Last week my husband, two toddlers and I traveled down to Spanish Wells Island in the Bahamas to visit my sister, her husband and their four kids (age 9 and younger). My mother went with us, so we were 11 in all. At first, it was a dream vacation. My mom graciously rented my family a beach house on the most pristine beach I've ever experienced.
For two days we enjoyed the sand and sea, watching our two little ones run screaming and laughing into the knee-deep, calm, crystal-clear ocean (Lily yelling "POOL!" at the top of her lungs). We met all of the wonderful folks on the Island, people who have welcomed my sister's family with open arms. We went to church, went deep-sea fishing, sang karaoke, and more.
Then, on Monday the 22nd we heard the news: the men were on their way back; the storm was coming.
You see, most folks on Spanish Wells operate lobster boats. The men are out to sea from August through April, filling and emptying traps. They had been gone three weeks. Their wives had heard from them on the satellite phones that morning: the guys were racing ahead of the storm and should be home in the middle of the night. This was serious; Hurricane Irene was not going to miss us.
The next few days were a flurry of activity all over the 2 mile long x 1/2 mile wide island, where nobody's a stranger. Neighbor helped neighbor as boards went up, generators were tested, food was cooked, and water was stocked. Strangers in a strange land, we joined in as best we could, thanking God we were with 'locals' who knew exactly what to do. By the time we knew the storm was headed right for us, all flights were either full or had been cancelled. We had no choice but to weather the storm.
We were planning to abandon the beach house and ride it out at my sister's place, but she doesn't have a generator. Some very generous friends of hers, Georgina and Nyles Roberts, invited all 11 of us to their place. In total, we were 17 in a four-bedroom house for over 24 hours.
The following are some excerpts from my journal, written as I rode it out. I'm sure I'll have more to say on this subject in future posts - it was a life-changing experience.
Wednesday, August 24th, 7 a.m. local time (Bahamas):
"All snuggled in bed with kids. Justin's on the beach getting quiet. The rain has started and it's starting to blow. Hurricane should be here tomorrow. I was terrified Monday, but now I feel like it will be fine. Maybe I'm delusional, but I'm actually excited to see your majesty and power displayed. I hope I get to see the waves crashing before it gets too dangerous and we have to leave the beach. I hope everyone is safe, of course...."
Thursday, August 25th, 8 a.m. local time (Bahamas):
"Psalm 135 at 6 a.m. when I finally gave up and just got up. Storm woke me up at 2, 3, 5, and (finally) 6. It scared me last night, the creaking and moaning and gusting and rattling (of the tin shutters covering the windows in the small room where the four of us slept). But now, when there's light and power and people are awake...well, now, I'm having a blast.
"I know it sounds strange, but there's a thrill that comes when standing in the middle of your majesty, quite literally. It makes me happy to experience your power, to know - in the most real sense - how truly small I am. There is freedom in limitation. I may have no control over what's happening around me, but you do, and I can trust that.
"I wonder if I would feel differently if I were more exposed, like the Haitians in the shanty-town we visited yesterday. This home is solid. It made me think of: 'and I will hide you in the shadow of your wings.' This gives a whole new dimension to that imagery. I am hidden, sheltered, surrounded by - not a flimsy set of feathers - but a solid wall of steel and iron pillars carved in the shape of a wing. Safe and secure and comforting like a mother's wing, and firm and reassuring like an underground shelter. Yes, even as the wind and water whip around us, we are hidden because we are wrapped in you.
"Surrender. That's what I'm feeling. Earlier this week I was panicky and terrified, full of worst-case-scenario day-mares. But, since yesterday, there has been a deep peace. This thing is coming. As the locals kept saying, all we can do is prepare the best we can and ride it out. May I face all such sotrms in my life with the same attitude.
"There's a frog outside our window. Its croak sounds like a duck's quack. I can 'feel' the ebb and flow of the storm by the poor creature's cries. When it's blowing hard out there, the croaks are fast and frequent, like rapid-fire gunshots. When there's a reprieve, we experience silence together, as if we're all - earth, sky, and sea - taking a deep, communal breath."
Thursday, August 25th, 9 a.m. local time (Bahamas):
"Justin went out with Michael and Nyles and Luke earlier. I think it's 9:15 right now, and we're in the eye. It is dead calm outside, in an eery way. The Boykins have gone to check on their house. Mom is sleeping. The four of us are now holed up in our room. When Justin went out, he said it was truly awesome. I can tell the locals are sad about the destruction that's happened already. They have a lot of work ahead of them."
Thursday, August 25th, 10 a.m. local time (Bahamas):
"Eye has passed. We're on the back side now. Both houses and all boats seem to be okay. Damage is mostly fallen trees. Mom is sick. Kids are hanging in there. 15 out of 17 holed up in this house are awake. Please help Lily - she's showing attitude and seems to be overwhelmed."
Thursday, August 25th, 1 p.m. local time (Bahamas):
"Just had our first meltdown. Gunnar lost it, poor child. He's hot and sweaty and over-tired. Justin is on edge. I'm starting to faint. Lily is sound asleep, praise you. I didn't expect the heat - it's oppressive. Please help Gunnar fall asleep. And please let the storm pass soon. We are weary."
Thursday, August 25th, 3:37 p.m. local time (Bahamas):
"Wheels are coming off. Kids are stir CRAZY. We're 18 1/2 hours into our sojourn to the Robers' home. I'm so thankful for their hospitality (and their generator), but we're all a little on edge, even the adults."
Friday, August 26th, 6 a.m. local time (Bahamas):
"Back at the Boykins' last night. The storm kept us up again last night. That is, until it finally passed, probably around 2 a.m. I was awakened by Lily at 3 a.m. I thought the power had been restored, but no such luck. I'm disappointed - we won't go home today."
Saturday, August 27th, 6 a.m. local time (Bahamas):
"Everyone's asleep. Thank you for this alone time with you. I got a hot shower last night thanks to some other friends of the Boykins. My attitude immediately changed after that and some alone, quiet time with my nuclear family.
"Power and water are now restored, praise you. The locals have all of the major debris picked up (it was finished by noon on Friday!). Now it's down to details and second homes/boats and such. There are still roofs to be fixed, but it looks like we won't have rain today. The way they have all come together to weather this thing has changed me forever. Is this how people are supposed to live in the Kingdom? Without complaint and with constant care for each neighbor? I am humbled by their attitudes. I will never forget them."
Linking up with the faithful ladies at Soli Deo Gloria today. Thanks for all your prayers, ladies!