|We made it through the storm...|
Yet, friends are hard to come by (And, I'm not talking about acquaintances or superficial relationships most of us have!). And, good friends even harder, especially for men, who tend to be less open about letting others in. More so in a culture that prioritizes independence and self-reliance and considers dependence a deficiency.
For me, a friend is not just someone you can party with, like Hollywood's version of The Hangover or Old School, where male bonding and friendship is reduced to nothing more than grown adolescent pranks and debauchery. Although, there's something to be said about sharing a good meal, a glass of wine and good times.
A true friend is someone who, when you're at your lowest point in life or in dire need, is there for you; whether emotionally, spiritually or physically.
As it states in the Letter of James, "If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:15-17)
I always knew I had great friends. I've seen them in action over the years. But, it wasn't until recently that I appreciated just how special they truly are.
As some of you know, I work in television news. The last week has been incredibly busy. First, planning our coverage for the threat of Hurricane Irma, then being locked down at the station as we began our continuous coverage, which lasted almost 130 hours straight. It was exhausting and at the same time exhilarating.
As the storm approached, when it looked more and more like South Florida was in the direct path of possibly the most alarming hurricane to ever threaten our area, being much bigger and more powerful than Hurricane Andrew which devastated a good part of South Dade 25 years ago, I started getting worried. And, I'll be honest, I usually don't.
Most computer models had it hitting Miami dead on. So, I convinced my wife to take herself, our kids, mother-in-law and dogs to my parents house to wait out the storm.
My reason was twofold. First, I thought they would be together in a safe place. My parents have hurricane shutters, which my house didn't have and they just got a new roof. Secondly, I felt safe knowing that my Dad would be there in case anything happened.
Despite the time we had to prepare for this monster of a storm (which was a category 5 for a good part of it's trajectory) because of the long hours I was putting in at work, I never had much time to prepare my house. Then again, I never do. But this one was scary!
Moreover, as the hurricane got closer, people went into a frenzy. Gas stations, supermarkets and hardware store lines were blocks long.
For those without hurricane shutters, like me, lines for plywood at Home Depot or other lumber stores, were never ending and, even when people waited, there was no guarantee they would have wood by the time your turn came.
Needless to say, I wasn't able to wait in line for hours on end. Not to mention, if I did, I had no clue how to install plywood on my windows. I'm not exactly the most handy man with a hammer and a drill! As I tell friends, I'm much better writing checks.
To make things worse, one of our front windows was cracked, which I feared would be the first to go with the first gust of wind and cause havoc and destruction inside, when the hurricane force winds finally hit.
I spent many sleepless nights praying for the safety of my wife and kids, first and foremost, but the protection of my property as well. Not that I was doing much about it. I had accepted the fact that my property may not be standing after the storm, thinking all the while that material things can be replaced, but it stilled weighed heavily on my mind.
Then, two days before Irma was scheduled to impact South Florida, I was scheduled, like I am every Friday, to lector at morning Mass. I'll be honest, I debated whether going, since they were expecting me early at work, and our new News Director, who flew in from Dallas early to join us, was waiting to meet with me to discuss the coverage plan.
Still, I thought, I can't renege on my commitment to God and, if my new boss can't understand, well I guess I would be looking for a job in the not too distant future. I texted him and our Vice President of Local News that I would be several minutes late to the morning editorial meeting because I was going to lector at Mass and pray for all our safety. My News Director actually encouraged me to pray for us all!
As I arrived at the church the anxiety over the possible destruction of my house and cracked window was overwhelming my thoughts. I focused on getting ready to read, knowing that anxiety is a lack of trust in God but I couldn't help it.
As we gathered to pray with the priests before Mass began, on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the threat of Irma was mentioned, the Deacon, who is a personal friend, stated that, by now, besides prayers, everyone should have installed their hurricane shutters. Yikes, I thought.
I mentioned that I had no shutters and was concerned about my house. Then the unexpected happened. One of the Extraordinary Eucharist Ministers, who regularly serves with me on Fridays, and is part of our men's group, but that particular day was about to leave because we had too many other EEMs serving on the Feast Day, turned to me and said, "Do you need plywood?"
