Delta Force

Be careful what you ask for; you may get it. Perhaps too many of us have been wishing for a break from the nonstop news of violent protests in major cities, Coronavirus, elections and candidates. If 2020 hasn’t been fun enough already (NOT), we have yet another hurricane breathing down our necks. Or should I say, up our bay.

After a storm in the early 1960’s.

The past 24 – 48 hours have been filled with the autopilot exercises – literally, battening down the hatches and prepping home and office for high water and heavy winds. The most difficult thing for many on the Gulf Coast, though, is the question: Should I stay or should I go?

I have friends (who live on higher ground and much farther inland) who will scream (or text, or message, or email) “YOU CAN’T BE THINKING OF STAYING!!” and then quote the weather channel, the local news, etc. “Life threatening storm surge!” “Deadly winds!” “You could die!!”

Well, that’s true. But for those who think that we along the coast take such things lightly, let me tell you: It’s a tough decision, and not one made lightly or in ignorance (regardless of what some in the media will imply).

Hurricane Hilda. This is how the National Weather Service used to track hurricanes. 1964.

I’ve always said I prefer a hurricane to an earthquake, because at least you know a hurricane is coming and you can prepare for it. You watch every update carefully, compare it to other storms in memory, and hash it out again and again with family, friends and neighbors. “Remember when Rita came in right at Sabine pass?” “Yeah, but that thing was HUGE, and it moved slow. The winds blew for over 24 hours.” It gets a lot more detailed than that. Sometimes I think that those who live in hurricane alley have as good an instinct as professional meteorologists. After all, it’s our butts on the line. If they’re wrong too many times, they lose a job. If I’m wrong, I could lose a lot more.

We’ve left before. For Andrew, for Lily. It’s a sick feeling when you nail plywood over the doors of your house right before you leave and you wonder what will be there when you return.

What’s most important? What do you bring with you? Where do you go? We are fortunate to have a range of family and friends who offer their homes, but many people are stuck with shelters. CoVid has made that even more challenging. If you leave, you could get stuck in traffic for hours. If you leave, you may not be able to get back because the roads will be closed. Sadly, there are those who know that people have evacuated – and will take advantage of that fact.

If you stay, be prepared to be without electricity, water, and perhaps even without cell phone. If there is a storm surge, be prepared.

Making this decision is never taken lightly. But when you do stay, there is an eerie beauty to a hurricane. We’re powerless in the face of Mother Nature, and I have sat in awe on my porch as the wind bends the sugar cane and the trees. I have felt sick to my stomach watching the water rise higher and higher, with no idea of when it would stop.

There are funny things, too…like the time my brother, dressed in his nightshirt, carried his dog (a 60 pound pooch) alllllll the way out of the yard to the middle of the highway (the ONLY spot NOT underwater) so said pooch could go potty. And my husband “boatlifting” my parents with their cat to the house next door because it was a bit higher than their house, and the water was getting too close for comfort. (The cat was more freaked out than anyone.)

My husband and I spent our 18th wedding anniversary ripping up soaked carpet and throwing out ruined furniture from our office. Happy Anniversary, hon. We – with family and friends – went to Chili’s in town that night, as they had a generator and AIR CONDITIONING. Everyone in the place was grungy, sweaty, dirty because no one had electricity or water at home. No one cared. I still think that may be the best tasting margarita I ever had.

Anyone who lives through hurricanes on a regular basis has their benchmark storms. Hilda, Andrew, Rita. There were many others, but those three stand out in my mind.

After the storm surge passed, Hilda, 1964

Andrew tore our roof off, one year after we’d moved into the house. I was 7 1/2 months pregnant at the time. Every guy in the family came to the house the morning after the storm and got busy with solid-sheeting the room and covering it with tar paper.

My children remember Rita. We had fairly high water, and they enjoyed paddling the boat around the place. That was also the memorable 18th wedding anniversary.

The kids enjoyed the storm surge with Rita. BTW, that’s our yard.

Hilda – ah, Hilda. Winds of 125. It was a few weeks before my 5th birthday, and I vividly remember it. We left to go to central Louisiana to stay with family, but heard the storm had changed course so we returned home.

Then it changed course again. We went back home. (This was in the years before storm tracking apps and websites – we waited for the next coordinates and tracked the storms on a chart…using the same chart for years so as to be able to compare storms.

My aunt after Hilda

Then, Hilda changed course again and came right in our backyard. We were without power or water or telephones for two weeks.

