Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Luke 24:36b
I dare say that any of us knew what to expect that spring morning in 2006 when we arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. News report had barely done justice to the devastation. Even after seven months, the scene was almost unbearable. Hundreds of thousands of persons were still evacuated from their homes. Many had little or no remaining savings, little or no insurance and very few, it seemed, had been able to return to the homes they had once occupied.
I still remember one special lady in particular, Mrs. Alberta Paige. She was 83 years old and like everyone else we met, Mrs. Paige had her stories and was eager to tell them. Her father had been a United Methodist minister and when he died he left her mother with one dollar and fifty cents and six children to raise. By profession, she had been a reading specialist and had pursued a doctorate degree – quite an achievement for a woman of color in her time. She and her husband had traveled the world and lived in England for a while before returning to the Gulf Coast where they purchased a beautiful four bedroom three bath home on a corner lot. When he died at age 47 of lung cancer she was only 43.
In the early morning hours of August 29 as Hurricane Katrina roared her ugly head through Biloxi, Mrs. Paige was sleeping soundly in an upstairs bedroom. She said she felt a gentle nudge on her shoulder - the sort of nudge like when you bump into someone on a crowded street. The nudge caused her to wake up and when she awakened she looked out her bedroom window to see the whole neighborhood submerged in water. She opened her front door and nine feet of water gushed in as she just watched. When the waters subsided they left mountains of mud and carried away almost everything precious and dear to her - a life time of accumulated things. For five days Mrs. Paige lived in her upstairs bedroom until finally, the firemen came and made her leave. "They told me I must be either stupid or paralyzed," she said. "I know that I am not really stupid like those firemen said, and I knew I wasn’t paralyzed. I knew what was going on. But not one time was I afraid. I had peace."
My peace, I give to you says our Lord. Peace that surpasses understanding.
Prayer: Loving God, grant that we might have peace even in the midst of life’s greatest storms. Amen.
The Reverend Dr. Cathy S. Gilliard