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STORMY WEATHER - Reflecting On Our Experience With Hurricane Ian

There are lots of opportunities for lessons to be learned when you see or sense an approaching storm. These storms are as varied as the pieces that make our lives what they are, and all of them carry the need for careful thought and risk assessment.

All of us will go through storms. Some may be financial, health or injury related, work related, relational storms, spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical storms - not to mention the storms that are far beyond our control in the weather.

We all know that storms in this life are inevitable - how we go through them will make us bitter or better. Some storms are easier to go through than others, but all of them have an impact on our lives. Our response to them, as we count the cost, will determine what's next for us.

My husband and I have gone through many different kinds of storms that God has brought us through. Some turned out to be not as bad as we thought, others were costly and painful, and some have devastated us.

The most recent storm we have come through was Hurricane Ian!

In the last week, Scott and I have learned more about the unpredictability of hurricanes, storm surges, flooding, and experienced up close and personsonal the challenges that are presented to all who are affected by the enormous and uncontrolable impact of such a storm. As I reflect on all that we experienced, there are a few things that we learned and applied immediately. I believe these could apply to any storm that we face:

Lesson 1: Don’t minimize or dismiss the warning signs

-Ignoring or denying the warning signs of a coming storm doesn’t make them less than they are or make them disappear.

Lesson 2: Gather truthful information

-You will need to make informed decisions about the parts of your life that will be affected before, during, and after the storm. Go to sources that have the most truthful information.

Lesson 3: Pray and ask others to pray with/for you

-Whatever storm you are facing, you don’t have to go through it alone. In humility, press into our Heavenly Father with a heart of faith for wisdom, grace, protection and provision you need for whatever storm you are facing. You can also, pray for those who are going through it with you.

-Lean on the faith and wisdom of others who may have gone through a storm similar to the one that you are going through. They can pray for you with a deeper understanding of what is ahead of you and others who will be affected by this storm.

Lesson 4: Plan & Prepare to go through it

-Worst case scenario, you will have to go all the way through the worst of it. Don’t be deceived by the peace you might sense in the middle of it - you are only half way through.

-There are things that you can do ahead of the storm to minimize damage during the storm and the clean up after it all resettles (take care to make contacts, arrangements, secure necessities, etc.)

-Be sure to check on those who are going through this storm with you and be ready to help them.

Lesson 5: Timing is everything

-DON’T PANIC! Taking action too soon when motivated by fight or flight mindset is reactive NOT responsive.

-Pay attention to how things are unfolding and trust God to guide you in His perfect timing. As you trust Him, He will give you a calm and clear way to respond to help yourself and others.

-Don’t wait too long and miss the path, protection, and provision that God has for you.

Lesson 6: Give thanks

-The One who loves you more than anyone else ever could has heard your prayers and will answer!

-That you can pray for others as they go through their storm.

-That God may use you answer to someone else's prayer!

Our encounter with Hurricane Ian began months ago before it even existed!

Scott and I were celebrating our 40th year of marriage and our children surprised us with a party and a gift of money to pay for a vacation with a destination of our choosing! This gift was a blessing from our children, church family, and many friends! We decided to go to someplace that we had never been, Sanibel Island, Florida!!!

Our flights to and from Fort Myers, Florida, car rental, and AirBnB were paid for and secured in late March for our dream vacation! We arrived on Tuesday, Sept. 20, and checked into our temporary home on the bay with the Sanibel Causeway visible from our wall of windows in both the living room and bedroom! We were very excited to put our backsides in the sand, soak up some sunshine, and enjoy some local sights and food for the next eight days!

We enjoyed a restful day on Wednesday and were told about this tropical storm by Puerto Rico and Cuba on Thursday, and that we should watch it.

Friday was the first time that we had heard that Florida had been declared a state of emergency. We continued to occasionally check the weather and storm reports as we went to and from the island by way of the only road on and off - the Sanibel Causeway.

On Saturday, we set apart some time to drive to places we have never been before (Naples, Marco Island, Everglades National Park, Bonita Springs, Ft. Myers Beach).

Sunday we met in Ellenton and spent the day enjoying dear friends who live in cities on the Gulf coast all the way to Tampa and Orlando! While we were returning to Sanibel, we were notified that our flight out of Ft. Myers for Wednesday morning had been canceled due to Hurricane Ian. We thought, “This is starting to get serious.” (Remember Lesson 1: Don’t minimize or dismiss the warning signs)

Monday was a beautiful, clear and cooler morning so we decided to go for a drive around Sanibel and Captiva, then came back for a swim. In the early afternoon, things began to change. It got cloudy and the wind was picking up. We checked the weather and saw that the storm track for Ian was thought to be headed for the Sarasota and Tampa area, and staying offshore of the gulf side of Sanibel by about 80 miles.

