Gracious Ruin

I’ve always had a fascination with hurricanes, though I wouldn’t necessarily be able to explain why. Perhaps it’s because of their pure ferocity, their indescribable damage. A regular hurricane can release as much energy as 500,000 atom bombs—nature at its most terrifying, its most destructive.

My obsession could exist because I was born during the hurricane of my same name. Between August 14 and 28 in 1992, Hurricane Andrew transformed from a small tropical storm into the Category 5 hurricane that decimated Florida. I was born in the midst of it on August 21, 1992. My parents hadn’t heard the news yet. They didn’t know they had just named me after one of the worst storms to hit the country.

I first sought out a book in my personal collection—Hurricane Andrew: Images from the Killer Storm, a book my parents bought for me right after I was born. I remember it from my childhood, . Back then, I didn’t read the words, just examined each photograph. It didn’t seem real. I couldn’t imagine that amount of damage. This time, however, I was determined to do the research, to read the words.

I set it on my desk and flipped it open. It was one of the first of many books published on the catastrophic storm, and as I glanced page by page, I saw absolute trauma—people staring into the nothingness of destruction left by the hurricane. The words blurred, so all that was left were the photos. The humans. Their lives destroyed.

Something stretched inside me when I saw those pictures. I tried to place myself with those people as if I could understand them if I just stood with them. I imagined the storm coming toward me. The wind would blow sand at two hundred miles per hour, miles away from the beach against the walls of my house. Glass might shatter and I’d hear the sound of a train barreling in through the windows. Maybe I’d hide in the bathroom, in the bathtub, trying to wait out the storm. Maybe the house would have fallen and crushed me.

In the book, I found a photo near the beginning that illustrated a house with boarded up windows. Spray painted onto the wood were the words ANDREW GO HOME!

I felt hurt as if they were saying it to me.

As if I had done the damage.


The black iron fence stood high above me, spikes protruding from the top. I peered behind at the maze of red-brick buildings that made up the MTC. I saw my window in the distance and wondered if my companion, my partner in the MTC, had discovered my disappearance. He’d gone to the other Elders’ room to have a “letter writing party.” They’d invited me to join, but I had my own plans.

Over the previous two weeks, the cramped MTC classroom where I spent eight hours every day learning about gospel doctrines and teaching strategies had become my home. There were six of us in my group—each of us, a companionship of two. While many of the other languages and groups were large, we were tight-knit—the German-speakers. We studied scripture, sang hymns, attempted to understand the principles of our religion. The six of us spent nearly every moment together. No privacy. No space.

I felt the pressure building inside me, but I had no time to uncover what it was. My German suffered. Doubts about the religion surfaced. I longed for the solitude of a tiny bathroom stall where I could be alone—if only for a moment. It was a rule that our companions had to be with us at all times. Except in the bathroom. We could be trusted to go to the bathroom alone.

Looking back from the border, I punched a fist against my head telling myself not to do it, not to leave, but it had only taken a minute to pack my bag. My mind had been warring for weeks. My prayers had become robotic, any hope of a response gone. I think I once believed that if I prayed in just the right way, with just the right words, God would talk to me. A pathway would open. Dust would shift from my faith and become something more like knowledge.

“Throw yourself into the work,” one of my teachers said when I told him I had difficulties connecting with God. “These things will sort themselves out.”

I asked him how.

He said, “Just have faith.”

The frosted glass of my tiny bedroom shared with three other nineteen-year-olds closed in day by day. I walked a dark hallway without support. Faith was something I had once been proud to own. I had stood in church like all the other kids and said that I knew God existed. Even then, in the MTC, at the line between running and fighting, I wanted to believe. I wanted God to tell me I could make it. I wanted him to stop me from leaving.

But I had run across the fields unnoticed, courage dwindling with every step I took. By the time I reached the fence, I had persuaded myself to climb—too big to slip through the bars.


Other Andrew tells us to please not touch any of the rocks—even the walls. Even the oils of our skin can cause damage to the cave, can stop it from progressing. There are parts where Other Andrew directs us to remove our backpacks so we can duck down underneath low ceilings. This is especially hard for Jed because of his broad shoulders and 6’4” height. We help each other down stairs and through narrow crags, holding hands to keep each other up.

As we slip between the rocks, I have to catch myself from wanting to make contact with the slick stone around me. I don’t know why I feel the urge to touch the cold stone, to interrupt its process. Maybe it lies within my curiosity—the curiosity that exists within all people.

This same curiosity is what brought the teenagers, James Gough and Frank Johnson, to Timpanogos in the first place. They travelled to Hansen Cave with their mother and did a little exploring of their own. They slid down an incline and found the entrance to another cave. They found it, then they hid it beneath branches and dirt. They didn’t want the destruction of Hansen Cave to repeat. It was eventually found again years later where it quickly became protected by the National Park Service. The NPS examined the cave and all its wonders, professing it a national monument. They declared it something truly beautiful, something to be protected.

So, I question why I have the urge to touch the walls. I wonder what would happen if I pressed my hand against the cave. Perhaps the oils on my skin would stop the wall from forming. Time would pass, and it would seem no damage had been done. But over the years, it would become noticeable. There would be an imprint of my hand. The rest of the cave would grow except for a single mark that would forever be damaged, and it would be my fault.

What I realize, as I wrap myself between the cave walls, careful not to disturb them, is that by not touching the wall, I’m protecting the cave from myself. Were it not for me, for all people who come here, the cave would not need protecting. It might have been better not to have come out at all.