Don’t judge me too harshly until you read all the way through…

My husband and I own a house in Beaufort, SC – just north of the dot labeled Savannah. He bought the house in 2006 while he was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort. In 2007 the housing market crashed and the house was worth half of what he paid for it. In the years between 2012 (when he got out of the Marines) and today, we have rented the house waiting for the market to rebound enough that we can sell it and at least break even.

A few weeks ago, my husband got a phone call from a realtor we’ve been in contact with. She was calling to let us know that comparable properties are selling at a high enough price that it might be worth our while to consider listing ours. A week ago, he decided that he was going to head down to discuss the options with the realtor and our rental management company this coming weekend. As of noon today – Monday, September 2nd – the county our house is in is under mandatory evacuation in preparation for Hurricane Dorian’s arrival.

When hurricanes first organize and begin to move west, weather outlets all over the world release spaghetti models of the anticipated path. Early in the hurricane’s life, the spaghetti models look just like someone threw spaghetti at the wall – they’re all over the place. But as the storm’s trajectory becomes better understood and more accurately mapped, my anxiety level either rises exponentially or dissipates. Dorian had my anxiety level quite high.

For the bulk of the last week, the hurricane was supposed to head solidly toward Florida, leaving southern South Carolina in the area that would face tropical-storm-strength winds and some rain, but nothing overly concerning. Between the time that Dorian made its most recent change in trajectory and the time that the announcement of Beaufort County’s evacuation plan was made, there were not enough hours for us to get to Beaufort to board up the house and get back out before evacuations began. The rental management company does not board up the houses they manage, but others in town will do it for you if you have an arm and a leg to pay them and already have boards cut to size and on premises. So we just have to wait.

The house we own is a two-unit condo. It’s part of a home owners association (HOA). The HOA insurance covers everything from the studs out, while our personal home owners insurance covers everything from the studs in. If something happens to the house, we have to deal with two insurance companies. If something happens to the house, we have to go to Beaufort to take care of it. If something happens to the house, we have to travel 775 miles to get there. And oddly, hurricanes don’t seem to care what our schedule is or when trips to Beaufort may or may not be convenient. It would be a nightmare, right? One insurance company is bad enough, but two…

Every time a hurricane is headed toward our house in South Carolina I get nervous.

Every time a hurricane is headed toward our house in South Carolina, all of the “what ifs” begin to rumble around through my brain.

Every time a hurricane is headed toward our house in South Carolina, I selfishly want one of two things to happen: I want it to leave our house completely untouched OR I want it to level it. Take it to the concrete slab. Leave nothing for us to fix…just an insurance company payment and a goodbye to a once-loved home turned pain in the rear end rental. I don’t want a roof to fix. I don’t want broken windows or damaged siding. If it’s going to sustain damage, I just want it gone.

At least I think that’s what I want.

I have the luxury to think that’s what I want.

I have the luxury to think that’s what I want because that house is not my home.

I have the luxury to think that’s what I want because that house does not shelter my family or provide space for my livelihood.

I have the luxury to think that’s what I want because the worst that can happen to me as Hurricane Dorian barrels toward the east coast is paperwork and an expenditure of an unknown amount of money. I live a privileged enough life to be in a position to believe that a total loss to property that we own is a better end result than the inconvenience of partial damage.

What a privilege…

And then I think about the families who are at risk of losing their homes, or who already have. I think about the individuals who have lost their livelihoods, or who will in the days to come. And I think about the people who have lost their lives, or might as the storm continues on its course.

It breaks my heart.

It makes me mad at myself and at my own selfishness.

It gives me perspective.

The structure we own in South Carolina is just that – a structure. Yes, we own it. Yes, it is a financial investment. Yes, it is also a financial burden. But most importantly…

It is just a thing.

Look at this video. Look at it! Know that there are plenty more where this came from.

And I have the nerve to worry about whether a house that I don’t live in might sustain partial or total damage? I have the nerve to be afraid for four walls and roof? I have the nerve to begrudge the possibility of having to do “too much” paperwork?

Nope…that stops now.

I’ve witnessed hurricane damage from afar throughout my entire life. The television news hour always brought it into my living room. In May, I went on a mission trip with the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) to Puerto Rico and witnessed a hurricane’s power from inside the damaged living rooms of others.

The damage done in 2017 isn’t even close to being fully repaired today, but I got to witness the tenacity of the people living there. I witnessed what it is to lose your home. I witnessed what it is to live amidst the chaos of reconstruction. I witnessed what it is to rely on the help and generosity of a neighbor, a church family, and an extended global community. I also witnessed profound and inspiring faith in the midst of disruptive and costly destruction. I got to witness life moving on.

I witnessed the same thing in Beaufort in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew had come and gone. I am certain that I will see all of those things and more in the coming days after Dorian fizzles out. In seeing the human spirit’s resilience in the face and wake of true destruction and uncertainty, I comprehend more completely the insignificance of any threat to a structure that we own but do not live in.