"I need everything," I answered with a knot in my throat, "I haven't had time to go get anything because we've been working long hours." (I didn't mention the part that I would be useless if I did have the materials needed!)
"I can get you plywood and put them up for you. Just give me your address and after I get done with my house I'll go by and put up yours."
Really? You would do that for me?
With that, we had to start the Mass. As liturgy began, I started to think about his offer. Would I let it go by and not accept it because of pride? Or stand pat, hoping for the best and God's Mercy, even though I knew that God helps those who help themselves?
Or be like the guy, in the parable, whose boat sinks and is stranded on a desert island. He prays and prays for God to save him, envisioning the hand of God reaching down from the sky and taking him from his precarious situation.
Then, as he prayed, a helicopter flies by offering help and the man said, "No thank you. God will save me," and he continues praying. Then a boat comes by and he says, "Thanks, but no thanks, I have faith. God will save me," and continues praying. Then a Coast Guard Cutter comes by and the man once again says, "No. I have faith God will help me," and he keeps praying.
Then he dies. When he gets to heaven, he asks, "God I had the faith to move mountains. I prayed incessantly, as St. Paul calls us to do. You promised that whoever knocks, the door will be opened. Why didn't you listen to my prayers? Why didn't you help me?"
God responds, "My son; whatever do you mean? I sent you a helicopter. I sent you a boat. I sent you a Coast Guard cutter and you rejected them."
Believe it or not, that's what was going through my mind. I didn't want to be that guy. Here was God answering my prayers, offering me help through a friend, and on the Feast Day of the Blessed Mother no less, who I had also invoked for help! I couldn't say no. I had to swallow my pride (men hate to ask for help) and admit that I needed assistance.
My eyes watered, not from having to ask for a hand, but because I had been praying so hard for God to protect my family and property and the thought that I almost didn't go to church that morning. Then, He sends me a helicopter!
God works through people and many times, if we are open, He puts people in our lives when we most need them. This was one of those moments for me.
After Mass, I told him I would take him up on his offer and how hard I had been praying for God to protect my property and here he was offering to help. I said, "It was an answer to my prayers," as my voice cracked and my eyes watered. Another friend, who was also serving, was apparently moved and volunteered to help.
The friend with the plywood tells me the story of how God works. He says he was in line at Home Depot for hours and they were running out of wood, so they were only selling ten sheets of plywood per customer.
A couple of people before he gets to the front of the line, they run out of wood. Everyone got upset and disappointed and before they started going on their way, a truck pulls up with more plywood. This time the employees said, they can sell as much wood as customers needed.
He said, he only thought he needed ten but decided to get five more in case someone else needed it. Lo and behold, someone did! God works in mysterious ways.
Well, as it turns out, I went to work and, on my way, I reached out to a couple of other friends, via text, who had volunteered to help me a few days before and I told them I didn't have the materials necessary to secure my house, asking if their offer was still valid. Without hesitation, they each asked at what time and they would be there!
As the day went by, I kept getting texts from the volunteers asking when they would start. Even my wife kept texting if they were still coming. It seems, the friend with the plywood was busy with his own house and didn't get to our house until sometime after 7:00 PM. As soon as he did, my other friends showed up.
I tried to hurry out of work and ran to a gas station to get some beers to offer them but, by the time I got home, at almost 9, I found they had left and not only covered the window of concern but they had actually put up aluminum shutters (not plywood) on three-fourths of my house! The only side left exposed (because they ran out of material) was the side of my neighbor, who has a two-story house that would protect us from the winds. Again, I felt my eyes tear up.
It was unbelievable to me that grown men, who all have families and busy schedules, would go out of their way like that for me.
It's like St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "There is nothing in this earth more to be prized than true friendship."
When I told my new boss the next day he said it said a lot about the man I was. Again, I got choked up after he left. Yes, I'm like Brett Favre at a retirement press conference!
The storm came and went and my house withstood without a blemish (except for losing power). And, my family, who decided to stay, despite my advice against it, was safe and sound.
I thanked God once again for showing me His love, despite my evident lack of trust and faith in Him, and for giving me such great friends, who, as the Beatles sang, helped me get by when I most needed them (although I wouldn't want to test them with my singing prowess!)...