THE DIFFERENCE A DAY CAN MAKE

August 28, 2005 – 4:30 am…

…phone rings…

“Hello”

 “Tony, where are you?”

 “I’m at home in bed, where else would I be?”

 “You haven’t left?!  We left last night.”

 “No I’m not leaving.”

 “Man, you need to pack it up and get out of there! This is the one.  It’s going to be bad!”

 “C’mon.  How many times have we been through this?  The media hypes it up.  They get everyone all wound up and then it ends up being nothing.  I don’t want to get stuck in all that traffic just to turn around and come back tomorrow.”

 “Tony, you need to leave. Please man.  Get out of there.”

 “Okay, I’ll go check out the weather and maybe we’ll go.  Ya’ll be careful.  Hey, let’s plan on meeting up next weekend at the swim club and cooking out or something.”

 “Okay man, just go.  See ya.”

 “See ya later.”  

 …phone hangs up…

 “Who was that?” 

 “John.  He’s all wound up about the storm, saying we should evacuate.”

 “Tony maybe should go.  This thing looks pretty bad.”

 “Okay, Let me go check it out.  We’ll see. Go get some stuff together just in case we decide to leave.”

That was the start of a day my life would forever be changed.

August 28th became the last day of an era that would become known as “Pre-Katrina”.

For those of us that had flooded and wind damaged homes, lost all of our possessions and worse yet lost the lives of our family and friends, Hurricane Katrina forever marked us. This was a disaster of Biblical proportions.  Many questioned their faith and God.  Others even said it was God’s way of cleansing a city and a region that was overtaken by sin, similar to The Flood in Genesis and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

For me personally, just prior to Hurricane Katrina my life was going really well.  A couple of years earlier I had gone through a pretty rough divorce and I was at a point in my life where I had gotten over it. Just 8 months earlier I had started a new career with one of the largest oil companies in the world.  My relationship with my daughter Taylor couldn’t have been better.  And finally after dating around a bit, I met Raynell who was absolutely amazing.  She was gorgeous (way too hot to be hanging with me) and had a beautiful daughter of her own named Mallory.  I don’t know if she knew it at the time, but I certainly knew she would be my wife in the very near future.

*Spoiler Alert!*

We did get married and have been so happily for over 12 years now and have a Post-Katrina baby, our 7-year-old son Matt.

But as they say, I digress.

As I was saying, I was doing pretty well.  Things were really looking up.  I had a great job, financially I was very secure for the first time in many years, and things were lining up to start a family again.  I was feeling very blessed.

24 hours after that early morning phone call… I wasn’t feeling blessed.

That morning on August 28th, after watching the weather and seeing the looks on Raynell and the girls faces, I figured we’d better pack it up and get out. That may have been the smartest decision I have ever made in my life.  Had I stayed, I would not be writing this blog.  My house was flooded to the peak of the roof and a tornado knocked the back half down.  I seriously doubt we would have made it out.

We left that morning about 9:30 am for Houston.  If I remember correctly it wasn’t until about 3 or 4 am that we made it to the hotel.  We got in, brought everything up, I put my head on the pillow, fell asleep and a few minutes later my phone was ringing. It was my sister in Georgia.  She asked me if I was sitting down.  I think my response was something like “Well, I was laying down trying to get some sleep”.  Needless to say I was pretty cranky after the drive to Houston.  She told me to turn on Fox News and so I did.  That’s when reality punched me right in the face.

It wasn’t the images on the screen that hit me.  It was the fact that the small suburb of New Orleans I lived in was listed in the scroll on the bottom of the screen.  I’ll never forget it.

“Chalmette, Louisiana: 9-12 ft. of flooding”.

The scroll didn’t say New Orleans. It said Chalmette!  There are people in the state of Louisiana who don’t know where Chalmette is, but Chalmette made the scroll on Fox News Channel.

The feeling was so surreal.  I was seeing it, but not believing it.  There must’ve been some mistake.  There was no way.  Fox had it wrong.  This is not how it happens.  Never does it happen this way.  Since I’m a little kid, storms get in the gulf, the media goes in a frenzy, “New Orleans is going to be wiped out”, they drag out the old local weathermen who have since retired, and at the end of the day it makes a turn, weakens, or something, but we never suffer a major hit.

I think I may have even verbalized to my sister something like, “That’s gotta be a mistake.  That’s not true.”  How silly that sounds now.

Once the reality settled in, I remember thinking, “God what are you doing?  Why did you let this happen?”

That my friends, was the first of many incorrect thoughts I had throughout the Katrina event and subsequent recovery.

This event reminds me a bit of the story of Job in the Old Testament.  Job has an entire book in the Bible dedicated to a season of tragedy in his life and how he handled it. We can learn a lot from Job’s story.

The Bible says Job was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” 

 Despite this Job experienced terrible calamity in his life.  In a very short period of time his possessions were stolen, servants and children killed and he was struck with terrible boils from head to foot.  Things were so bad even Job’s wife turned on him.

In Job chapter 2 we read, “His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.”