I am grateful for this new perspective…although I can’t guarantee that it will always be the first lens through which I view an incoming hurricane. But I’m trying.

I am grateful for our two insurance companies and the knowledge that any damage that might be done is damage that can be undone through their coverage.

I am grateful that the house in South Carolina is not my home.

I am grateful.

I pray for the people who have experienced loss to Hurricane Dorian already.

I pray for the people who are in the hurricane’s path in the days ahead.

I pray that their houses, livelihoods, and lives are spared.

I pray because we are only partway through hurricane season and the storms only seem to be intensifying.

I pray that our house is spared.

I pray that I remember my new perspective if it’s not.

I pray.

Please pray!

UMCOR Cleaning Kit

When you’ve finished praying, please act. Consider donating to UMCOR – the United Methodist Committee on Relief. 100% of your donation will go to recovery and rebuilding efforts. Or build a cleaning kit or hygiene kit with your family or friends. I will gladly pick it up from you or tell you where you can drop it off. These kits change lives in the wake of devastation. Donate blood. DO NOT send unwanted or unasked for goods to affected areas. They become hindrances, not help.

As the hurricane season continues, please remember that you can make a difference in the lives of the individuals, families, and communities affected by these devastating storms.

Those who have been affected can make a difference in your life, too.

They certainly have in mine.

The “C” Word…

Ten years ago, I sat in the waiting room at the Cleveland Clinic while my mom underwent the longest and most arduous surgery that she had faced in her five-year battle with colon cancer.

Six years and 109 days later, my mom’s battle with cancer ended.

At 12:00 a.m. this morning, Facebook Memories reminded me of what occurred so many years ago today.

Ten years!!!

On one hand it feels like ten minutes ago, and on the other it seems like an eternity. But I remember that day.

My mom was scheduled for a ten-hour surgery that would involve at least twelve surgeons. Her cancer was so widespread that the only reason they were even willing to attempt anything was because a new chemotherapy “wash” that the Cleveland Clinic had had in trial phase had been approved by the FDA that summer. It was the only treatment that had any shot at making a difference, and they were determined to at least try.

It had only been a few weeks since some of us had been at the Clinic. In July, when blood tests revealed an abnormality but scans had not shown tumors, the surgeon who had performed her prior tests, treatments, and surgeries opted for exploratory surgery just to make sure nothing was wrong. It turned out that everything was wrong.

My mom had cancer in her colon, all over her abdominal cavity walls, and on many of her vital organs. There was so much cancer that the surgery that they had hoped was just exploratory, or at most a simple procedure to remove one or two tumors, was aborted to brainstorm how to move forward, and to schedule the surgeons required. They would try again on August 21st.

When we arrived in Cleveland the night before mom’s surgery, we spent our time enjoying each other’s presence and doing our best to ignore the elephant in the room. My siblings were in from North Carolina and Pittsburgh, and having no idea what we would face the next day, we enjoyed the evening as much as possible. At some point, we went down to the hotel pool in an attempt to kill some time. The pool water was cold, but there were people in the nearby hot tub. We wanted to get into the hot tub and my siblings were annoyed when the people in it occupied it for a great span of time with no consideration for anyone else. I remember being so irritated with them for being so irritated about something so inconsequential! Mom’s body was overrun with cancer and this surgery was our only hope. Who cared how cold the pool was or how long the hot tub hoarders stayed? Tomorrow was what everyone should have been worried about.

Well, tomorrow finally arrived and my family made our way to the Cleveland Clinic. Mom’s surgery was scheduled early since it was slated to take so long and require so many people. My family and I sat with my mom until she was called back to be prepped, and then the waiting game began. It’s funny what you remember in the midst of trying times…

I remember that we had a large group, so finding space in the waiting area was difficult.

I remember that at the time, the Cleveland Clinic provided families with a pager that allowed the surgical team to send updates as things progressed. That pager seemed like a hot potato in the children’s game – everyone touched it, but everyone was afraid to be caught with it when the timer went off. What if the message it transmitted hinted at something bad? Who would be the one to know first and have to share the news?

I remember that when we went to sit on the lower floor because there was more space, the particular area that we ended up in had a water feature. It was meant to soothe. It ended up irritating me because it had been a rainy summer at home that year, and the water feature sounded like a downpour. I didn’t want the dreariness of a rainy day clouding my mood in the waiting room on surgery day. I wanted to remain hopeful.

I remember that at different parts of the day, my family drifted in and out of the hospital. No one went real far, but they couldn’t just sit and wait. I couldn’t do anything but sit and wait. I had brought several books with me, had a list of people that I was entrusted to update throughout the day, and I just couldn’t make myself walk out of the waiting room even though I desperately wanted to be anywhere else.

I remember people watching.

