FINDING REFUGE BECAUSE OF A STORM
I found a place of refuge because of a fierce storm. Not just one, actually. Four.
The 2004 Hurricane Season is one most Floridians will long remember. In August, Hurricane Charley swept around the eastern coastline, encircling the state, and threatening to hit the west coastline. Instead, on Friday morning August 13, 2004, Charley took a turn toward Port Charlotte near the Southern tip. It sliced up the state as a Category 4 hurricane, weakening, but remaining strong with wind gusts of over 100 mph when it hit my hometown of Orlando.
The devastation was unthinkable. We began the process of cleaning up, but no sooner had gotten our bearings together when we heard the news: Hurricane Frances was on her way. Weather reports and photos take from the International Space Station showed her to be beyond huge and her eye large, which offered respite but not for long. Only three weeks after Charley, Central Florida scrambled to prepare. And then, one morning in early September, Frances came to call. Again the devastation was felt, this time more so because what had already been weakened was now destroyed. Clean up began again, but we may as well have waited. Ivan—the 10th most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded—was on his way, followed by Jeanne, who had the distinction of being called the deadliest hurricane of the season.
These hurricanes affected my town, my home, and my life during that dreadful summer. Later, as I prepared an upcoming writer’s retreat previously held in a hotel in Vero Beach, I discovered our hotel was not yet suitable for visitors. I panicked, telling everyone I knew about my dilemma. My hairdresser suggested a place she’d heard of, Cedar Key, a tiny somewhat forgotten island below the panhandle, nestled in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I looked it up online. It appeared to have promise so I called my friend and fellow writer Janice Elsheimer and asked if she’d like to take a little road trip. She said she surely would.
In my recently released novel, Chasing Sunsets (which is set in Cedar Key), I have a line that reads: There are four bridges leading into Cedar Key but only one road. I admit, the moment Janice and I crossed Bridge 4 (ironically, the first bridge), I felt tranquility wash over me. Marshlands—wide and lush—spread out on both sides of the road. Blue water reflected the sunlight, casting what I described as a “crushed diamonds on glass” effect. Dolphins played and fishermen fished and I was nearly beside myself as soon as we arrived at the hotel where we’d reserved a room.
I was equally delighted early the next morning. Janice and I walked outside with a cup of coffee in our hands, faced the east and watched the sun come up in all its splendor. And, that very same night, we walked a little ways to the west and, along with locals and visitors, watched that very same sun—under which we’d played all day—make its way to bed in colors of brilliant reds and oranges.
Cedar Key became my eye in the storm. (In the early days, I couldn’t even get cell reception, which I adored. But eventually CK caught up and now I can.) Over the next few years, as my world seemed to get just a little crazier and my workload became—blessedly—heavier, I found myself shirking off that day of rest God allotted for Himself and me. I thought I could get more done or even help God make more sense out of my life. Instead, just the opposite happened.
When I decided to set a three-book series in Cedar Key, I told myself that “this will mean going to Cedar Key for research.” But the truth is, while going there was necessary, I found myself lulled more by the tranquility of the island than the stories I heard there. In Cedar Key, God reminded me that there is nothing better for me than just sitting quiet, praising Him for His glorious paintings of nature.
I’ve certainly learned that I don’t need to go away to find rest. Goodness, no. It’s nice, of course. But it was in my own dining room where the Lord directed me to Isaiah 30:15: This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” This verse did not come gently but as a word of discipline, one I hope to never have to experience again.
I have learned through many storms—real ones and those which are a natural part of life—that in the midst of them, I can find the “eye,” the place where it grows quiet. Whether on a tropical island, a church filled with worshippers, a lazy Sunday afternoon on the sofa, or looking out my own back door…I must find these places of respite.
Eva Marie Everson is the award-winning author of a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her latest work of Southern fiction for Baker/Revell is Chasing Sunsets. Read more about Eva Marie’s Southern Voice at http://www.evamarieeversonssouthernvoice.blogspot.com/ or her deeper moments of personal healing at http://www.evamarieeverson.blogspot.com/