A Tale of Two Tempests, Irma & Alia

A Tale of Two Tempests, Irma & Alia

It was supposed to be an uneventful road trip to Virginia and New York, concluding with a pleasant family wedding in Baltimore. After the mayhem of August, we sorely needed a stretch of sanity in our schedule. Most have read already of our momentary housing crisis that began August 5th, when we returned from Mexico and were informed that our month to month lease would not be extended, the house was sold, and we had 21 days maximum to pack, find a home, and relocate. God did the miracle, as He has so many times before. Our new home in Tarpon Springs is a perfect and peaceful provision from the Lord. We spent a mere 4 nights there before heading north for some previously planned preaching. Everything within me wanted to cancel, to stay home and unpack, unwind, and unravel my overly cluttered brain; but duty calls, and so we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps with some effort, then happily boarded our plane with full assurance that the days would pass quickly and we could return to do what normal people do when they relocate. Unfortunately, we have never been accused of being normal.

And then came Irma. She was a mere nuisance far out in the Atlantic when our trip started. Midway through our New York ministry, she had become a monster who sent everyone in her path fleeing for their lives. All the family had planned to be in Baltimore anyway for the wedding, so getting out was not a problem. Flights had been booked, thankfully, as there was not an empty airplane seat out of Florida to be found. As the hours ticked by, Irma turned directly toward Tampa. A Category 3 impact was now the best case scenario. Tampa has not been hit head on in 90 years, so unlike other parts of Florida, preparing for and dealing with hurricanes is not the specialty of our locale. The population descended into sheer panic and chaos. Our oldest son stayed home alone, watching over our new residence and watching over our dog Max. We began to regret that we had not insisted on his evacuation, as the forecasts grew more dire with each passing report.

And then came Alia, crashing with hurricane force into the uneven cobblestones of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Less than 24 hours after flying out of Irma and into Baltimore, my mother Alia was lying in agony in the Emergency Room. The diagnosis was grim: a broken knee cap, the patella split cleanly in half with a half inch separation between the two halves. The Rehearsal Dinner was set for that evening. Seven hours after admittance, Alia was summarily sent out of the hospital, doped up on morphine to cope with the pain, and informed that no surgery or even appointment was possible for at least a week. Here is your bill and “thank you very much….a taxi can pick you up at the door where you came in”.

I got the call mid way through the dinner that Mom was being brought by my niece to the hotel and help was needed to get her out and up to her room. A borrowed wheel chair from the hotel, a bit of screaming when we lost hold of her braced leg, some pathetic attempts to maneuver into and out of the tiny elevators of our ancient building, and somehow 30 minutes later we managed to get her into her room and into bed for some desperately needed rest. Before drifting off to sleep she informed me that she would not be missing the wedding: “You can push me the four blocks to the church in this wheelchair”.

Saturday, while Irma roared ashore in Florida, Alia rolled onto the floor of America’s first Cathedral in Baltimore. Unfortunately the four blocks to the church were ALL uphill…so my suit was drenched in sweat upon arrival….while Alia was resplendent in all her Grandmother of the Bride glory. While vows were exchanged, minds were racing as to the “what’s next” following the big day. Alia was refusing to wait in Baltimore for surgery, understandably desperate to get home for a recovery in familiar surroundings, and to know, as we all wanted to know, whether we would even have homes to return to. All return flights were cancelled. We had no means of transporting my badly injured mother. Lenora and I prayed and asked God to make a way where there was no way, and show us what to do.

I had one impulse on Sunday morning, and that was to drive the 30 minutes to the Baltimore Airport Enterprise Car Rental counter, where my small vehicle was due that morning, believing that God would grant us extraordinary favor. It is what He does, and it is what He did. After listening to our plight, the manager handed me the keys to a Ford Expedition Extended Luxury SUV – an 8 passenger monster with extra luggage capacity that would make 600 miles on its mega tank of gas. There would be no fee for the extra days, no mileage charges, no drop off fee for taking the vehicle to Tampa. Essentially they waved off over $1,500 in costs and told us to “get your mom safely home to Florida”. Now all we needed to do was drive 900 miles south and trust God to bring all of us safely through the storm.

