I never thought much about the phrase “calm before the storm” until about a week ago. I had heard rumors of a hurricane gathering strength in the Atlantic Ocean, but I figured it would ignore us. Harvey had just hit Texas, how could there be another one so close? Each day brought uncomfortable updates until Irma was for sure going to pass over us and was now the strongest hurricane in recorded history with sustained winds of 185 mph, with gusts over 200 mph.
I recalled Abraham in Genesis 18 pleading with God on behalf of His people in Sodom, to spare them from destruction should ten righteous men be found. I begged God to spare Saba. We followed Him here. We did not come of our own accord. How could this be happening? We had been so faithful to take on enormous risks for the sake of obedience. Medical school with three toddlers is hard enough. I will break under the threat of natural disaster.
Monday before the storm, our landlords came over to board up the house. Although a gorgeous Caribbean day, clear skies and blue waters, the dismal eeriness of the island was disturbing. All was quiet, save the pounding of hammers, and drilling of bolts, and tethering of loose debris. We fetched candles, flashlights, radios, canned food, lots of rice, and water. We filled buckets with clean water in order to occasionally flush and wash up some dishes, for who knew how long power would be down. We secured all important documents, washed up all the laundry, charged all electronics, downloaded movies for the kids, outfitted our “bomb shelter” should we need to evacuate our own house.
I tried to eat, but impending doom does terrible things to your appetite.
As evening approached and the kids went to bed, my husband and I stood on our roof looking out to the ocean. Somewhere catastrophe was brewing and aiming its eye right at us. Hard to imagine amidst the clouds’ serenity. We spoke aloud to Irma like crazy people, reminding her that Saba belonged to God and would be under His divine protection. We spoke every promise we could think of regarding our inheritance as His children, personally and collectively, and what “she” could not do to us. As the Israelites thousands of years ago painted their door frames with blood from their Passover lambs in anticipation of the angel of death, we metaphorically painted our doorway with the blood of our passover lamb, Jesus Christ. His sacrifice thousands of years ago won our salvation. Our house, our lives, depended on His promises. There was nothing more we could do to ensure survival.
Our island is small and evacuation was not possible. We would have had to travel through St. Maarten first, which was at even greater risk than Saba. Because of our altitude, we are not at risk of the storm surges and flooding which causes a good portion of the worst damage, but we would still experience the catastrophic force of the winds.
I felt confident we would be safe, but terror doesn’t care about your confidence. I could barely sleep that night, fearing the events of the following day.
Tuesday morning was another idyllic Caribbean day. One final opportunity to procure anything from the stores before officially hunkering down. Two of our good friends stayed with us, as our shelter was very secure and had held up through other hurricanes without losing so much as a nail. Their house was very exposed at a higher elevation, so we helped them gather their things and join us. We were to begin feeling effects of the storm around 5pm with the power being shut off island-wide around midnight.
The claustrophobic in me dreaded being boarded up in the dark, with no opportunity for fresh air or running water. I asked God to please close the ears of my children to the sounds of the storm, to not fear the heat or the darkness. We hung up glow stick bracelets on the curtain rods in their room, reserving the pink ones for my daughter’s wrist so she could be comforted by “party” lights. We had both of our Ergo baby carriers in their room should we need to run. I prayed this would not be so, and believed God was telling me that we were safe beneath His canopy of protection, but we still prepared for the absolute worst.
Around 8:30pm, I went to bed soaking up the last few hours of A/C and light that I could. I jolted awake at 12:07am as the whirring of anything electric shut off. Oh the terror that seized my heart! The winds and rain were definitely picking up, and I continued praying for the kids and claiming any and every promise, prophetic word, happy thought, etc. I had ever read or received. This was not our end, I was sure, but the enduring of “seemingly the end” scared me to pieces.
I thought of Jesus sleeping on a boat during a fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee while the disciples fretted and panicked outside….be like Jesus, be like Jesus, TRUST Jesus, He is your shelter, His word is true, the waves and wind know His name, this will end, this will end, this will end, you are safe, you are held, be like Jesus, and freaking sleep!
2:30am, not a peep from the kids, the storm is gaining in intensity, roaring around us like plane engines, and we receive a call on our landline from our landlords checking in on us. We are informed the eye of the storm is to pass over us from 5am peaking in intensity around 8am.
Ok, we can do this. We ARE doing this, we are almost done! Oh my goodness, breathe.
I continued to lay in my bed, periodically nursing a Gatorade since I hadn’t eaten more than a bite of protein bar in two days. I startled with each bang of debris that hit our roof or our walls, hearing the crack of trees snapping, and the doors rattling. I played Bethel’s “You Make Me Brave” album through my iPod and prayed through the lyrics, willing all of them to be true. The tree frogs’ song did not waver for a second, which was strangely comforting. If they stop, we are officially screwed!
Around 7am, the kids begin to wake. We grab flashlights and head to the living room to see a bit of light from outside peeking in through the door. There is fresh air coming through the cracks with each gust of wind around our house, and I breathe it in like I have never been outside before. We bring the babies’ highchairs to their bedroom and feed them oatmeal we warmed on our gas stove top. All the kids seem calm. We set up a movie on my iPad and being to breathe a bit more as the storm finally begins to let up.
At 10am we notice some of our neighbors gathering outside, so we jump at the chance to escape our bunker and assess the damage.
I will never forget the joy and relief I felt stepping into the street, greeting neighbors with a “We survived! Praise God!” and turning around to see not just our house fully intact, but also most of the land around our house and down our street a ways. It appeared like the winds literally went around us. We lost some trees, branches, and a lot of foliage, but when I saw the next ridge over from ours, I started sobbing. It looked like a forest fire had ravaged the land.
All of the stress of the last few days washed over me, as I let go of my brave face and sat in the reality of what had just occurred. Before moving to Saba, we had the choice between two homes. One was located closer to the school, had two bathrooms, a large living and dining room, sweeping views of the ocean, an historic stone wall in the kitchen, and a large front porch and side yard, a real Caribbean dream house. The second was more modest, farther away from school, with just one bathroom and a small side porch, but it did have two mango trees…Initially we were wild about the first. But independently of the other, we both came to the conclusion we should choose the second because of the peace we felt when thinking on the house or looking at pictures.
The reasons why have slowly unfurled over our time living here. Our landlords have been like family to us, and we have had few issues with our house. We have come to love our little dwelling in the rocks, now more than ever, as some of the severest damage from hurricane Irma occurred where House #1 was located.
Thirty-four hours later, electric was restored and we praised God for light and A/C and running water again! Taking care of three toddlers in the dark is not easy, and our deep freezer was just beginning to melt. We no longer had to worry about food spoiling, which was very important because our grocery supply arrives on a boat from St.Martin/St. Maarten, which was decimated by the hurricane. We were unsure when we would be getting new shipments. It could be weeks, so food had to be rationed.
Although Saba was hit hard, she fared very well compared to other islands. Saba is a tight knit community of tough, kind people who work hard. Recovery will take awhile, but Saba will rise above even stronger and more beautiful than ever.
As our lives are returning to normal, and new trade routes are established, we remember those who have lost everything and whose island’s infrastructure was demolished. We who have been privileged to keep our homes must now do what we can to help those in need. Please check out this website and donate if you can. If you want to donate specifically to Saba, St. Martin/Maarten, St. Eustatius, visit rebuildsxm.com.
Though it takes time, restoration will happen for the beautiful Caribbean. We remember fear is not our birthright; hope is. So we take hold of it with all we have.
In the meantime, ALL hurricane euphemisms are off the table.