Flooded with Love
After surviving the 2018 flood and spending more than a year exploring America, the Rooks family finds that all roads lead home – to Oak Island.
The first time we tried to move to the Southport/Oak Island area was in September 2018. My husband, Brandon, and I had spontaneously put our Leland house on the market and quickly went under contract on a house near Oak Island, but one week later Hurricane Florence devastated our Leland home with 7 feet of water.
We were flooded with God’s love and peace throughout that trying time and did our best to pass that love on to others. It was a beautiful community effort of people supporting each other and trying our best to make sure nobody felt alone. It was an exhausting, gross, sad and surprisingly encouraging time. Looking back, I do not really remember the heartbreaking scenes of devastation as much as I remember the beauty and love that poured out through people for days and weeks after the disaster.
Many neighbors expressed during that time, “I had no idea such amazing people lived right around me!”
After the flood clean-up was done, Brandon and I realized it was the ideal time to get up and go have an adventure! We are a homeschooling family, and Brandon has worked remotely since 2015 so we bought a truck and travel trailer that would be our home for the foreseeable future and “Rookie Roadsters” was born. We had never been in an RV and had VERY little experience camping, but we kept encouraging each other with the thought, “People do this, so we can too!”
In January of 2019 we set off with lots of tears and the grandparents wondering what in the world we were doing. Our three kids who were 12 (Raymond), 8 (Evelyn) and 7 (Annabelle) at the time were so excited and ready to explore! We headed south with the goal to reconnect deeply as a family, unplug from technology, spend as much time outdoors as possible and explore America. Those goals were all achieved, and road life was truly the experience of a lifetime that we will never forget.
We got to explore 28 states, 13 national parks and numerous historic and state parks. The kids earned 40 Junior Ranger badges, and we hiked hundreds of miles. It was a true adventure of a lifetime. How can we ever forget the beauty of the Texas bluebells, relaxing in natural hot springs on the Rio Grande, standing in complete speechless awe at the rim of the Grand Canyon and experiencing a class 1 dark night sky for the first time while being astounded at the numerous stars and galaxies?
Some of the kids’ favorite memories are rafting on the Colorado River, exploring the gravity-defying arches in Utah, rock scrambling in California and enjoying the views from the majestic mountains in Colorado and Utah. We still cannot get over the other-worldly experience of Yellowstone’s geysers, mud pots, fumaroles and colorful hot springs. We had so many animal encounters along the way: a mighty bull moose at Glacier National Park next to perfectly designed waterfalls, a cute kit fox in Joshua Tree, manatees in Florida, sea lions at La Jolla Cove, bison, bugling elk and even a cougar in Yellowstone — to name a few! We felt like for nine months straight we were bombarded with this message repeatedly: America Is Beautiful. More beautiful than we had even imagined!
And, yet, there was something missing. We found ourselves in Yellowstone in September at the one-year anniversary of our flood with hearts aching for community. To know and to be known and to be a neighbor. It was undeniable that we had met amazing people on our trip. In fact, everywhere we went we met interesting, kind, inspiring and caring people. We made some very deep and long-lasting connections and had generous help when needed along the way, but we began to realize that being a neighbor for a few days is very different than being connected in a community. We were ready to get back into community and ready to find our people.
The seed had been planted and our hearts were ready when we got the phone call letting us know a loved one was not well. It was time to get back to North Carolina. We quickly packed up our house on wheels and hit the road as fast as we could from South Dakota to our Tar Heel State.
We spent the next few months visiting with family and eventually landed back at our parents’ house in Leland at another fork in the road. Should we finish our American adventure and complete the loop of the country? Was it time to settle? And where should we settle? Should we just pick our favorite place from the road trip?
We had lived in Brunswick County since 2007, and Leland would always hold a special place in our hearts, so we started to look at houses there again. We remembered very quickly that we did not have to agonize over where to settle because home is wherever we are.
We did have a few select requirements for our next place to live. After spending almost every daylight hour outside for nine months, we knew we needed the ability to be outside surrounded by nature. We knew for sure we were forever ruined for city life. And then we started dreaming again about the place that had captured our hearts years before: Oak Island. We never thought we’d be able to live on the island as a family of five, because we used to think we “needed” at least 2,000 square feet. It’s amazing what living in 300 square feet for a year will do to you! Before we knew it, we were moving into what felt like a mansion at a whopping 1,300 square feet, and we were so excited!
When being interviewed by North Brunswick Magazine after the flood, I remember telling them about our youngest daughter, Annabelle, doing a homework assignment a week after the hurricane. It was a simple question for a 1st grader: “Where do you live?” but she looked up at my sister and me with questioning eyes, “Where DO I live?”
At the time I answered, “You live with your family. Home is where your family is.” We lived that out very well during road life. Home is where the heart is. And now we see, every heart needs a family and needs to be connected in community. Though we know and love many Brunswick County natives, it’s obvious there is an ever-increasing number of people relocating to the Southport / Oak Island area from hometowns all over the country. We try to encourage them with this same lesson: Home can be anywhere you are. Making a place your home is a choice.
Making Oak Island home has been such a gift, and we are so grateful for our church family that we connected with within weeks of settling. We are so thankful for our ever-expanding homeschool community, and we are especially thankful for the way our three kids have found exactly where they are supposed to be. After joining Civil Air Patrol and having a dream to be a pilot planted in his heart, Raymond, now 17, is weeks away from getting his private pilot license through High Tide Aviation. Evelyn has found her people at Wilmington Conservatory of Fine Arts and the opportunity to dance from the heart; for her to be involved in such moving performances is worth the drive to Wilmington multiple days a week. Annabelle is so grateful for Cape Fear gymnastics and especially Mr. Casey at Waterway Music & Education. His love for music and children convinced her grandparents to help her fulfill her “lifelong dream” to own and play an electric guitar.
We feel so extremely blessed to have settled back in one of the most naturally beautiful places we have seen across America. From the amazing winter sunrises and sunsets over the ocean to the bright green marsh grasses and peaceful night skies, always changing rivers and ocean and abundance of wildlife, there is so much to enjoy here!
We take full advantage of island life with daily walks on the beach, and we love to swim, surf, paddleboard and kayak as much as possible.
But the road trip solidified for us the truth that people are God’s most beautiful creation. And if hearts full of love are what make people beautiful, then this is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
We are so grateful for all the lessons learned on the road — slow down, appreciate the beauty right around you, things are not that important, unplug, get outside as much as possible, home is where you make it, and most importantly, love is not complete until it is overflowing and being poured out like a flood. It’s so good to call Oak Island home and to finally be a neighbor here!