Hurricane Katrina: 7 Year Anniversary

7 years. It was forever ago, and yet just an instant. Today is the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Every year at this time my heart beats a little faster, a few tears fall, and my heart unknowingly to anyone but us unites with many around the world that lived in New Orleans or the Mississippi coast seven years ago. As time has gone by, the trauma of that time fades, but I know I will never be the same. I don't want to ever be the same. The lessons I learned from that time are a gift only a Sovereign God can give.

R and I had been married a year. E was 2 months old. I had just graduated from seminary and R was still a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We were just settling into a family of three. Welcoming a baby is never really very "settling," but I probably should have enjoyed those 2 months since they were the last stable months we had for years.

Friday August 26th E and I boarded a plane for FL to spend the weekend with my mom while my dad went on a business trip. I packed one carry on.

Saturday we found out Katrina was headed for NOLA. I grew up in SW FL, hurricanes were a part of life. I barely blinked at the thought of a hurricane. R had to stay in the city for work until Saturday night and then evacuated with a few fishing poles and a laundry basket of dirty clothes (to wash while he was gone!) to central MS to wait out the storm with his family.

As the storm hit Monday, I sat glued to the TV. I went to sleep that night thinking well, a few street signs down is not too bad. I woke up Tuesday to a shattered world. As the levees broke and I sat watching my apartment fill with water from images on google earth, I was stunned. I don't think I left the television for weeks.

I worked at an inner city mission center in NOLA and knew many of the families I worked with lived in those flooded areas and had waited out the storm. I saw people I knew on TV. R was stuck in MS as the roads were closed and he had to drive around trees and down power lines just to call and check in on us. We were separated for a week. It seems like a short time, but when your world is crashing around you it feels like forever.

And then the waiting began. Google earth showed our apartment under about 11 feet of water. Would that reach the top of the closets? I knew most everything would be under water, but I had put scrapbooks and journals at the top of the closet, just in case. I had heard from a few of my kids from the mission center, but the whereabouts of most were unknown.

It was October before we were able to get back into the city. As we drove in it looked like some sort of third world battle zone. Boats and cars had floated into medians.  R's truck was still in its spot though. Muddy roads, the smell, the dreaded painted X on every building with the number of those found dead and alive. Houses I had driven by every day. My eyes, my head, and my heart will never forget. Someone had broken the chain off the gate at our apartment complex so R didn't have to. ;) I don't know what I imagined, but I never imagined that. Destruction doesn't begin to describe what we saw. R dug around in his closet for his tools that had a lifetime warranty. And yes, one Ziploc at a time he exchanged them over the next year. He's resourceful. We also got out 2 wooden hand carvings that were really important to us. That was it. Those wood carvings got bleached weekly for 9 months before they stopped growing mold. It was a good reminder to us to be glad we didn't try to "save" anything else!

For months we got phone calls along the lines of "Miss Nicole, I was so scared. The water started coming up the grass and we went upstairs. Then we climbed in the attic, but the water kept coming and we cut a hole in the attic roof. A boat came and picked us up off the roof and took us to a helicopter who took us to Texas to a shelter." The 11 year old who had that story will never be the same.  

Families separated. For months people didn't know where children, parents, siblings or grandparents were. At one point I was told that 2 of my students had not made it. On Thanksgiving Day I got a call that they were found in a shelter in Texas. Even their family thought they were gone.

Growing up in SWFL hurricanes meant nothing. Until August 29, 2005. Still as Tropical Storm Isaac headed towards SWFL this week, I shrugged and went on my way. But when I heard it was headed to NOLA, my heart dropped. That's not the same. Many of my friends from that time of our lives have moved away from NOLA, but many are still there. At this time every year a unmistakable bond connects us from around the world. To have lived in New Orleans during Katrina...that is an experience that can only be understood by those who went through it.

We began to reference life as "Pre-K" and "Post-K." Simple things like "Do you know where ______ is?" "No, I think we had that Pre-K" became a regular exchange. E lived in 8 houses in 2 states and 2 continents by the time she was 3.

