You’ll forgive me if I’ve been a little distracted lately, and if this blog post seems a little scattered. It’s somewhat difficult to focus when you’re expecting, in a little less than 24 hours, the onset of a hurricane that could destroy tens of thousands of houses near you—with no guarantees that yours won’t be among them. But Megan reminded me that many of you would probably be interested in some personal observations as Hurricane Irma comes and goes.
So, what are my wife, Debby, and I doing? What have we been doing all week, since it became pretty clear that Irma was headed our way?
Well, we’re praying a lot. We’re listening to gospel singer Dámaris Carbaugh’s beautiful album “The Heart of God,” from which, at the moment, the song “I sing peace” is soothing my soul.
And we’re reading Scripture a lot, including especially the Psalms. We’ve had particular encouragement from these passages (which you can skip if you want to, but I thought I’d make them convenient for you):
Psalm 89:6–16: … who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, 7a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? 8O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you? 9You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. 10You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. 11The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. 12The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name. 13You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. 14Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. 15Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face, 16who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted.
Psalm 90:1–17: Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. 2Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 3You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” 4For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as, a watch in the night. 5You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: 6in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. 7For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. 8You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. 9For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. 10The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. 11Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? 12So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. 13Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! 14Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. 16Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 17Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
Psalm 93:1–5: The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. 2Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. 3The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. 4Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty! 5Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.
Psalm 97:1–12: The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! 2Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 3Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. 4His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. 5The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. 6The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. 7All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods! 8Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O LORD. 9For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. 10O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 11Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. 12Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!
Psalm 103:1–22: Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 7He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. 14For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. 19The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. 20Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! 21Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! 22Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Matthew 8:24–27: And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26And 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. 27And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
Romans 8:18–39: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We live in southwest Broward County, Florida, just northwest of Miami, 15 miles inland from Hollywood Beach. Irma’s heading nearly straight for us, currently with peak sustained winds of 150 mph and gusts higher. Tropical storm-force winds should reach us a little after noon tomorrow, and Irma’s eye is likely to pass over or near us sometime early Sunday morning. With the storm progressing at about 12 mph, it should take around 24 hours, give or take 5 or 10, for her to come and go, and she’ll probably drop 10 to 15 inches of rain. So we’ve been preparing.
How? Again, lots of praying. But we filled the car’s gas tank Tuesday, September 5, before lines started forming. BJ’s Wholesale Club was out of gallon jugs and large cases of bottled water, but I bought lots of bottled sodas, Arizona teas, juices, etc., since it’s likely we’ll be without safe water for several days or more. And we stocked up on various non-perishable foods that won’t have to be cooked to be eaten.
Wednesday, September 6, was a year and nine months past my 60th birthday. One of my dear theological heroes, the late Dr. Robert L. Reymond, my colleague when I taught at Knox Theological Seminary, told me when he was past 80 that he never felt mentally or emotionally “old,” just physically. He was as eager to learn at 80 as in his 20s. That resonated completely with me. No matter the company I’m in, I always think of myself as one of the young kids, just setting out on the adventure of learning—whether in theology, or philosophy, or history, or economics, or climatology, or Biblical studies, or whatever.
Wednesday I spent most of the day (interrupted for a couple of hours in the middle for a fairly major dental appointment) working in the heat and humidity alongside six wonderful volunteers from Palm Vista Community Church installing the hurricane shutters on my home. If you don’t live in hurricane country, you probably aren’t familiar with hurricane shutters. They’re corrugated steel panels that bolt across your windows and range from about 40 to 96 inches in length and so weigh from about 10 to 25 pounds apiece—something like that. I’ve never weighed them—just carried them and lifted them into place. They have sharp edges.
I used to handle shutter installation pretty well, and still do for ground-floor windows, but somewhat disobedient nerves in my legs because of a ruptured disk that squeezes both sciatic nerves mean I shouldn’t climb ladders anymore. The volunteers from church handled pretty much all the ladder work.