Along with my older brother David, my Aunt Hannie, and Lenora, we loaded mom gingerly into the back of the SUV, put a seat down to hold up her leg, loaded every remaining square inch of the vehicle with bodies and luggage, and off we headed, barely giving Irma enough time to get out of our way. Stopping for nature’s necessities was an adventure our family will be laughing about for year’s to come. The four of us carried mom on chairs into restaurants and gas stations, and even rolled her on a luggage cart into one hotel. Once we had packed the wheelchair in we dared not start an avalanche of luggage by unpacking it at each stop…and so we improvised. When we hit mid South Carolina we found our last station with gasoline that we would find for the next 450 miles. The Army and National Guard were out in full force. Thousands roamed every exit and closed gas station looking for fuel. We hit Irma’s fierce outer bands in Georgia but kept on driving. Our 600 mile fuel capacity was a miracle gift from God. After 18 hours we drove into the eerily darkened landscape of a city without power. Thousands of trees were down along the highways. The mass and panicked return had begun and we had just gotten ahead of the bulk of returning evacuees. Most were sensible enough to wait until Irma was fully out of the way, but we needed to get Alia to the hospital, pronto!

We went straight to the E.R. in Clearwater only to by stymied again. Over 100 people had been admitted into the Emergency Room during the height of the storm. It would be a minimum wait of 8-12 hours, after which she would NOT be admitted. “You may as well take her home and wait until an orthopedist can see her”.

Gloomily we loaded my exhausted mother back into the vehicle. I lost my balance getting her out of the wheelchair and crashed back onto the floor of the SUV, with Mom landing on top of me. Even in her pain she has a hilarious sense of humor. After what we had all been through, laugher was still some of the best medicine. Arriving to our home at 6:00 AM, we rejoiced to see the lights on. We were one of the only homes in the county to still have power. Daylight revealed further miracles. Nothing had fallen or been damaged at our home. No branch thicker than my finger had broken. A dozen trees are on our property – all of them stood intact. No windows were broken, not a roof shingle was out of place. At my brother’s condominium complex in Indian Shores, every single unit was damaged….except his. At my mother’s home, one tree will have to come down; aside from a bent garage door, her home was untouched. At my Aunt’s home, the back yard fence fell, but the house was intact. At the home of our children, Derek & Melissa Cladek, there was no damage at all.

And at the home on Newbury Court where we lived just 5 weeks ago and had been utterly disappointed to leave behind?…….as of yesterday, it was one of only 8 homes remaining in Palm Harbor still without power. The neighbor’s giant oak had crashed to the ground, taking the power pole with it. It will take some time to clean up the debris. But we don’t live there anymore; we live in a place hand picked for us by our very gracious God; a home perfectly suited for the care and recovery of my mother. One month ago we fretted over potentially moving temporarily in with Alia. Today Alia has moved in with us. She will be here for the next 6-8 weeks, following surgery this Wednesday. It is another long story, but God opened a marvelous door for her to be cared for by an excellent Christian Orthopedic surgeon.

Last January I was so distraught over the repeated insistence in my spirit that God was telling me to cancel our planned outreaches to Romania and Bulgaria that were set for September of 2017. A lot of folks were looking forward to our coming. But no peace was there. Without understanding, we nevertheless obeyed. “Surely”, we thought, “there has to be some good reason why God would have us cancel so far in advance.”
Everything is crystal clear now. We are here for the immediate weeks following Alia’s surgery to provide her with the 24 hour help she will need. When I leave for South Africa October 8th, Lenora will be home to continue to serve. When we leave together for Alaska October 19th, my brother David and his wife Nancy will move in to take over.

God thinks ahead….even into eternity. God sees everything, planning and arranging for the maximum best of those who call upon His name. Living this life with Jesus is the securest way to navigate life’s journey. “As for God, His way is perfect”!