As I sit here on my front porch overlooking countless piles of debris and water receding from my yard, I have mixed emotions. I can’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude because our family and our home is safe. But there’s a sense of grief as well because I know so many who can’t say the same.
There are hundreds of thousands of people with significant structural damage and millions more who have undergone significant emotional stress.
And as I press into the Lord for wisdom on how to navigate the days ahead, He reminds me that there’s often unrecognized beauty in disaster.
In fact, that’s the hope and the promise of the gospel—peace in the midst of storms.
From that place, I feel led to share a few thoughts that may provide hope in the difficult days ahead as we all begin the path towards restoration.
On Friday, September 14th, Hurricane Florence made landfall just east of my hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. Then, in unprecedented fashion, she stalled and drug through the Carolinas like a wet mop soaking everything in her path.
For more than a week now, we’ve been dealing with the preparation, impact and aftermath of this storm. And sadly, it is something we will be dealing with for months to come.
As I navigate my own stress, I’ve found it helpful to look for daylight, even in the darkest places.
The Power of a Plan
The decision to stay or evacuate was a difficult one. While I won’t get into that debate, I will shed some light on the importance of having a plan.
Once Hurricane Florence had our attention, we had to make a decision on how we would respond. Once we made that decision, we had to slow down and make a plan.
Too often we move so fast that we end up reacting to most circumstances in life. In short, we make decisions, but we live without a plan. Whether it’s our finances, our careers, our marriages, our physical health, or our spiritual life, we have to couple our decisions with a certain direction—a plan.
But it’s important to note that plans don’t fix circumstances, they help you navigate those circumstances with greater peace.
Disasters have a way of creating the most unlikely connections. For us, that meant spending a few days with a British filmmaker. We had the privilege of connecting with James Levelle, an adventure-seeking Brit who was filming a documentary for the BBC. We can’t share the details, but we can tell you to tune in to the series Hurricane Man when it’s released.
James quickly became part of the Ham family. We treated him to boiled peanuts and he treated us to the pleasure of his British accent and adventure stories.
I happened to snap this picture during the height of the storm of James and Sara James. It echoes the words we shared as James left our home, “It’s weird to say, but the past few days have been beautiful.”
Look for unlikely connections in the coming days. They will be a beautiful blessing.
Humbled by the Power of God
Hurricane Florence gave us an up-close experience of the power of God.
In a world whose opinion of God grows increasingly jaded, these moments give us a healthy dose of humility. There are forces beyond our control whose power we cannot grasp. If we’re willing to yield, these moments of humble reverence provide a fresh perspective.
Although the damage is significant, the world watched as the storm downgraded from a category 4 to a category 1 just 36-hours before landfall. As if God was showing us His hand, then showing us His grace.
As the proverb says, “The fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.”
Time With Your Kids
There was a moment during the middle of the storm where our family of six huddled around a flashlight in the bedroom closet. Their childlike excitement and wonder moved me to tears. In that moment, time stood still.
One day, my kids will grow up and leave home. And on that day, I will remember the day when all six of us sat on our closet floor during Hurricane Florence. Our schedules were clear. There were no distractions from iPads or televisions or cellphones. There was no arguing or bickering. It was just me and my family, together.
Hurricane Florence reminded me to be committed to making as many of these moments as possible. In the days ahead, remember that you’re making moments that will last a lifetime.
Getting to Know Your Neighbors
When the power’s out after a storm and everyone’s been cooped up inside for days, the neighborhood comes together in the street. Over the past few days, I’ve been able to connect with many neighbors that I hadn’t previously known.
Andy helped me dig a trench, Julie helped rake the yard while her kids played with ours, Gerry let me borrow his sump pump, Jane stopped by to see how we were doing and Rob and I tried to break into Norm’s house because his garage door wouldn’t work.
But it’s not just about my neighborhood, it’s about my digital neighbors as well.
Over the past week, I’ve received phone calls from friends all over the country checking to see how we were doing. The prayers and the encouragement have forged a newfound hope in the power of community.
I think the point is simple but profound. Get to know your neighbors and be sure to check in with your friends.
Choosing People Over Prejudice
Of all that I’ve experienced over the past few days, this is the most significant.
There’s unity in disaster.
Our world has become increasingly inclined to choose our prejudices over people. We let race and party lines divide us. We constantly bicker and fight on the news and social media.
But vulnerable moments of tragedy remind us that beneath our facade, we are people—people who want and need to be loved.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, our eyes haven’t seen black or white, young or old, democrat or republican. Our eyes have seen people. And our hearts have been more open to love.
In the days ahead, may Wilmington and Southeastern North Carolina become a beacon for the rest of the world to see that it is possible to choose people over our prejudice.
When we do that, restoration is waiting.