Do you remember what you were doing September 22, 1989? You may not be old enough to remember that day, or you may not have even been born, but I sure do remember! This date is forever etched into my mind as a significant mark on my life’s timeline. It’s the day (actually night) that Hurricane Hugo destroyed our home.
The day before began like any other day with my husband Bill working and me attending graduate classes at the College of Charleston. By that afternoon our eyes were glued to the Weather Channel as we prepared to leave our home in Mt. Pleasant, SC which is in Charleston County. A category 4 hurricane was heading straight for Charleston, South Carolina. Thank God for the Weather Channel’s warnings. This storm had winds estimated at 135-140 mph. Never experiencing this magnitude of a storm and not living on the beach, we were clueless of what to expect. Just four years earlier we lived on Sullivan’s Island, SC when a category 1 hurricane named Bob produced heavy rains and wind gusts up to 44 mph. This “little” storm caused us to evacuate to Mt. Pleasant. Little did we know that God was preparing us for a storm packed full of life lessons.
Just two years prior to this devastating event Bill and I bought our first home. Because it was a spec house, the designs and amenities were very limited, but we could care less, it would be ours! The freshwater pond that bordered our backyard teemed full of fish and even a couple of stray alligators (that’s another story). We were in our own little paradise!
During heavy rains, our pond would overflow its banks. Because of this and the fact that we were only about five miles from the beach “as the crow flies,” we made the decision to move all small furniture upstairs. We placed larger pieces like the sofa and kitchen table on blocks and prayed the waters would not be an unwelcome guest in our home. We proceeded to tape up all the windows. Why we thought masking tape would be sufficient to withstand hurricane winds is quite comical now. Windows would be the least of our worries.
After convincing my husband that we needed to go to his mother’s house two hundred miles away in Greenville, SC (Yes, I had to convince him!), we loaded up the important papers, photos, and some clothes along with our prized possession, the boat. He drove his truck with our Springer Spaniel Cocoa in tow and I followed in the car. I too was supposed to have our cat as a traveling companion, but all the commotion freaked her out and she disappeared into the night. I don’t remember how long it took to travel the usual three and half hour trip, but it was a long one. My mother-in-law welcomed us along with other family members who also lived in Mt. Pleasant.
The only information we had about the storm was from the television. Technology was not as advanced in 1989 as it is today, therefore, we had no way to communicate to anyone about the condition of our house. We could call a neighbor’s home phone and it would ring and ring, but all telephone lines were down, so no answers. After two days of not knowing, we headed home. When we arrived in Charleston we immediately started seeing damaged buildings, toppled trees and downed power lines. Once in Mt. Pleasant, we were astounded by the extensive damage.
As we turned into our neighborhood littered with downed trees of all sizes, we were stopped by many people saying, “if you need anything, please let us know.” Bill and I just wondered why all the concern and kindness. That would become evident when we reached our house which was further down the road and not in view for many blocks. It’s difficult to describe the feeling I had when we pulled up to our house. Numb is all I remember. Close neighbors and friends met us as we got out of the car, one even with a shot glass of bourbon! There before us sat the structure we were so proud of demolished with a gigantic pine tree balanced between the first and second floors. The roots hung out of the kitchen window at the front of the house and the top jutted out of our master bedroom upstairs at the back of the house. This monstrous tree was resting in our bed! Bill was so thankful he listened to me about leaving!
I think we slept at my sister-in-law’s house that night, but I don’t remember because we operated in a daze. I do remember traveling back up to Greenville at some point with a truck load of wet clothes to clean. (Our new “open air skylight” allowed all the rain that fell for days after the storm to soak our clothes and furniture.) We spent the next several days trying to salvage what we could. The ironic thing was not one window was broken! That must have been some awesome masking tape. And not one dish was broken, although the trunk of the tree crashed and landed on the kitchen cabinets. Our black walnut bed, handmade by Bill’s grandfather was destroyed; thankfully we were not in it. God is good, we were able to have the bed restored later for a very minimal cost. Our cat was safe, but probably scarred for life as we discovered her hiding in the garage. It’s true what people always say, “These are just things that can be replaced. The safety of our family and friends is most important.”
We did stay with Bill’s sister for awhile until we could find an apartment. We were fortunate to have homeowner’s insurance that would cover these expenses and the rebuilding of our home. Insurance companies immediately dispatched adjusters to the area, but because we were not on the islands where most homes were totally destroyed, it would take weeks before one surveyed our damaged house. Eventually it was designated as “beyond repair” and would have to be bulldozed. Four months later, we watched as a big yellow backhoe dug into our home like a child playing in a sandbox. It would be exactly one year to the day that we would move into our new house built on the same lot.
As I mentioned earlier, this storm brought with it so many life lessons. The first and most important one was that a house is just a temporary shelter and it can be taken away in a split second so don’t make it more than it really is. Our society puts way too much emphasis on the “American dream,” of owning a home. But what’s worse is the emphasis we place on the design and decoration of the house. Don’t get me wrong, I like nice things, but putting them before God and family is idolatry. God wants to give us good things because he’s a good father, but not at the expense of his glory.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” James 1:17.
“Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Haggai 1:3-4
Another lesson is that God allows us to go through storms in life so that we can comfort others who may be experiencing pain. One of the ways that I could extend this comfort was to assist others who were not as fortunate as we were. Not everyone had insurance like we did and if they did, many did not have flood insurance, so they were totally relying on others.
The women of my church supported families in McClellanville, SC, a quaint shrimping town where the near twenty-foot storm surge destroyed everything in its path. I was able to be a part of a ministry to a young couple expecting their first child whose house was moved a block down the street. Placing your energy on someone else who needs help can do wonders for your own emotions and well being when you are in the midst of your own storm.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
A third lesson is to be hospitable and share the blessings the Lord has given you. It’s been over 25 years since that fateful night and I will never forget how my family opened their home to us and how my neighbors rallied to gather furniture and necessities for our new apartment. Over the years, we have shared our home with friends’ children who needed a place to stay and a young woman in financial trouble. So, when the texts from my nieces came two weeks ago asking for a place to evacuate if the forecasted hurricane hit Charleston, my immediate response was “Of course!” There was no hesitation even though the quiet solitude of our empty nest would soon be full of noise, toys and crowded rooms. Did I mention my nieces have five children between the ages of one and seven? It was all good!
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” 1 Peter 4:9
So, why go back and dredge up old memories from the distant past? It’s always good to remember what God has done for you and look back with gratitude. Then we can look forward to the future with hope. You may have a significant date on your timeline that you can look back on with gratitude…
Graduation from high school or college
Birth of a child or children
Starting your own business
Accepting Jesus as your Savior (Most important)
Or you may have dates of tragedies that you would like to forget….
Loss of house
Death of child
Death of spouse
Loss of Job
Failure in business
Loss of friend
No matter what the circumstance, they should draw us closer to Jesus, not further away. Wherever you are on your timeline, remember that it’s just a blip in eternity. All the “hurricanes” of this life will soon be a distant memory and with Christ, we can look forward in hope!