On Saturday we thought we’d see a little bit of rain this week. My husband mowed the lawn. On Sunday, I placed an extra grocery order for the week, just to make sure we’d have fruit and milk for the week. The radar was showing a storm headed our way, but it didn’t look too terrible just yet. Monday, I threw some clothes in a bag for everyone and made sure I had our Social Security cards and birth certificates on hand. And I grabbed a newborn swaddle, tossed it in the bag and hoped we wouldn’t need it if we eventually had to leave town.
This is all standard fare during hurricane season, of course, and something I’m not unfamiliar with. I’ve lived in Southwest Louisiana my whole life and been through more than a few evacuations for major storms. When you’re a Louisiana coastal resident, you learn what to do during a major storm by osmosis. You learn what to bring, where to go, what you’ll need when you get there.
But Tuesday morning we woke up, and something felt different. Hurricane Laura was now projected to be Category 3, and we needed to evacuate. It wasn’t mandatory yet but became so as the morning went on. And unlike the evacuations of my childhood, this time I wasn’t being told what to grab or where we were going by my parents.
Now I’m the parent. And it’s our house and stuff, my child I’m loading up in a car, trying to explain to her why we’re leaving behind her beloved swing set and can’t bring every single book on the shelf as we head up to my grandfather’s house a few hours away, ready to settle in for a few days of nervous news watching and hand wringing.
We left our home at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. The windows taped, to hold the glass together should debris hit it. Pictures taken off the wall, placed under blankets on the bed, with pillows on top. The Wifi router unplugged and set up on a high shelf. We cleaned out the fridge, emptied the freezer, loaded up snacks from the pantry and set out.
I made sure to do the same thing my mom once did: place a rosary on every door knob. Our Lady, Star of the Sea, pray for us.
We drove off in the meticulously packed Subaru Forester, my husband closely listening to the live broadcasts from the local weatherman as he drove, our three-year-old buckled into her car seat with a pile of snacks, my nine-month pregnant self holding the dog in my lap in the front seat, all too aware that the infant car seat was also loaded into the car. Because in the event that I go into labor in the next few days, that’s the last thing we want to go searching for at a store: a car seat, for a newborn baby.
That baby will be named Clare Anne. Maybe we’ll add “Laura” in there, too.
I wept as we left our neighborhood. And I wiped away those tears as we got onto the Interstate to head north, steeling myself for what I knew could be true:
Lake Charles, Louisiana could be gone. A Category 5 storm could destroy it in a matter of hours. And so this soon-to-be-born-baby will most likely not be born in her hometown.
We may not have a house to bring that baby home to.
Those two harsh realities are staring me in the face at this moment. Even if in the event that we get lucky and our house is okay and our town mostly survives, we’re still looking at weeks of evacuation while things get put back together, power and water service is restored and things reopen.
I won’t lie: I am very sad. This is not easy. It wouldn’t be easy any time of life. Major hurricanes are not easy. It doesn’t help that I’m at the tail end of this pregnancy, already living in a pandemic, intensely uncomfortable, now immensely anxious and stressed. The prospect of going into labor and delivering this child far away from home (which is probably a guarantee, regardless of storm damage) has still not fully hit me. I’m just glad I grabbed that swaddle blanket and we packed the car seat.
But even in the face of these harsh realities and in the eye of a storm that seems so colossal we can see no tomorrow, I know this: God is good.
Even in the face of these harsh realities and in the eye of a storm that seems so colossal we can see no tomorrow, I know this: God is good.
He is still sovereign. He still loves me. He still brings order to chaos. And he still, and always, provides.
It seems in this moment I can do only one thing: pray.
But for what? For Jesus to make this storm disappear?
I believe He could do that. He did it in the Gospels. Why not now?
But, I also believe God never permits an evil from which a greater good cannot be drawn, and even though, at nine months pregnant that greater good is really hard for me to see, I know it to be true and I’m clinging to the promise.
This is the beauty and mystery of our faith. That even in the midst of the colossally heavy, seemingly cruel cross, we know this is not the end. This is the Good Friday. This is the horror. This is the pain.
We are standing on Calvary, and in this moment, Calvary looks like sitting on my grandfather’s couch anxiously watching the Weather Channel, my 3-year-old daughter building forts with my mom, my dad texting his friends to make sure they’re safe, my Pennsylvanian husband weathering his first ever hurricane—each of us waiting to see and hear if our homes are underwater, without their roofs or with their windows blown in.
We’re gasping for air as we sit here and watch and wait. For me, literally, because again, I’m very pregnant and 9-month, in-utero babies crush your lungs, hurricane or not. But also figuratively, because the fear is heavy on our chests.
And as we carry this cross of the slow-moving hurricane hitting our beloved hometown, God is here.
As we carry this cross of the slow-moving hurricane hitting our beloved hometown, God is here.
He’s here in the laugh of the toddler as she plays tag with my 83-year-old grandfather and convinces him to put her pink tutu on his right leg. He’s here in my swollen and elevated pregnant feet. He’s here as my husband calls his family and tells them not to worry, assuring them that we will be okay. He’s here as we decide what to eat, the cleaned-out fridge from home now overflowing, the chance to cook and dine all together for the first time since Covid and my grandmother’s funeral. He’s here as we sit in her home, her presence thick, her memory strong, but our hearts heavy because we wish she was sitting here with us too.
And God is here in our fear, and he says “Be not afraid.” He’s here in our anxiety, and he says “Peace, be still.” He’s here in the anger, and he says “I am with you always until the end of the age.” He’s here in the hurt, saying “I thirst…with you.”
He is here, in the storm. And he is good.
In the coming days we’ll try to go home to figure out what has happened, to file insurance claims, to begin picking up the pieces of a life. And as we do, God will be there too, bringing us from the painful Cross into the glory of Resurrection Sunday.
And when we get there…little Clare Anne Laura McGrady will be there with us too.