- - Sunday, September 10, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Sunny skies belied the danger posed by the swirling satanic storm headed our way. As my husband nailed the last of the hurricane shutters on our Southwest Florida barrier island home, I felt a deep sadness.

Taking in the image of the beautiful and peaceful property one last time before we evacuated, I resigned myself to the reality that it might be completely destroyed by the impending hurricane.

Everything we enjoy and share on Little Gasparilla Island is because of God’s immense generosity toward us. Although he graciously allowed us to be stewards of this paradise on earth, it has always belonged to him. We are so very grateful for every moment that we have lived and worked in such a setting, even if those days are now over.

If our little island is obliterated, it will rip my heart to shreds. I have walked the shores of Little Gasparilla since I was 10 years old, and came to know Jesus in deep and abiding ways through his beautiful creation there. The magnificent sunsets; the patterns, colors and mathematical composition of the shells; the amazing flight of the spectacular birds; the majesty of the manatee; the grace of the dolphin and so much more all bear witness to intelligent design. They testify to the existence of a loving Creator who delights in beauty and in us.

Among my most poignant childhood memories are nights spent with my entire family on a beach blanket, soaking in the majesty of the sparkling stars and galaxies that cover the sky. We didn’t have AC in those days, so my parents would take all four of us kids to the beach after dinner, where we would doze off in the gentle breezes until the house cooled down a bit.

On Sunday mornings, given there was no church on the bridgeless barrier island, Dad would gather us and read Psalm 103. He always seemed to choke back tears when he read the verse, “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those that fear him.”

As I write this, I am begging for God’s mercy.

The predictions for the island are dire: sustained winds over 100 mph for hours, with gusts up to 140 mph, and a storm surge that is predicted to cover the entire island, flooding every home with up to 10 feet of seawater. Our house and two vacation cottages are on a bay-to-beach stretch of island that is fewer than 300 yards wide, and it’s quite possible that they will be swept out to sea.

As anyone who lives in a coastal state knows, we have been keenly aware that we are vulnerable to hurricanes. Yet in the island’s entire history since being formed from a Gulf sandbar in the late 1800s, it has never suffered a direct hit. Time, it seems, was not on our side.

As you read my words, the storm already will have inflicted its worst. It’s frustrating to realize that it may be days or even weeks before we can return to survey the damage.

We praise God that we escaped with our lives, that we can still serve him, wherever that may be. There will be many who will lose everything as Irma wreaks havoc throughout my beloved Florida and other Southern states. Some already have lost their lives and others probably will. I’m praying earnestly for the protection of everyone still in harm’s way and for the Holy Spirit to comfort those who mourn.

When forces beyond our control destroy everything we hold dear, it is critical that we not permit the storm to also destroy our faith. Although our hearts may be broken with what we discover in the aftermath of Irma, we are praying that our faith will only be strengthened.

When we go through life’s biggest trials, we remind ourselves of comforting, eternal truths: God loves us unconditionally; his ways are not our ways; his grace is sufficient for each day as it unfolds; every blessing and every thing we enjoy is on loan from him.

When crisis comes, how do we make sure that we do not become people of only “fair weather” faith? By falling to our knees in prayer, by humbling ourselves before him, by crying out from the depths of our pain for his grace, and by praising him in the midst of the storm.

May we always lift our hearts and arms in praise for who he is: the King of Kings, the Great I Am, the Prince of Peace, the One, the Creator! He is worthy of our praise in every circumstance. God loves us all so very much that he died for us while we were still sinners. And even though we cannot make sense of personal disaster, he remains all-powerful, all-loving and is ever-present for us.

In this storm I am listening to and clinging to a song from Casting Crowns that has become the prayer of my heart. It’s called “Praise You in This Storm,” and it can be found on YouTube.

Even though you may not be facing a trial through Irma, you will face trials in your life. I pray that when such times come, this will be the song of your heart too. May we all discover the peace that passes all understanding as we praise and seek him in the midst of all the storms of our lives.

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@rebeccahagelin.com.

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