Promises and Predictions

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It was 10 a.m., Wednesday, September 28. It had been a frantic morning, preceded by twenty-four hours of preparation and prayers that hurricane Ian would weaken or turn to the west and out into the Gulf of Mexico. People living in low-lying areas had evacuated to higher ground, and then again to even higher ground, to escape the predicted storm surge. The key word is predicted. They predicted an 18-foot storm surge with hurricane Charlie in 2004, but the water never even rose out of the canals. Hurricane after hurricane, the predicted storm surge never actually happens. Sadly, this storm would be different.

By 11 a.m., we were hunkered down safely inside my sister-in-law’s home, on high ground with a new roof and hurricane shutters. The winds had become brutally intense. Inside, we watched the news and saw the predicted storm surge became a horrifying reality. First in Marco Island, then in Naples and Bonita Springs. As the storm crawled to the north, that surge would push along with it, gathering force and more water as it crept toward Cape Coral. The reality began to sink in for the first time that my home could soon be filled with several feet of seawater. Up until now, it was still just a prediction.

About 1 p.m. I received a text from a parishioner who lives close by the church. So far, I had been primarily focused on my family and my home. The text contained a lone picture that shocked me into the bigger picture. It was a picture of the church, with the steeple toppled and hanging precariously over the roof. My heart sank.

By 2 a.m., the power was out, and we turned on the radio to listen to the reports of what was going on outside. With the windows covered, we could only hear the howling wind and the occasional impact of debris hitting the house. We watched on a weather app as the eye of Ian passed right over Cape Coral. But unlike many other hurricanes, it was never calm in the eye of Ian. Even with the windows covered, we could tell that the sky was brighter in the eye, but the winds never stopped blowing. We went to sleep that night, listening to the wind, and wondering what we’d wake up to in the morning. Our prayers were for our community and for the strength to face whatever daybreak would bring.

As the sun rose, people across southwest Florida cautiously crept from their homes to survey the damage. We listened to the radio with horror as we heard about what happened to places like Sanibel, Pine Island, and Fort Myers Beach. After checking on my home and thanking God that the surge stopped at my front door, I went to the church. The steeple was no longer hanging by a thread. It was on the ground beside the church. Most of the shingles were stripped off the sanctuary roof. As I approached the front doors, I feared what things would look like inside. My internal prediction wasn’t a pretty picture. I expected to see most of the ceiling fallen to the floor and water everywhere. But to my surprise and joy, everything appeared to be intact. Sure, some water leaked in, but nothing like I expected. There was damage, but nothing was destroyed on the inside. Thankfully, my prediction was wrong.

God never promised that we wouldn’t have to go through the valley of the shadow of death. But he did promise that we would never go alone. The key word is promised. Jesus didn’t predict that he’d be with us; he promised. Predictions tend to fall short of expectations, so we look at them with suspicion. But our God has made promises that he keeps even when the reality is worse than predicted. The church is dry now, and the roof is secure. The debris is picked up and sitting in piles, waiting to be hauled away. Plans are being made for the future. Those plans are not based on a prediction that things will get better. They are built on Jesus’ promise—not even the gates of hell will prevail against his Church.

Rev. Ed Nugent is Pastor of Living Faith Church in Cape Coral, Florida.

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