There were news reports of grocery store shelves being empty, gas stations running out of gas, airports closing, and hotels for hundreds of miles were already full. We decided that it was time to do laundry and pack…just in case we would need to evacuate. Scott contacted our car rental company to see if we could get our contract extended. We knew that without a car to get out of the area we would most likely have to go to an emergency shelter, wherever that was. (Remember Lesson 2: Gather truthful information)

While our laundry was drying, we went to Cape Coral for a cup of coffee. While we were in the car, I began text our family members and church prayer team to ask for God's wisdom, protection, and guidance for what was ahead of us. As we were leaving the condo we stopped and talked to security to ask some questions about this storm and they told us to go to the office and ask them about evacuations and other information that we would need to know. We had heard that a storm surge of 9 feet was expected to hit the island and they told us that a 2 ½ foot storm surge would put our car and parking lot underwater, and that an 8 foot surge would reach the 2nd floor of the condos! They informed us that the City Council of Sanibel was meeting at 5:30 pm to discuss what decisions they were making and those that Lee County was making and we could go online and listen. (Remember Lesson 3: Pray and ask others to pray with/for you)

After we returned from Cape Coral, Scott continued to watch the storm track while I listened to the City Council meeting and finished packing. They decided on a voluntary evacuation pending the county evacuation plans for early Tuesday morning. What they said next, sealed it for me that we needed to leave. They said that they would, “Close the Sanibel Causeway at winds of 45 mph and suspend all emergency services until after the storm passed.” I understood why, but was hearing that Ian was now a Category 5 Hurricane with winds upward of 135 mph. (Remember Lesson 4: Plan & Prepare to go through it)

It was time to go!

I called Cari, our dear friend and sister in the Lord, who lived inland and was about 3 ½ hours north of where we were! She quickly and graciously invited us into her home! Little did she know that she was truly an answer to prayer for us and we will be forever grateful for her hospitality in our moment of need! We loaded up the car and left the island in search of gas. Finally, at our third gas station, we were able to fill up before they ran out.

As the sun was setting the wind was picking up and the rain was constant. We got alarms and text alerts on our phones of Hurricane Warnings, Storm Surge Warnings, and Flood Warnings with Life and Death precautions in every county we drove through. While we drove north on the interstate, there were lots of utility trucks making their way south towards the storm to staging areas to be ready to help restore power as soon as the storm lifted. We stopped for supper at about halfway to Cari’s and gas stations were out of fuel, restaurants and hotels were full and traffic on the interstate began to increase. At 11:30 pm, we finally arrived and were warmly welcomed by Cari, road weary and worn out.

There was a flurry of activity as we began our Tuesday morning. It was like a kite string had been tied to our back bumper and the storm was the kite - it kept following us at a distance. All of the warnings kept coming even where we were now, including power outages. The weathermen and reporters were kicking into non-stop 24/7 reporting to reassure people that they would keep them informed. We learned that Lee County had declared mandatory evacuation for Sanibel and much of the Fort Myers area. There were videos of bumper to bumper traffic on the roads and the interstates where we had traveled freely just 12 hours earlier. (Remember Lesson 5: Timing is everything)

We decided to fill up with gas one more time and Cari did the same, so that if we lost power we could still charge our phones to be able to communicate in the event of an emergency. So…now we pray, wait, and watch as the pictures and videos come in.

It was an intense 48 hours as curfews were issued and people were told to stay off of the roads due to flooding, debris, and downed power lines. The Fort Myers, Tampa, and Orlando International Airport closed. All of the tourist attractions and businesses closed and eventually, the turnpike was closed due to flooding. There was nowhere to go.

Finally on Thursday morning, Hurricane Ian was downgraded to a Tropical Storm from central to Southwest Florida but Daytona beach was still getting pounded. It was sad and painful to see pictures of the devastation in Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva, and Cape Coral. We had been to beautiful Fort Myers Beach last Saturday and now it was flattened, filled with boats from the marina and piles of what used to be hotels and homes. Waist high flooding in some areas as rescue efforts from nursing homes and apartment complexes were now beginning throughout the state.

I was truly thankful for the daily updates from the governor and his emergency team as they efficiently executed communication and evacuation plans as well as post storm preparations. I appreciated that county government officials did their part to work cooperatively to be positioned to help keep all people safe. I am grateful for the news stations and their tireless reporting and the weathermen paying such close attention to keep residents informed. We were thankful that this all happened toward the end of our time there instead of the beginning. (Remember Lesson 6: Give thanks)

We had no idea when or where our flight home would be rebooked but had settled in our hearts that as long as we were there, we would pray and look for opportunities to help others that may be in need.

After reaching out to our airlines and the possibility of being there for another week, Scott and our son-in-law Kyle, worked to get us a flight out of Tampa for Friday evening. It was bitter sweet to leave Cari and her sweet little dog Sophie, all of the people in the Fort Myers area and on Sanibel Island knowing the devastation, clean up and rebuild efforts that are ahead of them.

We hope that you will join us as we continue to pray for the people of Florida,

their leadership and all that concerns them in the days, weeks, months, and even years.

May God's mercy, goodness, and grace guide and direct each and every one of them in all of their endeavors!

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