Rings of Hope

Patrick Cleveland - Kiln, Mississippi
As heard on the This I Believe podcast, August 19, 2019
Patrick Cleveland
Photos courtesy Patrick Cleveland

On August 29, 2005, Dr. Patrick Cleveland's life changed forever when Hurricane Katrina came barreling through his home. But a so-called coincidence confirmed for him the knowledge that his life has a purpose.

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I moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast 16 years ago to work in my first job as an associate veterinarian. After a while I met a girl named Nicole, and we eventually married. Nicole’s parents owned a house right on the beach in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Nicole’s father was an engineer, and he built a very strong house of steel and concrete. We had done very well in that house during storms—until Hurricane Katrina.

On the morning of August 29, 2005, our lives changed forever. Nicole walked outside and found the tide out farther than she had ever seen. Then the wind started blowing in and the water started rising. Before long, the waves were pounding into the concrete house and through strong wooden shutters. The waves punched through, and the ground floor and basement began to fill up. The water rose very rapidly. The refrigerator floated and banged around the kitchen as a result of the relentless waves that did not want to be contained. We moved to the second floor and before long the water was banging against the second-story windows.

In short order, the second-story wall was gone, and nothing separated us from this terrible storm. We held onto the wall studs as best we could. I was standing on the second floor in ankle deep water, and the waves were over my head. Sometimes waves would knock us down, and we would scramble to our feet. Nicole’s mother, Joan, needed our help getting out of the water several times.

The storm kept intensifying. A very large wave knocked us down, and while we were catching our breath, another washed us out. I became pinned under the roof of the back porch, and I had to push myself deeper to get out. I swam and thrashed and held onto a tree. The rest of the family was nowhere to be found.

Waves would wash me out of one tree and I would grab onto another. My clothes were washed off, leaving me scratched and cold. After about eight hours, the storm calmed and the wind changed directions. I had no idea how high up in the tree I was or how deep the water was. My lungs were full of water and I was not doing very well, but I knew I had to get out of that tree. I also knew I did not want to swim for hours.

In the distance, riding the waves, I spotted something white. This object would descend down the eight-foot waves and rise back up. It kept coming in my direction. I soon figured out it was one of those circular life preservers found on the side of ships. It kept coming my way. I then decided that when it came close enough, I would go for it. Amazingly, this ring-shaped float came directly to me. I just knew it was sent from God. I jumped out and floated on that white ring until I could stand on land.

Nicole found a different tree to hang onto. She told me that a board kept hitting her in the back of the head, and when she turned around to rid herself of this nuisance, she found my wedding ring hanging on a bent nail. Both of these happenings were too powerful for me to believe they were a coincidence.

I believe these rings of hope were God’s way of telling us that he loves us and has a plan for us. Even though Nicole’s parents did not survive the storm, through all of the sadness, I still felt the love and comfort of God. I believe He has a plan for me.

Dr. Patrick Cleveland is a horse veterinarian in Kiln, Mississippi. He and his wife, Nicole, enjoy riding horses together and raising their two daughters, Emma and Claire.