Hurricane Matthew Brought Out The Best In My Brother

10/18/2016 02:36 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2017

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” Galatians 5:22-23 (MSG)

Packing up a family of seven and evacuating ahead of a looming storm tips the scale of the stress meter. My brother lives in Bluffton, S.C., and his home ended up being in the massive path of destruction resulting from Matthew.

One can only imagine how the enormous responsibility of keeping your family safe engulfs the psyche of a dad and husband. And in the midst of the surge to protect, my brother carried the weight of additional work-related duties.

He is director of operations for SERG Restaurant Group on Hilton Head Island, a conglomerate of ten restaurants. And he is a partner in of one of the flagship establishments, Poseidon, which employs 110 people.

Locking down and preparing a place of business and a home for a direct hit while mobilizing an escape route for a bloodline sounds like a perfect recipe for ruffled feathers. Instead, the heightened circumstances brought out the best in my little brother. And I witnessed his valor first-hand; the fruits of the Spirit on full display.

Ten years separate my brother and me. I was married with three kids before he graduated from high school. He’s spent more years being an uncle than a father. And now I observe him raising five kids under age seven while perched upon my empty nest.

The unobstructed view of his parenting journey is a beautiful gift. At times the inclination to say, “been there, done that”, fizzes to the surface while comparing childrearing scenarios.

But when it comes to experiencing a hurricane, I have not been there or done anything close to that. My heart continues to swell with pride and joy after witnessing my brother’s courageous demeanor while knee-deep in crisis. You learn the true measure of a man in times of distress.

The long and short of the storm is Hurricane Matthew slammed Hilton Head and Bluffton on Friday evening, Oct. 7th at high tide. My brother and his family had evacuated to stay with my sister-in-law’s parents in Cincinnati the day before.

On Saturday, October 8th, I received the following text from my sister-in-law, “We just got the heartbreaking news that two large trees came down on our home.” Followed by a picture of an enormous pine bored into the roof directly above two of the kids bedrooms.

“Thank you, Lord, for keeping them safe”, a prayer which continues to seep from my heart ten days later.

I called my sister-in-law immediately. Her words were heavy, projecting a kaleidoscope of emotion from gratitude to despair and a whirlwind in between. As a fellow mom, my soul ached with sorrow over the damage and my heart sang with praise for safety right alongside her. A bounty of unspoken what if’s hung in the air. But she was strong and resolute despite her sadness. Beauty from ashes.

My brother spoke next. Calm, collected, determined. An attitude of “it is what it is and we’ll face the problem head on” shimmered like gold over the phone. If any turbulence swayed him beneath the surface, his words covered the angst. He was strong and resolute despite any worry. His bravery steeped into my spirit. Peace...

Before the five minute call ended, my husband and I made a decision to drop everything and head south to help my brother. No words were exchanged between us and no concerns about whether my husband could take a last minute week vacation even came to the surface. A deep and internal knowing flooded through both our hearts. God was sending us and would work out the details without a doubt.

We coordinated to meet up with my brother at his home on Monday, October 10th, the day the highways leading to Bluffton would re-open. He left his wife and kids in Cincinnati in order to assess the damage. My husband and I drove down from Cleveland, set to arrive a few hours after him.

Since he got to the house first, my brother called us, “Go on my Facebook page and watch the video I posted. It’s unbelievable what happened here.”

I was driving at the time, so my husband played the video. Needless to say, I nearly drove off the road while glancing at the damage. But what struck me most wasn’t the outrageous images before my eyes. Rather, my brothers lighthearted play-by-play while filming the scene dumbfounded me. Somehow he found the wherewithal within to entertain with sarcastic quips while filming disaster. Joy...

When we pulled into his driveway two hours later my heart sunk. Not because our eyes were met with shock and awe; in fact, the front yard showed little effect of the storm. But I got a lump in my throat when I saw him sitting in a chair on the front porch waiting for us to show up. The overwhelming damage yet to be seen in the backyard rendered him helpless while anticipating our arrival.