Wow! The Bible doesn’t say this, but I bet Job was thinking, “Geez everything was taken from me, why couldn’t she have been taken too?!”

The story continues and at first Job seems to hold firm to his faith but then we are introduced to his 3 friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  These guys start to lecture Job with reasons this is all happening to him.  They make the assumption that Job must have some sin in his life or done something wrong and as a result has angered God and brought this all upon himself.

Don’t you love these guys?  We all have these friends.  You know the ones that come and tell us everything we are doing wrong when our kids are acting up or we have issues in our marriage or there is a problem at work. We’re just looking for some sound advice and a shoulder to lean on but instead we get a tongue lashing on what a horrible person we are!

Job then finds himself caught up in a debate with his friends attempting to prove his innocence.  He also starts to question God as to why He is doing this to him.  Job speaks of his former blessings, current anguish and innocence to the point that his friends quit debating him because he will not admit his guilt to God.  There is another character that enters in the debate, Elihu.  Elihu is younger than the other 3 and has kept quiet up until this point because he feels the elders should be the ones chastising Job.  When they stop Elihu becomes angered and has to say his piece.   He rambles on for several chapters blasting Job.

Job doesn’t answer Elihu.  When Elihu is finished the next person we hear from is God.  I’m not sure if Job chose not to answer Elihu or if God just popped in to put and end to all of this before Job could respond.  Either way God made his presence known in a big way.

Chapter 38 of Job starts off, Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: ‘Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’”

This is like dad coming home from work after you and your siblings had been acting up for mom all day.  “UH OH, DADDY’S HOME!”

Daddy was home all right.  God spends almost the last four chapters questioning Job.  It basically boils down to “Who do you think you are to question me – God?” Job even tries to interject at one point seemingly to say, “I understand, you can stop now.”  But God keeps rolling on.

Finally God finishes and Job gives his final response.

Job 42: “Then Job replied to the Lord: ‘I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’  It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far to wonderful for me.

God then dealt with Job’s friends and fully restored Job to double what he had before.

I don’t claim to fully understand tragedies like Hurricane Katrina or what Job went through.  But I do hold to the belief that God does not cause them.  As we see with Job, God may allow them to happen, but he doesn’t cause them.  You might try to draw the conclusion that if you allow something to happen you might as well have caused it.  That is a worldview we hold to at times but it doesn’t hold true in the case of God. It goes back to how God designed the world giving us free will and then us using free will to allow sin to enter in to the world.  With sin comes tragedy, calamity, illness, and death.  Basically anything that is bad.  It may sound crazy, but it’s true.  It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve and the fall.

So while I do not believe that God necessarily causes tragedies like Katrina, I definitely believe that He uses them to change our direction and even show us he’s there with us by blessing us in the tragedy.

Let me put that another way.  When we go through a life-changing event like Hurricane Katrina I believe God is always there helping us through the rough times and setting our path right once we get through it.  The key is are we paying attention?  Are we seeing God work and hearing his call?

So that being said, did you pick up on the first blessing God gave me during the storm? If you didn’t, it’s ok because I didn’t. It’s really the biggest one.  (Side Note: Something you need to know if you aren’t from the Gulf Coast – If anyone is talking about “the storm”, 99% of the time they mean Hurricane Katrina.)

First blessing right out of the gate was the phone call from my friend to wake me up and get me thinking about evacuating.   Then giving me the discernment to come to the realization that we needed to go. I missed that blessing.  Never mind that I was alive and well and had my future wife and our children with me safe and sound, I was more concerned about our houses, cars, my job, etc.

The blessings didn’t stop there for me.  We were blessed at the turn of every corner and while I recognized some of it and was thankful, I was mostly bitter.  We had a friend of my sister take our girls out for the day and buy them new clothes, we walked into a Chick-fil-A in Georgia and without us saying a word the manager comp’d our meal because he said he knew we were from New Orleans, we had total strangers offer us a place to stay, my daughter needed dental work while we were in Georgia and the dentist comp’d the bill, my company gave their employees a bonus and paid us the entire time we were out, my sister opened her home to all of us and allowed us to stay as long as we wanted, my brother-in-law helped me find a great deal on a camper and drove it down from Georgia with me paying all the expenses to get it to Louisiana, my mom allowed us to put the camper on her property to have a place to stay, I could go on and on. These may all seem like little things but I realize now they were huge.  I know now they were all from God.  It was God using His people to help us to relieve some of the burden and show us what love is.

It’s really sad now when I think about all the ways that God blessed me during that time and I was too busy being ticked off because the Red Cross wouldn’t give me a $25 Wal-Mart gift card and the government battled me every step of the way for any assistance I applied for.  I was bitter about friends that had better insurance than me getting paid out better and quicker.

Just as Job could not see that God was always with him, I couldn’t either.  Job allowed the distraction of his friends to focus on the problem instead of God and I allowed bitterness and anger with what I didn’t have to take my focus off of God.

Our focus must be and always remain on God.  When we keep our eyes on Him, His greatness and glory make everything else seem so tiny.  Yes even tragedies as big as Katrina and what happened to Job are small compared to the size of our God.  Keeping our eyes on Him allows us to see the blessing in the tragedy and see how He is setting up our future.

