the time the storm passed it was dark outside and the power was down. We decided to wait until morning to go outside and access the damage. Neighbors went door to door with flashlights making sure everyone was alright. We didn’t sleep much that night or the nights that followed
But I learned to be grateful for things we Americans take for granted everyday:
Water that comes from our faucets for bathing, cooking, cleaning, drinking. Without electric, our well pump was off and we had no running water in either house. I discovered how basic water is to human existence and realized I could live without many of the things we consider essential. I never want to be without water again. Every morning when I get in the shower and warm water runs over my sleepy body, I thank God for running water.
Air conditioning in a summer climate that reaches into the mid to high nineties with humidity levels to match. The sheets felt wet when we lay down on them at night. The spices in the cupboard clumped into one large blob in their containers. We never sweat so much in all our born days. We all smelled bad, looked bad and were hot and miserable. I thank God every summer for AC.
Garbage collectors became the most important people in the world. When all the food in the fridge spoils and there’s no trash collector to come haul it away, it’s not pleasant or pretty. Every week when I hear the trash truck stop at the end of our driveway I am grateful for those who do this vital work.
Uninterrupted family time. Without TV, computers, phones or modern distractions we spent time playing table games by candle light, reading, talking and working together. David found Mike’s old guitar in a closet and a hurricane catapulted our son’s love affair with music into overdrive. He now plays, writes and arranges his own songs (listen at daveconnis.com).
Safety of family and friends. Trees went down all around us, but the only structure crushed under a falling tree was one shed. It took months of cutting and clearing to rid our property of broken and fallen trees but my family, friends and neighbors were safe. No one was hurt. I am thankful everyday for the health and safety of those I love.
Looking back on it ten years later, Hurricane Charley is like the opening line in Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
I hope to never go through a storm like that again but here’s what I know, storms of all kind come and go. No one likes them, but we learn our greatest lessons in the middle of them. If we hang on through the blustering wind and pelting rain, pray and trust God we come out on the other side..
And a little more storm proof than we were before.
Nahum 1:7 (ESV) The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.
Matthew 8:23-27 (ESV) And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
2 Corinthians 4:17 (ESV) For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison