The breadbox-sized screen was mounted from the ceiling in the the tiny cabin room, a bright map of siren red, 70’s pink and lightening yellow lighting up the gloomy room. The porthole shed the only natural light and displayed an ashy horizon. A more concerted examination of the map showed the chubby-S shape of our home state, with the arched representation of the hurricane’s most probable course: the curved neon path slashed directly through our town.
Really, I seemed in the minority. I looked around us in the sparkly dining hall and saw a hundred people quietly chatting with glasses of wine and gourmet meals in front of them. Then again, it was likely that I was the only mom in the room who had left 5 children at home in the woods with their elderly grandparents, as this massive hurricane headed in their direction. My internal state, however, might not be apparent to an unknowing onlooker. I was distracted and miserable, hardly tasting my plate of steaming garlic shrimp on delicate angel hair pasta.
The cruise company refused our attempt to cancel or postpone the long-booked excursion to Bermuda. They would still sail, and we would lose the fare should be stay home. Travel insurance would not take effect since the storm had not happened prior to the the cruise’s beginning. After realizing that an impending storm was, indeed, solidifying, we chose to go after prayers for wisdom in making a decision. It seemed that the cruise would likely be rerouted up the east coast to Nova Scotia, away from the storm. Most storms fizzle, we reassured ourselves. We boarded the ship hoping for the best.
We continued to watch the televised histrionic projections, then sat in disbelief as the now Superstorm Sandy plowed over our state.
As a hurricane pounded the Jersey Shore, we sat in a romantically lit dining hall and played board games provided by the cruise line and drank white chocolate lattes. Groups of people gathered near coffee stands and lounges grumbled that the onboard casinos were closed, due to port statutes. I retired to our room early and fell onto our bed, feeling like my hands were tied. I was far away and unable to prepare and help. No runs to the grocery store for bread, milk and batteries had happened. I wasn't able to call and offer helpful hints or remind people where important items were located. I hoped what needed to happen, had.
I fell asleep asking God to protect our family. I specifically asked that no trees would fall on our home or cars, that everybody would be safe. An ancient triple-trunk beech tree provided shade for our home on warm days. That same tree shook in storms and it seemed a threat to me that night. I cast it all to Jesus. It was the only thing I could do, and it was the best thing I could do.
New York Harbor flooded. We watched videos on the news and knew our altered destiny regarding our return home, even before it was announced calmly on the ship’s announcement system. We would be finding our way home via another destination. We chose the option of being bused to New York City. We were given the option to party on. There was actually only a bus full of people who declined the offer of a free extended, albeit docked, party.
The city was mobbed. Subways and all roads and tunnels except one were flooded.
If Albert hadn’t been a maniacal driver, we wouldn’t have arrived home that day. But he was, and we did. Maniacal driving skills can be an asset in a gridlocked city the days after a major natural disaster. Somehow cell phones connected and we were met in New Jersey and picked up by my stalwart father-in-law.
In our absence, our house stood. The kids spoke of their fear of creaking trees around the deck and driveway, but even our five year old seemed only moderately ruffled. Our drive through the surrounding towns was sobering. The destruction of trees, power wires, structures and landscaping was violent. Many roads were flooded or covered with debris and were closed. Power everywhere was out. Lines formed at gas stations. Everywhere, century-old trees were upended, having fallen like they had been tripped along the roadside. The fresh, black earth clumped onto their tremendous root systems, exposed and defeated, the torn wood the color of mustard in the wet aftermath.
We arrived to a highly disgruntled populace. My teenage son had been water boy, charged with lugging 40 pound, 5 gallon buckets up from the brook, located 100 yards downhill in a ravine. So our toilets had been flushed. An undersized generator provided some power for the fridge and a few lights. The large fireplace had not responded to varied attempts to get it lit without smoking out the house, so quilts and throws, hoodies and flannels had kept our family warm, but not comfortably so.
My former-missionary mother-in-law had insisted that the brook water was fine for cooking.
A walk around our property was an astounding demonstration of God’s kindness and answered prayers. Many of our mature trees were downed, but they politely fell parallel to our lawn, home and driveway boundaries. An arial view would have shown them downed and roughly outlining the lived-on part of our property. Not one fell disagreeably. Eventually they provided wood that warmed our home in future winters.
As a Chaplain, I have rubbed elbows with people who didn’t fare so well in Superstorm Sandy. Lives are still out of place for many, changed forever by this national disaster. I have friends who have suffered financially because of newly-required flood insurance which has been impossible for them to afford. While many shore communities have rebuilt boardwalks and beach-facing homes of beauty, many people still struggle to regain what they once had. We are grateful for how God protected so many lives in the deluge.
Over four years have passed, but I look back at Sandy as the time that God tied my hands and challenged me to trust Him like I never had before. When I see a downed tree after a bad rain, I immediately think of the fallen trees that lined our property. Sometimes there is just nothing we can do. That’s hard for the doers among us to take. But even when we can’t do, God has it.
“‘Because he loves me’ says the Lord,
‘I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.’”