In the beginning of this post I mentioned that a couple of years earlier I had gone through a divorce and was at a point that things were looking up.  So you might ask the question “How could God use Katrina to make that better?  It seems like you were on the right path and Katrina just knocked you off that path.”

There is no doubt that things were looking up for me.  And as you saw from my spoiler alert Raynell and I did get married and we are doing great.

But just because things were looking up, doesn’t mean I was.

When I went through my divorce I cried out to God everyday.  I was literally in church everyday on my knees crying, begging for the pain to stop.  Then I woke up one morning and just like that the pain was gone.  I couldn’t explain it other than it was God.

So then… I got on living.

On the surface, I was good man and a good dad but once God got me through the rough times I took Him off the speed dial.  He would call me from time to time but I’d say, “I got it now.  I’ll let you know when I need you again.”  I’d visit with Him on Sundays for an hour at mass and if I ran into a problem I’d give Him a call to have a brief chat about the situation.  I had gotten away from the daily conversation and relationship.  It was for good reason though.  You see if I talked to God all day everyday then He may interfere with the other relationships I had.  You know the ones…  The bars, the alcohol, the parties…  I was single again.  I had gone through a lot. I deserved to have these experiences.  Like a meddling parent I knew God wouldn’t approve so I just kept him at arms length so He and I wouldn’t have to deal with that stuff.

So here I am living my life, meet Raynell, Katrina hits, I’m thankful for what’s being done to help us, but missing that it’s God providing the blessing in the tragedy. So what do I do whenever I experience what seems to be insurmountable tragedy?

That’s right, I go back to church.  I could just see God standing at the entrance as I walk in with my head down saying to me, “Hey son, I knew you’d be back.  Come on in, I have a seat for you up front.”

Once we got back to Louisiana it took us several months to get things somewhat straightened out just be able to get back to work, get the kids in school and start the rebuilding process.  Raynell and I were married shortly thereafter, bought a house and committed to going to church and getting back to having a relationship with God.

Our background is Catholic so we naturally tried several different Catholic Churches. We bounced around to at least 3 different ones but something was missing.  We just couldn’t seem to get connected.  At the Catholic Church I belonged back home I was very connected. I had been a part of the church since the day I was born.  Most of my family and friends were in the church.  We knew everyone and the church was part of our daily life.  I wasn’t finding that with the churches we were trying out.  And that’s not a knock on any of those churches.  The churches we visited were filled with some very nice and Godly people. It was something in me.

I now know God had a different path for my life.  He knew if I was going to stay connected with Him that I needed to have a very radical and spiritual meeting with Him.  I also know now that He had a plan for my life that I would never have followed without this new experience.

There was (and still is) a non-denominational Christian Church close to my house.  I passed it every day going home.  Raynell had some previous experiences with these types of churches so she suggested that we try it out to see if it would get us what we were searching for.  I refused. I was a devoted Catholic and there was no way I was going to one of these hand-raising churches with the rock band on stage.  Rock bands and hand raising were ok at the local bar on Saturday night but not in church. Needless to say after a bit of nudging and ganging up on me with a friend of mine that started attending I decided to go.  I was very uneasy.  The music freaked me out and I thought the people with their hands in the air were just weird.  But then out walks the Pastor and he starts talking.  I thought to myself, if they just had an organ with a choir and ditched the band this would be great.

I liked it enough to double dip.  We’d go to both Catholic mass and this new church.  I don’t know if Raynell knows it or not (she will now), but I would intentionally try and make us late to the new church just so I could avoid the music.

Fast forward 12 years, we are no longer double dipping and I am now one of the weirdos in the front row with his hands in the air rocking out for Jesus.

I just want to reiterate again this is in no way a slight towards the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church gave me the foundation of my faith.  Without it I would not be where I am today.  There are many people getting the Word and have a strong relationship with God that attend Catholic Churches.  So please don’t misunderstand.  It’s just for me personally, God had something different in mind.

So 12 years later, I’m not just on the front row on Sundays rocking out to the worship music, my marriage is rock solid, our older children are doing well, I’ve been blessed with a son, I’ve built long lasting Godly relationships, I am connected in a life building church, I am serving others, I am becoming the man God intended me to be, and most importantly I have a relationship with God where He is included in every aspect of my life.  I am by NO MEANS perfect.  There was only one perfect man.  But I am so much further along in my walk than I was 12 years ago.

The thing is, I don’t believe I would be where I am today without Hurricane Katrina. God has truly blessed me.  Just like Job, it took coming to the end of the story for me to realize that.  He gave me shelter in the storm and put me on a path that I will never deter from.  My eyes are on Him and there is no problem, no tragedy that is greater than Him.

The Bible says in Romans 8: “And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

God can use anything to bless, prosper or change anyone – even a major disaster.  We just need to surrender to Him and allow Him to work in our lives.

A day can make a difference.  Like Job, for me August 29, 2005 was the day that began a life of double blessing.

Be blessed my friends!

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