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Charley destroyed couple’s home but not their faith & friendships

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (BP)–Clasping a salvaged flower-strewn wall decoration she once made, Carolyn Stoll couldn’t bring herself to look past the large sliding glass doors to the inside of what had been her home.

Standing under half of a carport — in the only shade her double-wide mobile home still provided -– Stoll pointed to the peeled-off roof about 12 feet away. The huge chunk of white metal had wrapped closely around the remains of a towering palm tree snapped in two.

It had been a long week, Stoll said earlier. First, her daughter miscarried a child in Michigan. Three days later, while in Michigan taking care of her daughter, Hurricane Charley ripped through her neighborhood, forcing her husband, Mike, out of their home to stay with friends from First Baptist Church in Punta Gorda.

“I can’t go in there. I don’t want to go in there anymore,” Carolyn sighed, venturing inside only long enough to snatch the straw wall decoration from a soggy wall by the door. “I’ve been in there enough times.”

Natives of Grand Rapids, Mich., Carolyn and Mike moved to Florida in 1997 after spending summers vacationing in the Gulf Coast city since he retired from a trucking company in 1993. When she gave up her management position at Pizza Hut, they moved south to live in a double-wide mobile home where Mike could position his boat on a nearby coastal inlet and she could leave the rigors of management behind.

Until Aug. 13 when Hurricane Charley, a category 4 storm — the first of its kind in southwest Florida since 1960 -– left miles of debris strewn across an eight-county area from one side of the peninsular state to the other.

At her daughter’s home in Michigan, Stoll said she was already smarting from having lost a grandchild Aug. 11 and helping her daughter, her son-in-law and two grandsons through a difficult time. Then Mike called Aug. 13 and said he had been ordered out of their home.

“It was a hard week,” Stoll told the Florida Baptist Witness on the way to view what had been their home. “We lost everything,” she said. “We lost all of our furniture. The house is just kind of sitting in ruins.”

Throughout the drive, Carolyn and Mike shared about their lives in Punta Gorda and talked carefully about what was next. Carolyn said their daughter wanted them to move back “up north” to Michigan.

Mike speculated he would be “in the grocery store bagging carry-out.”

“So, I guess we are going to have to live with [our daughter], being we are kind of homeless,” Carolyn quipped.

Mike teared up at the thought of having to leave First Baptist Church in Punta Gorda.

“It’s a great church,” Mike said. “We really fell in love with it.”

“We dearly love ‘em,” Carolyn said of the friends they’ve made.

Part of a community praise team for years, the Stolls joined FBC a year ago and experienced their first Vacation Bible School this past summer.

“Rickshaw Rally, race to the Son,” Mike crowed, echoing the VBS theme in thinking about the good times.

“God will take care of us,” Mike reflected, looking around at what Carolyn had just described as a “war zone.”

Carolyn brightened at the thought of returning to Michigan to watch the grandchildren grow up.

Mike said he is rethinking the busy fall he had planned performing in various churches.

“Now I think my busy fall is going to be taking the grandkids to church,” he said. “I think my faith is stronger.”
Joni Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan