Graced by Spirit—even in the storm

During and after Hurricane Katrina

When we read about epic events in the day's news, it's natural to be concerned and even pray for those involved. But often we aren't part of the story ourselves. But that's not the way it was for me in August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina flooded my city, New Orleans.

In that time of chaos, however, one fact stood fast for me: God is the ultimate protector, providing the wisdom and care to help us live moments and lives based in—and graced by—His spirit.

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What I most remember about my Katrina experience was the outpouring of love, especially from people I'd never met. And I began to see that it came from God, from Love itself. To me those individual gestures illustrated Mary Baker Eddy's rendering of the verse from the Lord's Prayer "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." "And Love is reflected in love" (Science and Health, p. 17). I'm convinced that the spiritual basis of understanding that Christian Science teaches enabled me to trust God to provide for my family, as we moved step by step through the days and months after the storm.

When Katrina arrived, my mother and I were on vacation at a cabin in Alabama. My husband, who was at home, said we'd need to stay put since New Orleans was now under mandatory evacuation. Just hours before the storm, friends persuaded him to accompany them to a Mississippi farm. As Katrina hit land, he and I lost communication for five days.

Originally Mom and I planned to be at the cabin for five days, but it stretched into six weeks. We appreciated the quietness and calm, where we could pray for wisdom to guide us and meet our needs. It felt like just getting through each day required steadfastness. We prayed to feel God's presence—and we did. we were grateful to be safe, and prayed for others as well as ourselves. I remember feeling God's love everywhere. I remember that the foundation of our trust in Him was so solid that we knew we would be taken care of. We didn't know how, but that trust and love got us through. We truly felt Spirit-based.

And there was immediate evidence of God's care. For example, since our stay was to be brief, we hadn't brought my mom's lift chair, which she needed to be able to sleep comfortably. When I went to buy her another, the store's owner gave us a perfectly fine used one. This kind of generosity seemed to fill our days and go ahead of us everywhere.

But Katrina was a new and challenging experience in many ways. I'd lived in New Orleans all my life and had never feared a hurricane. Generally, cleanup consisted of removing leaves, limbs, and branches. We'd felt protected as we saw storms dissipate or shift direction. But this time, when the levees collapsed, our home, my mother's home, our church, and entire neighborhood were under nine feet of water. It took three weeks for the water to be pumped out of New Orleans. And another three weeks before citizens were allowed to inspect their own property.

Like so many others, we found our home of 35 years was totally destroyed—gardens, furnishings, clothing, books, photographs, everything. Feelings of poverty and loss would tempt me. However, these emotions faded as I recognized the "angels" that came to our aid. Science and Health refers to angels as "God's divine messages," which "deliver us from the depths" (pp. 566, 567). They reminded me of Isaiah's promise, "Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear," for our supplies did seem to come before the demand (65:24).

I remember feeling we would be taken care of and love got us

Hundreds of books have been written about the Katrina experience, and everyone affected has a story. It seems to me that in so many ways I'd felt what Science and Health refers to as the Christ, "the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness" (p. 332). Three instances in particular illustrate how I tangibly felt that presence, enabling me to see that my life was already Spirit-based—that it wasn't about my need to do something to make it happen or even to feel God's love. Each in its own way carried me forward.

First, I remember that while still in Alabama, Mom and I had watched TV broadcasts of the chaos at the Convention Center in downtown New Orleans. These disturbing pictures affected many people, creating anger and fear. And I too felt forcefully drawn in—despite praying to recognize God's care for everyone. I still had no news of my husband and was feeling anxious. Then while I was at a launderette, a local man came in. We chatted, and somehow I found myself telling him that I hadn't been able to reach my husband. "Be strong for him," he encouraged me. He comforted me with his own story of God's protecting him in his life. He left, but quickly returned and placed a $20 bill in my hand. I tried to refuse it, but he was gone in an instant. The blessing wasn't the $20, but his generous spirit and loving act. As a result of that experience, I never again felt the horror that had tried to take me over when watching the chaos depicted on TV. storm

I continued to pray to God for grace and calm, but when fall came on, I felt angry, mean, and abrupt. In addition to the difficult work of cleaning our home, there were still so many unresolved issues, and all we seemed to see at every turn was devastation. Then one day, suddenly, I felt the Christ-presence and heard as if a voice had spoken: "This is not you. Are you going to let this crisis change the way you have acted all these years?" It was a clear rebuke to my attitude. And I changed immediately, no longer letting Katrina make me something I was not. My grounding in Christian Science had taught me that God is good, not evil. That God is Love. And it was not Godlike to allow myself to be a pawn, in any way, for discouragement or fear. I realized that His love alone could move me, His Spirit grace me.

God's love everywhere. We knew we didn't know how, but that trust through. We truly felt Spirit-based.

Then in early 2006, we still waited to hear the government's options for our flooded homes: repair, sell, or buyout. There were many opinions about how to rebuild New Orleans. Again the Christ-presence spoke to me, and this time it felt like a bolt of lightning: "You need a house now!" That was the first time it had occurred to me that we wouldn't be going back to our home in the near future, and that we should move from the small rental to a new place of our own. Again, that promise from Isaiah was fulfilled for us; our new home came to us. My sister told us about a house for sale. She thought that the floor plan would meet our needs—which it did. We made an offer, and a week later it was accepted. One year after Katrina our new home was fully furnished. And in 2007 we sold our original house.

"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee," the Bible says (Isa. 43:2). It's been truly humbling to realize that, no matter what, we can live a life based in—and graced by—Spirit. |css

May 4, 2009

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