After bear hugs were exchanged and cold beers were cracked, the three of us made our way to the back yard. If you can picture this, my brother somehow had a smile on his face and cracked a few jokes as he led us through a yard which resembled Jurassic Park after the battle of Armageddon.

Utter destruction and chaos describes the scene. There were five trees impacting the home. Three remained on the house and two more made a hit and run. There were also eight additional trees littered crisscross around the yard like Lincoln logs.

And these aren’t any trees, we are talking 60-100 ft pines weighing anywhere from 13,000 to 18,000 lbs. each! The uprooted bases alone were taller than my brother who is 6 feet tall. Somehow, the majority of the trees fell every which way except on the house.

As I looked around at the monumental disaster, all I could do was praise God. The only explanation for why or how only one of thirteen trees actually smashed through the house is Divine intervention. And the only explanation for my brother keeping his wits about him is Divine juxtaposition - God within him. Faithfulness...

The ensuing five days were filled with my husband and brother cutting, stacking, burning, and hauling trees from dawn til dusk - this with generator power for three days and non-potable water for five days. A stressful search for a crane to remove the three large trees laying on the house added mental pressure to the mix. Not to mention the impending financial burden from an insurance deductible yet to be incurred.

My brother never complained once. Patience...

Several good Samaritans gave hours of their time on day one which gave a boost to the recovery efforts. My sister-in-law’s mother was also there for the week and she and I rearranged the house. All the kids clothes and belongings needed to be transferred and organized in one closet. Furniture had to be moved and make-shift beds for the older kids had to be set up on the undamaged side of the house.

My brother never batted an eye as we invaded their privacy and prodded through their belongings like they were our own. His family coming home to a temporary safe haven mattered more than the minutia of possessions. Goodness...

In the midst of the hubbub at the house, my brother had a restaurant to tend to. He brought me to work with him mid-week and I was blessed to observe him in action as he met with his managers and spelled out a game-plan for reopening the restaurant at weeks end.

He was poised, professional, positive, confident despite having the worry of when a crane would show up to remove a 15,000 lb. tree protruding through his roof. The weight of which was pushing trusses deeper through the ceilings of his kid’s bedrooms each day. Self-control...

He was peaceful and kind despite wondering when his home would be safe enough for his wife and children to return. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched him lead with grace and assurance. I was overcome with his display of character and integrity. Gentleness and Kindness...

By day four prayers were answered and a 60 ton crane showed up to safely remove the three trees. The afternoon of the same day, the extensive hole in the roof was covered with plywood and protected with a tarp. Thirty-six hours later an unforecasted rainfall came through. God provided in the nick of time.

At 1:30 am on Day 6, the van carrying my brother’s wife and five young children pulled into the driveway safe and sound. The reunion slayed me as I watched my brother, smiling from ear to ear, embrace each member of his family. Not a trace of the stressful demands of the week showed through him as he hugged each child, 5 months to seven years old. He stood strong and brave just like he had on day one. Love...

My brother’s house could have been destroyed beyond repair from the potential impact of thirteen trees, but it wasn’t. The house could have flooded from torrential rains pouring through a gaping hole in the roof, but it didn’t.

The roof and bedrooms can be repaired. His home is still livable. His wife and children are unharmed. Blessing after blessing after blessing.

Why? God’s grace and answered prayer.

My sister-in-law placed a statue of Mary and Joseph on the floor of the living room and a statue of Jesus in front of the entry door before they left. Their young family sat in a circle in Cincinnati while the storm was brewing, praying a rosary and asking God to protect their home.

And God protected and delivered in countless ways, seen and unseen. I am blessed to have shared in the riches of their family’s faith. I’m honored to have such an amazing role model in my brother.

Godspeed in your recovery little brother. Thank you for showing me what happens when we live God’s way. For teaching me about authentic trust, true strength, enduring peace. I’ll never forget the bountiful harvest of wisdom glistening beneath fallen pines.

I love you. You are one of the #goodguys

Follow more of Shelby’s writings http://shelbyspear.com Twitter @shelspear Facebook shelspear Instagram shelspear
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