This weekend served to remind those of us that live in this region that hurricane season is not quite over with yet. We watched as Ida formed in Central America late last week and began her track northward, and by Sunday afternoon all of the local television stations were abuzz with predictions of when and were she would make landfall. Those that live along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans have learned to take our storms seriously; especially in the aftermath of Katrina.
As I write my blog, she appears to be headed for Mobile, Alabama and she has been downgraded to a mere tropical storm. At most, my county can expect a little wind and a lot of rain. The Gulf waters do not pack enough heat in November to keep a hurricane in fighting trim, so most of the news stories seem to revolve around the audacity of Mother Nature’s feeble attempt to throw a storm at us this late in the year. But I remember well a November hurricane back in 1985 that gave me quite a scare, so it is not as if there is no precedent for it – at least not for me.
I was a newly-arrived seaman at U.S. Coast Guard Station Panama City, Florida that fall, having completed boot camp only a few weeks prior. I cannot remember the name of the storm, but I remember that our boats were merely 41-feet long, and even in waves of less than six feet they were rough and caused me to become seasick. The arrival of the storm caused me considerable dread as a result, because as I mentioned, I was new to boats in general and had no idea of what we would be required to do. I remembered the videos I had been shown by my recruiter; boats crashing through heavy seas, sailors in life jackets hanging on for dear life, and the promised glory that comes from making a dramatic rescue while becoming a hero. Suddenly, I felt slightly less than brave with the realization that it might be me that would be called upon to perform such a feat. What was I thinking, I wondered, and how did I get so far from home?
We were required to evacuate our families as best we could and then return to the station for duty. I did as I was ordered, which proves the power of the discipline instilled in me while at boot camp, but I was very ill at ease as the weather began to pick up. We loaded the boats with all of our survival gear and put to sea as the wind made a dramatic shift to the northeast. We joked and laughed as young men do when faced with danger, and I did my best to play the part of a brave soul, but inside my heart was a wild animal called panic, and it was simmering and barely under control. The waves in St. Andrew’s Bay cow-licked and broke over our bow as we turned…north! My fears were allayed for the moment as our crew was told we would be headed up the Intercoastal Waterway to find a suitable anchorage, and therefore be available to assist others after the storm had passed.
A few miles up the canal, we came alongside a tug and barge which had been lashed securely to the levee, and we tied our boat to the barge, spending the night in the relative safety of the strong anchorage they provided. At possibly 12 times our length, it was hard to fathom enough wind or water to move something that large in the narrow canal. We ate with the crew of the tug that night, and I decided at that moment that if they ate like that every night, I had made the wrong career choice. They were very hospitable and could not seem to do enough for us.
There were a few moments later that night that caused a little alarm, and I learned the meaning of Acts 27:29 when the Bible says the storm-ridden crew of Paul’s ship ‘wished for the day’. But overall the evening passed without incident and the following morning we thanked the crew of the tug and returned to our base to begin helping others that were not as fortunate.
I learned the importance of a strong anchorage during that dark night so many years ago. Through the storms that batter me, (and I’m no longer talking about hurricanes or gales, but spiritual and emotional drama) I need something bigger than me to hold onto. The Bible states in Hebrews: “…we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.”
It is only when I attempt to face the storms in my life on their own terms, out in their depths and on my own, that I appear to have problems. Jesus is the anchor for my soul, and He is sure and steadfast. He helps me face the storms I encounter in my life no matter how difficult they may appear to be. And, much like a tug and barge to a small boat during a late-season hurricane, His refuge is always secure.