BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG) - Jennifer Fenwick and Jane Smith didn't know each other before Hurricane Michael. Since the storm, they've formed a bond over a book.
"You know I think I have a lifelong new friend here," Smith recently told NewsChannel 7. "Just sitting here you get a little emotional thinking back what we all went through."
Both women are still adjusting to what's called our new normal.
"There's not a day that goes by that you don't appreciate everything you have so much more when you don't have anything at the present time," said Smith.
Smith, her husband Charles, and son Ken rode out the storm in their Lynn Haven home.
"There was one point in time when Charles looked at Ken and said, 'Ken I just want you to know how much I love you because we're getting ready to die,'" Smith said as she teared up.
The family lost everything in the storm.
"I was... in no way, shape, or form I was prepared for what we saw," Smith said.
Fenwick and her family faced their own hardships.
"It was awful," declared Fenwick. "Walls shaking, felt like the walls were breathing, transponders blowing up everywhere, you could hear sheet metal peeling off the building."
Their home in the Cove area of Panama City was heavily damaged. "I lost my car. My 50th birthday present from my husband got smashed under the carport and under a tree. We had a lot of damage," said Fenwick.
Both Fenwick and Smith are creative people. They tend to put their feelings on paper.
Fenwick stumbled onto a Facebook page where others were pouring their hearts out the same way.
"Called the 'Art of Michael,'" said Fenwick. "I started scrolling through it and thought, 'Gosh, there's so many people that feel the same things that I do and are putting their words out there and they are words of hope and healing.'"
That's when the idea for a book was born.
"As I started reading those stories and reading that poetry and seeing those images I thought, 'Wow, this is so powerful,'" said Fenwick. "The underlying message for the whole thing was hope and we're gonna survive this, we're gonna get through it. Yes, it's bad but, you know, God's with us and there's hope. So I started reaching out to a lot of people on the page."
Everyone she contacted gladly offered to share their stories and put her in touch with others.
"It went from this small thing that I thought, 'This is just gonna be a small thing that's gonna be really nice for all of us to have,' to this big thing and it kind of grew out of that," said Fenwick.
The title of the book is 'In the Eye of the Storm.'
"Because in the eye of the storm it's calm you can see the sky and it's almost over," explained Fenwick. "It made me think of the apostles in the boat and afraid to walk on the water when Jesus said, 'Keep your eyes on me.'"
Smith jumped at the chance to do something that would help her neighbors.
"When Jennifer reached out to me and said this book is going towards the rebuilding I said anything I can do," said Smith.
Fenwick added, "Anything that we make off of selling this book is going to the United Way Hurricane Michael relief and disaster fund."
Page after page you'll read how your neighbors remember this life-altering event, including one from Smith.
"I can remember back to the day they were demolishing the house," said Smith. "There was the big claw from the excavator and there was my wedding dress and my wedding veil hanging from that claw just blowing in the breeze and I knew along with that was wedding albums, baby books. I just really wanted to say, 'Please be gentle with that, that's my life.'"
Smith's house was her last connection with her brother who died in 1976.
"He had built that house," said Smith. "My dad sold us that house when Charles and I got married and it was always a connection I had with John. Once that house was gone that final connection with John was gone."
Fenwick is proud of the people in this area and their willingness to do the hard work and make headway.
"This is home," said Fenwick. "We are definitely going to rebuild and come together as a community and do what we have to do to rebuild our home for generations to come. No, it's not gonna look the same way. I was born and raised here. It's not going to look the same but it's still home and my heart is here and I know a lot of people feel that way and these stories are from those people."
Fenwick is also looking for local businesses that might be willing to put copies in their stores to sell.