We began a journey on August 29, 2005 that we wouldn't change for the world. Moving back to NOLA for a year in 2007 was one of the most challenging things we ever did as a family, but leaving a year later was worse. A big piece of my heart will always remain in New Orleans. Yes, I met my husband there, had my first child there, graduated from seminary there, and lived there twice. But I also lived through an experience that forced me to my knees and to answer the question "Do you trust me? For I am God and there is no other." It was then that I came to realization that serving God is not about geography. It is about complete surrender in your geography. Serving God is not about what I can do for His Glory, but about our journey for His Glory.

Here is a blog post (from a sad abandoned blog from Once upon a time) from August 29, 2007. 2 Years after Katrina, and 2 months after returning to live in New Orleans.

2nd Katrina AnniversaryTwo years ago today, who would have know the journey God had for us! Honestly, things are a little weird today, and since blogs are ultimately about rambling, I will do just that. Honestly, I will not try to be eloquent and not even articulate . . . today is an emotional day. Not one in which I will sit in pity or even in tears, but much more of a pensive day. Who would have known August 28th of last year that our world was about to be turned upside down? Since the time of our evacuation our lives have been, I don't even know to explain it . . . but anything but "normal" or "stable." As we have been in many different places outside of New Orleans, Katrina has been just a part of history. We often hear it talked about, but as we hear people talking about the devastation of Katrina, it is strange to feel as though you are the only ones in the room who really have something to say about it. To us, it wasn't just a storm, it was life changing. Over the last 2 years, Ron and I have dealt with our grief very differently. Ron thinks about Katrina every day. I don't. Not to say that I was affected less . . . because today on the 2nd anniversary, it is I who am having the emotional struggle. Moving back to New Orleans several months ago has been weird. For those of us who have lived outside of the city since Katrina, the world "moved on" and we were kind of dragged along with them. As we spoke in churches or with different people, our story was the same, a story of God's sovreignty, His provision, and His grace and love. Since we have moved back to New Orleans we have returned to a harsh reality. The truth of Katrina victims. Ron's internships allows him to counsel with Katrina victims almost daily. A billboard across from the semianry campus says "no, your'e not crazy," Katrina is often a topic at church or Bible studies, and 2 year later, "so how did you fare the storm" is still an elevator conversation starter. The rest of the world may have moved on, but New Orleans hasn't. The physical devestation is still very real, and so is the devestation of so many hearts. God is alive and well and working in New Orleans. I feel blessed that God has brought us back to this broken city. When I was here before, New Orleans was simply where I went to seminary, a place of transition. But this time, I feel as though I have come home. Our Katrina story has been a positive one, a story of triumph and God's protection, but 2 years later, the scars on our hearts still hurt. I would be lying if I said the "things" we lost didn't matter. They did. The relationships lost hurt. I often ponder where we would be if it weren't for Katrina. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, we are thriving in the center of God's will and every time my heart aches in grief, I often go back to my journal entries those few days after Katrina. "God you are El Elyon--Most High . . . What a lesson at a time like this. As New Orleans lies in masses of water and all of our worldy possessions are soaking up the flood waters, I am reminded that you are the Sovreign Most High. Hurricane Katrina is and will be for your glory and pleasure, the levee breeches were and are for your glory and pleasure. Your sanction was over that, and while I know your heart breaks for my city, as does mine, your plan is to draw men to yourself." --9/2/05
This was something the Lord gave after reading from Isaiah, it has helped me often in my grief and understanding of Katrina, and I know it will help me through numerous other challenges the Lord asks me to walk through. 
"You are God and there is no other
Though the winds rage and the storm howls
You are God and there is no other
From you came Creation and from you destruction
For you are God and there is no other
As the flood waters rise and the screams muffle
You are God and there is no other
As chaos abounds and order is lost
You are God and there is no other
As lives are lost and homes are destroyed
You are God and there is no other
You are the Giver and Taker of life and in Your hands we rest
For you are God and there is no other
It is Your hand that reaches down and rescues your own
For you are God and there is no other
Your tears fall and your heart breaks
But you are God and there is no other
Lives lost and families scattered
But you are God and there is no other
We draw near to You Sovreign Lord with no asnwers of why and yet no doubts of your faithfulness
Open up your floodgates and rain down your grace, mercy, love, and Salvation.
For YOU ARE GOD and there is NO other!!!
So, today is a day of reflection and sorrow, but even in my grief, I look back and praise Him for what He has done and what He has done with us over the last 2 years. We may not understand His will, but we must trust! For, He is God and there is no other.

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