I remember witnessing moments of incredible emotional intimacy play out in the midst of anxious chaos.

I remember seeing the relief on people’s faces when they received the page that their loved one’s surgery was coming to an end.

I remember waiting.

And wondering.

And staring at the pager.

And hoping.

And waiting.

And fearing.

And staring at the pager.

And waiting.

And praying.

And reflecting.

As I managed my stress that day (I got mad at my coffee cup), and observed other people – complete strangers – manage their own, I remember knowing that the irritation I had felt toward my siblings the night before had been unfair. They were anxious, too, and their frustration had been placed at the steps of an occupied hot tub. It wasn’t about the people or the hot tub. It was about wanting to be able to affect an outcome; to be in control when we were overwhelmed by a situation in which we had none.

As I reflect today, I am astonished by the events that led us to that day and the events that would come after. Mom’s recovery was long and painful; her surgery had been all-encompassing and took a toll on her body. My mom had been through a lot in the prior five years since her original Stage 4 diagnosis (including a diagnosis of, and treatment for breast cancer), but this was the first time that mom showed signs of battle fatigue. As usual, though, Mom handled it with incredible patience, grace, and humor, and she was back to normal in a remarkably short period of time. If you had met her, you’d never had known that she was fighting a terminal illness.

Looking back, I know that the five years that led us to August 21, 2009, helped prepare us for the years ahead. The waiting, and wondering, and fearing, and hoping of that day ten years ago prepared us for the unknowns that accompanied the diagnoses that were yet to come. Waiting rooms and treatment facilities became familiar territory as mom underwent a total of more than one-hundred rounds of chemotherapy…with a few radiation treatments and clinical trials thrown in, too. While the ten+ hours of waiting that day seemed excruciatingly slow, the three weeks of transitioning to death that happened late in 2015 seemed to happen in a split second. Through all of it, though, three things stood out: We had mom. We had each other. And we had faith.

A little over a year ago, I wrote the following:

God didn’t give my mom cancer. God didn’t choose to not cure my mom. God didn’t choose to not answer the prayers of all of those who desperately wanted my mom to live. God didn’t. Cancer did.

Cancer happens. Life happens. Tragedy, illness, and heartache happen. God doesn’t cause it. Ever. God sees us through.

My mom had cancer…not because God decided to smite my mom for some sin or misstep, but because cells in her body multiplied too quickly and tumors formed. Cancer spread…not because God thought my mom deserved to suffer, but because cancer is; cancer does.

Through every single moment of her cancer, my mom believed in God, trusted God, thanked God. Not because she thought God would cure her…but because she believed that God gave her the strength to find the good in every single day that she didn’t have cancer, and every single day that she did.

My mom was first diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2004. It should have been the end, but she had eleven incredible years after her diagnosis. She got to see her kids get married. She got to see her kids start families. She got to meet every single grandson born into our family. She got to teach after she retired from teaching, and she retired early because she had a cancer fight to fight.

She lived to see my brother come home from Afghanistan after she was placed in Hospice care, and she died the day he turned 30. That might sound awful to you, but we actually got to celebrate my brother’s birthday because we weren’t worried about the deteriorating status of my mom. She couldn’t give him a gift that day, but she ended up giving us all a gift. We celebrated life that day instead of fearing her death.

Life happens. Illness happens. Death happens. Things we can’t control happen. The God that my mom believed in, and taught me to believe in, doesn’t cause them…but God does see us through.


And God continues to do just that…as does my family.

It’s been ten years since my mom’s massive surgery. It’s been just shy of fifteen years since her original diagnosis. It’s been almost four years since she died. As I look back at all of the days between then (the many “then”s which we experienced) and now, I don’t see cancer anymore. I see a brief part in the continuing story of a remarkable family. Cancer may have facilitated the end of my mom’s life, but it in no way defined it. Her life was defined by love. Always love.

My mom loved life, she loved and was loved by her family, and she loved and was loved by God. Those days were full of cancer and all of its messiness, of course…but they were also filled with courage, laughter, friendship, hope, victories, celebrations, tears, fears, hope, patience, kindness, compassion, and strength. But most of all, love.

On this tenth anniversary of one of my scariest days, I am so thankful for the lessons that my mom taught – in life, through her illness, and in the way that she died – and all of the lessons that I’m still learning along the way. I’m thankful that I have reached a place where the realities of cancer no longer provide the lens through which I re-view the stories and life moments that happened between 2004-2015. I would give anything for my nephews to have had more time with my mom, but I look forward to the stories that I can tell them of her strength, grace, humor, and courage – the true scope of which I would never have fully understood had it not been for the battle she fought.

At the end of this day ten years ago, I was so thankful that my mom was alive. At the beginning of this day, I am so thankful that she lived. As I look toward tomorrow, I do so knowing that I can’t stop what’s coming – good or bad – but it’s still up to me to choose how I will respond. I’m grateful to have had such an incredible example.