Camille

There was a time when I looked at the sky and wondered where something so beautiful came from.  I laid down on a royal green carpet of grass containing every imaginable thing made from sand, rocks, sticks, leaves and pine needles. The warm air filled my body and shifted my locks under the swaying pine trees and the bright sun.  Creatures real and imagined filled my kingdom including ants, frogs, lizards, birds, fish, alligators, and mosquitoes. There was also my dog, Piedmont, our short legged poodle curly black hair. He loved the backyard games and chasing lizards up the trees.  Panther, our black cat would prowl the backyard forest intent on finding adventure and settling for a nap in the shade or bathing in the sun.  My whole world stood before me in simple pure bliss.

“Mark!  Come on, we need to get ready to go!” The broken silence jolted me into a new reality and the rush to prepare. Dad was boarding windows and packing the car and Mom was filling the bathtub with water.  Something big was coming.

At two and a half years old, I hardly knew what was going on, but when my parents worked up a frenzy and there was a hint of panic in Mom’s voice, I knew something was not right.  There was an air of impending danger.  Something was very wrong.

My father was in the United States Air Force and we lived in a small house in a community off base in Biloxi, Mississippi.  It was August 17th 1969 and the weather service was watching hurricane Camille approaching the United States through the Gulf of Mexico.  Just a few days earlier all was calm and right in the world.

Camille 1967
Hurricane Camille 1967

Dad was designated to ride out the storm at the base along with some of the other soldiers and their families who were stationed there.  All of us convened on the base and were housed in a secured hanger as night fall and Camille approached.

The door of the hanger was shut and none of us were allowed to open it or leave it’s safety. Cots were setup and families gathered in groups on the concrete floors with blankets and candles or flashlights. It was dark and as the storm closed in the wind outside intensified. While we waited it grew louder and louder with each thunder and the winds pounding the walls until there was a loud roar.

After a very long time the wind died down and someone said that we were in the eye of the storm.  “The worst was coming!” they said.  The door was opened and us little ones peered out, but dared not exit for fear the wind would start up again and sweep us away. The door was shut and soon after, the rage began again.

Many hours later we exited the hanger onto the long stretches of concrete that were covered in debris. Eventually we loaded up the car to drive home. Only a few miles away, it was normally a 10 minute drive, but that day it took us over 4 hours.

We saw trees down, trailers lifted from their foundations and placed in the road blocking our passage. Bridges were washed out. The furry and rage of Camille left one house untouched, the next one off it’s foundation, then the next with it’s roof tattered and scatted, and yet another leveled to the ground with all it’s possessions sprawled over the neighborhood.  It was a world changer full of danger.  Praise God it’s furry had passed.

As we drove on, none of us knew what we would find when we arrived home. Would the place where just yesterday I laid looking at the sky enjoying my royal green carpet and playful animals still be there, or would we find devastation and a new start waiting for us?

When we finally arrived in our neighborhood, there were houses that survived, but much like the rest of the drive, others were leveled or destroyed.  We were among the fortunate and our home was still there, in tact. So many others weren’t so lucky.

House At Rest On Top of Cars in Point Cadet, Mississippi (Photo Credit: Fred Hutchings)

More photos of Camille’s destruction here and here.

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The scenes of destruction left by Camille are not easily forgotten. Camille took the lives of 131 including 3 who were never identified.  Forty One were never found.  (Read about it here.)

A preacher I know once said that in life we are either going into a storm, in the middle of a storm or coming out of a storm.  Today as I sit and write this, there are many people from Houston, Texas trying to figure out how to put their lives back together from hurricane Harvey.  Still many more are riding out Irma as it enters Florida.

As I came out of that storm so many years ago, it was not the end of my world.  For me life was just beginning.

Over the next year I remember playing in the back yard with Monique, the girl next door and my first official-unofficial girl-friend.  I also remember a large tree that my father and brothers pulled out of the ground leaving behind a massive hole filled with water. It was probably downed in the storm. Somehow I was convinced that the hole contained fish because every time we dug a hole in the back yard it would fill with water. Therefore, it must somehow be connected to the ocean and naturally there had to be fish.

My father gave me a fishing pole and encouraged me to spend some time testing my luck, which I did. He told me there were no fish and knew I would never catch anything, but he never dashed my hopes and dreams as a child. Instead he encouraged me to step out and try and learn.

After experiencing the storm, I suppose some would blame God.  They would say that since he controls the weather it must be his fault that so many people died and that so much destruction occurred.  The same God that made the sky and my royal carpet also made the thunder and wind. But we also know that Jesus sent his disciples into the storm knowing what they would face. He sent them out into a world bent on destroying them when he ascended into Heaven. He knew they would face persecutions of all kinds and be martyred for him.

So, why was it necessary for my family and so many others to stare down Camille and her destruction?  Why was it necessary for so many lives to be lost and for our world to be turned upside down?  A friend of mine recently asked me, “How could a loving God let his children, the ones he created, murder one another?” It is the same question I ask. Why Camille? Why Harvey? Why Irma?

The best explanation I have is that though we think we understand the world that we live in, we truly understand very little. God, as the creator, knows our beginnings and our endings. He knows and decides what’s final and what’s not. He also knows that for there to be love, there must be the freedom to love and experience loss.

As a young child, I trusted my father to take me to safety and he did. When the eye of the stormed passed and the door was opened, I could have chosen to run out believing all was good, but in only a few minutes, I would have been swept away.

I have known many people who have run from God by seeking their own way. They believed that obeying God was a burden. In the end they made a lot of trouble for themselves and God had to clean up their lives.  They ran out into the eye of the storm and abandoned the shelter they were given, but God chased after them and brought them back into safety.

I’ve also known those who have chosen their own path to destruction, not heading the warnings to seek the safety of Jesus’ forgiveness.  These never entered the shelter or hid from our Father as he searched.

Having the doors to the hanger shut reminded me of how God shut the doors of Noah’s ark. The same story of atonement and salvation is repeated many times in the Bible. (Moses, Ruth, Daniel, David, the Exodus from Egypt, the entering into the promised land) Circumstances were grave and man unfaithful, yet those who in the end trusted in God ultimately repented, were cleansed, and redeemed.

The storms of our lives foreshadow our own judgement and our actions model our redemption and salvation just like the Old Testament stories foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah.

As Irma passes and the memories of Camille and Harvey fade, find solace from the storm in the one who is our refuge and strength and model the end by choosing Jesus and taking the forgiveness, atonement and redemption that he offers.

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Psalm 46:1-3