Is God punishing or loving?

There is always some truth in a stereotype. The sense of God conveyed in the New Testament is more approachable, in general, whereas the God conveyed in the Old Testament is more awesome, in general....

Life After Frances

Post-Hurricane Reflections from a Weary Floridian

Written by Marcia Ford

Excerpted from an essay written in the fall of 2004.

Tragedy is said to bring out the best and the worst in people, and that proved to be true during the C through J segment of this year’s hurricane season. The news —at least so I hear, from those who actually had television service during that time—was filled with reports of price-gouging and vandalism and fights breaking out in long lines of weary residents just wanting a bag of ice or a bag of food or even a bag of sand to keep the rising floodwaters at bay. But that’s not what I witnessed. What I saw were incredibly patient people, kinder than usual, cutting everyone else some slack, making actual eye contact with each other, and smiling empathetically even though they had no way of knowing whether one person’s loss was greater than theirs, or whether another person’s life had been turned upside down or only mildly disrupted. None of that mattered; in the wake of so much upheaval, we had become a kinder, gentler people.

Life has since resumed a veneer of normalcy. Everyone has power, the gas stations have actual gas, and people are free to be crabby again if they feel like it. But it’s hard to exercise the freedom to be crabby when the people you encounter continue to look so tired, so defeated, so beaten down--and when you realize you look just like they do. We Americans may be a resilient people, but we do have a breaking point. And we Floridians came much too close to ours this year.

Two weeks after the last storm blew through, I ran into a casual friend I’ll call Beth. We smiled and hugged and began to swap storm stories. At first she laughed and told stories about the challenges of bunking for a week with another family. The longer she talked, though, the weaker her voice became. I recognized the syndrome immediately—and I knew I was losing her. Her mouth kept moving, her voice kept uttering intelligible words, but her mind had retreated to a private, shadowy place, a place in her memory where the sound of Frances’ winds would never be completely silenced. Her voice eventually trailed off to a near-whisper, and with a polite “good to see you,” Beth walked away, lost in remembered pain. I wondered if she would even recall our encounter later on—or if, instead, the mere thought of the storms was strong enough to erase later memories. I tend to think it was.

Sometime between Frances and Ivan, a friend asked this question: “Is God mad at us Floridians or what?” My answer at the time was “what”—in other words, it’s just weather, not the wrath of a vengeful God. My answer today, though, would be a different one: It was more than just weather; it was an opportunity to discover more about ourselves than maybe we wanted to know. Did we face the storms with fear or with faith? Were we concerned only about ourselves, or did we truly care about our neighbors’ welfare? And just how willing were we to share whatever we had with those who needed it? As long as we refuse to wallow in self-condemnation, reflecting on questions like that can bring us closer to becoming the person we’ve wanted to be all along.

As for me, well, I figure I’ve made great strides toward becoming that person if I can just continue to be a bit more patient in long supermarket lines and a touch kinder to crabby people and a whole lot more grateful for the neighbors [who, thanks to the lack of trees in the yard] I’m able to see now. Most of all, though, I’m trusting God to show me how to help Beth—and others—fill up the empty places the storms left behind.

Copyright©2004 Marcia Ford.