I’m not sure yet exactly where Delta will show up, but I hope her wind speed drops. At the moment, it’s going for Cameron and Calcasieu parishes – which got the worst of Laura.

Praying for Divine protection of life, home, and property.

Volunteer Labor

One of the guys at the camp is a member of the Cajun Navy – at least as far as the term “member” can be used with the group. If you haven’t heard, the Cajun Navy is an unofficial group of folks from south Louisiana who, at their own expense and on their own time, offer assistance in flood situations. To put it in a nutshell, they show up with their boats and rescue people.

While this has been going on for some time here around home (there are plenty of folks who fish, hunt, own boats, and flooding has happened for a long time), the Cajun Navy burst into public awareness last year during the flooding in Louisiana of 2016.

Cajun Navy in action

Cajun Navy in action

Now, the Cajun Navy is part of the rescue response to the flooding of Hurricane Harvey. Paul (one of the guys at the camp) was able to get to Vidor, Texas, and one simple word summed up what was going on: Catastrophe. Back at home, the rest of us are looking for ways to help.

I think that the president summed up the feelings of most Americans when he referred to the outpouring of help and support as a beautiful thing. From my point of view, there is nothing surprising there. Natural disaster = helping each other.

water everywhere

Water everywhere.

A few days ago the Sacred Sisters (my prayer group) prayed for all affected, all who were helping, and asking for guidance – what can each of us do? I commented that my only surprise in this response is the surprise of the rest of the world – wow, look at everyone helping each other!

Well, of course! That’s what we do, isn’t it? Is it a reflection on the world that so many are surprised at the outpouring of help directed towards “complete strangers?”

Compassion. For Christians, it is being the hands of Christ. A non-Christian won’t use those words, but it’s still compassion and kindness.

We are all seeking ways to help. Sorting donated clothing for distribution to evacuees far from home. Cooking for evacuees and volunteers. Rounding up helpers. Collecting water and supplies for those who can go to affected areas. For every helper we see on the news, there are hundreds and thousands more working quietly behind the scenes, doing whatever they can.

Cajun sorting 2

Sorting donations for evacuees in our area

The elderly lady making cole slaw in her kitchen. The overworked professional saying “what do they need?” and giving money. The school children collecting socks.

Maybe it’s because we know first hand the helplessness of floods. Maybe it’s because we know that there are thousands of large and small losses in each family, in each life. Perhaps we respond in part because we know the long, hard road that awaits the evacuees when they can get back home.

Rita flood

Why we build our houses “up.” Hurricane Rita.

Then again, maybe it’s just because that’s what we do.

Perhaps the “surprise” and the “news” expressed by the media, and all across social media, aren’t so much surprise as backlash reactions to the hate-filled stories that have filled the mainstream news media outlets. No, that narrative is NOT what America is about. It’s NOT what the southern states are about. It’s NOT who we are.

THIS is who we are: People who give a damn. People who care about others, regardless of their skin color or faith. People who will get creative and not sit around to be told where and how to help, but who will find a need and address it, even if it’s taking the bass boat on the road or buying extra toothpaste and underwear to share with those who left home without anything – or something as unassuming as shredding cabbage for cole slaw or folding, sorting and stacking donated clothing.

Cajun sorting 1

Clothes, food, toiletries, donations pouring in.

This Labor Day, there are many, many Americans who are giving of their time, funds and labor to help others. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday.

The Power of Prayer

If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. ~ Lao Tzu

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. ~ Jill Jackson

Once again we are inundated with news of a terrorist bombing; this time in Brussels.  The world responds with sadness, anger, and prayers for peace; all of this happening during the Christian Holy Week.  Then, there is the backlash: “Prayers and flowers don’t work, do something real!”

Pardon me, but there are many of us throughout the world who believe in the power of prayer. We are not bible-hugging brainwashed imbeciles, contrary to what much of the media would have one believe. I myself am a great skeptic and a born-again cynic, but I believe in the power of prayer.

I believe because I’ve seen the results.  Prayer changes us, and thus prayer can change the world.  Perhaps those who cry for something more concrete are doing so because they feel powerless.  They’ve heard of miracle cures, but perhaps never saw the cure they thought they should see in a loved one.  Prayers are answered, but not always as we expect or even ask.

Epiphany bare altar

Holy Saturday at Epiphany

Prayers for healing may result in a miraculous bodily cure, which may or may not be assisted by medical intervention.  Or they may result in not the healing of the body, but the healing of the spirit – or the healing of an entire family, once broken, but drawn together in love once again.