Well, where was I? Ah, yes. I’ve never felt mentally old. But Wednesday night, after installing shutters most of the day, I was more physically sore and weak than I can recall having been any time since, when I was 22, I worked for a summer in a supermarket warehouse “picking” cases of groceries from giant shelves, loading them onto a pallet on hand-pulled forklift, and then driving them to the loading dock. I was trying to qualify for union membership at the time, and speed was of the essence, so I literally ran all through my 8-hour shift, arriving home at the end of the day so exhausted I just fell into bed and slept till the next morning. At the end of my 90-day probationary period, my speed was one-half case too low for the cut (I think it was 139.5 cases per hour instead of 140), so I lost the job.
Wednesday night I felt like that—only in addition to simple fatigue, my muscles and joints felt lots of pain. And then there was the ache of a good bruise on one ankle from a fall when the wooden stool, on which I (foolishly) stood to reach bolts too high from the ground but not high enough to justify a ladder, collapsed and I fell. (The bruise, a small cut on one fingertip, and a scratch down a calf were the only ill results.)
Thursday—which now seems a week ago, though it was just yesterday—I could hardly function through most of the day, I was so physically worn out. So I lay on a couch and got started reading Antony Alumkal’s Paranoid Science: The Christian Right’s War on Reality, which attacks Intelligent Design, the pro-life movement, Christian bio-ethics, and anthropogenic global warming skepticism. Ironically, the bad logic of which Alunkal at the start accuses Christians characterizes his own writing. So as I read, I thought, “Medice, cura te ipsum” (“Physician, heal thyself”). It’s a really wretched book, but it’s the kind of thing Christians need to refute. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).
And now as I continue writing Damaris’s “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” comforts me. (I’m hyperlinking her songs because I really do hope you’ll listen to them and find them as great a blessing as Debby and I do.)
Anyway, we got all the shutters up yesterday except those for our patio door and the window of Debby’s studio, where she’s been working on a portrait and needed the light. But today, those needed to go up, too.
First, though, Debby and I visited some neighbors to pray with and for them.
Next door are a divorced mom with her two adult daughters and roughly 10-year-old son, Colombians. The mom’s English is broken; the kids’ is fine. We prayed with them, shared the gospel, told them we were here to help. Tears flowed. I moved a ladder lying on the ground by the side of their house into our garage (no room in theirs) so it wouldn’t get turned into a potentially wall-piercing projectile by the winds.
In the next house down lives an African-English couple (migrants from England). He does story boards for some of the world’s top movie studios (you might have seen the results of his work in such films as American Treasure, Pirates of the Caribbean, Hannibal, A Night at the Museum) and is on the road much of the time. He’s in China now. So she was alone. We prayed with her, but also found that she’d not been able to get all her shutters up. So I said I’d do the rest.
As I got started, a new neighbor from across the street walked up to see if he could help out. He’s a Miami police detective, African-American, slightly taller than my 6 feet 4 inches. We first met a few weeks ago. He and I share the same name. We distinguish each other by calling him “Fit Calvin” and me “Fat Calvin” (though I’m pleased to say I’ve dropped about 16 pounds in the last two weeks). Fit Calvin worked with me until we’d finished that neighbor’s four unshuttered windows, then came over and helped me install the shutters on our patio door and studio window. All of this in 90-degree heat with probably 90-degree humidity. Welcome to south Florida!
We finished the shutters a little after noon. Then I took photos, two shelves at a time, of the roughly 9,000 books that constitute my library, and all our furniture, and uploaded them all to Dropbox so there’d be a record for insurance purposes if necessary. Then I joined Debby preparing our house for guests—prepping four guest rooms with clean linens, vacuuming the whole house, making sure we have adequate amenities for everyone.
Yes, I said guests.
When we moved to south Florida 17 years ago for me to teach at Knox, we had our 7 kids plus my mother living with us—10 total. A year later Debby’s dad, with Alzheimer’s, moved in and made it 11. (One of the consequences of the Alzheimer’s was that Grandpa wandered out of the house in the middle of the night at the height of Hurricane Frances in 2004, and when the house alarm alerted Debby and me I had to chase him down and drag his 6-foot-7-inch and shockingly strong frame back into the house.)
So it’s a big house. It had to be.
Now we’re empty nesters with four guest rooms. Debby has the most amazing gift of hospitality, so we often have people visiting or even living with us for various periods. And when it’s hurricane time, since we’re far enough inland that we’re not normally in a mandatory evacuation zone, we provide shelter to others not so well situated.
