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Christmas in the Eye of the Storm

ORGANIZED UNDER: Faith // Family

“Where will you go?”

On the phone with my mother, I watched as local radar showed Typhoon Pongsona creeping toward the Pacific island of Guam where we lived that December of 2002.

“Mom, there is no place TO go. We’ll be fine. These houses are built to withstand storms!”

As I reassured her, I ignored the pit in my stomach. Looking into the trusting eyes of our four young children, I knew I had to somehow keep up the facade of confidence I was not feeling. There was no place to go. And a huge, Category 5 hurricane was bearing down on the tiny island.

Typhoon Pongsona slammed into Guam on December 8, with peak winds of 175 miles an hour. As the storm passed directly over our little house on Andersen Air Force Base, we huddled together, attempting to block out the sounds of screaming wind and falling trees. Through the long hours of waiting for “all clear,” we distracted ourselves with card games and chatter. During the eerie quiet of the eye, we ventured outdoors to assess damage and check on neighbors. I’ll never forget the sight of splintered trees and yards swept clean of storage sheds and playground equipment.

Still, we were relatively lucky. While we had no power or running water for several weeks, parts of the island were without for months. I scrubbed laundry on a Lego® table with bottled water rations; other families lived in shelters. While we had some minor damages and inconvenience, the devastated island sustained millions of dollars in damages, hundreds of injuries, and one death. The sight of the stripped jungle and shorn beachlines depressed us, but I’m sure the families who lost their homes weren’t as concerned with the landscape.

Two days after the typhoon, a speeder broadsided our van in an intersection with no working streetlight. Time stood still for a moment. Then I heard the blessed sound of our toddler screaming from her overturned car seat. She was terrified and bruised, but okay. We suffered minor injuries, but our family walked away from the wreckage of our totaled van that day.

A Different Kind of Christmas

December that year was different. There were no shopping sprees or wish lists. Everyday needs like clean water, food, and basic hygiene were challenges. I was not always brave. Our furniture turned “squishy” from lack of air circulation, and we all got a little grumpy. The military flew in rations and allowed families to eat at the chow halls. This was a treat for my kids! But I sometimes hid in the stifling humidity of my room, homesick and sobbing into my sticky pillow. What kind of Christmas would this be?

A simple Christmas, that’s what. We volunteered in relief efforts, bringing food and clothing to a nearby shelter. Witnessing entire families lined up for a meal or hygiene packet was sobering. One evening, our base chapel group sat with families who’d lost everything and sang Christmas carols together softly. Strangers held hands, and tears coursed down weary cheeks. Somehow, in spite of the storm’s aftermath, the Christmas spirit reigned.

When the power came on a few days before Christmas, my toddler happily flicked on each light, squealing, “Wights on!” My six-year-old asked me for months if the power would stay on. We no longer took necessities like water and food for granted.

Honestly? In spite of the simple meal we managed to cobble together, that was one of our family’s best Christmases ever. Thankful for our lives, we knew that God had indeed brought us through the eye of the storm. One benefit of being down to the basics of life is that you surely learn to recognize God’s provision. That realization was one gift I didn’t expect to receive.

If this holiday season is a stormy time in your own life, I pray that you will feel God’s sustaining hand upon you. I pray that you will feel His constant presence and never-ending love.

I pray that you will feel His arms carry you through the storm.

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

Jen McDonald is an experienced editor and writer who’s been featured in several books and numerous national publications, including Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Military Spouse Magazine. She’s the author of You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse, a book for military spouses born from nearly three decades of experience. She’s currently the Content Editor for MilitaryByOwner Advertising.

Jen and her amazing Air Force husband have lived all over the world and are the parents of four grown children who were all homeschooled, including one who is serving in the military. They’re also brand new grandparents! Find her at her site Jen McDonald: You Are Not Alone, on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram as @jenmcdonald88.

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