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'Here Among the Storm's Damage, I am with You'

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By Maricela Navarro Svoboda

A photo saved on my phone best represents my experiences in the year 2017. In this picture, my husband is stepping in water inside our kitchen. He is looking down, and it appears as if he is very sad and in deep thought. The date on the picture reads Aug. 31, 2017.

A few days before that date, the area in which we live in Texas was under a hurricane watch. On Aug. 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall. News outlets nationwide reported it.

The storm was slow moving, and the water levels in the area remained elevated for days. As the storm moved inland, we experienced major flooding. Forecasters reported Hurricane Harvey as the first "major hurricane" to strike the United States in 12 years, leaving extensive damage to homes and businesses.

If one looks closer at the picture, on the white wall to the left, rays of sunlight can be seen. The rays are shining on the crucifix on the wall, as if the rays are putting a spotlight on Jesus. God seems to be giving a message: "I am with you. Here amongst the storm's damage to your home, I am with you. Though devastation and despair are all around, the rays are a reminder of My healing light and love."

To add to it, Hurricane Harvey wasn't the first devastating event to happen to my family in 2017. It was the third. The first had been my diagnosis of breast cancer in late 2016. In mid-2017, I received my last radiation treatment. The second was the death of my mother-in-law who had lived alone. Her body had not been discovered for several days in late July. Not even a month later we were wading through the damaging water of Hurricane Harvey in our home.

Through all these events, I had the sense that God was sending what I call "divine trials." I believe these trials were given by God as a gift, so that I could gain a deeper relationship with Him. My faith during these trials gave my life deep truth and meaning. God was confirming the words I had said many times before: "Jesus, I trust in You." After living through these experiences, these simple words have grown in meaning. Saying confidently, "Jesus, I trust in You," has become a powerful reminder of His presence.

Through these experiences I also was able to witness the Body of Christ at work. After the flooding had receded, our church community pulled together to help each other. They came to our home loaded with supplies. They helped remove damaged furniture and cleaned and sanitized our home. For two days, 30 volunteers worked to clear our home of all the debris. Other volunteers would bring food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The support and love were astounding.

On one of those two days, one of the volunteers, a devotee to the Divine Mercy message and devotion, gathered all who were helping at about five minutes to 3 p.m. They all stopped what they were doing and gathered in one room. She brought out Rosaries for those who did not have one with them, and precisely at 3 p.m., all 30 volunteers prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Here, surrounded by debris, in the heat, amidst the smell of chlorine and all-purpose cleaners combined with the smell of foul standing river water, everyone stopped and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. To watch people, some who, had been strangers, stop everything they were doing to join in this powerful prayer of Divine Mercy touched my soul. This moment, engraved in my mind, is one I will treasure until my last dying breath.

Yes, 2017 was a year filled with much personal tragedy, great sorrow, and pain. I know it was God's grace that helped me accept His holy will in these divine trials. Throughout this life, there will be many crosses to bear. It is only through His mercy that we recognize the good beyond the tragedy. God sheds light in our darkest moments. When we recognize and accept His Divine Providence, it is then that we achieve true peace and happiness. Peace in the midst of turmoil is a great gift from God.

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