How Hurricane Irma can teach you to be a first responder.

As I watched coverage of Hurricane Irma this weekend, I couldn’t help but think of this destructive storm as a metaphor for the storms we experience in our lives. In the wake of Irma there have been repeated calls to evacuate, board up homes, take shelter, fill up the gas tank, and stock up on food and water. But hurricane force winds often descend upon our lives without warning or directions on how to handle them. 

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As we face our storms, we go through the process that many Floridians will over the next days, weeks and months.

Order. Disorder. Transformation.

Prior to any storm, one we know is coming or not, our life has relative order. We have expectations, we know what we believe, we make plans and have reasonable certainty they will come to fruition. But once the storm arrives, complete disorder sets in. Often times the storms we experience do not allow us to prepare and we are violently thrown about. We find ourselves waist deep in sadness, fear, devastation, grief, disbelief, and anger. Our child dies. The cancer comes back. A job is lost. A spouse leaves.

And here we are stranded.

Total and complete disorder sets in. Everything is in disarray and we have no idea, no plan, no roadmap for how to put it all back together.The truth is, life will never be the same. We will never be the same.

And this brings me to the first responders. When the disorder sets in, they arrive on the scene. These are people willing to get right in the middle of the mess and attempt to put things back together. These men and women say - 

I will go there. I will walk into the unknown and see what I can do.
I will begin to wade through the debris, the undone homes and buildings,
and see if we can make a way.”

They commit to looking for survivors.
They risk their own safety. 
First responders can’t fix the storm.
They can’t change its course or outcome, but they can help work through the disorder and bring about transformation.

In the disarray of our storms, we are looking for helpers. We need people to come alongside of us when all that we know has been destroyed. Even when we can prepare for the storm, the truth is, we never know what the experience will actually be like. And so these helpers hold our hands and light the path.

Some days we need first responders to sit with us in silence while we weep, or allow us to vent when we are angry, or help us make concrete plans for next steps.

Some days we just need a first responder to bring us a coffee, write us a note or send us a text. Last week was one of those weeks where I needed some first responders. I found myself in great disappointment over something I had expected and anticipated for a long time. I faced anxiety and worry over child care for my precious Bodey. A family member died suddenly, and I felt intensely overwhelmed by life.

Overall, I felt unseen and let down.

And then I went to yoga class and my friend listened to me and offered to help. She even came over later in the day and brought me a smoothie. She couldn’t fix my problems, but she saw me and validated me. She responded.

I have a thousand examples of first responders who have lit my path over the last 5 plus years. They are my teachers, my guides, my lights in the darkness.

It’s our first responders that bring us through the disorder to the transformation. It’s their love and the light that allow us to take the next step. They help us take a deep breath and realize we are not alone. We learn we can clean up the mess, rebuild, and finally rebirth ourselves into a new space. But here’s the thing, once we’ve been helped by a first responder, the love and energy we receive calls us to be a first responder. We too can show up in the mess, and destruction,  grab a shovel and get to work.

And we are called to do just that.

Experienced first responders are those who have been rebirthed. Ones that have allowed the tumultuous winds and waves to refine them. Ones who are wide awake to the gritty beauty of life. Who walk the balance beam of joy and pain, of laughter and tears.

This is the type of first responder I want to be. One who is refined by my pain, not overcome by it. I’m learning how to do that every day. I’m working towards rebirth and healing. And so can you. Pay attention to your rebirth and transformation this week. If you don’t know what else to do, sit in silence for 20 minutes and then write down whatever comes to your mind. Go from there.

Interestingly enough, the name Irma means “universal, complete”. The storms that take us from order to disorder to transformation actually complete us. They bring us to the best version of ourselves. They invite us into a deep space of peace, of wholeness, of relationship with God and with each other. This invitation, when accepted, allows us to become a first responder, a beacon of light and hope as walk each other towards transformation.

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