Some of the more eye-opening answered prayers I’ve witnessed have been things such as Hurricane Lili in 2002 which suddenly slowed from a category 5 to a category 2 right before making landfall in south Louisiana.  Or my mom’s healing from an aneurysm that burst in her brain – which spontaneously healed up and quit bleeding.

“Oh yeah, do you think God’s gonna send a band of angels to fix this?” (Well, they do show up with the Armed Forces…) “What do you think prayer is going to do?”

What will prayer do?  If nothing else, prayer changes the one who practices it.  Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher and songwriter Jill Jackson were separated by 25 or so centuries, and both pointed out this basic truth: Peace begins with the individual.

“It’s not ME, it’s THEM.”  Yeah, I know. But I can’t change “them.”  I can, however, change myself, and prayer helps me.  Heck, even atheists say “be good for goodness’ sake.”  If you can’t, don’t, or won’t believe in a power greater than yourself, you can at least look at human nature and see the power of the group. Your own inner peace, your goodness for whatever reason, has a positive effect on the group(s) to which you belong.

How can our simple prayers, half a world away, change what is happening beyond our own community?  I could simply say “that’s where faith comes in.”  I know people who respond this way. I wish I could.

Cynic that I am, however, I have to let my brain chew things over.  So I pray, I think of the anger and hatred in the world, and open my heart, mind and spirit to the question of “what can I, one person, do?’

I look at the world around me and am moved to act.  My eyes are open.  These terror acts are tied up in the world of international relations, foreign policy, national defense…ah, and there’s an election this year. Some areas of our country have several races on their ballots.  I can become as informed as I possibly can be about the situations and the candidates, and make the best decision that I can.

I can rattle the phones and in-boxes of my elected representatives. I can get involved in local efforts to make a difference in my own community.  I can donate time and funds to causes I believe in. I can send cleaning supplies with a friend traveling to a flooded section of Louisiana, knowing through personal experience that even a small helping hand from a stranger can give one the strength to get through a disaster. I can join my voice to those of others in song, in prayer, in protest.

praying hands

Never doubt the power of prayer, and never doubt the power of shared intention.  You want a more concrete example?  How about fundraisers that ask a lot of people for just a dollar or two? My few bucks are just a drop in the bucket, but add that to a million people and that’s a huge, powerful bucket. I believe it’s the same with prayer.

This past Holy Week at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany has seen a dramatic increase in mid-week attendance. Last Sunday, and again at last night’s Good Friday service, Fr. Matt spoke about what one individual can do.  From the hyperactive media as a whole to individual citizens, we are asking the question “What can I do?” We are coming together in search for answers, sharing and growing the intention and desire for peace.

Lynn McTaggert, author and architect of The Intention Experiment, is one who has been experimenting with the effects of group intention.  Larry Dossey is a physician and author who has done extensive work with the efficacy of prayer as a healing modality.  These, and many others, are looking at nonphysical interventions such as prayer and meditation in a structured way – and finding what many of us know anecdotally to be true actually is demonstrable.  No one suggests that an ailing person abandon all medical intervention and rely on prayer alone, but prayer is a part of a multifaceted approach to healing.

It is the same when it comes to healing the world.  Whether we are hoping to heal the spirit, the body, or the world, prayer has an important place, if for no other reason than it helps peace to begin with me.

When you think about it, that’s really the only place that peace can begin.

Hurricane Rita: Ten Years

Ten years ago, hurricane Rita (“the forgotten hurricane”) tore through southwest Louisiana. It was only 3 weeks after hurricane Katrina had captured national attention.  Katrina had slammed New Orleans and coastal areas to the east; obliterating coastline communities throughout Mississippi and Alabama. Rita took care of the rest of Louisiana (and southeast Texas as well).

A few weeks before Katrina was even a blip in the Atlantic, I had pulled out a song I’d written after a concert at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi, Mississippi. This area had been hard hit in 1969 by Hurricane Camille, a storm of legend, and the church (which was situated right across the highway from the Gulf) had been destroyed in that storm.  Only the bell tower remained, and photos were on display in the parish hall. The song, Wall of Water, was one that my band, Blue Merlot, agreed was one to include on a CD we were planning.

A few weeks later, Katina hit.  Then Rita.  Our CD project was delayed in a big way.  Eventually, though, it was recorded.  Even later, we pulled together bits of video recorded (some months after Rita) and hurricane photos for a video:

A wall, a wall of water, 30 feet high…where you gonna run to when the sea becomes the sky?