There’s a strange thing about hurricane time in south Florida. We all know hurricanes are terribly dangerous. We all know they could destroy our homes and kill us. And we take them seriously. But we also joke about them—for instance, calling Irma “Irmageddon,” and saying that if she does get into Miami, she’ll get stuck in traffic on the Palmetto and die.
Hurricane time is also party time. All the stores and businesses close up, and frankly there’s nothing much more to do for two, three, four days at a time.
So for some past hurricanes, we’ve had a family that lives close to the beach in Hollywood stay with us. He’s one of my former seminary students and now an insurance adjuster who came to south Florida from the Missouri Ozarks in 2004 for some temporary adjusting work after Hurricane Charlie—and when Charlie got followed up by two or three more hurricanes hitting Florida that year, and then several in 2005, he just moved the rest of the family down with him.
His wife’s an interpretive dancer and mime who shares the gospel through her dancing. He’s a born story-teller. They’re hillbillies (their term), but brilliantly educated. And ten years ago they launched “Christmas Near the Beach,” a party they throw for south Floridians that began with half a dozen amateur acts and perhaps a hundred onlookers and now has a couple of dozen professional performing groups and draws some 5,000.
They and their three youngest kids (one adult, two teenagers) and their two dogs (in a kennel!) will join us again for Irma. Maybe we’ll watch Key Largo again—a movie classic in which Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (my favorite actor and one of my favorite actresses) play co-stars to a hurricane. (Or maybe not.)
Our youngest son’s parents-in-law and sister-in-law, Latinos who live about five miles west of us, on the edge of the Everglades, in a home that’s definitely not hurricane-safe, will join us, too. So will their three dogs (in kennels!).
Our son and his wife live out there by her parents, but though their home is no safer, they won’t be with us for the weekend. Why not?
God has a sense of humor. Early last week both got bonuses and had vacation time coming, so at the last minute they booked a 7-day eastern Caribbean cruise, hoping to improve on their honeymoon, which bad weather and a ship full of people, including themselves, with stomach flu and seasickness ruined. This new cruise began last Sunday. A day out, it was re-routed to the western Caribbean to avoid Hurricane Irma. And a couple of days ago it was announced that it’s also being prolonged for three days—at no extra charge—because there’s no way to come safely back to port before then. So they’re off enjoying themselves. Happy honeymoon redo!
So we’ll have 8 people and 5 dogs as our guests through the weekend, and perhaps for an undetermined time afterward, as Irma does her hit-and-run on south Florida. Whether they’ll have homes to return to, neither they nor we know.
What about our own home? Well, it was built after Florida adopted new codes following the devastating Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Its first story is steel-reinforced concrete block, its second story wood frame but built to high standards, and its roof has more joists and interlocking supports than you can count—or at least it seems that way. When Wilma hit us in 2005 at Cat-4, the eye missing us by just a few miles, our loss amounted to about 50 roof tiles—some of which, unfortunately, fell on my mother’s car, which was old enough that the insurance company just totaled it. With the shutters up, the house should withstand a Cat-4, even a low Cat-5, without serious damage. That’s our hope, anyway. We do have a couple of internal rooms that we can use for shelter in extreme emergency.
So we, like most of our neighbors, with houses built to the same code, decided to shelter in place again, as we’ve done before. We’ll spend the time talking, telling stories, playing board games, reading and discussing Scripture, singing hymns together, praying, some of us watching the Oklahoma Sooners (my ex-seminary student’s alma mater) football game Saturday night (if we have power), having our own little church service Sunday morning if that’s possible with the noise of the storm at its height.
That doesn’t mean we have no fears. When Wilma was passing over in the middle of the night and we could hear roof tiles tearing off and sliding around, we were terrified. I expect we’ll experience some similar terror this time. But there are dangers involved in trying to drive away, too, with the highways packed and gas stations running out of gas and a hurricane that’s forecast to move right straight up the narrow state of Florida. Thanks, but I’d far rather weather a hurricane in our house than in our car, and there’s no mandatory evacuation order for our area, so we’re here for the duration.
As I get opportunity, I might try to follow this up with a few short blog posts as Irma comes and goes. But this, anyway, gives you a fairly personal glimpse at what one south Florida couple and friends are doing.
Your prayers for our safety will be much appreciated. More when I can.