Learning from Adversity

By: Glenda G. Lofton, Ph.D.

Apr 9, 2019

In the early 1950’s - grades 5-8 for me - I lived in the country with my mother, father, and younger brother.  My dad was a teacher, but his salary was low so, like many others in our income bracket, we rented a house. (I don’t remember his salary, but I remember Dad saying if he could ever make $10,000 a year, we would be rich.)  To me, however, we were already rich because our small, non-air conditioned, frame house sat on a tree-shaded ridge, and behind the house, the land dipped down about a quarter of a mile to a peaceful, flowing stream called Sandy Creek.  Many afternoons my brother and I would follow my daddy to the creek to fish and set out trotlines. Like my dad, I loved the water and for us, the creek represented a place of refuge—a place for fun and relaxation. 

One day it started raining and it kept on raining, and that small, peaceful creek began to rise. We watched it rise out of its banks and up the ridge that led to our house, and onto the road in front.  My dad had to park our car at the neighbor’s house, and wade home through the water, and still the water kept rising. Our house sat on large concrete blocks, but before long, the water had reached the top of the stairs, and we could see it coming up through the cracks in the floor. It was time to evacuate. We didn’t have a lot of valuable things at that time, but we did have one—a piano that my mom and dad had sacrificed to buy so that I could take piano lessons.  Our neighbor on one side waded down the road to help my daddy lift the piano upon some chairs, and then with just a few clothes held over our heads to keep them from getting wet, we waded in water over my waist to another neighbor’s to spend the night. I can still remember the empty feeling I had as I looked back at our house and heard my mother say with a slight tremble to her voice, “Now we can understand how others feel when they have to leave their homes.” Fortunately for us, the very next day the water began to drop and in a few days, we were safely back home.

While my story doesn’t begin to compare with that of the evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as my mother predicted, the experience did give me a small understanding of how it feels to leave home, how good it is to have neighbors who help, and the importance of security and refuge in times of trouble. My experiences during the recent hurricanes have reinforced these understandings and provided me opportunities to reflect and learn from others about dealing with adversity.  Here are some things that Katrina and Rita taught me:


Webster defines refuge as shelter or protection from danger or distress. For most of us, our homes represent refuge and security. When we are forced to leave home, it is not surprising that we feel empty inside. It is not the material things that we miss.  Those can be replaced. We yearn for the familiar, the routines of daily living, the relationships of family and friends that make a house a home, and a town a community. Taking refuge with family and friends brings some normalcy, but sometimes we are isolated even from family and friends.  My favorite image from the hurricane was an interview of a 90-year-old lady who had lost all and taken refuge in the Superdome. Her face was wrinkled but radiant, and she smiled as she said, “I’m just fine.  I draw my strength from my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”   How comforting it is to know that no matter what the circumstances, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1) 


As I encountered people who had taken refuge in Baton Rouge, I found many were eager to share their experiences. One lady in broken English said, “I moved to New Orleans 63 years ago from Costa Rica, I reared my family there, and I never left until now.  Twelve of us are staying with my granddaughter in a small house. We’ve lost our home, but we have what really matters. We have love. Nothing can take love away.”  I told her, “In my pastor’s sermon Sunday he reminded us that while the hurricane was bad, good things can come from it.  Thank you for being one of the good things that came from the storm and for reminding me what matters.”  After Katrina, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Chalmette spoke at our church.  In the audience were some of the displaced members of his church who were staying in Baton Rouge.  All had lost their houses and their church building.  From the choir, I watched as they hugged each other with tears streaming.  It was the first time many had seen each other since the storm.  After church, I went down to talk to them.  One said with a smile on her face, “We’re too blessed to be depressed. All of us are alive, and as far as we know, none of our members were even injured.”


While family and friends can be a comfort, close quarters and too much togetherness can sometimes add to our stress.  As I waited in line at the grocery store, I started talking to the lady behind me. She had taken in her mom and dad, her sister and brother-in-law, and their family from New Orleans. As usual, after a hurricane, the lines were long.  Because I had a lot more items in my cart than she did, I offered to let her go ahead of me. “Oh, that’s OK,” she said, “we didn’t really need any groceries.  I just brought my mom to get her away from my dad.” About that time her mom walked up and overhearing her daughter’s statement said with humor and affection, “We’ve been married 62 years, I dated him six years before that, and he’s finally gotten on my nerves!”  When I shared the story with my friend, she told me about her cousin.  During the storm and for two weeks after the storm, her cousin’s daughter, husband, and two small children stayed at her house. When they left the cousin said to her daughter, “When you leave, just pretend for a while that we’re deceased.”


As a child in Sunday School, I was taught to love God and my neighbor as myself. Later, I learned what Paul Harvey would call the rest of the story. When someone asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” he told him the story of a man who was robbed and left half-dead on the side of the road. Two men passed him by, but one, known as the Good Samaritan, took pity on him and took care of him.  “Which of the three men was a good neighbor?” Jesus asked.  “The one who had mercy on him,” the man answered, and Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”  In times of crisis, I have seen many “Good Samaritans” who reached out to total strangers. At our church, 200 volunteers from Tennessee prepared 25,000 meals daily to be distributed to various shelters around the city. They worked long hours, slept on cots inside the church, and then thanked us for allowing them to help us. I told them, “Now I know why your football team is called the Volunteers.”


I spoke with our good friend who lives at Grand Isle after Hurricane Katrina. His family had major damage to their homes as well as the motels and marinas they own there.  He said, “We’re wounded, but we’re not dead. We will rebuild!”  Endings are also opportunities for new beginnings.  Even for those not so directly impacted by storms and for those who are striving to be “good neighbors,” the aftermath brings new demands, stress, and lots of work on the job and at home. When I’m tired, I’m encouraged by the timeless words of the apostle, Paul, “Let us not be weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” (Gal. 6:9-10)

Those of you who read my column regularly know that I believe that to live is to learn.  What have you learned from adversity?  How can you use this experience to help you grow?  How can you use it to help and encourage others? 

About Lofton: Founded in 1979, Lofton Services offers clients the best of all worlds. We provide the responsive, personal service and flexibility of a small local firm while having the technology, resources, and infrastructure to deliver the benefits of the biggest players in our industry. Lofton Staffing can deliver the right people, with the right skills, right when you need them. Celebrating 40 years in staffing excellence! Contact us today.   

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