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Raw and re-opened wounds

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–My long-healed wounds are now raw and oozing again. Post-traumatic stress is kicking me in the ribs making every breath short. The tightness in my chest is as strong as if Hurricane Katrina made landfall yesterday, not three years ago. Instead, the storm’s name is Gustav.

I’m awake at 1:30 a.m., having an anxiety attack, feeling as if I need to save someone, help someone, do something. I’m having the same guilt-laden, yet exuberant, feeling of survival after this storm as when my family survived with minimal damage after Katrina. My mother lives less than a mile from the beach on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and my in-laws are farther south in Louisiana than New Orleans. Both have all utilities restored. Amazing.

Yet I sit here, three days post storm, 100 miles inland, listening to the endless hum, no roar, of generators up and down my street. They have a strange, rhythmic beat like the sound of distant, but menacing, war drums. Always there to remind us, “You’re in the dark, if we choose to attack.”

The pictures on the local news and the homes I now drive past are reminiscent of many trips into the flooded neighborhoods of New Orleans. The only difference is, here people can start the clean up in a few hours instead of a few weeks. The water is different, too. Instead of saltwater — at least inland — the residents are dealing with freshwater. However, the mud and the mold smell the same. My nostrils and eyes are burning. It won’t go away.

There are moments of levity. Before the storm came rolling in, I was feeling the beginning effects of my plight, shortness of breath and probably temper. Some of our ministry assistants laughed with me as I realized I am a Ph.D. with ADD suffering from PTSD Can I put that on a plaque?

The effects of Katrina, not really Gustav, are much more searing when I see it affect my children. When we evacuated New Orleans before Katrina struck, my daughter Hannah, then barely five years old, forgot her favorite stuffed animal. She cried herself to sleep every night, worried that “Rainbow Bear” was “hurt.” Hannah, now eight, didn’t let Rainbow Bear out of her sight until Gustav passed over our new home in Pineville, La.

As the winds began to increase to hurricane strength during Gustav, my middle son, Jeremy, who is 12, hid his most valuable possessions in what he called a “very safe place.” His valuables include an autographed football by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a New Orleans Saints football jersey signed by former receiver Joe Horn, and a Jackie Robinson baseball card. Jeremy wasn’t saving them for himself. He told my wife, “Mom, we can sell these to get back on our feet after the storm.” I am weeping as I type. Pride and pain are a weird combination.

Our oldest son, Keith Jr., is a rock. Like his dad, his desire to help kicks in during and after a storm. But, for all his internal strength, I know what he is suppressing inside.

Even our ugly, red door on our house reminds me of Katrina. The nearly 20 inches of rain has caused our door to swell, making it almost impossible to open. My mind races back to two groups of people I met following Katrina. The first group was a family trying to check on items in their home. The second was a group of volunteers from Florida in yellow Southern Baptist Disaster Relief shirts. The Floridians and I came across this family standing in the street. Stopping to talk, we found they couldn’t even open their door because it was swollen shut. A lock has yet to be invented that can seal a door as secure. So they stood, helpless, only guessing what it was like inside, not wanting to break a window out of fear that what they might return and salvage, would be stolen. We held hands in the street and prayed.

Though the circumstances of your life’s storms may be different, our family is a living testimony of the grace of God. We may be scarred and scared, but — praise God — we survived Hurricane Gustav.
Keith Manuel is an evangelism associate on the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s evangelism & church growth team.

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  • Keith Manuel