Guest Blog Post: Our Hurricane Story

Blog Post by Elizabeth Sheplay:
“Our Hurricane Story: Some Wounds Can Only Be Healed Where They Are Given”.

“Some wounds can only be healed where they were given.” I heard this quote over five years ago, yet have always remembered it.

I cannot remember the exact date that we decided this was where God was leading, but sometime in the summer of 2017, my husband and I made the decision that the American University of the Caribbean (AUC) was where he would attend Medical School. This school is located on the island of Sint Maarten-a tiny, beautiful little island about a forty-five minute flight away from Puerto Rico.

You will learn why I know the distance from the island to Puerto Rico in a little bit.

But, I digress back.

I want to reiterate that this was a calculated decision my husband and I made… we prayed countless prayers about what Medical School would best prepare Kirk to become a doctor and be a great fit for us as a family. We sought wise-counsel and did our due-diligence in research. I even had a good friend and co-worker go on prayer walks with me weekly praying over this decision.

Another friend of ours gave us a prophetic word that I felt confirmed that this was the place God was directing our steps.

Whenever God directs my steps, I always want to follow… knowing He has our best interest in mind.

On September 1, 2017 Kirk and I left everything we knew and that was comfortable to us: our families, our church, our full-time jobs, our friends, our first home as a married couple, and our country. We even packed our entire home and put it in storage.

Honestly, this move and decision took huge sacrifice…. I mentally fought with the Lord so much over it… wanting to stay close to family, our church, our friends, and a life we had been very intentional about developing.

But, I have built enough history with the Lord that I knew He would take care of us. Kirk and I have already decided that we do not want to live a comfortable life…. And we have vowed that when God says go, we ALWAYS go… no matter what the cost is. Because He is one that we want directing our steps.

I love the verse Isaiah 6:8 which reads, “Here I am Lord, send me”. This verse has played an instrumental role in developing my attitude and heart. Isaiah responds to God’s call with these words. But not only that, Isaiah responded without knowing where exactly God was calling him. He just knew God was trustworthy and worth following His lead and so He was willing to go, without knowing where the assignment would call him.

I do not always do this, but I do pray and hope that you and I would reflect on where God is asking you to respond in your life with “Here I am Lord, send me”…

Geographically God may not be asking you to move, but He may be asking you change your heart posture, or say yes to a dream, or no to a fear, or a wait and trust Me, or courage to stop a toxic habit.

But, back to our move…

A few days before we left to make the move, I had heard one thing on Facebook about a bad Hurricane called Irma coming towards the island of Sint Maarten. We are both from California and knew nothing about Hurricanes. So, we still got on our flight and started to began our new season in our new home.

A short 4 days later on September 5, 2017, Hurricane Irma, the worst recorded Hurricane in the history of the world, directly hit our little island.

When I mean directly hit… I mean DIRECTLY HIT us.

The “eye” of the Hurricane, which is the inner circle of the Hurricane went straight over our island. The chances of that are so slim as our island is tiny.

We took shelter at the Medical School in Building 2 with around 600 other medical students, faculty, staff, and families. Building 2 was built to sustain a Category 5 Hurricane-which is what Irma was said to be.

We found out post-Irma that the winds got as high as 250 mph and if there was such a thing, it would be classified as a Category 7 Hurricane due to its severity and strength.

We honestly never knew if the building we sheltered in would hold up, as it has not “actually” been tested by a real hurricane, but it was the safest building we could shelter at.

By God’s grace, we did not shelter at our apartment, as it was completely demolished. We probably would not be living today if we did. So, I thank the Lord for sparing our life and giving us the wisdom to take shelter at the school.

The whole Hurricane lasted around 12 hours and it was intense. We were in an auditorium with everyone else during the duration of the Hurricane. We were not allowed to leave-as it was too dangerous. I will never forget the loud sounds of the winds howling against the walls, nor forget the shaking walls and sounds of things hitting the outside of the building. My husband described it as sounding like a jet engine was right next to you.

When the “eye” of the Hurricane was directly over us, my ears popped-the same sensation that happens often while flying on an airplane. The air pressure changed and it was completely quiet and peaceful outside. No wind, no rain, nothing at all…. AUC sent out security to go on rescue missions during the hour-long “eye” trying to find people they knew had not taken shelter at Building 2, as they realized nowhere else in the surrounding area was safe any longer… this Hurricane was immeasurably destructive, strong, and slow moving. More than anyone even thought possible.

The second half of the Hurricane came directly after the eye passed us and it was just as destructive as the first six hours. The auditorium was tense, to say the least….We were all just waiting… not knowing what would be left of this place we called home. Hoping our building walls could sustain the pressure of the wind, rain, and debris blazing at it.

After the Hurricane was the hardest part of the whole experience. The school administration quickly realized that living on the island was not an option and therefore all 800 of us needed to get evacuated off. The problem was, the airport was destroyed along with the port for ships to come in. So, getting off the island seemed impossible.

Long story short, we waited a LONG five days until the United States military came and evacuated us from Sint Maarten and flew us to Puerto Rico. We then waited 3 days on Puerto Rico before we were flown to Chicago, Illinois back in the United States. My husband and I then took another flight the next day back to California to be with family and rest and recover while his school made some huge decisions on how and where to continue the semester for Medical School and if that would even be possible.

About two weeks after we flew back to California, we were told that the school was relocating to the U.K. for the duration of the semester and possibly longer. The day before our flight across the pond, we were told that we would be moving to Preston, England….

I had never heard of Preston, but now I cannot imagine my life without knowing it. It has been one of the most valuable places in my spiritual life.

So, we made the decision to move to the U.K. so that Kirk could start his Medical Schooling. The first month over there was hard. We lived in a very old dorm as I searched and searched and searched even more for housing. We had issues with our bank accounts while abroad, my debit card being eaten by an ATM, along with Credit Card fraud-causing my card to be invalid. I prayed some of my most desperate and honest prayers in England… and every time God came through in the miraculous. He continued to direct our steps… even in another new country.

With each passing day in England, it got better and better. We were able to join the church Crossgate in Preston and were invited over to the pastor’s house for lunch and to dinner at the Goulding’s house with their beautiful family!

I found a local 5k race that I ran in the most beautiful park on Saturday mornings. Both my in-laws and my parents came and visited us in England. We even made great friends with the owner of an Italian restaurant in town that invited us over to their house with their family for Christmas dinner!

And just as I started to feel comfortable in England, Kirk’s medical school made the decision to relocate back to the island of Sint Maarten for the upcoming January semester. Could the Lord really be directing our steps back to a place we experienced so much trauma?

I felt every emotion with this decision the school made. After three and a half months, it felt too soon to move back there.

This is how my thought process went:
Would the island be ready?
I cannot wait to go to the beach!
Would all the prices be inflated?
Less rain and more sun!
Would it be safe?

I had already experienced some symptoms of PTSD post-Hurricane, so I really was unsure how I would feel being back at the place that triggered all of that.

But we did what we knew to do. We prayed every day after the announcement about the move for God to go before us on the island, prepare it for us, and continue to direct our steps.

We moved back to the island on Tuesday, January 16th and it was obvious the island was still heavily damaged by the Hurricane. The airport is functioning, but you load on and load off of the airplane, go through customs, and pick up your checked baggage all under tents outside as the terminal is still destroyed.

One of the most surprising things for me being back is how smells trigger memories of the hurricane. I know that smells can be one of the strongest triggers of memory, but I had never experienced that first hand.

Again, with each passing day here, we are beginning to get more and more acclimated. A lot of the fears and things I was worried about in regards to the island were actually fully true:

The island is still in ruins in a lot of areas. The prices of groceries are absolutely astronomical, and it is not very safe to be out at night. We still have no internet at our home, forcing us to be at Kirk’s school all day every day as he needs the internet to study and I need it to work remotely.

Yet more than ever, I know God is directing our steps. And I know it is important that we be here on this island as God told me that He is redeeming the island, and that I get to partner with that. With each payment we make for rent or food, we are actually investing in their economy and that is an honor to do.

The quote I started this post with rings truer than ever in my life:

“Some wounds can only be healed where they were given.”

I fully recognize and believe not all hurt, pain, suffering, or loss can be healed by going to the place of its roots.

But for me, this is completely true.

I believe the island of Sint Maarten is where God wants to do some of the most restorative and beautifully redemptive work on my heart and in my life.

How can a place of such deep wounds and trauma also be the soil used to plant seeds of healing and growth?

That is the miraculous work of God.

It would be easy and almost normal to resist being back here. To put up walls and keep my life and heart isolated from making this place my home again-wishing we were anywhere but here.

But I know that healing is the best option, as I want to live a life full, restored, renewed, and free. I want to welcome back the island, love on the local people, and truly embrace this adventure we are on. To let my body, soul, and spirit fully be present here.

I am not sure where you have been hurt to your core or where you need healing. But I challenge you to really think through where you need to go with the Lord to get healing.

It may not be back to its roots…. But it also might be just that.

Sometimes facing the pain, loss, suffering, trauma, or whatever it is face on can be the only place you get healing, closure, and rest.

Because with healing comes wholeness and freedom and true peace.

As we are settling into our new normal of being back on the island, we still pray every morning that the Lord would direct our steps… He has proven faithful throughout this entire process and so I trust Him to continue to do so.

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth writes a blog at https://sheplayssite.wordpress.com/

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