A FAMILY'S JOURNEY WITH GOD
I felt safe. After watching the news, I went to bed satisfied that Hurricane Katrina would be avoiding my home in New Orleans. The next morning, however, the telephone woke me at an awkward, early time. It was my father. He was short of breath. "Grab a few things, and meet me at my house," he said, "We're leaving—the storm is headed our way." A mandatory evacuation was in effect. There was urgency and panic in his voice.
We tossed a few things in the trunk and I drove west. Five of us—my parents, my 86–year–old great uncle, and my wife and I—left New Orleans with absolutely no plan.
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We were not alone in our haste. The Interstate was flooded with thousands of cars escaping the city. After six hours, we had inched only 23 miles. My great uncle, who is physically disabled, was becoming restless. "I'd rather be dead than in this car," he said. He meant it. My father, who was dealing with a physical ailment at the time, was complaining of acute pain. As the radio told us that the hurricane was churning closer, morale in the car was deteriorating. Rain and darkness began to fall.
The car crawled 40 miles over the next seven hours, and we found ourselves outside of Baton Rouge. We had hoped to have traveled further west. Traffic remained heavy. Some drivers were reckless. The radio foretold the impending destruction of our homes, our city, and our futures.
We were growing increasingly afraid of Hurricane Katrina. My wife sensed this. So did my mother, who ordered the radio off. With authority, she declared, "We will be safe, in our right place. We have to pray now." The car grew silent. I knew I needed to align my thoughts with God's thoughts. I knew I had to remove the fear that had been paralyzing my thoughts. For my entire life, my family has relied on prayer to solve problems.
So I prayed. I prayed to know that God would unfold a place for us to stay, and my family could not be separated from God's care. My wife later told me that she was thinking at that time of Moses parting the Red Sea and leading the Israelites to safety. She said she held fast to the thought of our being protected—from weather, from fear, from a sense of not being in control. From that time forward, I vowed to trust God to shelter, comfort, and direct us. The tension in the car gave way to calmness.
Not long after, God did lead us to temporary safety. As we were about to make a turn toward Lafayette, Louisiana, my sister called on the cellphone. She, along with her husband and their one–month–old son, had evacuated to Baton Rouge the day before. Earlier in the day she had notified us that there was no room for us where she was staying. That, however, had changed, and we were offered shelter for the night.
The next morning, the hurricane passed through the New Orleans area. Once again we were bombarded with bad news from the radio—the city was flooded, homes were destroyed, people were dead, looters were ransacking houses and businesses. There was a strong temptation to fear the worst. Instead, my family gathered in a small bedroom and prayed. There was calm in the room. Although there had been destruction in the city, I expressed gratitude that our family was safe. And although we did not know the conditions of our homes, I prayed to know that the concept of home is spiritual. I felt at peace, knowing that a sense of home would follow us wherever we would travel. I rejoiced that my family was in God's hands, and that our true home was with God and with us, wherever we were physically located. I felt God instructing me to remain calm.
In her book Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy says, "There is no vapid fury of mortal mind—expressed in earthquake, wind, wave, lightning, fire, bestial ferocity—and this so–called mind is self–destroyed. The manifestations of evil, which counterfeit divine justice, are called in the Scriptures, 'The anger of the Lord.' In reality, they show the self–destruction of error or matter and point to matter's opposite, the strength and permanency of Spirit" (p. 293). This passage helped me understand that God is not a destructive force. Instead, God is a constant, powerful source of harmony and protection.
We were extremely grateful that we found shelter from the storm at the house in Baton Rouge. However, two other families were living there, and we felt strongly that we needed to move on. This time, my sister, her husband, and her one-month-old son decided to come with us. So we began to ready ourselves to depart Baton Rouge, trusting that God would provide for our daily needs. During breakfast, a friend from Houston called to ask if we were OK. He insisted that we come there for a few days until he had to leave for a trip.
I began to realize that God's blessings come naturally when we trust that God, divine Love, provides for our requirements. More blessings followed. As we headed for Houston, my wife received a call from her grandmother, who asked, "Have you heard the good news? Your house is OK." At a time when phone lines were down, my wife's father was able to contact a firehouse down the block from our home. Good news followed for the rest of my family—my parents' and my sister's homes were undamaged.
My family was extremely thankful that our homes had been untouched. But, at one point, the city was 80 percent flooded, and we began to pray for our neighbors and the residents of the city. When times seem bleak, like they did in New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm, a radical mental outlook is needed. We felt we could only help the situation by realizing that with God's help, restoration and renewal can happen.
I had much to be grateful for. When we arrived at our new destination in Houston, we decided to hold nightly "hymn sings" to keep our thoughts uplifted. We started with Hymn No. 1 (Tate and Brady) from the Christian Science Hymnal, which begins "Be thou, O God, exalted high," and we continued singing or reading through a selection of hymns each night. One we found particularly uplifting was the first verse of Hymn No. 148 (Anna L. Waring):
In heavenly Love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?
This hymn made us feel God's love encompassing us.
In Houston I went to a Wednesday night testimony meeting at a local Church of Christ, Scientist. The members of the congregation expressed such tenderness and warmth toward our family. We met a woman there who told us that she had been praying about what she could do to help hurricane evacuees. Though she was given the phone number of an individual who was coordinating temporary housing in the area, she was led to wait until after church to make that call. She was going out of town the exact day we needed to leave our prior home. This woman, who was a total stranger, offered her home to us—eight people she knew nothing about.
We accepted her generous offer and had a new home for ten more days. During those days, as we trusted in God to provide for our needs, blessings continued to unfold. A friend from Chicago shipped a box of baby clothes for Elliott, my sister's newborn. A new friend from the Houston church invited us over for dinner and let us borrow a baby swing and toys. A neighbor brought us a gift card to a grocery store when we were having trouble accessing cash. Family members in other states phoned nightly with prayerful thoughts. Hundreds of friends called or e-mailed to ask what they could do to help. We experienced a complete outpouring of love.
This week my family will be headed back to New Orleans. We will return grateful, humble, and with a mandate to reciprocate by showing the same love and kindness to others that we were shown along our journey. When I get home, I will continue to pray that God's rejuvenating authority will help the residents of New Orleans rebuild their homes, businesses, and lives.
Mary Baker Eddy concluded an article titled, "The Fruit of Spirit:" "Give up thy earth-weights; and observe the apostle's admonition, 'Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those which are before.' Then, loving God supremely supremely and thy neighbor as thyself, thou wilt safely bear thy cross up to the throne of everlasting glory" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 328). When I get home, I am determined not to focus on destruction. Instead, I will focus on the restoration process.